I share my thoughts addressing current challenges and how to keep a strong Stoic resolve in a period of uncertainty, seclusion, and deprivation.
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You’re listening to the Stoic Solutions Podcast – practical wisdom for everyday life. I’m your host, Justin Vacula, recording on March 25th of 2020 now day nine of self-seclusion following an emergency stay-at-home order here in Pennsylvania.
This is episode 90, Shelter in Place. I share my thoughts addressing current challenges and how to keep a strong Stoic resolve in a period of uncertainty, seclusion, and deprivation.
Welcome back listeners, it’s been a few months since I uploaded an episode of this podcast. I’ve been focusing much more on my newer Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast after my departure from Mental Health Counseling and traditional work both full and part-time, but now is a great opportunity to share a very personal episode with aims of helping you maintain sanity and productivity amidst a health scare and tanking world economy. I’ll offer some quick thoughts about particular challenges and themes which become apparent in a time of crisis and point you to past episodes especially episode 66, Core Concepts in Stoicism, for a deeper dive.
Stoic authors often encourage readers to distinguish what is inside and outside our control. In all times, whether the present day or ancient Rome, life is full of turbulence as we’re reminded about the fragile nature of things. One week, we can live quite a normal lifestyle seeing friends, leaving home, hugging others, shaking hands, and a week later we’re strongly encouraged, if not mandated, to stay at home for concern for our own health and others while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Rather than viewing this as a prison sentence or worse, we can see this as an obstacle or challenge as something to overcome. We can thrive in a state of adversity and not make our perceived problem worse by adding misery or catastrophizing.
We lack a large deal of control here – we didn’t unleash a virus on the world and we have no other choice but to adjust to the current situation. We have control in how we respond – we can languish in despair cursing a god, chance, or nothing in particular wallowing about how unfortunate we are or how we don’t like life…. or we can rise to the occasion to be productive, take a breather, and find reasons to be grateful. Despair will not help the situation after all. This time, like others, will pass – this is but a temporary damper on 2020.
Personally, I find technology to be an incredible boon at this time as I can keep in touch with friends, produce content like you’re listening to here, find time to catch up on many to-do items, start new projects, and even engage in leisure returning to games I haven’t played in a long time adding some fun and relaxation rather than getting too wrapped up in following news and keeping busy. It’s really nice to be connected with others and engage with limitless content through podcasts, YouTube, streaming services, and much more – much better, I think, than being exiled on a deserted island like people of ancient times. Loneliness and boredom are extremely foreign to me for even when staying home for an extended period although, of course, I’d like to spend more time with others outside of my home. What are some things you are grateful for?
Stoic authors call for moderation and for good reason to avoid burnout. Staying at home, for sure, is not something I prefer, but I work to accept the current state of things and make good use of the current time rising to the occasion seeing opportunity rather than setting my mind on misfortune – it’s all about perspective. I have shelter; food; good health; and finances to stay afloat largely thanks to hard work, guidance from others and a frugal life – I’m comfortable and finding happiness from within regardless of my external circumstances.
Indeed, some will struggle to come to terms with the current situation as anxiety levels may rise, financial struggles are more apparent, and they may lack needed medical services. In these cases, Stoicism serves as a great help as we can invoke virtues like courage, wisdom, moderation, gratitude, and acceptance. We’re not to be wholly defeated – we’re to have a realistic approach being patient with ourselves and others. Some days may be more difficult than others, we’ll occasionally falter and we can be too hard on ourselves. However, we can note even small victories. We can find meaning in using whatever skills we have to benefit ourselves and others – perhaps it’s even calling a friend or family member to offer support; lending a helping hand to someone else; and celebrating when completing something we’ve neglected…like filing taxes. For more, listen to episode 84, Progress and Setbacks, in which I discuss the importance of making and recognizing self-improvement.
Stoic authors recognize that we can’t wholly remove negative emotions like anxiety, fear, and worry from our human situation and perhaps shouldn’t as a low degree, a healthy amount of emotion, is a good thing as we don’t want to be reckless or disconnected. We’re to be mindful, be aware of what we’re thinking and feeling so we can thrive rather than being in a state of denial or unaware of what’s happening. We can employ positive visualizations, self-coaching, and take a breather if feeling overwhelmed – knowing when we’re starting to experience internal turmoil is a great start so we don’t find ourselves blowing up. For more tips, listen to episode 36 Coping With Negative Emotions.
As we listen to news and think about the deaths of others, we may even reflect on our own mortality perhaps having mini or major existential crisises, we experience this mortality salience more aware of our own deaths compared to more stable and safe times. Perhaps I will die in coming weeks, months, or years – almost certainly decades. It’s best to come to terms with this at some point preparing for our demise rather than taking on a sudden shock. Surely this coming to terms with death would have been better weeks, months, or years ago, but now can be a great time to start. For now, we can value this time we have and what degrees of freedom we have living while we still can. Enjoy the journey and roll with the ups and downs rather than getting rolled over. Keep yourself occupied finding meaning and fun. For more, listen to episode 31 Coping With One’s Own Death.
We can read physical books and even e-books in this time – especially Stoic texts — to learn more and find solace. A return to the familiar, perhaps revisiting that book you enjoy or that game you haven’t touched for months can be soothing. Skip the new Star Trek Discovery and Picard episodes, but do return to the older series to get a message of hope, human potential, and wonder. Listen to some new music or bands you haven’t listened to in some time. No longer are the complaints of, ‘I didn’t find the time’ or ‘I have so much going on’ when you’re at home for days on end – what a chance to do what you would like at least in the confines of your time at home.
I’m especially grateful for my efforts in the past 20 months or so working to improve my financial situation and travel potential with credit card bonuses, loyalty programs, bank accounts and much more – I talk about this a great deal in my Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast. I’ve had to cancel several trips for March and April, but what an opportunity it was to attend Stoicon 2019 in Athens, Greece and visit Hawaii recently; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Chicago; and so many other locations at next to no cost! I have tons of groceries and household supplies thanks to store loyalty programs and gift card reselling – there wasn’t a last minute rush for supplies because I was prepared months ago.
It’s alarming to read, from an article titled ‘Coronavirus reveals financial irresponsibility of Americans’ from The Hill that only 40% of Americans can afford an unexpected $1000 expense and 80% of workers are living paycheck to paycheck even 25% of workers making $150,000 per year! For many, it’s not a problem of lack of earnings, but rather a problem of self-discipline – spending too much and not saving enough or reinvesting funds. The frugal life encouraged by Stoic authors wins the day – lowering desires to have more peace of mind and freedom, being content with less and not buying into hype and appearances brought on by, as Seneca called it, the madness of crowds. A time like this can serve as a big wakeup call to reduce spending, to develop a budget, not to place all our hopes in one basket, and to make some effort to earn more and spend less…making more food at home, paying far less for travel, and having multiple streams of income. For more, listen to episode 42 Preferring Frugality.
I so often hear lamentations of, ‘Oh, but it’s too much effort to do this and that’ even for people to open a bank account or manage a new credit card to get a large cash bonus or points for close to no cost travel and this is most strange to me especially for those trading their time for low pay in various jobs. Money isn’t going to fall from the sky, we can’t place our hopes on fortune winning some lottery, but we can find some motivation to improve our situation rather than solely blaming a system or someone else especially when we can change things. Indeed, not all financial woes are brought about by overspending, indeed, not all are as knowledgeable, but everyone can undertake some kind of effort to improve not only in finances, but in all areas of life especially now, during a time of staying at home!
Finally, we can use this opportunity of time at home to reflect on what’s of chief importance – lots of the life-optional things we can’t currently engage in are nice, but not necessary to live a fulfilled life. After all, people from the ancient world found meaning without many modern pleasures we often take for granted as we often confuse wants for needs. We can also survey things and people we could remove form our lives, this can be a great time for re-priorizing and re-orienting. Can we cut out that person or activity we now find, in a period of time at home, to be a net negative on our lives? Perhaps the time we spent at a local bar wasn’t a great use of our time. Maybe that one person added a good deal of stress to our day-to-day lives with unneeded drama and demands. Do we really need to spend so much going to that movie theater when we can just watch Hulu at home?
Make good use of this time at home and even find renewed vigor when returning to day-to-day life as usual or at least a new normal. Stay strong, stay Stoic.
Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more content!
Listen to my newest podcast project — the Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast – in which I discuss how to travel the world at next to no cost with credit card rewards. See my website at hurdygurdytravelpodcast.com for more information including a credit card questionnaire which will help me guide you in the right direction!
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Podcast music, used with permission, is brought to you by Phil Giordana’s symphonic metal group Fairyland from their album ‘Score to a New Beginning.’ John Bartmann offered free consultation and audio edits for episodes 51-63. Thanks to generous patrons and fans of this podcast who help support my work. Have a great day.