The Loudest of Noises
A few weeks ago our very large puppy, Barkus Aurelius (yes, thank you to my daughter for the inspiration) was startled by a low flying Navy jet whose sonic boom rattled our house while we were outside. While he has started to get back to normal, it has taken a lot of patience and training to reassure him that every loud noise is not a reason to run and cower in his pen.
How often are we guilty of acting in a similar way? I was journaling through Meditations this morning and came across this line from our canine’s namesake:
How the mind conducts itself. It all depends on that. All the rest is within its power, or beyond its control — corpses and smoke.
We are in the process of moving from New Orleans to Birmingham. Over the course of just a few weeks, we have had plenty of opportunity to anxiously fear the future. While we have had our moments of failure, we are learning to focus on what is actually within our control in a given moment. Simply to do the next thing required. As we have, all of the things that normally would have had us curled in the fetal position have since come into being at the right time. Selling our home and finding a new one and finding work in our chosen professions.
We suffer, Seneca would write, more from our imagination than reality. We add to stress that resides squarely within ourselves. At the end of the day, all of these things end up being corpses and smoke. Frightening images that cannot truly harm us once we come to terms with their nature.
Ryan Holiday, in his incredible volume The Obstacle is the Way, recounts the legendary story of Pericles:
Once as the Athenian general Pericles cast off on a naval mission in the Peloponnesian War, the sun was eclipsed and his fleet of 150 ships was cast into darkness. Surprised by this unexpected and confusing event, his men were thrown into a state of panic. Unlike the crew, Pericles was undaunted. He walked up to a lead steersman, removed the cloak he was wearing, and held it up around the man’s face. He asked the man if he was scared of what he saw. No, of course not. So what does it matter, Pericles replied, when the cause of the darkness differs?
Corpses and smoke. Darkness. Things that can terrify and immobilize us only if we allow them. Whatever the cause, we have the power of reasoned judgment to overcome fear and anxiety as we boldly move forward into the future.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations (Modern Library) (p. 166). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Holiday, Ryan. The Obstacle Is the Way (p. 36). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.