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THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT II (YOURSELF) // CHAPTER 12
Think of something good you have done. Why did you do it?
Think of something bad you have done. Why did you do it?
My favorite reason for doing anything has been “because I felt like it.” When I was young, the way I felt dictated almost every action that I took. So much so that it spawned a philosophy for my dad: “It’s easier to act your way into a feeling than feel your way into an action.”
Most of us wait to act until we feel like it. We will eat healthy when we feel like it. We’ll go to the gym when we feel like it. We’ll treat people with respect when we feel like it. We will rise to the challenges we face when we feel like it.
If you wait to feel like it, you’ll probably realize the same thing I did: that feeling doesn’t come all too often. That is why controlling our perspective and attitude matters so much. If I don’t control those things, my actions will also be out of control.
My teacher and father Keith Craft teaches it this way:
Think + Be + Do = Have
How you think + your state of being (your attitude) + what you do = what you have in life. Always. It’s immutable, eternal knowledge. What you have in your life right now is a direct result of your actions. Your actions are a direct result of your attitude. Your attitude is a direct result of your thinking and perspective.
Your thinking, being and doing are the only things that lie within your triangle of control. Worrying about anything outside of that is futile.
Of course this makes sense in theory, but what makes this difficult to do? The same thing that makes having the right perspective and attitude difficult. Much about our life lies outside of our control. We may approach the events of our life with a certain plan and idea of what we will do and how we will respond, but life always has surprises in store for us. Some surprises are pleasant, many are unpleasant.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” // Mike Tyson[i]
Apollo 13, the third mission to attempt to land on the moon had run into a life-threatening issue 203,980 miles from help. A faulty wire caused one of their two oxygen tanks to explode, and the other began to rapidly lose oxygen. These two tanks gave the crew both oxygen and power, one was now gone, and the other was leaking.
They were so close to the moon, right above it. They could see their objective. However, this accident meant two things. The mission they planned was over, and their new mission was to figure out a way to get back to Earth alive.
Time was short and there seemed to be no options for their survival. The command module—the Odyssey—designed to support three men for their journey to the moon and reentry to Earth’s atmosphere was no longer viable. The Aquarius, the lunar module, designed to land on the moon was their only option.
They frantically worked to boot Aquarius up in less time than designed. However, Aquarius didn’t have a heat shield to survive the drop back to Earth, so the astronauts had to do everything they could to shut down the Odyssey as quickly as possible to conserve power for splashdown. They also had to figure out how the Aquarius, which was designed to support two men for two days, could support three men for four days.
In the Aquarius, the crew found enough oxygen to breathe, but challenges kept coming. They had to figure out a way to filter carbon dioxide, survive with very little water, make precise reentry calculations with very little functional equipment, in perpetual 38°F temperatures.
All three men survived, but they never made it to the moon. Most of us today wouldn’t consider this mission a failure, even though it didn’t meet its initial objectives. Why? Because the goals changed based on things outside of the astronauts’ control.
A NASA flight controller was asked after this,
“Weren’t there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?”
His answer was “No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them.”[ii]
In the movie, we see people rushing around in a panic trying to solve the problems that were being presented. This was not the case. The mission changed and so did their actions. Their actions were not reactionary and wild. They were logical, rational and calm—no matter the circumstances.[iii]
When we are given the proper amount of time to prepare and plan, we can ensure that we have proper perspective, good attitudes and, therefore, right actions. The problem, however, is what we do when things don’t go according to plan. When things don’t go our way, what do we do? What should we do?
The Stoics would counsel us to have an even mind—stability and composure—regardless of the circumstance. Don’t be disturbed by your experiences or by exposure to pain, emotions or other things that may cause other people to lose their composure.
The Greek Stoics called it apatheia, the Roman Stoics called it equanimity. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Saint Ignatius considered it a significant aspect of Christianity. Equanimity is calmness that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. Not the loss of feelings, but the loss of harmful feelings.
This doesn’t mean we resolve ourselves to the way things are. We do not say, “Que sera sera.” Whatever will be will be. Equanimity is not passivity; it is giving your best to make things happen, and then remaining composed when things don’t go your way.
Think about what worries you. What causes you anxiety? What interferes with your composure? It often turns out that the things that worry us the most lie the farthest outside of our control. What can you do about what worries you? Most of the time, we can do nothing. So why worry? Why lose our control? Why should we allow the things we can’t control to affect what we can?
Life is a fight with no rules
Pankration was a Greek Olympic fighting sport with hardly any rules. The goal of pankration was to do whatever you could to get your opponent to quit. Pankratists would bite, kick, gouge, box and choke each other. The contest would last until you, or your opponent, submitted or died. In fact, there is a record of someone named Arrhichion of Phigalia winning the pankration competition at the Olympic Games despite being dead. His opponent had locked him in a chokehold and Arrhichion, desperate to loosen it, broke his opponent’s toe (some records say his ankle). The opponent nearly passed out from pain and submitted. As the referee raised Arrhichion’s hand, it was discovered that he had died from the chokehold. His body was crowned with an olive wreath and returned to Phigalia as a hero.[iv]Arrhichion shows us that if you don’t quit, even if you die, you can be a winner.
Panaetius describes life as a pankration contest:
The life of men who pass their time in the midst of affairs, and who wish to be helpful to themselves and to others, is exposed to constant and almost daily troubles and sudden dangers. To guard against and avoid these, one needs a mind that is always ready and alert, such as the athletes have who are called ‘pancratists.’ For just as they, when called to the contest, stand with their arms raised and stretched out, and protect their head and face by opposing their hands as a rampart; and as all their limbs, before the battle has begun, are ready to avoid or to deal blows—so the spirit and mind of the wise man, on the watch everywhere and at all times against violence and wanton injuries, ought to be alert, ready, strongly protected, prepared in time of trouble, never flagging in attention, never relaxing its watchfulness, opposing judgment and forethought like arms and hands to the strokes of fortune and the snares of the wicked, lest in any way a hostile and sudden onslaught be made upon us when we are unprepared and unprotected.[v]
What does this have to do with equanimity? Living life is not a passive activity. We must be ready to live. Life is conflict. We should be willing to embrace the conflict and struggle that comes with our existence. Our life is not just our thinking or attitude, it is our action. Paul encourages Timothy in this same way in 1 Timothy 6:12 to “fight the good fight of faith.” You may not have chosen the fight, but it is here. What do you plan to do? Is life something that is happening to you or are you willing to act? You’re going to get punched in the mouth, it’s a guarantee. You can’t avoid it. Are you prepared for it? What are you going to do when it happens?
Living a good life is not a result of finding comfort, decreasing our difficulty, and shrinking from challenges. A good life is had by one who embraces challenges head on and acts on those challenges with equal force. Do you feel like you’re in over your head? Good. Now it’s time to learn to swim.
“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” // Seneca[vi]
We should not live our lives to fight everyone and everything in our path. Our goal is not to add to the chaos. Our goal is to control ourselves amid chaos. Our focus is to learn how to control only the things that we can control. That means we do not run from a battle, but we also don’t go looking for them. We must be disciplined, pursue equanimity and maintain our composure at all times. Life can feel like an onslaught, and if we are prepared to act as if it is, we won’t be caught unprepared and unprotected. We will be able to respond calmly and rationally.
In the Haggadah, the Jewish people are reminded every year on Passover that they should view themselves as if they personally escaped slavery in Egypt. They do this as a reminder of the goodness of God and the pain and difficulty that life often brings. Life can be painful, but God is always good. This too shall pass. Don’t let the situation dictate your response. Situations and circumstances may change, but we must maintain equanimity.
Have the perspective that life will deal its blows. Live with the attitude that you can endure. Act with equanimity and keep your composure. If you do this, you will always find a way forward. God has a plan. You will have a good life. Act like it.
When we live this way, we will have a great life. Why? Because what we have in life will not be based on what we can’t control. We will control our thoughts, our attitudes and our actions and have a great life.
Think + Be + Do = Have
[i] Mike Berardino, “Mike Tyson explains one of his most famous quotes,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, November 8, 2012, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/fl-xpm-2012-11-09-sfl-mike-tyson-explains-one-of-his-most-famous-quotes-20121109-story.html.
[ii] “Failure Is Not an Option,” Wikipedia, December 18, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failure_Is_Not_an_Option.
[iii] Gene Krantz, Failure is Not an Option (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2009).
[iv] Philostratus the Elder and Philostratus the Younger, Imagines, trans. Arthur Fairbanks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931).
[v] Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, trans. John C. Rolfe (London, UK: Loeb Classical Library, 1927).
[vi] Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, trans. Robin Campbell (London, England: Penguin Classics, 1969).