The following is written by Ray Ortiz, Senior Attorney Counselor for the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program, and was published as part of NJLAP's Lawyer Well-Being Newsletter. To have the newsletter come directly to your in-box, request to subscribe by emailing [email protected].
There are people, places and things that we have no control over. There are also events in our lives that are unwelcome and painful and also out of our control. I was at my doctor's office waiting to be seen. I picked up one of those magazines that were posing a question to those 80 or over as to, what is the secret of a long life?
One of the responders in the article was 104-year-old Charlie White. He had outlived all of his business associates and friends, two wives and all of his four children. He said, “That's easy. Know what you can and can't control.” Some things are not within our control yet we continue to fight and struggle with What Is. The one thing we do have control over is our attitude. Our personal philosophy of life is key in this regard. And a philosophy of life that cannot distinguish between what you can and can't control is not an effective philosophy of life. The key word here is effective.
The famous Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” Epictetus' student and Emperor of Rome for nearly 20 years, Marcus Aurelius stated, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” In his book entitled The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz sets forth one of the agreements as “Don't Take Anything Personally.” Don Miguel asks, “What is the most important word in that sentence?” Many people will respond it is the word “Personally.” Don Miguel disagrees. He believes it is the word “Anything.”
So now let's get to our two main protagonists in this article - Pablo Casals and Mark Twain. It seems Mr. Casals broke his arm in a skiing accident. Six weeks of previously scheduled engagements, renting of venues, entering into contracts, advanced sales all had to be revised and revamped. One can just imagine the mixed emotions of anxiety, frustration, anger, depression and fear. He staged a press conference. The reporters found him in amazingly good spirits. They asked him why he looked so happy. He said, “Because now I don't have to practice.” He spoke about some things he had been meaning to do, and could now pursue, which the previously scheduled engagements did not allow. Attitude is everything. If all you get is lemons in life, make lemonade.
We come to Mark Twain aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens. A man as well known for his literary masterpieces as his hair-trigger temper. He was as easily provoked as a rattlesnake on an empty stomach. When something would cause him vexation, he would swiftly respond with a sharp and blistering letter to the pertinent offender. He would always place the letter on his mantle and wait three days. If after the three days passed he still felt the anger and resentment, he would mail it. If he longer felt the offense and disgruntlement, he would burn the letter. This is certainly a good lesson in what one recovery support group advocates under the phrase, “Restraint of pen and tongue.” So the next time, just before you hit the “send” button on your computer, print your email and put it on your mantle (if you don't have a mantle, many other places in your home or office will suffice). Think Mark Twain. Don't react (don’t let your emotions hijack your intellect), hit the pause button, take a deep breath, detach and create some space, take an inventory of your body physiology, sleep on it, for some people – pray on it, revisit the email.
The Buddha was once asked, “What is the afterlife like?” The Buddha responded, “I know nothing about the afterlife. I teach two things. The arising of reactivity, which we call suffering and the cessation of reactivity, which we call peace.”
We have no control over the negative actions or statements of others, what others do or say, or events in our lives.
Suggestions for further reading:
Epictetus - The Art of Living
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
Lou Marinoff - Plato Not Prozac
Don Miguel Ruiz - The Four Agreements
Reach out to NJLAP at 800-246-5527, [email protected], or at www.njlap.org