On Stress

Stoic meditation with reference to being homeless. Written to myself at a particularly low point; like many, I take comfort in considering how things could be worse.
2008-09-262014-06-24 finished certainty: emotional importance: 2

All around I see stress. Con­sid­er: does it re­ally mat­ter whether you achieve fame, for­tune, and suc­cess? Lux­u­ri­ously but un­easy rests the crowned head, if its heart be not made of stone. How could it be oth­er­wise? You’d have to be in­differ­ent to your du­ties to rest easy; would you not wor­ry, What do other peo­ple make of my ac­com­plish­ments? Am I truly the most fit for the du­ties, of all the myr­i­ads on this globe? That you do your best does not re­ally mat­ter—the in­no­cents still suffer. What do you owe to oth­ers? They have debts of their own. What guilt do you have? We are all of us de­scended from sur­vivors, which is to say, the most pro­lific mur­der­ers. To bring jus­tice once and for­ever would re­quire trac­ing the twisted skeins back to the be­gin­ning, and when we had reached it, we might find we had gone nowhere at all.

To those who con­tend with shad­ows and fret their life away, I offer this thought:

Life does not re­quire as much as you think it does. Your life does not need these fool­ish ag­glom­er­a­tions of chem­i­cals and clod­s—this mi­crowave, this cheese­cloth; it does not need that shoe horn nor does it need the comb over there. You can live per­fectly ad­e­quately with­out lip­stick; and chew­ing gum leaves you no differ­ent than be­fore.

Re­mem­ber al­ways: you chose this. Of all the choices proffered, this was the one you chose, and which you have kept on choos­ing. This too was once but only one of the things you hoped would come to pass. Any mon­th, any day—­nay, this very sec­ond, you are offered anew that choice.

You may say, ‘But I must con­tinue with my job, with my school­ing—else be put out­with, to per­ish in the el­e­ments.’ This is a false di­choto­my: you deny your free­dom. Con­sid­er: 1000 dol­lars suffices to pro­cure an in­ex­pen­sive car, and per­haps a month or sev­er­al’s ju­di­cious use of fu­el; thus, you have your shel­ter from the el­e­ments (and a re­mark­ably com­fort­able one your an­ces­tors would ad­judge it). This is a few months il­l-paid drudgery, and not an ex­cep­tional sum.

Sim­i­lar­ly, it is not re­quired of you that you dine at fine restau­rants night and day—merely that you live in rea­son­ably (but not op­ti­mal­ly) good health. Do you refuse to eat cheap sta­ples like beans and rice? Fine then, con­sider the rhetor­i­cal trope of “re­tirees eat­ing dog food”! A 50-lb bag of dog food will last you around 17 days (as­sum­ing you eat quite a bit every day); that, potable wa­ter (freely avail­able), and a large mul­ti­vi­t­a­min (around 100 days). The food would be around $20, the mul­ti­vi­t­a­mins amor­tized over sev­eral 17-day pe­ri­ods per­haps $3, and then an in­de­ter­mi­nate amount for gas; let us put ex­penses at per­haps 30 dol­lars. A sin­gle soda bot­tle can be re­deemed for ¢5, so to cover your ex­penses would re­quire the re­demp­tion of 600 cans, or 36 cans a day, or 2.25 cans per wak­ing hour. Is this an oner­ous task?

Do you wish en­ter­tain­ment? Pa­tron­ize your lo­cal li­brary, or fi­nally write that novel (does no in­spi­ra­tion strike? Then write your au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, for even the dull and ig­no­rant have sto­ries to tel­l).

This life is not your life, but it could be—n­ever deny that.

Don’t wor­ry. Be hap­py.