Musings of a Stoic Woman: Part One

Pamela Daw, who blogs at Musings of a Stoic Woman, explores how Stoicism can help us to delineate what is really important in life, and not to become a slave to things which have no real intrinsic value. This post is called ‘The Tyranny of the Urgent’.  

Tyranny of the Urgent

O MORTALS, whither are you hurrying? What are you about? Why do you tumble up and down, wretches, like blind men? You are going a wrong way, and have forsaken the right. You seek prosperity and happiness in a wrong place, where it is not; nor do you give credit to another who shows you where it is. Why do you seek it without? It is not in body: if you do not believe me, look upon Myro, look upon Ofellius. It is not in wealth: if you do not believe me, look upon Croesus, look upon the rich of the present age, how full of lamentation their life is. It is not in power; for, otherwise, they who have been twice and thrice consuls must be happy, but they are not.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book iii. §22. ¶3

In my Stoic reading this morning we studied the above noted passage from Epictetus.  My immediate thoughts in response were:

“The Tyranny of the urgent… our world moves at such a rapid pace. We fill our days in the pursuit of so many things that have no intrinsic value in the grand scheme of our lives. How many of us are ill from a lack of time spent in healthy pursuits? How many of us now reap the crop of the seeds that we planted in our past? Let us be ever mindful of our actions and the consequences that come from those actions. Let’s take the time to care for our bodies, and to nurture our souls to the best of our abilities. To pursue those pursuits that are the “big rocks” in our lives and not to get bogged down by the daily minutiae. To live in the present without regret from the past or fear of the future. To live a flourishing life, filled with joy and steadfastness.”

As a wife, mother, daughter, sister, business owner, friend, all of the various roles that I have in this life, what are my big rocks?  The largest rock in my life would be my amazing husband, Michel Daw, my rock of Gibraltar.  My first rock is him to continue to nurture our relationship.  My next rock would be my children, to be able to make time to continue to see them and spend quality time together even though they are grownup with their own households and careers.

The next big rock is my relationship with my mother who has been ill lately and is coming to the end of her life.  A huge priority in my life right now is to spend as much time as possible with her while she is still able to have conversations, to let her know, as always, that she is loved and has so much value to me.  To let her know that, no matter what adventure may await us after death, she will continue on in my memories of her.  I am focusing on enjoying sitting with her in quiet moments, looking at photographs, talking of the past, nesting with her in her illness.  Trying to squeeze as much juice out of the fruit of her life while she is still with us.

In focusing on spending time with my Mum, I then come to the big rock of my sisters.  They are the ones who are bearing the weight of caring for an aging parent.  I am the one who lives four hours away from my mother while they are all within a fifteen minute drive, one actually lives in the same home.  They are the ones who are struggling with the daily requirements while trying to balance their own big rocks of marriage, family and health.  It is important for me to take the time now to try to relieve some of their burdens, to continue to nurture my relationship with them.  To keep the lines of communication open so that they have someone to talk to when the darkness of illness begins to envelop their own lights.  To be an ear to vent to when everything just feels like it is too much to bear.

My next big rocks are smaller in size but are still big enough to need to go into the jar next.  My business and my friends. Working from home there is often the challenge of time bleeding away with the tyranny of the urgent.  I am starting to enforce the practice of setting “business hours” so that I can be more productive with my time and more focused when I am working.  My friends are the rock that is very hard to fit into the jar at the moment with the increased need to travel and visit my mother.  Many of our friends are also involved in the Stoic workshop sessions that we hold in our home on a monthly basis.  This means that they are wrapped into the bedrock in my life, Stoicism.  Stoicism is what my jar is made of, it is not glass, but made of fired obsidian, strong and having weight to it.

What does Stoicism bring to my life as a practice and what are the details that are encapsulated in that philosophy as my personal life philosophy?

  • living consciously  (planning with reservation, knowing that things can change with a moments notice)
  • stewardship  (my body is the only one that I get, my home, etc.)
  • mindful of our planet (trying to live with as small a footprint as possible, conscious of our place in the universe)
  • virtues (trying to live with the virtues as my guidepost, doing the right thing because it is the right thing)
  • letting go (knowing what is in my control and what is not)
  • relationship (my place in the world and the importance of those around me)

Now that my big rocks are covered I know that I have very little time for the minutiae that comes into my life.  I have lately found that some pursuits that I find less than fruitful have been pushing for prominence in my life at the expense of others.  Maybe this has been a coping mechanism for my mind to process the news of my mother’s ill health and imminent passing?  I have not been living as consciously as I would like.

What are some of the pursuits that I would like to minimize in my life?

  • Facebook (while valuable for keeping up relationships with distant family/friends and fellow Stoic students, it needs to be kept to a minimum)
  • Television (our television is already relegated to the basement, but, this has become much too prominent lately)

I am going to continue to work on achieving balance in my life, ensuring that my big rocks do not get crowded out by the facebook and the television sand.  To ensure that authenticity continues to be the main goal of my stay while visiting this planet.

This post was first posted on Pamela’s blog in October 2012 and is reproduced here with her kind permission. 

More about Pamela:

Pamela Daw is mother of three adult children, and has been married to Michel Daw for 27 years. She blogs at Musings of a Stoic Woman  and Words of the Ancient Wise. With her husband, she runs a Stoic community, which meets regularly, in Canada.

5 thoughts on Musings of a Stoic Woman: Part One

  1. Ali says:

    Thank you for informative insights on the value of important relationships. I too have a big rock to be grateful to, my life partner of 32 years. I am a recent follower of Stoicism and it is a solo mission, although I hope it’s influence on me has a positive effect on my family. I am aware though that my loved ones don’t want Stoic mum or Stoic wife, they just want the same, but hopefully much improved “me”. I have found this is achievable but it took a while to find the right balance. I sometimes wonder if it is perhaps a little simpler if a whole family is on the Stoic journey through the Universe together.

    • Pamela Daw says:

      Hi Ali, It is certainly about balance, agreed. I am very lucky to have a Stoic hubby and children who may not identify as Stoic, but do have a great understanding of the philosophy and use it in their daily lives.

  2. Angela Gilmour says:

    Hi Pamela – I agree with you about Social Media and TV taking over our lives especially the under 40s but in moderation they are valuable tools to communicate with our friends and family. We have to be deciplined with time to keep a balance in our life and progress with our projects. I am here in Nova Scotia on holiday with time to reflect on my stoic progress over the past 6 months.

  3. Pamela Daw says:

    Hi Angela, – As some one who works in a “tech” driven industry I totally agree that social media has its valuable impacts in our lives. Discipline is totally the key… balance in our life is what allows us to get those big rocks in. Enjoy your vacation! Pam

  4. Rob Thompson says:

    I recently tried to rewrite Letter 8 of the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca. Its here if you’re interested:
    I found that the idea of “big rocks” fitted in with what he was advocating in this Letter. Don’t confuse activity with action. Some people are always busy working on urgent tasks which aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. Productivity isn’t about doing a lot of stuff. It’s about getting the important stuff done. But if you’re running around doing all the little stuff … sure, you did a lot and you were busy, but how much did you do? Oftentimes we can look back on our week and say, “I didn’t get a lot done, but I was full of stress doing it!”

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