Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

The Stoic Life

I told a man my mind and he asked me “What efforts have you made to destroy this idea? And how may I help to bring it down?” What a worthy friend. So caring of my best interest. Let us war together upon my claims to truth.

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Create a garden within your mind. A place hemmed in by reason. Where you can nurture virtue in true soil. A quiet and simple sanctuary, ever present, always home.

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Virtue is independent of possessions. Though what we have or want may distract us from virtue.

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What is it you can truly touch? Even your raised voice will only carry so far. Distinguish these things. Measure your reach. Attend to practical ends.

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What small routines, mindful actions, and discerning ways reveal the wilderness passage.

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Shout your musings down the corridors of time
They echo and return
Lost at last

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Virtue rests in tempered self reflection. Not much. Just enough to gather the facts. Just enough to gain accurate perspective for the application of reason. Let it go then. And think not of events other than your rational conclusions and the resolutions they entail. And never gawk or dwell upon the circumstance of others, which is an intemperate indulgence, and a distraction from your own true labor. Attend the mending of your own folly, which you alone can repair. And burden not your neighbor with any prying misattentions.

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The routines and vain actions of life are but a bluff and distraction from living. Bright and shiny. New and interesting. Our lives given over to awe and wonder. Our better purpose is ignored. The considered life. The principled life. A life of discipline and temperance. A life spent enacting and enforcing the laws we must ourselves discover and ratify. Police, barrister, judge and perhaps executioner. Engaged in the messy business of applying reason to our base animal thoughts, in the hope of forming something true from instinct, emotion and gasping higher thought. Gasping like a man drowning in the sea of evolved conclusions. And when that higher mind sputters some words of good sense above the waves, how then to remember and live in accord with what we’ve found? When all the sea rages, and none may hear our voice over the froth and din. Still we go on. Swimming towards something better. Straining muscle with willful, disciplined strokes. Until we at last drown. And sink again below the mad waves. Attaining nothing more than the best life we knew how. That’s the thing we seemingly seek to avoid.

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Let every act of virtue be self-contained
At once thought, action and reward
Seeking nothing more
And asking no notice or remembrance

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Do I die now in equanimity? Then I’ve indeed reached a good end.

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This balanced and tuned apparatus
So frail and fleeting
Upon which my everything is carried
Through places and years
Always now
So near never

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Be responsible for what is within your control. Let others own their own thoughts and flesh.

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My first thought at every challenge:
What opportunity this moment virtue?

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Humbly acquiesce to sound principal

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How might I bear well this worthy burden
Carry this necessary weight
Tolerate painful right action
Rather than flee to easy salvation

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When challenge arrives
And panic rises in the heart
Still then the mind
Still more the tongue

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These few square meters of flesh are far more than I can maintain or cultivate. Ruin progresses despite plan and action. My only real estate is my will. A moment by moment application of hard earned best practice. Applied to the ends revealed of Reason.

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I’d rather take less or give up my portion than suffer the loss of nourishing restraint.

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My response is all I really own. The rest are like leaves blown in an autumn wind.

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It’s easy to become a monster
Simply follow
When you know you should lead
Your spirit will die
And something hollow
And rotten

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Man and womanhood are sufficient ends
To a stout and earnest mind
Dismissive of distraction
Heedless of precedent
Careless of legacy
Fearless of death
Consumed of resolve
To speak one true thing
Will fill the empty space

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Peace is easy
When expectation is reduced
To the level of reality

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To give more
And want less

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A WORTHY AMBITION
Let not a single thought escape my mind which has not suffered the scrutiny of reason.

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The scope of my control extends to my thoughts, actions and reactions, and the consequences these might entail.

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To a mind which has risen above fortune, both the necessary and superfluous actions of the day become like attendance to a disinterested game of chess. For while our mind and body must periodically engage the game and move the pieces, our deeper attendance is to matters more worthy of our true character and aim.

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Do you attend your dying breath in this present moment? How much more worthy a pursuit than philosophy. I’d rather reckon each exhalation, in deep fastidious awe, than the gilded words of the holy and wise. Indeed, if their wisdom be true, they’d silence their speech and mind in mute attendance of their own mortality, and the consequent vista thus revealed.

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The fallow field of the well-lived life is the time between riches, fame and security. A time to cultivate a more true and honest harvest.

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The price of leisure is attendance to the fact of who we are and the choices we’ve made. It’s no wonder then we sometimes choose for ourselves the slave’s abject distraction.

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The sober subject of our life’s decline arrives so often late to the feast, and long before the diner has enjoyed their fill.

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The faculty of choice is most keenly exercised at rough and unexpected life juncture. Does misfortune rise in our way? Does death approach? Is it not now in our power to exercise discretion and judgement in recognizing what is within our control? Have we not utter claim over our thoughts, actions and reactions? Do we not possess the ability to watch with equanimity as our fortunes rise and fall again, correcting our course with judicious turns of the rudder, aiming for the open sea yet breathing calmly as we become ruined upon the rocks and plunge beneath the waves. Our opinion and judgement of things lie outside the pale of all external forces besides ignorance, disease and death, which may first weaken and then destroy our resolve and capacity to stand. But until that time we’ve power enough to select and will our own footing. To observe and recognize the vast machinery of the universe’s headlong tumble towards tomorrow, and to know both the scope and scale of our meager influence.

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As I have no one to pray to, I’ll instead suggest an admonition to myself. Let my footsteps be slow today, to delay the world in its orbit, and force time to better measure and dispense its precious ration. Let my mealtime portions be small, let me endure the healthy want of food in proportion to my usual excess. Let me then grow lean and strong as a consequence, better able to survive, endure, and appreciate the true suffering of those without. And let my thoughts be very few and small, just a few words this hour and the next; ideas sufficient to my true need, or better still, my honest lack thereof.

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What opportunity this? Does my leg ache? Fortitude. Does my neighbor complain? Patience and an attentive ear. Have I lost my job, or reputation, or security? Resilience and apathy. Does my life now come to an end? Resignation to facts, and a loving smile to those from whom we must now depart.

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How much better a retiring mind than a retiring body. The first may be attained at any stage in life, at least so far our philosophy permits. The latter only upon leisure, and the gross accumulation of sustaining resource. Liberate the mind at once through the discipline of reason, and you may then work hard to the end of your days in contented leisure.

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Tempered consumption forms a firm bedrock to philosophy. Observe appetite with caution, as you would any passion; sample it to determine if it is mean, base or sound. If wholesome, partake less than you’d like; leave always the appetite wanting; become strong through willful resistance. If our temptation is unsavory, empty, or lacking in virtue, then leave it aside altogether; starve instead on a feast of fortitude.

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My homunculus resides in a barrel within my head. Though my outward man works, votes and pays taxes, the inner self sleeps with his back in a crook, and looks out at the sunrise through a gaping round orifice, begging passerby to not block out the sun. He walks the avenues of my mind with bare feet and a torn shirt, or shirtless if the weather is fine. While I attend meetings, my homunculus meanders alone, or with dogs, in search of an honest man. When I dine he resists hunger with a crust of bread, and a pot of cheese should he wish a feast. One day I will become that better man, that ragged, lean and honest self; when I at last put aside this vain pursuit of living, and choose instead to simply live.

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The will of apathy is neither mean nor small attention, but freedom from undue investiture; to apply our focus and efforts wisely, to make good and useful ends of our days, to be a benefit to mankind, and not burn our energies over useless kindle and conflagration.

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The optimist’s bright luster cannot be dulled by apathy, nor their charity, kindness or philanthropy. Indeed these qualities are enhanced and made potent through a distilled and refined focus; the narrow and distinct possession of mind which comes of knowing what is, and what is not, within our own control.

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Would you detain or lament Death’s rightful trespass; throw up protest and lament perceived misfortune; cry like a child denied sovereignty over all they see and know? To what end…that your gravity and equanimity might go first before the gallows?

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How might I become impervious to well-being; develop an immunity to good fortune, and make the good life a reality despite every blessing.

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What should I tell my child on the use of time? Should I caution her simply to be mindful of its passing? To measure each moment with her attentions, and keep busy with the application of sober utility? Should I recommend foresight towards the life she may want to live? If so, how do I caution her not to reside too long in the fiction of what might be; or against setting up house in the past; or living as a ghost within the life of another? I must indeed offer caution against the waste of moments, which is the sport and pastime of so many; the impatient counting down of hours towards an ignoble, and seemingly, untimely death. Yes. I’ll instruct her to beware all this and more; to mind carefully what is ahead, and what is passed; to not lose sight of her own way by ungracious attention to the footsteps of others; and to know her true and even course not by the landmarks of her surroundings, or the warmth of the air, or the pleasant company, or the ease of the road; but instead by the satisfying perception of firm footing over any ground, any fortune, and for as long as her daylight remains.

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Apathy arms us with the same indifference which the universe wields in the execution of its mindless purpose. We stride through life bestowing benevolence in true proportion to our capacity; sharing unalloyed generosity and love, rich in the giving, expecting nothing in return.

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Apathy becomes a virtue the moment it is applied to events and circumstance beyond our control. I’m apathetic to the desert heat, though I take pains to protect myself from its effect. I apply apathy in good measure to the morning traffic, while reminding myself to leave for work a little earlier tomorrow. And the cancer which may one day destroy my body, and take my life, is equally deserving no more attendance than the reasonable application of the physician’s art, and the competent aid of good council in setting my affairs in order. Instead of worry, my time might be better spent with loved ones and engaged in earnest living. Apathy is our tool and respite from whatever effects us yet is beyond our control. More powerful than fortitude. More tactful than desire. And far, far more graceful than giving up.

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But how can I maintain my apathy in the face of the suffering of others? Do not mistake apathy for indifference, where the missing quality is caring, or the ability to care. Indifference simply fails to care; while apathy considers what truly can be done, and applies its energies towards these more effective ends. Compassion and apathy coexist well together. For who can be a more effective caregiver than the man or woman who recognizes, guides and controls their own emotions and whimsy, and then offers always the most genuine and heartfelt love?

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Very often I only remember to apply apathy after the opportunity has passed. Today something happened, and apathy arrived in time to prevent the moment from taking control. I was riding my motorcycle to work in the commuter lane. Traffic in the normal lanes suddenly began to slow, with red brake lights coming on up ahead, and I went on the alert for drivers suddenly veering into my open lane to avoid the growing congestion. This happens often, as drivers frequently ignore the double yellow lines which divide the commuter lane from the normal lanes of traffic, and fail to see the motorcycle occupying what they think is an empty lane. Sure enough, a dark sedan swings in behind me. It’s a safe distance back–no danger of collision–though my ire rises suddenly when I note the driver is alone…in the carpool lane. It’s a minor thing–this lane is reserved for motorcycles and cars with two or more occupants–though my mind immediately begins rehearsing an old internal monologue of injustice. How selfish the driver is. How inconsiderate to those who make an effort to arrange carpools, or who drive fuel efficient vehicles. And what of the state of society? Where’s the Justice? Have we lost our ethical footing? It’s a long rant. Almost a manifesto. But just as I was getting started. Just as the first flush of indignation began to rise in my cheeks. I suddenly remembered apathy. That lesser known or regarded virtue of self discipline. Apathy, the ability to recognize what is–and what is not–within our control, to then administer our attention, thought and action towards ends we can actually achieve, and away from futile anger and needless upset. I caught myself. I saw that I could do nothing in that moment about the inconsiderate lone driver behind me. I became apathetic to his trespass, and in so doing I recovered control of my emotions, my thoughts, and the apparatus of my ethical framework and actions. Instead of fuming at the man, or worse, engaging him in some way, I asked myself what I could do to improve the social circumstance that perhaps led to and even encouraged his action. I decide to write this blog post. And to share the experience with my daughter. To remind her of the virtue of allegiance to fair and just laws. And to hopefully instill in her some example of life best practices, and the powerful utility of a virtue called apathy. A virtue which helps us recognize true limits, and apply our energies where they can do the most good.

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Apathy came to my rescue again today. I’d composed and sent an email to the team, in which I neglected to state an important fact which I should not have overlooked. When this was publicly pointed out to me, I immediately felt shame, regret and frustration rising up to twist my heart into a knot. But then I remembered my apathy, which first calmed my nerves, and then helped me to identify the factors surrounding this upset. I was then able to note what was both within and outside my control. The fact of my error could only be corrected, but never removed. To let this mistake take control of my well being therefore was both foolish and ineffectual. Better to temper my emotion and apply this energy to a quick response, publically acknowledging my appreciation to the person who provided the correct information, and then to consider steps I could take to avoid such error again. I calmly composed and sent the email. I then collected my thoughts and reminded myself in the future to carefully review complex matters before weighing in with a response. Apathy directed me away from what I could not control, namely the fact of my error, and towards what I could, which was remediation, and the development of new behaviors to help prevent such mistakes in the future.

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Anxiety is an ambush predator. It takes advantage of sudden, unexpected circumstance or worry to pounce upon our back, thrust its claw into or chest, and twist hard the beating heart which drives its fury. The experience is tangible, tactile, and deadly real. When it happens to me I usually find myself wishing some retreat, some way to get away, some relief from whatever external happening I imagine is the cause of my anxious worry.

At age fifty three things have changed. I’ve learned there’s little I can do to alter external circumstances which are beyond my control, and which are the source of my worry. Simply wishing I was away from the problem is a fantasy, as long as I want to retain my duty and abide my responsibility. Wishing others would be different is likewise folly. As is the demand for justice where no enforceable law has been broken. After all it’s not illegal if someone is lazy, incompetent, or simply does not care to do their job well. These things are all largely outside our control. And it’s worthwhile to remember this when anxiety strikes. If only to remind ourselves of the bounds of our power and control.

What we DO control is our reaction and response to whatever is happening in the world around us. We decide what we will feel, think, say, or do, in almost every circumstance. We’re especially in control of our inner world, which is the place from which our external actions arise. This internal world is the focal point of our power and control, and the realm we must master should we become invincible to external onslaught. Not immortal. Not impervious to pain. But invincible to whatever we recognize as not ours to control.

A very busy work day is our problem if we fail to manage our time well, and let our responsibilities pile. That’s our bad. It’s good to feel pain in that circumstance. Let it soak in and prompt us to do better. But if the day is madness because some system or process fails, or someone calls in sick, or our boss lays on too much work, or it’s a Monday. Then what are we to do beyond reasonable protest and a request for help? If these attempts fail then our natural response may be to worry.

But this is where things have changed for me. Instead of anxiety, which is a form of fearful standstill in the face of a threat we cannot seem to overcome, why not try temperance, and apathy, and recognizing the nature of others, and the nature of circumstance, and most importantly the true scope and reach of our own power and influence, our own nature.

We temper our anxiety when we deliberately limit our consumption of anxious thinking. This process involves literally pausing before we ingest a thought, to examine it and lay it aside if it us found to be unwholesome. To only consume the thought if it is good and worthy, and helps us towards worthwhile and virtuous ends.

Apathy is our tool to disarm whatever is beyond reach of our direct control. This is done by first recognizing our inability to reach the thing, to then let it go, and then plan some contingency or scheme for a better world in spite of the thing, using the powers we do have.

Finally, nature. I ask myself: Is it not the nature of lazy people to be lazy? How foolish of me then to continually expect otherwise. Is it not the nature of systems or processes to sometimes fail? Why so distraught then over system or process failure? What about Mondays? Is it not their habit to come once each week between Sunday and Tuesday? If these are true and accurate descriptions of the nature of these things, then let me get over my foolish expectations otherwise. Let me strive to recognize the nature of all things, and though I may cautiously hope for better, I will expect nothing more than their nature.

These are the changes which give me better control of worry and anxiety. The tools are temperance, apathy, and the recognition of the nature of things, along with my own nature, and my desire for reasonable justice and the pursuit of a more virtuous life.

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Fortune once held sway over my well being, as I judged myself blessed or cursed by its caprice. This same force now flails at me like a child; weak arms pounding little fists at my every vulnerability, connecting with dull force and vain impact. The difference is my abandon of well being as a function of well being. Instead now, virtue alone defines and measures my success or failure in all things. Of this fortune has no say.

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