The Best Retreat Is In Here, Not Out There
People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul—especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat and be renewed.Marcus Aurelius
I’ve been a stoic most of my life but never really realized it until a few years ago when I stumbled upon stoicism. I’d heard of it before but never really paid it any real attention. But it turns out my natural way of thinking leans heavily that way already so when I read Stoicism: A Beginner’s Guide to the Ancient Art, History and Wisdom of the Stoic Philosophy (affiliate link – I’ll get a couple pennies if you buy it with my link) back in 2017 it clicked with me immediately.
I’ve always thought it was weird how much pressure people put on themselves about making something like a vacation have so much meaning. Like it’s going to change them or give them direction or peace. It’s no wonder people often end up having issues when on vacation – they’ve set themselves up for the trip not living up to expectations and that cognitive dissonance always leads to unhappiness. The stoic, instead, knows that they can escape anytime or any place. Because that thing you’re looking for comes from within, not out there. And that’s what Marcus Aurelius means.
This quote came up because I’m re-reading The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. It’s the meditation for March 21st. It includes another quote that’s one of my all time favorites that means the same thing Aurelius was getting at:
Wherever you go, there you are.Jon Kabat-Zinn
I’ve always been a bit of a geek. I’m a software engineer and long before that I was a kid born int he early 70s and grew up with comics, table top roleplaying games, action figures, sci fi movies, etc. I was also a bit on the alternative side and really liked my movies and media to be a a bit on the outside of the normal stuff a bit. Stuff like Videodrome and Scanners. One of my favorite actors is Peter Weller (Robocop). His voice is so unique and he just seemed super cool to me when I was kid. I learned later that he’s also a Ph.D in Art History and even taught/lectured. He was in one of my favorite movies and there’s no doubt in my mind that his character was a stoic.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension starred Dr. Peter Weller as the title character and during a perfrmance of his character’s band he said the line “Wherever you go, there you are”. That line stuck with me then and it sticks with me now. It sounded so cool when Buckaroo Bonzai said it and I think that made it stick even more for me. But I thought about that quote for years and years. I still think about it often and what it means to me.
It’s not always easy to look inward. But to me this is where the stoics and zen masters really come together. There’s a peace inside that can’t be found anywhere else. I don’t know if any stoic has ever mastered this but it’s a practice I find rewarding. It helps me most when I’m in duress – I used it when I was having my heart attack. I focused my mind and thoughts and made them deliberate. I focused on my breathing and just being still. I slowed my heart rate and my breathing. There were moments when the fear would almost break free but thanks to growing up with a dad who was into zen and my nature already leaning into this kind of thinking I never really freaked out.
I’m not a religious person and I don’t believe in hokey bullshit. I’m a lifelong skeptic. Stoicism can sound almost like religion or “The Secret” or some other hokum. But all it is is a way of thinking that can help make sense of some things for you. It’s not the ultimate answer to anything. It’s just one tool, though I feel it’s a very good one, that can help navigate a complicated world. As Dan Aykroyd said in Evolution “Someone take this bag of snakes and lay them out straight.”
Note: The poster is a Limited Edition Giclee print that I recently picked up!