Being Like A Squirrel

We often find that we keep ourselves busy just to avoid thinking.

It’s one of those wierd coping methods we all have and fill our lives with work, activity and Netflix to keep sane when we try to run away from our own thoughts. Is it cowardice that keeps us from looking where we don’t want to look? For me, I can’t sit on the bus without music or risk the creeping invasion of overthinking and hollow gut feelings of a strange dread. It makes those moments before sleep the most terrifying parts of the day. Those moments where there’s nothing else to think about other than exactly what we’ve been trying to avoid.

Then perhaps, is this why we find that some people have such a hard time on holiday? A panicked pause between stuff – a silence of the mind leaving nothing but the echoes of exactly what we don’t want to hear.

“You’re going to be alone.”

“You’ve failed.”

“They hate you, you know.”

“What was that earlier? Did you notice that?”

“Have you checked yourself for lumps?”

So what can we do to combat this? When the panic strikes it seems entirely hopeless to escape the thoughts and patterns until we find something to distract us from them. Here, I think of a song I heard recently that I forget the name of, the core concept was: be like a squirrel.

A squirrel gathers nuts and acorns for winter, one at a time. They don’t attempt to tackle the enormity of the task all in one go, this tiny animal takes things as they are, one piece at a time.

You’re going to be alone – we call a friend or look for a social outlet.

You’ve failed – you’ve not attempted.

They hate you – you haven’t asked.

And so on…

Of course, easier said than done but we approach these problems and each of our worries and troubles like a squirrel, acting with one acorn at a time. It’s the core of stoicism: progress everyday. As long as we can make progress in some way everyday, then we are achieving. Even if that means spending an entire day in bed, trapped by lathargy, we are making progress by taking that time for ourselves in some way. Even a relapse, we think of them as backsteps but in fact we are falling forward, with each new thing to trip over, a new lesson and thus: progress.

Recently, I lost someone. Not literally, but it was a rather definitive break up for the sake of prioritising healthy choices and recovery over relationships. Which is fine of course, a reasonable and logical choice. Yet for us both, I think, when we both felt such a pull towards each other, it makes for a difficult ending. But like the Jedi philosophy (psuedo-Taoism), says, nothing is ever really gone just transmuted. A feeling of loss, transmuted is a lesson in ressiliance and a smile of gratitude for the experience in waiting. So how do we transmute?

The answer is another question with a more satisfying answer: how does the squirrel meet it’s problems? One nut at a time.

There’s a joke in that, I’m obviously far too mature and serious to make (wink).


Stoic Advice For Pain

I am experiencing pain at the moment, physical that is. For the second time, I have a lump in the roof of my mouth that will need another biopsy and some home-kit blood tests required some serious stabbing with planchets. Laughable I know, I can deal with it. In this time of pandemic, I am grateful just for what I have. Yet a true application of stoicism took place today. While this is not so notable, it’s worth mentioning: while I was building myself up to jab my finger tips with this needle there was a moment of hesitation. The dreaded what if. I said to myself, like a stoic: “You are fearing pain rather than experiencing pain. Pain is inevitable, get on with it.

While you can call me chicken-shit for even needing to build up the nerve to do something that diabetics do on a daily basis – that would be fair – it’s a minor example of stoicism in action. It doesn’t need to be this grand monologue about ethics on biblical proportions. It’s the little things everyday that keep us moving along the path properly and with dignity. I am not harmed by feeling pain, in reality, neither are you. It’s a sensation of the body to tell you that the vehicle has been damaged in some way.

“Whenever you suffer pain, heave ready to hand the thought that pain is not a moral evil and does not harm your governing intelligence: pain can do no damage either to its rational or to its social nature. In most cases of pain you should be helped too by the saying of Epicurus: ‘Pain is neither unendurable nor unending, as long as you remember its limits and do not exaggerate it in your imagination.’ Remember too that many things we find disagreeable are the unrecognized analogues of pain – drowsiness, for example, oppressive heat, loss of appetite. So when you find yourself complaining of any of these, say to yourself, ‘You are giving in to pain.’Meditations 7.64

I’ll refer to Batman comics here. In the stories, Batman is often under attack and his Batmobile is damaged and it gives him an alert – our analogue for pain in this analogy. Sure, he’s often disgruntled but he works around this, he adapts and still manages to get on with what he needs to do. This, in this case, is often beating seven shades of shit out of someone with a mental illness.

Back to the real world, this lump in the roof of my mouth: either normal mucosa or perhaps a salivary or glandular issue, or perhaps a tumour. It hurts but so what? I’m not worried about the what if’s of it, and with a bit of Bonjela its soothed enough for me to not notice it for hours. I have taken steps to call my GP to arrange a consultation because that would be self-destructive laziness not to. It’s like knowing you have a sort of flat tire on your car and ignoring it – or Batmobile to carry on the analogy.

Fearing pain is like fearing change, fearing change is like fearing breath entering and leaving the body. Yet in those moments where we allow our unnational thoughts to obscure the truth we falter. Allow yourself to have these moments, it’s only natural, but also allow yourself to access the rational mind. Let these moments be just that: moments. Not long drawn out panics nor worries that lay heavier than the sensation of the planchet itself.

“If you remove the judgement of anything that seems painful, you yourself stand quite immune to pain. ‘What self?’ Reason. ‘But I am not just reason.’ Granted. So let your reason cause itself no pain, and if some other part of you is in trouble, it can form it’s own judgement for itself.” Meditations 8.40

There’s a phenomena I experienced as a child that many other may also have experienced. I was clumsy and fell over a lot and got in all sorts of scrapes. Yet there was this one occasion in Bordeaux on a camping holiday when I was in a quadbike crash. Long story short: it was on top of me. I wasn’t too bothered, I was confused more than anything, bemused even. Yet when others told me how dangerous it was and how bad it looked, I suddenly felt a wash of pain and wailed and complained. My own rational mind thought it was amusing yet something happened. Was it shock or was it one of those moments where the expectation of pain was worse? In any case I got back on and finished the fucking lap – finished last, of course.

The Buddhists hold a core belief that pain and suffering in some form or another is inescapable in the human condition. The Taoists believe that where there is pleasure, there will also be pain (at different times -unless you’re into that, no judgement here). Both are true. I get colds in the winter so naturally, it’s a dispreffered time of year yet I don’t panic when the leaves start to brown. Accept pain like you accept the days of the week transitioning into the next. Accept it and adapt whether that be in mind, body or spirit.