I never thought I’d utter the following sentence, but: Instagram is an excellent tool – if you can manipulate it to work in your favour.
A while ago, I had a big cleanse of all of the things that were actually affecting my mental health. I followed all of the Victoria’s Secret models, a sprinkling of Jenner-types and even more models upon models (don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with them, just the way I was consuming their content). It wasn’t healthy. I considered, since I spend so much time on this anyway, that I would curate a lovely wholesome feed full of plants and crafts and general joy! What I never thought Instagram would be good for would be to teach me about ancient Greek philosophy. You guessed it: another article about how best to live your life by some idiot on the internet!
I stumbled upon this video the other day on the ‘gram (@thedailystoic) by American author Ryan Holiday that briefed the viewer on one of the principle Stoic philosophies: Amor Fati. You can probably take an educated guess that that literally translates to ‘love fate’. In the words of Marcus Aurelius himself: it’s “not merely bear what is necessary, but to love it.”
Putting this in a modern context, especially today, seems insane. If your leg falls off, you get fired, you’re cheated on, or someone dies, even, it seems to be a mentally unstable decision to decide you love that it happened. The fundamental principle here is that we take everything in life as it comes, accept it and embrace it in all its forms (even if it’s painful or traumatic), knowing that it will only make us a better person for it having happened. As Holiday puts it…:
“No amount of resentment, no amount of sadness [can change what happens/happened]. So you take what you can from this … you use it as fuel, you become better from it, you become improved by it.”
A fine example of this that I can’t stop thinking about is Holiday’s reference to Thomas Edison. Although not a perfect person all-round (this is the inventor of the electric chair, guys) he does stand as an excellent practitioner of Stoicism (whether consciously or not). When his factory was being swallowed up by flames, he didn’t panic or melt into despair. He stood there with his son – who was rightfully stunned by a blind panic – and said: “Go get your mother and all her friends, they’ll never see a fire like this again.”
And I think that’s a pretty bloody cool way to look at it. There was absolutely nothing he could do there to change that circumstance, so he completely embraced it and better yet, enjoyed the view. Now I’m not sure I’d have the emotional capacity (yet) to respond like that when your whole pride and joy and most likely main source of income is literally on fire in front of your eyes but I feel we can all certainly aspire to have that. What is the alternative? The alternative, quite honestly, is pretty bleak. You’d soon get consumed by a cocktail of despair, regret and sadness, which would only leave you with a long-lingering hangover that’ll eventually rot you from the inside out. I imagine.
After the fire died out, Edison started again and built the same factory from the ground up. The very next day, he told a reporter: “This is going to prevent me from getting bored.” And for want of a more poetic phrase, that’s some big dick energy right there. Now I can’t count on fire extinguishers having been installed (let alone even invented) this time, but you can count on how that Stoic mental attitude helped him keep his shit together so he could focus on moving forward and literally rebuild his losses from scratch.
The bottom line is that, whatever happens, accept it, knowing that it was meant for you, no matter how trivial or life-changing. Of course that takes practice – and time – but remind yourself that ultimately, whatever happens is going to serve you in some way and it makes it all more bearable and dare I say it, worthwhile. And if things do monumentally fuck up, as much as you can, be gentle with yourself and know: Amor Fati – this is happening and I love it because ultimately – in time – I’m going to be a better person for it.