Quite the opposite, actually.
I’ve gotten “feedback” on some past posts I’ve made on the Facebook page of the religious order to which I belong… and this feedback consisted of utter and absolute disagreement with the idea of overthinking. Something to the effect of, “Ummm… excuse me, Reverend, ya CAN’T over-think anything. Everything is worth as much thinking as possible. Think, think, THINK!”
Hmmm… I can’t say I remember a time that I’ve ever disagreed with something more.
One of my favorite ways to get back to the moment when I’m overthinking is to remember a story shared by my wife. Rev. Missy often tells the story of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and how she prevented overthinking. Mother Teresa was constantly faced with the suffering of people; hundreds and thousands of people who were sick, dying, aged and withered. Every. Single. Day.
Her solution to the sheer volume of humanity arose from the first moment she stepped into her vocation in Calcutta. As a young nun, arriving on the Calcutta streets, she saw all the tears, heard all the moans, and smelled all the odors of illness… and could have VERY easily been swept away in the moment.
Instead, she decided to, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
Worrying about numbers, what’s next, what came before… all of those less-than-simple approaches take us out of the present, and it’s in the present moment where EVERYTHING is happening. If we’re not in the present, we’re in our heads, not in the world.
So what do Stoics say about all this simplicity and overthinking?
Well, Marcus Aurelius says that we need to have a “sturdy mind” focused on “the task at hand”, and in the doing of things, we need to do them with, “strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice - giving (ourselves) a break from all other considerations.” According to the Imperial Marcus, we are to, “approach each task as if it were (our) last” and surrender all “distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over (our fate).” (Meditations, 2.5)
Whether we come at our simplicity through the door of compassion, reason, virtue, or obligation, come at it we must.
In closing, let me share how I come at “simplicity”. Due to my decades-long exposure to and practice of Japanese (and Korean) traditional martial arts, I’ve come to appreciate many of the cultural elements of Japan… especially a type of beauty-aesthetic that comes from there. It’s comprised of (to me) three core elements: Kanso (簡素 - simplicity), Shibui (渋い - a sort of austere elegance), and Seijaku (静寂 - tranquility, silence).
It’s in the spirit of simple, tranquil, austere elegance that I try to approach the world, and this, to me, equates to an existence which is quotidian, dignified, balanced, focused, and which embraces fate…
… just like Marcus Aurelius advises.
(See y’all tomorrow)