Reflections on Aphorisms #57

I feel like I’ve had a breakthrough today. It’s not one I can explain, but something just clicked and I feel like I’m a better person in some small, possibly intangible way.

I know that sounds kind of crazy, but I stand by it. I’m also feeling a little crummy, so it’s not just an elated high. I guess maybe doing more reading on mythology (currently African mythology) has helped me unlock something in my mind, or maybe I’ve just gotten into a mood.

Aphorism 91

My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.

Montaigne

Interpretation

Have I ever mentioned that I love Montaigne’s work? He’s like if you crossed Mark Twain and Socrates, and he’s just fantastic. The first great modern, and the last great classic. Impeccable.

I identify very strongly with this quote, and I think most people do. Especially in this modern day and age, a lot of people seem to be of an anxious type (myself included), and that doesn’t do us any favors.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in my own life is that I have an infinite ability to let my mind wander, and usually I let it wander into the things that I’m most afraid of.

There’s value to this. It helps prepare me for what comes next.

The problem is that usually the worst stuff doesn’t happen.

There’s a stoic injunction to contemplate the worst and then accept it, and I think that’s something to learn from here.

When I find myself worrying, I sometimes ask myself “So what happens then?”

Usually the answer is less dismal than one would think.

I’m not good about this, and I think I need to get better about it (back to my Latin teacher’s “What is this to eternity?” question again), but it’s something that provides a little opportunity to improve and I could do quite easily.

One of the other things to note here is that Montaigne had a lot more to worry about than we do, at least in general and in the severity of his worries (e.g. plague, civil war, religious conflict). Our problems are real, but how many of them really threaten us? We’ve built society primarily to protect ourselves, and we lose that advantage if we don’t keep a clear mind.

So what’s the take away?

Things are never as bad as your mind can make them.

Resolution

Be prepared, but don’t over-plan.

Keep it all in perspective: the chance of the worst thing happening is low.

Don’t over-dramatize your life. You have value, but you also are finite. Come to grips with that.

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