Last week, I published an article in which I talked about the concept of dreams and the illusion they tend to create around our perception of reality. The idea was to try and explore the perspective we have of certain memories and how we wonder whether those memories actually did happen or if they are just dreams we are able to remember vividly. As the conversation went on along with the various philosophical, psychological and artistic perceptions surrounding dreams and reality, I managed to single out a particular point on that matter: those fond memories – good and bad – did happen which would explain why we are to recreate a strong percentage of things in connection with that event. It could range from the exact words exchanged when it took place, the tone of voice used as well as the person’s voice in itself, and finally the emotions and feelings generated when everything happened.
Once again, our first reaction would be to pinch ourselves and try to figure out if this event really happened or if it was something our subconscious produced when we were daydreaming or asleep. Once we find out that this was not a dream, we either smile like idiots because our body starts to generate that emotion that makes us feel thankful for having lived such an amazing memory, the exact same feeling we felt back then. An alternative reveals a certain pressure on our chest, almost like our ribs are getting crushed under the weight of what we felt during that memory as our mind replays that movie in front of our eyes as our body sensors express the same triggers all over again.
It sure is an intriguing phenomenon when you think of it: our mind is able to save and then replicate specific emotions based on mere triggers. Music tends to have the same effect on certain people, me included. In most cases, whenever I listen to any song, I instantly recreate the feeling I felt when I listened to that song for the first time. Regardless of the context around me or of what I was doing, the song will transport me back in time and space to the moment I heard it for the first time. The story this song holds me will forever be engraved in my mind. This explains the importance of music therapy nowadays: it allows the patient to understand themselves through the guidance of music instead of the guidance of what books and people might tell them, to which they would not feel as open.
Coming back to last week’s article, I did finish my writing with a couple of questions regarding the guilt and nostalgia we feel vis-à-vis our dreams and memories.
Where does that leave us in this universe?
How do we deal with guilt and nostalgia in order to stop them from consuming us from within?
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Back when I was thirteen years old, I used to enjoy watching motivational videos in order to get hyped up whilst heading to football, whether it was a training session or my usual Sunday game. Most videos had that common drive and agenda about encouraging people to never give up and keep on working hard in order to reach the top. We have all heard at some point in our lives, as it remains the main message motivational speakers are also spreading nowadays on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. However, one line managed to differentiate itself from all the rest. It managed to become one of my main mantras to live by and always try to become a better person. The line said that”it does not matter what happens to you, instead what matters is what you are going to do about it”.
This focused on a different approach to life. An approach that relied on a philosophy dating back to the third century BC. It focused more on getting to understand the situation and actually finding a solution – or at least a way to adapt – instead of staying trapped within the walls of what is currently to us or to our surroundings. For many, this is the main slogan that constitutes the philosophy of stoicism, a philosophical thought process developed by Zeno of Citium in Ancient Greece.
Whenever faced with adversity, a person’s first reaction would often be to add emotional weight to the collateral damage caused by whatever event just happened. By cursing their luck and feeling sorry for themselves, an emotional spiral starts to take shape, connecting our negative thoughts and plunging them into a state of physical and mental paralysis, with forfeiting and giving up as endgame. Stoicism, a teaching of virtue, tolerance, and self control, focuses on adapting to the situation and figuring out how to come up with the best possible outcome according to the context which we find ourselves in.
Today, a stoic person is often perceived as someone who remains in tense situations and avoids extremes, whether they are political, social, economic or other. Rather than imagining an ideal society, stoics would try to deal with the world as it is while pursuing self improvement through four cardinal virtues: practical wisdom (in order to manage complex situations in an informed and calm manner), temperance (self restraint and moderation in all aspects of life), justice (treating people fairly, even when they are in the wrong), and courage (to face daily challenges with clarity and integrity). As an end result, both Zeno and Seneca have claimed that only those who are able to develop self control and cultivate correct virtues will spread positive change around them, as stoicism focuses on the use of self improvement in order to aim for a better society, as was done through the teachings and writings of Saint Thomas of Acquinas when he connected Zeno’s teachings with those of the Catholic church.
Coming back to the main topic of this article, how does this connect to our perception of dreams, reality, and memories? Generally speaking, it would come to one of the most brutal sentences we can tell someone who feels overwhelmed by their current adversity; stand up and move on. Nevertheless, by adopting a more stoic approach to life, it becomes simpler for people to fall back on their bases and readjust their aim. Another perspective related to stoicism concentrates on the idea that all events and things in the universe are interconnected like a spider web, creating a structured and rational chain of cause and effect. Memories do tend to come back and haunt us at our most vulnerable, though this should not stop us from finding inner strength and peace in order to keep on moving forward. This was the case for Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius when he led his army to two massive victories whilst dealing with the loss of his children, as it was for Nelson Mandela during his twenty-seven-year imprisonment before becoming president of South Africa and giving the country independence.
While the injustices and heartbreaks of the past cannot be changed, we are able to confront them in the present and seek to build a better, more just future. Not just for us, but for those around us as well. For those who are impacted by our words and our actions, whether directly or indirectly. I would probably try to resume stoicism as a more pragmatic approach to remain optimistic and hopeful that things will get better with time, as long as we keep looking forward and not let our emotions get the better of us.
“Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage.”