I came home from Paul's last Friday. I didn't mean to - it was an accident. I dropped into home before a doctor's appointment and did an hour of cleaning and laundry etc etc, then The Girl got up and said, "Mum, I'm sick." She was too, poor poppet. Fever, sore throat, sinus headache. Well, that was that, wasn't it? I couldn't go home to Paul after having spent all that time in a house where someone was sick, so Paul packed up my stuff and put it on his front verandah and I drove back and fetched it and we waved fondly at each other and blew kisses, and I left him to it.

Unfortunately, I have trouble leaving things alone, and my mind told me lots of stories, such as the one where I was abandoning Paul when he needed me. This was made worse because Paul stopped taking his opiate-based painkillers which were, ironically, giving him terrible gastro-intestinal pain. Without his painkillers he slowed down considerably and was shuffling round like an old man. At the same time he was losing weight. He's lost five kilograms since he left hospital. When his mother saw him she was appalled at how unwell he looked, and of course, I took that on as somehow being my fault as well. Because, you know, Paul's health is my complete responsibility.. my mind was being very insidious.

One of the tenets of Stoicism that I really appreciate is the exhortation to love one's fate: amor fati, a philosophy propounded by Epictetus and embraced by Nietzsche. I struggled with this for a long time, because how can it be a good thing to love the terrible things that happen? How can I love that Paul has cancer? That he has gone through a difficult surgery and is in pain? How can I love that? Many people consider that this particular tenet of Stoicism leaves us only with the option of passive acceptance of our fate. In fact, Stoicism has nothing against change or positive action. What it does say is that reality is reality, and that fighting reality only causes suffering. Paul has cancer. That is a reality I must accept. Any other response - anger, denial, bargaining, guilt - will cause suffering, and the suffering it causes is all in my mind. We only have control over a very limited set of circumstances in our lives, and our locus of greatest control is over our own minds. It is there that I can accept my fate, and therefore avoid suffering. That is why I love my fate. It is that place where I stop battering my head against reality by railing against it, and say, "Well, hello, here you are, my fate, let's get to know you."

Paul has spent many years working through this concept and is way ahead of me. He accepts what comes. Cancer? Ok. In fact, when the surgeon told Paul he had cancer he accepted it so calmly that the surgeon had to double check. "I just told you you had cancer. You do understand that, don't you?" Paul nods and smiles. "It is what it is."
He accepted reality without fighting it. I truly believe this is one of the major reasons he has healed so quickly. He doesn't fight with reality so he doesn't suffer in his mind. A stress-free mind and body heals very quickly.
I am slowly, painfully learning amor fati. When I was parted from Paul last week the first story that springs to my mind is that I am abandoning him. This is not a reflection of reality. This is a crazy story I am telling myself. At least am far enough along in my journey that I recognise that now. I watch that thought float by, I recognise an old, dysfunctional story, the one where I am responsible for everything that happens to those I love, and I say, "Hello, you, you're here again." I think of a new story that reflects the truth. "I am showing my love to Paul by staying away from him when I could be contagious." Then there's the story where Paul is losing weight and it's my fault because I didn't feed him properly. I change that story to, "Paul and I are experimenting with different ways to help him put on weight. We are getting good help and his weight is beginning to increase again." 
Stories are important. Stories where we distort reality because of old, dysfunctional thought patterns, cause us suffering. Stories where fate is out to get us and where we batter against reality, cause us suffering. Stories that reflect what is truly happening and where we simply reflect what is, reduces our suffering. Stoicism calls it amor fati. Buddhism calls it detachment, where we detach our minds from a desired outcome and calmly accept reality. Christianity calls it embracing the Will of God, an acceptance that whatever comes is intended to come, and that good in turn will come of that acceptance.
It is a difficult philosophical concept to make sense of. It is subtle, but the proof is in the pudding. It works. What I accept and bring into the centre of my being assumes less terrifying dimensions than what I reject and turn into some terrifying monster 'out there' somewhere.

Paul is putting on weight. The Girl doesn't have covid and did get through a throat infection and is well again. My mind is not all snarled up with destructive thoughts so I can enjoy kicking through the autumn leaves in the park on the way home from the library. Lots of good things.

Comfort has been on my mind recently. Warmth, hugs, good food, distracting novels, hot showers, carbohydrates. These are all comforting, but the best self-care is to not tell ourselves terrible lies.. but instead to look for the truth. 


Anonymous said…
Ah, Jo! You have done it again: Written a post at the right time, and just what I needed. I am getting better at acceptance, and embracing the calm that comes with it.
I think of you and Paul often, and pray for continued healing.
Thank you for your updates.
Much grace always.
simplelife said…
I agree with Patricia, perfect timing for me.
Hoping everything goes well for Paul and you are able to see reality more than the same old, same old stories.
Cheers kate
Jo said…
Patricia, ah, my dear, I believe this one is a life long journey, ending with the last acceptance of all, one's own death. And it is all so much easier to write about than to achieve. I am standing with you in your intention for embracing the calm. I'll have some of that:)

Kate, I have such a lot of useless and untrue stories i am slowly sloughing away. Reality so far is better than the stupid stories..
Treaders said…
I believe in stoicism - but damn it's not easy to achieve is it. I'm glad the Girl is doing better and that Paul is able to gain back some weight. I think you're right - I'm sure his stoicism is what has helped him heal so well!
Anonymous said…
Jo your words hit the right spot once again.Well thought out, acted upon and heard by others. Words to think on. Many regards to both Paul and yourself. Wendy (vintage_declutter)
Jo said…
Anna, it takes a lot of practice, to be sure. I find it is easier without all the ridiculous stories i tell myself, that just add to stress rather than relieve it..

Wendy, thank you, it is fascinating to watch the all of those repetitive stories float into my mind, but once I remember that they are just stories, they lose their power.
I am interested in your "vintage declutter" handle. Is it instagram, or a blog? I'd love for you to add a link so i can look you up:)
Anonymous said…
Oh, yes, the stories. Especially the night stories. Thank goodness you discovered the Stoics earlier, so that you can now draw on that wisdom just when it's needed more than ever. I hope things are looking better for all of you now.
Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Linda, oh yes, the 3 o'clock in the morning stories. Aargh!
I do think that time spent studying philosophy, any philosophy, is never wasted, whether you agree with it or not, whether it becomes a guiding principle or not, it is all useful for clarifying the stories we base our lives on..
Penelope P. said…
Just realised I’d read this, thought it brilliant, but hadn’t commented! I hope Paul is now putting on some weight, or at least stabilising, and his pain is now lessening.Those stories we tell ourselves are so insidious, I keep on having to tell myself that I’m not responsible for the ones I love, especially adult children. Their worries are not my worries and it’s not my job to solve them... So, so difficult. I’m going to print this post out, just to re-read and remind myself. Thanks Jo. PennyL xxx
Shirley said…
Powerful sentiments, Jo. Acceptance that what currently, in this moment is, is, and where appropriate/possible - positive action; hand in hand. Best wishes for you, and Paul.
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo,

Control is also an illusion. I don't really know much, but over many years I've been pondering the thought that we only ever have a modest amount of free will. Given that is the case, it kind of makes it hard to know where to use that free will.

Your heart is in a good place, and I wish Paul a speedy recovery.


Chris - Fernglade
Jo said…
Penny, parenting is absolutely the hardest place to just let go.. I am so very much hearing you.. xx

Shirley, some days positive action is a step too far for me:)

Chris, well, in the sense that we have very little control over anything that isn't in our head, it seems pointless to even try exerting control over others. Imagine the arguments we wouldn't have. Huh. Imagine the disappointment we wouldn't experience as we failed to have expectations that other people didn't live up to. We would be so chill and lying about in our hammocks, not starting wars or anything.

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