Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Sports as Philosophy

When practiced at it's highest, sports is every bit as transformative as martial arts practice and is a study in philosophy. 

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at ESPN about Stoicism and sports. The full post may be read here.

"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should do. Be one." -- Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations"

Here is Ryan Holiday, alone in his off-campus apartment at UC Riverside, a decade before he writes a book that Tom Brady poses with next to his Super Bowl-winning football and Rory McIlroy credits with helping him maintain his No. 1 ranking on the PGA Tour. Here is Ryan Holiday before all of that, a gangly 19-year-old sophomore sitting at his kitchen table in 2006 and reading a book that fundamentally alters his life: Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations."

"How did no one tell me about this?" he thinks.

Aurelius, the second-century Roman emperor, practiced a philosophy called Stoicism that argues individuals shape their destinies by controlling what they can and letting go of what they cannot. The Stoics believe the essence of life is how we choose to respond to the things that happen to us.
"Choose not to be harmed and you won't feel harmed," Aurelius writes.

Holiday writes it down. He copies dozens of passages and tapes them to his apartment walls.
"The impediment to action advances action."

"What stands in the way becomes the way."

He reads other Stoics: Epictetus, whom Aurelius loved, and Seneca the Younger, an ancient Roman senator. Holiday practices Stoicism, even after he drops out of UC Riverside to work at a Hollywood talent agency, even after he moves on to American Apparel, where he becomes the director of marketing before he can legally drink. At home he pursues the Stoic tenets of discipline and humility, reading books on philosophy, science and history. He tracks the insights from these books on 4-by-6-inch notecards that fill multiple boxes and become Holiday's own card-catalog system. At work, his voracious curiosity and consuming ambition fuel risqué American Apparel campaigns that give the company, and Holiday himself, a bad-boy reputation. He serves as American Apparel's spokesperson when former employees file sexual harassment suits against the company. He consults for celebrities like Tucker Max, the author of "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." He loses his bearings.

His reading tells him: He has a choice to make. He can be the man he is or, as Aurelius writes, the man he should be. He quits his job. He writes a self-immolating memoir about the Wild West of digital marketing, "Trust Me: I'm Lying," which shocks everyone and becomes a bestseller. He moves from New Orleans to New York to a farm outside Austin, Texas, and along the way tells his publisher his follow-up will not be scandalous. It won't even be a business book. It'll be about Stoicism.

It'll show how Stoic thinking can improve modern lives. His publisher says the book won't sell well, but Holiday believes he's far from the only person who yearns for ancient wisdom. He takes the book's title from a phrase on a Post-it note on the Riverside kitchen wall: "The Obstacle Is The Way."

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