I'll admit it- I'm a sucker for ancient quotes. Whenever I find myself in trying times or unfamiliar territory, I inevitably turn to the ancients for wisdom. And why not? They were more than a little experienced with navigating dire circumstances. You know, the stuff that makes our current run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer look like child's play. I'm talking war, blood feuds, pestilence, disease, famine, empirical takeovers, slavery, etc. Looking through the lens of their lives helps me put my own troubles into perspective and to be grateful for the life we have in the 21st century.
The following are five relevant quotes from the ancients with some thoughts on how to apply each one to our current situation dealing with COVID-19. As we struggle to find our way through this pandemic predicament, we can rest in the knowledge that the human race has seen it all before and consistently overcome the odds in triumph.
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." - Aesop
When we think of Aesop, our minds typically default to a heated race between a tortoise and a hare. However, if you pore through the Greek fabulist's 600 written works, you'll find volume after volume of inspiring wisdom that's still relevant in our current day and age.
The mere fact that Aesop, who lived in Greece more than 2500 years ago, would even mention kindness is an anomaly in itself. To put it into perspective, Aesop was born at the tail-end of two separate twenty-year wars and lived through two other major wars during his lifetime. The first was ten years in length and the second far outlasted him at three hundred years. You remember the Trojan War, right? Well, that war (between Greece and Troy) took ten years from start to finish and was waged over a woman. That's basically how peopled rolled back then.
No matter what era you live in, the truth is that kindness is shocking and, if we're being honest, unnatural. It goes against our selfish human nature of looking out for ourselves first and foremost. Therefore, it takes true discipline to actually be kind when it's not even required or expected of you. That's probably why we're drawn to stories of kindness on social media and on the news. No matter how often we see them, kindness is shocking and always a breath of fresh air.
However, as anyone who has dabbled in the fine art of kindness knows, once you go kind, you never rewind. Kindness inevitably creates ripples that can be felt for hours, days, weeks, and years beyond the initial act itself.
Struggling with ways to be kind to your neighbor in confusing times like these? We've already given you five tips to try, so check them out and implement them today.
"Gratitude is not just the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others." - Marcus Cicero
Cicero was the greatest orator of his era and a supremely talented wordsmith. Based on one of his most famous quotes - "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need" - I think he would have fared just fine in a quarantine like ours.
His leading quote above is not only thought-provoking but also has the power to completely and utterly transform your life. Gratitude, or "the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness," is a lifestyle choice that opens doors and windows wide; it creates fertile deltas at every river's end. Gratitude is the salt and pepper to your life's steak. Sure, you can eat it plain?but once you add a sprinkling of seasoning, you'll realize how bland life was without it.
One of the best ways to incorporate gratitude into your life is to keep a Gratitude Journal during these days and weeks of uncertainty. Start with an empty page and write all of the things you're thankful for that come to mind. Start with a few per day or go all out. Go ahead, try it. I know you're thinking how hard it will be, but once you get going it will be very hard to stop. Begin with the easy things: your family, house, and job; then move on to the things you rarely even think about: hot water, electricity, silverware, your microwave. With each new thing you list, you'll think of one or two others, which leads to even more. Once you write each one down, dwell on it for a heartbeat. Consider what life would look like if you didn't have it anymore.
Or, if you're not a journaller, spend a few minutes running through the same process in your mind. My suggestion is to begin or end each day with this Gratitude Exercise. Not only will it usher in a life of thankfulness, but it will transport your mind to a grateful, peaceful place when you need it most- at the beginning and/or ending of each day. Doing so will bring calmness, lessen anxiety, make you a more giving individual, and transform you into a person of peace.
"The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts." - Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius is arguably the most famous of the Stoic philosophers. Not only that, but he was the most beloved emperor of Rome, which was the most powerful empire of the ancient world. Aside from running a massive empire, Marcus Aurelius suffered from a lifelong chronic illness that made life very difficult and painful. The surprising thing is that he lived each day in peace and tranquility, refusing to complain about a situation that was unique to himself. How did he do it? By understanding that certain facts of life were simply out of his control. Instead, he chose to be grateful for what he did have and to focus on what was in his control, including his thoughts, how he viewed others, and how he reacted in and to difficult situations.
So how do we apply this methodology to our current lives? It starts by admitting a few concrete facts. The first is that COVID-19 has leveled the playing field. No amount of money, or lack thereof, will give you a leg up on the threat it poses. Rich and poor are all at risk, as are the young and old. The second is that we're all in this together. Your neighbor knows exactly what you're going through and, perhaps for the first time ever, can relate to you 100%. Lastly, no amount of worry will ever change our reality. As much of ourselves as we give to worry, we must realize that anxiety can only do one thing well: sap all trace of joy from our lives.
To borrow a modern day cliche, the coronavirus "is what it is." Our situation is what it is, for better or worse. There are things we cannot control - being stuck indoors, finding certain grocery items on empty store shelves, navigating the closures, remote learning, etc. - so why should we spend our time stressing over what we cannot change and filling our heads with crippling thoughts? Why not enjoy the time we have with loved ones or savor the peace and quiet we now have to ourselves? What better time to pick up the phone and make a few calls to show you care?
Just as you are what you eat, we also become what we think. These are days to blossom as humans, not decay from worry. Your happiness and sanity depends on it.
"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." - Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher in the 4th century BCE. Since his name literally translates to "Old Master," I frequently go back to his writings to glean bits of wisdom and to find relevant advice from 2400 years ago. What can I say? The Old Master has never let me down.
Direct and to the point, Lao Tzu's mission was to achieve tranquility in all things. But living a life of tranquility can be a very difficult thing to master, especially when you add kids, modern day math, remote learning, empty store shelves, and a pandemic to the mix.
One thing we can be certain of: we will never find peace if we're expecting to cohabitate with anxiety, fear, or depression. Like water and oil, they simply do not mix. So let's think about those things for a moment. Are you anxious about the empty store shelves? Bear in mind, there was never a shortage of food, hand sanitizer, or toilet paper to begin with. Soon enough they will be back on shelves as normal. Concerned about helping your kids with common core math and what their report cards will show at the end of the school year? I'm pretty sure their teachers can empathize with you and know how difficult this time is for parents. Depressed? (I'm not speaking in terms of diagnosed depression, rather "the blues" or "sadness") Remember that you're not alone. It's highly likely that your friends would LOVE to hear your voice, so pick up the phone or have a Netflix watch party with them.
The greatest cure for anxiety and depression is to live for today, not for yesterday or tomorrow. Enjoy the moment, for this moment is all we have right now and time is a luxury that can never be refilled. Get to know yourself and your family/friends better. Enroll in free online classes. Read more books. Play games with your kids (I'll admit it: playing Fortnite duos with my kids has been a blast!). Paint. Cook. Get into K-Pop. Simplify your life. Enjoy your life. By all means, get bored. Many of the greatest ideas in history sprung from someone getting bored out of their mind and living in the present tense to cure it.
"The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me." - King David
Psalms 23 may only be six verses long but there is a world of poetic wisdom in each and every line. Written around 1000 BCE, the 23rd Psalm is just one of many poems written by the unconventional giant-slayer who was well-acquainted with stress and the unpredictable peaks and valleys we all face in life.
As a child, David was a shepherd. When he wrote the 23rd Psalm, he was the king of a powerful nation. Knowing this makes the poem all the more shocking, for in it we see a man who struggled with fear, was running on empty, and compared himself to the helpless animal he grew up taking care of. Why would a king, who could rightfully claim all things for himself, admit to such weakness in himself?
Because it was true.
Despite all of that, Psalms 23 paints such a vivid picture of the greater glories ahead. Trust. Peace. Rest. A time when shadows fade as springtime overwhelms the darkness.
How beautiful is that?
One of the greatest gifts to give yourself during these vastly uncertain times is to wake each morning with the words of King David in your mind and on your lips. Trust in their truth. Find peace in their promise. Rest in their righteousness. Speak them into existence as you begin each day. Make them your motto. Your creed. Your poem and your prayer.
But don't take my word for it. Take the word of the shepherd who slayed his own nightmarish giant with nothing more than a small and insignificant stone and a trust in Someone bigger than any obstacle to ever stand in his path.
"Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever."