Regular readers will know I live in one of the worst countries in the world, I am being constantly slandered and undermined by a very well-connected personage, and that I’ve decided to stick it out for the remainder of my contract just for the bucks and the chance to escape the rat race altogether.
I have realized that the key to survival here, aside from staying fit and working on my projects, is not to let all this get to me.
This is essentially what the Stoics and Epicureans said – suffering is not in the thing itself but in our opinion of it. If you shrug it off and focus on your real priorities, no harm is done.
But how the bloody hell do you do that?
Buddhists and Hindus have laid more of the practical groundwork for this challenge. To me, the key is to figure out what activities help me to relax and then to do those things frequently, according to a strict schedule to make sure it fits in and actually gets done.
Here’s how it works:
4:15 am: Wake up, eat, coffee. I don’t know why this part takes so long. Until I’ve had coffee my memories are a blur.
5:00 am: Gentle stretch, posture and voice exercises.
5:20 am: Walk. Enjoy the birdsong, smell of flowers, dawn sky and absence of screaming children.
6:20 am: Yoga.
6:50 am: Meditation.
7:00 am: I made a note on my phone reminding me why I am here, what my goals are, and not to let things get to me. I play this as audio to prepare my mind for all the hassles that are to come.
I am now ready to face the day.
When I encounter an everyday stressor, I reread my note or tell myself, ‘Just don’t let it get to you. If you can do that, you win.’ This helps quite a lot.
Sometimes I cannot get rid of the stress, which takes the form of a tight ball of extreme annoyance at all the stupidity and unreasonableness I have to put up with in my upper chest.
I used to worry about it. I thought, that’s probably really bad for my heart. There’s a history of heart problems in my family. What if I go to all the trouble of finishing this contract then keel over of a cardiac arrest as soon as I lay down on that warm Asian beach? I said ‘beach’, not ‘bitch’, in case you’re listening to the audio. Anyway, I can control my breathing but not my heart rate.
And then I realized, worrying about the worrying just doubles it. So instead I deliberately focus on the physical symptoms of the stress and I think, ‘Okay, that’s going to be there for a while, never mind.’ And then it lessens. That’s how you’ve got to do it.
Anyway, back to my routine:
5:00 pm: gym or cardio.
6:00 pm: eat.
6:30 pm: walk. Enjoy the evening sky.
7:30 pm: bathe (this usually involves a bucket due to water problems), get everything ready for next day, clean up etc.
8:00 pm: meditate.
8:15 pm: read.
9:00 pm: sleep.
And I sleep like a baby with a clean conscience.
Weekends are similar but on Saturday I write for 4-5 hours and on Sunday I hike then write for 2-3 hours.
And I seem to be getting by.
To chuck another one on, Cicero said, ‘Always keep honest things present to the mind.’ This is important. One trick your mind can play is to constantly imagine future scenarios where things get even worse. They might, of course, but picturing it constantly gives you unnecessary angst.
If I catch myself imagining suffering some new outrage, getting kicked out of the country, being jailed, being shot, I remind myself that this hasn’t actually happened, that I’ve already weighted up the odds of such occurrences and found them acceptable, and that I really ought to think about something else. And as you can see above, there’s always something else I’m supposed to be doing anyway.
I was until recently marking off each day on my calendar. I’ve since realized that this makes time go more slowly. I’ve stopped, and now I look at it and think, what, where did that week go? It’s much better.
But frankly, none of this is achieving any more than helping me to survive. I am not happy here. I don’t know for sure if I’ll make the distance. But this is the best that I can do.
Any other tips for remaining Zen on the battlefield?