I don’t know about you, but I know I have wasted a lot of time and energy worrying about things over which I have no control. Actually, I take that back, I do know about you. Conscientious people ALL do this, some just more than others. Personal responsibility is critical, but the trick is to understand the limits.
I don’t presume to be able to improve on the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, but I think I would add something- it’s not enough to just realize this concept, you have to then choose to act on it!
The irony here is that choosing to exert power over your mind is easy at a meditation retreat or on the massage table, but really, really hard when you’re on worry overload! As a psychiatrist, I can attest that anxiety is the symptom common to every mental, emotional and physical disorder.
This brings to mind the Serenity Prayer which dates back centuries in various forms, but the modern adaptation was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1950’s:
God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
What AA founders understood was that addiction is a way to manage anxiety (not very efficiently, as it turns out), and that the only way to overcome the compulsion to drink or drug or whatever is to choose to live according to this principle. What Marcus Aurelius calls power over mind is the same- choice to accept serenity, courage, and wisdom.
It’s not easy, but the good news is it’s cyclical! Taking advantage of the power over your mind generates strength which then generates more power, and so on. So next time you find yourself in a worry spiral about the situation du jour, try transferring your energy inward instead, and concentrate on building that ultimate strength!
Minds Matter does not provide crisis or emergency services. If you or someone you know is currently suicidal, violent, severely confused, paranoid, or hallucinating, IMMEDIATELY CALL 911.
After the immediate crisis, click here for a list of resources for assistance with suicidality, substance abuse, or severe mental health symptoms such as paranoia, delusions (losing touch with reality), or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.)