“Either pain affects the body or it affects the soul. But the soul can choose not to be affected, preserving its own serenity, its own tranquillity. All our decisions, urges, desires, aversions lie within. No evil can touch them.” –Marcus Aurelius
So you’ve just broken things off with your partner, and you’re figuring out who or what to blame.
-Maybe he left you on “read” and then treated it as non-important when you confronted him about it.
-Maybe she refused to go to the latest Marvel movie when you went to brunch with her and her friends the last three weekends and paid without complaining.
In any case, it’s the third time you’ve gotten back together, and you guys are DONE.
Well, now what?
You could repeat mantras of “Work on yourself”, buy a bunch of self-help books, attend confidence classes, and/or take up yoga. But, really, all of these are secular remedies to a spiritual problem.
The true answer was found two millenia ago, with the Stoics.
Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, better known simply as Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor who advocated the Stoic philosophy has some advice.
But, first, a little about Marcus himself to give him some credibility.
Marcus Aurelius, the offspring of two distinguished imperial Roman families–his uncle was emperor and his maternal grandmother had one of the largest fortunes in Roman history–already had a distinct upbringing carved for the imperial throne, even if his ascension was not so clear from the outset.
However, while intelligent, he was more built for work and, in his scholarship, was drawn to the religious writings of the Stoic Epictetus, which inculcated in the young Marcus a strong interest in stoic philosophy, an interest he would nourish throughout his life. Armed with a feeling of calm mental peace that is the gift of Stoicism, he took on the Roman leadership without fear of anxiety, doubt, or panic.
And so, while he guided Rome through what historians have termed its golden age, he kept a steady mindset of self-control and inner emotional peace that will help with all emotionally hurt, as is inevitable in living a fruitful life.
Come to Terms
So, what would he say about carrying on when that seems like the last thing you can do?
First, take it to heart that this is completely normal, and will continue to be completely normal for as long as humans continue being human. From his Meditations:
“Look at the past…and from that, extrapolate the future: the same thing. No escape from the rhythm of events. Which is why observing life for forty years is as good as a thousand. Would you really see anything new?” (Book 7)
Life is a repeating cycle of events that have been and will continue. With that in mind, the Stoics advise perspective; by treating your break-up as a part of the normal life cycle, it fits into its natural place as a builder of empathy and contributes to beliefs in self-worth.
“…marrying, raising children, getting sick, dying, waging war, throwing parties, doing business, farming, flattering, boasting, distrusting, plotting, hoping others will die, complaining about their own lives, falling in love, putting away money, seeking high office and power. And that life they led is nowhere to be found…The exact same things…. But most of all, run through the list of those you knew yourself. Those who worked in vain, who failed to do what they should have—what they should have remained fixed on and found satisfaction in. A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” (Book 4)
And, in truth, this is a small event. Chances are, you’re going to have more bad break-ups–perhaps even worse–later in life. The good news is, it’s a two-front effect: they’ll make this one look easy-peasy, and, because of this one, you know you’ll get over them all eventually.
“So, too, a healthy mind should be prepared for anything. The one that keeps saying, ‘Are my children all right?’ or ‘Everyone must approve of me’ is like eyes that can only stand pale colors, or teeth that can handle only mush.” (Book 10)
But, for the time being, how to continue?
Acceptance and Rebirth
You’re allowed your few days of grief and catharsis–but only those few days. After your deserved week of moping around the apartment in your bathrobe, texting everyone who will listen and reply, and the seemingly endless Netflix sitcom marathons, it’s time to come back to life.
How do you do that? With acceptance.
Perhaps the most important thing Marcus Aurelius ever wrote in his Meditations:
“We need to practice acceptance. Without disdain. But remembering that our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.” (Book 7)
It’s not merely acceptance of one’s self as a worthwhile person, but an acceptance of the events that occur and what effect they produce. While it may feel awful to have this person ripped from your life like a tree in a hurricane, it is your choice to feel this pain. And, so, while this will help you build empathy and, in time, help those that will go through the same feeling in the future, you will also learn that to feel hurt by it is purely up to you:
“Let it happen, if it wants, to whatever it can happen to. And what’s affected can complain about it if it wants. It doesn’t hurt me unless I interpret its happening as harmful to me. I can choose not to.”
In all probability, you will forget and go through the same grieving process as you are now, to a tee. So, instead of finding comfort in the endless noise of your television, we here at MaArtial have a quick mental exercise you can practice:
- Find a room you feel you can be yourself in– a sanctuary–and, sitting cross-legged, surround yourself with all the stuff that has any meaning to the previous relationship: pictures, movie/trip tickets, clothing, etc.
- Breathe in slowly for five seconds, acknowledging the pain you feel at this specific point, remembering that pain is a temporary feeling.
- Breathe out slowly, visualizing all the good times the both of you had together, with a feeling of gratitude for their happening.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 four more times.
- Collect all of this material into a safe box, and then continue on with your day.
Like all grief, you need to revisit the events/people relevant to the genesis. Avoidance only crystallizes this feeling, and you will always be hesitant to enter into another relationship. So, to heal your self-esteem and confidence as they relate to your relationship, you need to make peace with what happened, remember that inner pain is a choice, and enter back into your community as a freer person.
“A branch cut away from the branch beside it is simultaneously cut away from the whole tree. So, too, a human being separated from another is cut loose from the whole community. The branch is cut off by someone else. But people cut themselves off—through hatred, through rejection—and don’t realize that they’re cutting themselves off from the whole civic enterprise. Except that we also have a gift…We can reattach ourselves and become once more components of the whole.” (Book 11)
At MaArtial, we distill timeless philosophy into practical modern rituals. These can be used to boost self-confidence, improve health, and even find serenity.
To find out more, try our courage-building video course that contains six rituals and over an hour of hand-animated video rituals that include breathing exercises, mediation techniques, and much more. You can try the first ritual completely free.
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