“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as dominant, wholly absorbing idea.” Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges
Every day I strive to close the gap between my current self and my ideal self.
My ideal self has a number of benchmarks but two of them have clearly emerged over 2018 since I decided to kick over the ladder. The first is to be a Stoic and become a virtuous person living a virtuous life. The second is to be a PE Teacher who wants to develop his craft by attending to the creation of meaningful experiences within physical education.
I have shared these ideals with the people I love, the people I live with and the people I work with. There are many positives in doing this. One is that it gives everyone clarity about what matters to you (and also provides clarity about what does not matter). This is helpful when on the journey of life. Reality is far more complex than we can imagine. Even all the things that we can sense are beyond our capacity to take in and act upon, which is one of the reasons why we get lost. Explicitly stating your ideals gives you a filter to refocus on what is important, acting as a compass to help you find your way back. It is in my mind far better to have a clear ideal purpose of being, even if it might be wrong, then no purpose at all. At least with the former you can test it, tweak it and reimagine it, with the latter you are lost, being pulled and pushed in all directions but your own. By deliberately choosing our ideals we can make our life more authentic and richer, than just allow it to happen and rush us by.
However there are negatives in doing this. One is to be called a hypocrite. In the past this would have scared me and I would have done anything to avoid this. On reflection this meant I spent my time fulfilling ideals that others had assigned to me, rather than working out and on my own. I have learnt there are worse things in life than to be called out for being a hypocrite. Now I would rather have someone call me out than not at all. This happened just before the end of term. I was taking an assembly about Stoicism and explained about the key virtues of practical wisdom, justice, courage and temperance. One of my pupils put his hand. I thought he was going to ask a question but instead he made a statement. ‘Sir, you’re not a very good Stoic are you….because you aren’t very calm.’ There was a murmur of assent from many of the children around him. I also agreed with him. I’m not a very good Stoic (and in all honesty I’m not very good at creating meaningful experiences in PE). I thanked him for his bravery in telling me this and explained that I would rather be a person who knows that he is a hypocrite and who tries to be less so than one who mistakes their limitations for ideal values.
So what is stopping me from being calm? What is stopping me from living my ideals? My current self. My current self is not a coherent whole, but a cocktail mix of all my previous selves wrestling for control. Some are good. Like my eight year old self that still remembers the first rush of joy of movement. Some are bad. Like my early thirties self who thinks alcohol is the best way to unwind from a difficult day rather than some form of movement. The bad ones I call the ambushers. In my daily pursuit of closing the gap they are the ones that come out of nowhere and hold me back. Being on the look out for them requires constant vigilance, but we only have a finite amount of willpower which depletes after each successful attempt to escape an ambush. This only allows for another ambusher to sneak in and take over. Recently I found a mid twenties version of myself had taken over during a rugby coaching session. I was screaming at a player to run the same move over and over again as he kept getting it wrong. It took me a while to realise that this wasn’t the person I want to be anymore and to snap out of it. I apologised and I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage with my relationship with the player and more importantly his relationship with the sport. It is moments like this that confirm to me that we need to move beyond mere good intentions and to create principles, routines, rituals and responses to our personal and professional lives if we want to close the gap and overcome the ambushers.
New Year is not a time for resolutions but a time for renewing the resolve to continue defining our ideal self and purpose. Not of setting goals, but by stating who we want to become. For me that is becoming a Stoic and attending to the creation of meaningful experiences in PE. This might not be possible, two ideals beyond my capabilities. However an ideal does not become any less inspiring just because it might be impossible to achieve. I don’t feel under pressure to achieve something more impressive than closing the gap. The outcome doesn’t matter, but who we are when we finally get there does. At least with these ideals I have some place to head towards and I can still revel in the joy of becoming someone I might never master but can at least respect. So here is to ambushing the ambushers and closing the gap in 2019.
‘Plunging beneath your own inner surface through both psychological and historical investigation is essential. But knowledge is not the main point. The point is to achieve a different kind of existence: to live one’s life in the full complexity of what one is, which is something much darker, more contradictory, more of a maelstrom of impulses and passions, of cruelty, ecstasy, and madness, than is apparent to the civilized being who glides on the surface and fits smoothly into the world. Because we are not animals, we are in a position to take conscious possession of ourselves in this way; but because we are socialised human beings, we tend instead to accept the superficial identities and the orderly system of beliefs that civilisation has assigned to us.’ Thomas Nagel