Being Free from Perturbation Pt. 3

Followup to: Being Free from Perturbation Pt. 1 and Pt. 2

When Xerxes crossed the Hellespont on his way into Greece, the river surged up and destroyed the bridges he’d spent days building. And so he threw chains into the river, lashed it and branded it with irons. In preparation, he wrote a letter to a nearby mountain warning it that if it caused him the same trouble he’d “topple it into the sea.” How comical is that? More than that, isn’t it pathetic? I like Marcus’ line that “Why should we be angry at the world–as if the world would notice?”

You can fight and fight and fight and struggle but you’ll never change the fundamental nature of things–that you are a person and the world is an enormous, goalless entity that doesn’t care about you or your well being. And neither do other people.

That’s not to say you can’t thrive in it, or that it doesn’t want you there–(it doesn’t care either way) but you’ll never change that. Perturbation, remember, is interruption or disorder. How can you be interrupted if you aren’t speaking when something else is trying to talk? And how can you have disorganization forced upon you if you’ve already embraced simplicity? Just breathe, and cede control. It’s not just a business strategy, it’s a lifestyle.

Of course, this isn’t easy either. The idea that you should relinquish a little to something bigger than yourself is almost antithetical to you’re “supposed to do.” But I found that when things start to get tumultuous–when I feel like a blowup might be coming or I might be close to fucking up–it goes away when I just stop doing. It’s not encouraging for the ego to understand that problems resolve themselves better without your help but if it works, it works. Try it. Just take 24 hours off from trying; don’t email, don’t call, don’t express your opinion on anything and see if your position gets better or worse. That is ceding control. That is the world (your world) telling you that it doesn’t need you as much as you think.

Seneca, a hypocrite too, wrote “What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.” Beginning. It is a process. One of ceasing to be your enemy and starting to be your ally. That means abandoning the things that make you feel like you’re “helping” in exchange for the true focus on the things that actually produce results.

“Disdain the things you cannot have.” Learn to laugh at the things you hate rather than screaming at them–at lashing the water in a river. How well you teach the world a “lesson” in one instance doesn’t transfer over to another, just like the mountain wasn’t deterred by punishment of the Hellespont. All I have is me. Does it infuriate me that someone takes up two parking spots by themselves instead of pulling all the way to the edge of the curb? Of course, but all I can do is to not make that error myself. I hate it when people are late so I am almost always on time. I’ve shown them the respect that even if they don’t return it, allows me to respect myself. And I certainly note the transgression. It doesn’t make them anymore on time if I sit their and grind my teeth in rage as I wait. I’m the one who becomes miserable, I am the one that loses.

So I think freedom from perturbation comes most simply from getting rid of the things you can be perturbed about and from understanding how minuscule you are in the midst of all the things around you. And to understand that not only can no one else hear the things going on inside your head, but if they did, they wouldn’t care because they’ve got their own voices too. All you have then is to be consistent to yourself–to have your actions align with your principles. Then you remove the dissonance that comes from internal and external contradiction; this has to be the first step towards peace and calmness.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.