Fortitude – Week 7

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

This week, I reflected on the calm that emerges from getting things done.

Since all I could think about was finishing my endless list of half-read books, I decided that, over a week-end set aside for rest, I would finish four. That was about 18 hours of reading in two days which, strictly speaking, seemed possible. I even thought it might be relaxing. It worked. By the end of Sunday, I was down to 55 hours by the end of the year, and two books only: Musil’s Man Without Qualities, and Cao Xueqin’s Story of the Stone. Which came with a deep sense of calm.

A month of travel in June, directly followed by intense activity, left me flustered and exhausted. It was a cold winter in Melbourne, I had a string of deadlines to meet, and major PhD writing to do. I pushed all sorts of minor things aside and – therefore –  accumulated a guilty backlog of mental to-do’s: follow up emails to write, clusters of mess in drawers and folders, and a general sense of impending doom and profound inadequacy. With my PhD mid-candidature deadline passed, I decided to clear this up. On Monday, I took the morning off to write down each of the things in my brain on a yellow post-it note, and start classifying them. Then, one-by-one, I started getting them done.

Unexpected things happen, we change course, and leave a commitment pending. Over time, this accumulates, and we live with a constant work-lag. It’s not much – 3 to 5 hours would suffice to get rid of it – but it creates a grating nervous tension. The solution is either to resolutely tick the log off by putting in extra work, pass it on to someone, or firmly decide that it will never get done. That’s what I did on Tuesday, killing off some past commitment, then tackling others face-on. I spent an evening finishing a range of web-design and editing tasks. It was not a particularly pleasant process, but when I closed off my computer by 10h30, I felt a deep satisfaction. As we do when we travel overseas, and finally reach the room: we feel weary from the plane and buses and jetlag, but here’s a bed, we’ve done what we needed, and now the only thing we should be doing is rest.

We spend a lot of our lives in the past and the future – ruminating on failures and frustrations, or anxiously waiting for things to come. But fortitude brings a great sense of presence: it is about adapting to what the moment requires of us. Part of courage is a capacity to drop our worries, so that we can better engage with what is there. Fortitude exists in the present.

That sense of presence also directly stems from a regular exercise routine: daily gymnastics, meditation and qi-gong affect the brain, and bring a sort of mechanic joy. This joy extends to the act of training itself, which I am now beginning to relish for its own sake. As the number of reps increases, I notice that their level of intensity, and my capacity to give them full attention, is growing in parallel.

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 237

Sit-ups: 237

Squats: 237

Dog-cows: 237

Bird-dogs: 237

Back twists: 237

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 7 reps for each element

Meditation: 7 sessions

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