SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Control What?
One of these control issues is not like the other.
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
The Story Series in Health: Broadcasting Health, 1933.
You feel it too, don’t you? An occasional and vague sensation that something in you just isn’t right. It could be as clear as slight chest tightness, maybe even a cough. It might be as vague as a general sense of fatigue and malaise. You just don’t feel normal but then again, what person paying attention to our current world does?
In our pandemic-ridden present, a lot of us will struggle with an old and common but freshly alarming sense of health anxiety. It used to be called hypochondria but this term is outdated now partially because it got bogged down with too many stereotypes. Call it what you like, it’s still around and it’s been around. Even Kant had something to say about phantom symptoms and the mind’s ability to create and negate its own version of reality.
…Certain bodily sensations do not so much indicate a really existing disease in the body as rather merely excite apprehensions of its existence: and human nature is so constituted – a trait which the animal lacks – that it is able to strengthen or make permanent local impressions simply by paying attention to them, whereas an abstraction – whether produced on purpose or by other diverting occupations – lessen these impressions, or even effaces them altogether.
—Anthropology by Immanuel Kant, 1798.
The kind of softcore, situational hypochondria that will be spurred on by a serious pandemic is not the same as your true, I’m-constantly-dying kind of hypochondria. Instead, it will be made up of our universal anxiety and frequency bias. When you take an interest in something and that thing strangely seems to have become more apparent only after you’ve paid attention to it, that’s frequency bias.
We’re constantly hearing about COVID-19 from all places, so naturally, we’re going to start seeing COVID-19 in one more place — ourselves.
(A note for fools: this is not a call to ignore symptoms, host a stadium concert, and then skewer me as some messiah of death. Keep it real. Stay home even if you feel no symptoms, as we already discussed this in last week’s newsletter, duh).
Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours
We want it, we feel like we need it, and in reality, we rarely have it. Control is one of those shape-shifting concepts that can be as simple as you want or as complex as you’re willing to dig for. Today, we dig.
We constantly search for control in our lives without realizing: we over-plan and overthink; we push people to do and say things they haven’t offered on their own. Wanting to control the world is normal everyday human stuff. Throughout the millions of years our old-brain was evolving into our new-old-brain, uncertainty carried the quintessential skull and crossbones upon it. There are fewer lions now but uncertainty still reads as “UNIDENTIFIED THREAT” in our ancient programming.
Today, that programming is out of sync; even in the face of real threats like losing a job or COVID-19, cortisol and adrenaline are just two more risks to worry about.
What do you do when the certainty you’re grasping at eludes you?
Yep, it’s those guys again; the ancient Greeks have a philosophy for that. When the desire for control controls us, Stoicism reminds us that control isn’t actually real if you can never achieve it.
The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. —Epictetus
A lot of things we feel anxiety over are beyond our control, hence the anxiety. How many of us are consuming more news than we know is helpful? A part of us refuses to accept this reality; we stubbornly take ownership of other people’s decisions and feelings or the outcome of global events. Care pays attention, control seeks to change.
Just remember: “I do not have control over the outcome of this situation. I have control over my actions and mindset. I will choose the actions and mindset that best support my goals and rescind those born of a desire to control an outcome.”
Seeking control at all costs makes us rigid; as people feel more insecure about their position, they double-down and become louder versions of themselves in a last-ditch effort to keep their world unchanged, that is, to control their world.
A rigid thing easily breaks.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.