The Daily Stoic: January 8, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Perception, Seneca

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Seeing Our Addictions
  • Stoic: Seneca

Today's quote:

We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can't stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable.

- Moral Letters, 74.12b-13

I've always liked coffee, even from a young age, when I would sip the cold, next-morning leftovers from my dad's night-before evening black coffee. But I really developed my love of coffee in college, thanks to a dear friend (in memory of whom I still occasionally have coffee with Kahlua) and a subscription to Gevalia (their Royal Vintner Kaffe became part of our family Christmas tradition for several years).

By the time I graduated and was working my first job out of college, I was easily drinking a pot - 10 cups - a day. I've never particularly been a caffeine fiend; I stopped drinking soft drinks early in high school (I started drinking primarily water, due to tennis and marching band). Even so, that much daily caffeine consumption can and will cause a physiological, chemical dependency - as I found out, when I realized that not getting my daily caffeine intake started causing migraine headaches.

That was the moment that I decided to start implementing regular coffee fasts, to break myself of that chemical dependency. (Side note: a cold-turkey caffeine fast is not recommended, unless you want to spend two days in a dark room, avoiding all sound and light and maxing out NSAID daily dosages. Spend a few days - or a couple weeks - tapering down daily caffeine intake.) I decided to make February my annual "coffee fast" month. I'm sure my liver appreciated the break, but the intent was more mental than physical: in principle, I did not want to be chemically dependent on anything. Now, I simply keep my regular coffee intake at 2 - 4 cups per day, well-below the level that would cause a chemical dependency/withdrawal symptoms.

Addictions, and their adverse impacts, can come in other forms. In our connected, mobile-device culture, cell phone notifications have become addictive, leveraging the same neural circuitry as cocaine and slot machines, and causing hallucinations in the form of phantom vibrations. Cell phone notifications literally cause a dopamine response in the brain. That, combined with a 24/7 news culture designed to keep stress levels elevated and a social media culture that encourages interactions that lack social norms for filtering of thoughts and attitudes (i.e. keyboard warrior syndrome) and the allure of "doom-scrolling" that keeps us focused on the worst sociopolitical aspects of society, has led to a pandemic of social media-related depression among teens (and, I suspect, adults as well).

Just as the types of fat we consume in our diet become the building blocks for the cells in our body - we literally are what we eat - in a mental sense also, we are what we consume, and what we focus our thoughts on. This is a biblical principle. "For as he thinks within himself, so he is..." (Proverbs 23:7 NASB) "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness." (Luke 11:34-35)

As Christians, we understand that addictions - whatever their nature - distract and draw us away from our relationship with God. "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) "“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything." (I Corinthians 6:12)

So how do we overcome these types of addictions, particularly addictions of the mind? By mastering our thoughts, in turn by controlling that which we choose to consume (see, hear, etc.) and talk about. "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2) "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." (Romans 8:5) "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)