On the one hand, the Stoics were big believers in the power of reason. They believed we were rational creatures, capable of thinking away through all the distractions and impulses and biases of the mind and body. On the other hand, they knew that people were crazy—that our mind, our thoughts were hardly infallible and didn’t always have our best interests at heart.
How do you square those two ideas? That Marcus Aurelius is, at one point, telling himself to trust himself and just pages later telling him to be suspicious of himself? How do you square ‘living in accordance with nature’ with all the very unnatural habits and systems and self-discipline the Stoics deliberately practiced?
Perhaps an interesting comment from Jerry Seinfeld on Tim Ferriss’ podcast helps us:
“You gotta treat your brain like a dog you just got. The mind is infinite in wisdom. The brain is a stupid, little dog that is easily trained. Do not confuse the mind with the brain. The brain is so easy to master—you just have to confine it. And it’s done through repetition and systemization.”
The brain vs the mind. Perfect. The mind is our nature, an incredible gift we were given at birth. But we are also stuck with our silly brains—our puppy-like brains that mean well but get into so much trouble and mischief.
A puppy you don’t train turns into a nightmare. Or worse, a liability that can hurt someone.
So we train them. We contain them. We watch them. And of course, love and understand and play with them…while always remaining in charge.