Report on my fifth day of Stoic Week 2014: action and the reserve clause

I had some setbacks today, the fifth day of Stoic Week, but dealt with them.

A coconut oil accident yesterday at Thanksgiving party

By the time we left yesterday’s Thanksgiving party in the evening, I wasn’t feeling so well. I had blamed eating that one cookie and also drinking a bit of spicy warm cider, but as unpleasant symptoms developed (you don’t need to know the details), I immediately knew what must have happened.

A bit of history, years ago I experimented with using coconut oil but found that I could tolerate only a little bit, and in fact quickly decided to just not use it any more in cooking, after some incidents in which I experienced very unpleasant symptoms after a meal and found out that Abby had used a good amount of coconut oil in cooking. We had her limit the use of coconut oil in cooking anything I was to eat.

So it had been quite some time since I experienced those symptoms, but unfortunately, I suffered for over twelve hours with poor sleep overnight, and can only conclude that a large mount of coconut oil was used in Thanksgiving dinner!

My system temporarily wrecked, illustrating today’s theme

So I not only woke up late in the morning today, but was also still suffering physically, was hungry nonetheless, and grouchy. Normally I try to start my day with meditation, but I just wanted to eat breakfast. Abby had gotten up hours before me and was annoyed I had gotten up late, and snapped at me while I was bleary-eyed and trying to start eating breakfast. I snapped back, and she got very upset and disappeared.

While eating, I recognized that I had gone totally non-Stoic, and so after I finished eating and reading today’s theme on “action and the reserve clause”, I immediately went to meditate for ten minutes before talking with her again, in a much calmer mood, explaining what had been happening.

I went back to napping, and then before lunch time, after my final visit to the toilet, I finally felt like my coconut oil disaster was truly over and I could start my day.

I felt I had “failed” in that, contrary to Stoic teaching, I had let my physical distress take over my mind and everything I was doing. I could have dealt better with my situation, acting the best I could despite my circumstance rather than giving into my foul mood.

The “reserve clause” in Stoicism refers to how we act even though we may not like what has happened or what might happen. I did not start the morning with this attitude.


Abby and I eventually made up, but it really bothered me that I had started off the day so badly. I was also feeling like my muscles were trashed from yesterday’s workout (and party play with the two sisters). Later in the afternoon, we went for a hike in Frick Park and both felt better. I considered that my “exercise” for the day, a lower-intensity day.


I had a setback in my practice of Stoicism but recovered, with even more appreciation for daily reading and study to get back on track.

How do you deal with setbacks? Do you have a system, a philosophical principle, to keep you on track?

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