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The socratic squat

Like most humans going through the lifestyle shifts caused by the quarantine, I had my ups and downs. Lots of ideas, conversations, obsessions, depressions, mini-crises, little joys. The exceptional character of the situation and the forced resilience got me in all the different states I know. From the peace of a truly restful night of sleep to the dull, unidentifiable pain caused by the awareness of the imperfection of our capitalistic world, I navigate life. I considered complaining about how this specific time of the pandemic was bad timing to conduct the laborious task of writing down my own operating principles. In typical fashion, I immediately shamed myself for considering such a thing but still allowed a few introductory words to make sure I didn’t forget.

I. Squats

The effort is enough, declared Ryan Holiday. Finding satisfaction in knowing that we gave our best shot is appealing to me, it gives me the chills. I want to feel like what I do matters at least to myself. We all have to try in some ways. To not fall too quickly into the nihilistic void characterizing the modern depression. On the other side, “the endless hell of the intellect” is just as frustrating. Masanobu Fukuoka invites you to observe that you can see the universe in a drop of water, or… just a drop of water on your skin (he says it better than this but that’s the TLDR). Both of those statements are valid, one just takes a lot more effort to explain, for what? Between choosing ignorance and over-intellectualizing lies a gap that I like to call “reasonably trying”. Dieter F. Uchtdorf nicely pointed out that — there is beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions. Squats (Dieter didn’t talk about his glutes) are a way to exercise your body but there is so much more to it. I’ll keep gettin’ low. Flexing my glutes. Not sure why. Just doing it.

II. Socrates

It all goes somewhere, just like squats or the Socratic method. As in, you are definitely getting stronger, and more comfortable with pain and effort. You can’t go wrong with squats, it will help. Just like the Socratic method, you are flexing your brain, pushing the boundaries of your intellect, and getting more comfortable with how little you know and how flawed, limited, and precarious knowledge is. But at the same time, it doesn’t go anywhere. Because you develop a better, though more painful awareness of how futile any effort is. You can squat all you want, but you can’t fight against time and aging. You can debate and research as meticulously as you can but as you do so, you realize how little you can solve and how an answer triggers more questions, thus adding little value to the world. Falling into the nihilistic hole is tempting and reasonably compelling. After all, not every action needs to have a deep meaning for you to carry it. If not we would all be depressed; but aren’t we all depressed in some ways?

III. The actual squat

The underlying lack of sense in existence is frustrating. Seneca long ago defined frustration and gave a simple antidote. He stated that - Wisdom lies in correctly discerning where we are free to mold reality to our desires and where we must accept the unaltered with tranquility. So technically with enough of that “wisdom” thing, we should be able to accept our condition or at least peacefully give up on what creates the source of unpleasantness. Just like any set of squats, the last ones are a bit of a pain. Pain not being the goal (for most of us at least), it should be admitted to stop. When to stop? When it start to hurt? When you can't do another rep? When you feel like it? There is no objectively wrong answer. Squatting is the right thing to do. Doing it for the sake of being a better person (physically, mentally, emotionally, or even spiritually if that’s your thing) is the essence of the Socratic squat. The man was looking for the definition of virtue and believed that virtue was directly related to knowledge. Since we all get better in some ways by squatting, that also inches us toward virtue, so we all (objectively) should.

Footnote: Of course, a squat is a weird, somehow culturally loaded thing (what isn’t these days), and ultimately not the true hero of the story. Whatever brings you a tangible, even tiny, bit of contentment and appreciation for your existence as a living organism here and now, do it. I just happen to like squatting (very frequently) - I also like eggs, I could have named this the Socratic omelette.

← Index / Published on 2020-05-12