Lesson From Horseflies

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The first wave was modest, but unexpected as a blizzard in the Atacama Desert.  Enormous, jet black and staggeringly persistent.  Their ominous shadows were the first sign of approach, quickly followed by a loud whhhhrrrrrr.  After the first few encounters, the only means of evasion, we found, was to hit the ground and take shelter against a boulder.  

Day after day, we were under attack.  Our enemy:  the Patagonian horsefly.  These ravenous, bloodthirsty beasts came in bunches and their mission was clear.  Their excruciating bite was noted even by Charles Darwin on his voyages of The Beagle.  Why did evolution ever bring these beasts into existence?  As it turns out, they only turn up for about three weeks every summer.  Of course, it was right in the dark heart of our adventures in Southern Chile.  

Despite their nearly omnipresent schedule (much unlike Chilean businesses, they’re reliably open for business 9am-9pm every day) and extreme irritation, there were a few things to be learned from these meddling menaces.  

Stillness is Essential – While engaging in a glorious early morning yoga session overlooking Caleta Condor (see below, one of the most stunning beaches in South America), I was nearly ignored by the horseflies.  While it wasn’t complete invulnerability to their attacks – more on that later – it was progress.  While one passing bug was brushed aside, the slow and deliberate movements attracted no other uninvited guests.  This marked a stark contrast to previous displays of Jackie Chan-ing the pests with jabs, kicks, and flings of any nearby blunt object.  With one particularly memorable karate-chop, I knocked over two water bottles while completely whiffing on the enemy.  The lesson here was that calm always outweighs spastic.  Slowing down and acting with deliberation gets tasks accomplished while generally avoiding collateral damage.  RIP, water bottles.

Mindset Controls Experience – At one point, during the first day at Caleta Condor, I said “if these f*ckers weren’t around, this place would be paradise”.  Later on, I took an issue with my approach.  Caleta Condor IS paradise.  A spectacular crescent moon beach with hot, but not stifling, weather, surrounded by lush Valdivian rainforest, and only accessible by boat (horsefly air travel notwithstanding).  If that isn’t paradise, it doesn’t exist.  Fair enough, the horseflies were bad – the size of a plump raspberry and shockingly tenacious.  Due to the remoteness, there were few other beachgoers there; however, each of them could be observed swatting away continuously.  But seriously, letting some insects ruin this majestic, secluded piece of heaven would be tragic.  The difference-maker, of course, is mindset.  Things happen, obstacles always find their way into our lives and stand between us and fulfillment.  How we relate and respond, that’s 100% our choice.  Letting pests affect our mental state is completely within our control.  Do we want to let the dogged little buggers win?  No, and they won’t, especially when we seize control of our mindset, observe before we react, and stay positive in spite of unrelenting obstacles.   

Embrace Oneness – This analogy may seem a bit rich, but hear me out:  when lying horizontally, or leaning against a rock, the pests vanished.  Even when being traveled by a pack of them, we hit the deck and they were gone.  Sure, it’s probably to do with their sensory preceptors, but there’s never a bad time to get more closely connected with the planet.  Laying down in the sand, embracing nature, literally being one with the Earth – it brings relief from whatever is dogging us.  

The next time a relentless, overwhelming obstacle is interrupting my paradise, I’ll check back on these lessons:  slow down, take control of my mindset, and reconnect with nature.  A lesson from an unlikely source.  Still though, in the name of Darwin, curses be upon the origin of these damn species.  

Andrew Langford

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

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As a subscriber to Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic email, I signed up for his New Year, New You 21 day challenge. Each morning I wake up to an email and 2 min video where Ryan explains the challenge for that day and shares some tips and tricks to help us be successful. It’s been fairly easy so far (watch the sunrise/sunset, take a cold plunge). Today’s challenge sounded like hell.

Find a quiet solitary space.

Turn off all electronic devices.

Count to 1000.

Having never counted past like…60… before, I wondered how this might go. I decided to count using the rhythm of my livingroom clock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock Tick. Tock. The challenge was meant to take roughly 15 min but it took me 30min as I counted on the tock (every 2 seconds). Ryan’s advice was, “don’t break it up into manageable chunks, don’t celebrate key milestones (500), don’t celebrate when you finish (1000 baby!!!). Be still. Be in the moment. Take it in.” It was solid advice. 🙂

As I started, I felt the weight of Pascal’s famous quote but was confident I could do it. And I did! Sure, there were moments when my brain auto-piloted the numbers and when I reached 550 I remember thinking, “damn, I’m just over halfway there??” but my meditation training kicked in and I gently brought myself back into the rhythm. In the end, I actually found it relaxing.

We’ve all heard the classic advice, “close your eyes and count to 10.” The wisdom behind this is the pause allows our angry/anxious thoughts to slow down and we can begin to feel the stillness/ peace again. In short, it prevents a potentially negative experience for us and for others we may lash out against. Today’s challenge taught me that sometimes we need more than 10 seconds.

You sleep through your alarm.

A long-time employee announces he is starting his own landscaping company.

World War III is trending on Social Media.

It’s funny how the universe works. These are 3 fairly anxiety-inducing human experiences but because I spent 30 minutes in solitary stillness, I was able to take in all these realities and move forward in confidence knowing that it’s all good. Or at least, it will be. 🙂

It is all good. No matter what you’re going through. Stoicism reminds us that while we can’t control everything we can control something. Our reaction! In this, we are always in control (which is great news for control freaks) 😉

We count to 1000 not because it’s a cool badass challenge but because we never know when a real challenge will hit and we’ll need the stillness training. Resilience is a habit cultivated daily. Practice makes us perfect.

So let’s go!

The clock is ticking.