The Day I Met Descartes and What I Learned From Him

It was a wet and windy Tuesday morning. I was in the comfort of my heated car, on my way to the yard to ride my horse Mickey. I was running late. As I was passing the crooked house next to the big stream, I spotted Descartes on the side of the road. He looked determined and like he knew where he was going. So, I kept driving and let him be.

descartes philosophy
Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

There are a lot of stray dogs here and also a lot of owned dogs who simply take themselves for walks. People don’t always fence their properties and they simply seem to open the front door for the dog to go entertain themselves outside. It’s heartbreaking and definitely not the type of pet ownership I agree with, but there isn’t much I can do about it apart from helping the dog if they look lost or hurt.

So, two hours later, when I was driving back home after a ride, I saw Descartes again. But, this time, he looked wet, miserable, and lost. He clearly needed help. I pulled over and put my hazard lights on. I stepped out of the car cautiously and started talking to him. His eyes were kind and his demeanour was soft. I took a step closer and he walked to me, gently wagging his tail. I praised him and gave him a cuddle, before lifting him into the back of my car.

With Descartes safely tucked away in the comfort and warmth of my car, I did the 10-minute drive to our local vet. She read the chip in his ear and called the owners. Fortunately, they got hold of them and the owners came to pick him up. As I was leaving the vet’s, she told me his name: Descartes. I looked confused. She repeated the name again, “Descartes“, along with, “like the French philosopher.” I laughed. What a great name.

Lessons by Descartes

When I got home, I decided to brush up on Descartes’ teachings. Maybe he was bringing me a message for a reason. As I read up on his philosophies, these learnings stood out:

1. “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.

Isn’t there truth in this? Our mind, alongside everything else we have and are, needs to be used in the right way. For me, this is about training your mind to be positive, optimistic, and grateful. When you can do these things, everything in life becomes easier.

2. “Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.

This is a great reminder for a recovering control freak like myself. There are so many things I can not control despite my attempts to do so! Like the dog getting ill, the horse injuring himself, the house getting dirty, or how many books I sell. Yes, I can influence these things by giving my dog and horse the best possible care I can, clean the house regularly, and market myself and my books. But I can’t lock my animals away in a safe room for life, stop dust or dirt from appearing in a house where three residents live, or force people to buy my books. I also wouldn’t want to do any of those things.

But, in line with the first point, I can control my thoughts. I can do my best and believe in the best. When things go wrong or unexpected challenges arise, I can choose to stay positive and hopeful. Other than that, I must let go.

3. In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn, than to contemplate.

This was a great reminder for me to pick up my journal and free write for a bit. Lately, with the stress of poorly animals on my plate, I’ve struggled with a bit of anxiety and stress. Because of that, I’ve struggled to sit still and tried to fill my restlessness with social media scrolling and google researching all kinds of things. Needless to say, neither of those things made me feel better or calmer. Hence, hello Descartes and your prompt to contemplate.

For me, journaling is the best way to do that. I have also put a strict no social media rule over weekends and delete the apps from my phone Friday night and reinstall them Monday. I also try to stay away from my laptop as much as possible on the weekends though this, I have to admit, is still a work in progress.

4. “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.”

Sometimes problems can seem as challenging as attempting to climb Mount Everest. These times it’s important to break it all down. Divide the problem into teeny weeny ones, start working through them one-by-one, and seek expert help and emotional support when needed.

5. “He who hid well, lived well.

This one stopped me right in my tracks. It felt so relevant after the last few weeks as I feel I’ve been overindulging on social media and gotten slightly sucked into the negative sides of it. I see social media as the opposite of hiding. In fact, it’s about putting yourself out there as real and as authentic as possible. Hence, if your posts aren’t doing as well as you’d hoped, your followers aren’t growing, or you start comparing yourself to how well others are doing, it’s easy to feel rejected. This feels even worse if you’re already feeling down or stressed about other things in life. This is when it might be wise to listen to Descartes’ wisdom from the 17th century and hide a little to preserve yourself. Then, when you’re feeling better, you can get back on it if you so wish.

6. “Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.

This made me laugh out loud when I read it. As a recovering perfectionist and overachiever, this is a welcome reminder. I often expect too much from myself and also of those around me. It’s time to take it down a notch. It’s time to focus on what is working and what there is to be grateful for rather than the opposite.

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