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With simplicity

| Tuesday, January 31, 2017

At the top of my Twitter feed sat a tweet that read: “I’m figuring it out.”

Optimism is exhausting. Pessimism is toxic.

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions, partly because telling myself that this arbitrary cutoff will mark the beginning of a “new me” just makes me laugh, and partly because I am always making little resolutions or tweaks to my mindset to see what works the best.

In school, the only conversation topic as ubiquitous as the weather is stress. Everyone’s got it, but if you don’t, you can be sure to find it next week.

It comes from classes, from friends, from family, from extracurricular activities, from sensory overload. It’s unavoidable and overwhelming. Even reading this will probably remind you of your last week of multiple midterms, triggering some stress just thinking about it.

Everyone has a different way of managing, some more successful than others.

Thinking about all you have to get done, analyzing it, planning out your schedule meticulously and making sure you are hitting every deadline you set for yourself is one way to tackle life.

For me, this didn’t work. At all.

I watched a movie over winter break called “A Serious Man.” A Coen Brothers film, the picture follows the life of a Jewish physics professor, and everything in his life is going wrong for seemingly no reason. He is a faithful husband and father, but his wife wants to leave him, his son smokes weed instead of paying attention in school and he is dealing with a student who is trying to bribe him, all while he is under review for a tenure position. He’s a solid dude, but the universe doesn’t care.

What stuck with me from this movie was not an existential nihilism, but more of a solitary harmony. The movie opened with white text on a black background that read: “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.”

The sentence is so passive, so calm. Control is something we don’t have very much of in life. We don’t do things as much as things happen to us. And oftentimes, there is no reason why it happens, no line of karmic retribution that we can trace back to understanding.

I’m fine with that. It’s freeing. So I remain calm when life gets crazy by controlling what I can control, which isn’t much.

Focusing only on what you can control is a common mindset. But what clicked for me was the phrase, “with simplicity.” Overthinking everything was a trap I fell into, trying to understand what was going wrong in my life, trying to fix it all. For example, I would do poorly on a test after studying days in advance — why?

Looking back, I simply just didn’t get the material, and that’s fine, but in the moment I was in a frenzy of confusion, sadness and doubt, because I needed answers. Answers are overrated. They aren’t around when you need them.

So like a hermit in the desert, I keep my mind stripped down to the bare necessities. It’s more comfortable that way. Plus, there’s more room to store fun computer science material.

So if you ask how I’m doing, I’m good, but just one word couldn’t describe it. But I’m figuring it out. And I hope you are doing well.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About R.J. Stempak

R.J. Stempak is a sophomore computer science major who enjoys basketball.

Contact R.J.