No, I really mean that. This isn’t irony.
A three day visit to the picturesque port city of Valparaiso in Chile turned into a testing moment of mental fortitude for me after my expensive camera and external disc drive with years of photos was swiped in a hostel I was staying in. I had been careless with my belongings since I was alone in the airbnb, my host showed her around the other vacant rooms whilst I worked in the room next door and my things mysteriously disappeared. It felt like a kick in the guts. Perhaps my most prized possession, my penchant for recording incredible Latin American landscapes has quickly been developing into a new passion.
But we must make the most of everything, we must think optimally if we want to suffer less and enjoy our lives more. There’s no other way. Marcus Aurelius helps remind us:
When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.
So what do we do with emotions such anger and anxiety? We focus furiously on what we can do and then move on. (In my case) call the police, search online and the local markets for second hand sales, put up notices throughout the streets. And philosophise. Epictetus can help us here:
There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.
I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?
What should our self-talk be?
Put it in perspective
It hurts at the time but in the big picture perspective of life the theft of a camera is really rather trivial. There are undoubtedly infinitely more difficult hardships to endure and the chances are that you’ll probably be robbed a few times in your life. When it does happen, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves: “is this the condition I so feared?”. Even if this amounts to a few thousand dollars throughout the course of a lifetime it’s a tiny percentage of your entire life income. You probably spend far more in insurance.
The fear of theft should not stop my doing anything but I have to accept that if I travel in the way I do there is the risk that I could lose anything or everything. If or when it happens it shouldn’t be a surprise, I must be ready for it. I have to be able to recover from it and be thankful. Fortune does what she pleases, no one is outside her powers and we must be ready for her.
In the local market the camera vendor cackled when I asked him where they sold stolen cameras. His response was “who me?” making light of the crime which was somewhat unpleasant. It made me wonder why they think it’s OK to steal from people and how they don’t care about the impact they have. To fully understand perhaps one need to live their lives. Could this all be rooted in a dislike of anyone that has benefitted from being born in a country that has historically derived riches from ruthless colonisation? Look at things from their perspective, if if you may not agree it can help dissipate the emotion…
What are the positives?
How can I be thankful? I never would have chosen this but sometimes the best lessons in life are those which are forced upon us. Perhaps most importantly, it makes me mentally stronger which is worth far more than the value of a camera:
- It forces me to create my own happiness internally and depend less on the materialistic.
- I can practice recovering and handling a situation where the stakes seem high but are actually relatively low. This inoculates me against future mishaps.
- Through the support of family and friends our relationships are made stronger.
- I will be less careless with my belongings!
So I thank you Chilean 55 year old confidence trickster, no doubt she has had far more testing times than me. Sadly she has been misguided in how she has directed her misfortunes and has been sucked into a dark world of deceit and misery. Maybe one day she’ll find the strength to escape and be happy.
I have not lost a camera, I have merely returned to the state I was in before I had the camera. I don’t remembering caring then…