Sudden and Unexpected

A received a tearful call tonight informing me that the young son of a family friend had been killed in a car accident earlier this afternoon.

We weren’t close yet in these moments all I can remember are the days when we were both at school. I was a few years older and asked to look out for him when he started big school. He never needed looking out for, he was far savvier than I ever was even at that young age.

I think about the lessons taken from Marcus Aurelius and the philosophers and wonder if in the face of sudden and unexpected death we can ever truly practice what we preach. It’s a twisting of the gut that I can’t rationalize.

Einstein said that there is no death – not really. All of space and time were created all at once; destiny is and was always set in stone. There is no death because as we travel across this oceanic landscape of space-time, nothing is ever really gone. We all have been dead for trillions of years and are yet to be born for aeons more. Is that comforting to say or to feel?

A little distance perhaps from the immediate family affords me the privilege of a little naval gazing rather than crying. While millions across the world – and billions throughout history – have lost a child, the reality of it still doesn’t strike as logical or aligned with some natural order of things.

What is the natural order of things?

I was in a bar yesterday discussing happiness with a man who, in a past life, found himself living with Buddhist monks.

“What is happiness?” – X

“Fulfilment I suppose, an acceptance.” – Z

“What is acceptance?” – X

Well? What is acceptance?

When we are happy, we can say nothing affects us, or we’d all be taken with the wind like a limp tree. Yet what is acceptance? Is it accepting people on the bus playing music too loud or is it acceptance with the blind faith of the natural order that would kill a young man barely twenty with a bright future?

Marcus Aurelius writes that the griever’s problem is not mine since I would be carried away with the same grief. Yet apathy is the enemy of humanity, and we live for each other and mourn for each other the same way.

It’s an interesting conundrum and an emotional tightrope walk.

I feel loss, that’s perhaps the only way I can describe my emotions. It’s a hollow cold feeling. It pulls downwards like a heavy crown of ice. My feelings don’t bother me though.

The well-being of his parents bothers me.

Another futile projection perhaps. I’m miles away and neither my presence nor words could bring much comfort.

While being both sudden and unexpected, loss brings a minefield of conflicting thoughts and emotions. I suppose then, we can never truly be prepared beyond our own impressions of what could be.

Loss. Such a familiar word and experience to humanity yet so sudden and unexpected every time.

I have no final words of wisdom nor concluding sign-off. I’ve yet to come to any conclusion on how to react or feel appropriately. Perhaps when I figure it out I’ll add an addendum.

What Can You Do?

I was reading today that the Loire in France is drying up in places and that three nuclear power plants rely on its water for cooling. Sometimes, I think that my urges to play Fallout: New Vegas come not from a deep desire to escape my step-brother’s yellow bell pepper bolognese dinners, but from divine intervention to teach me how to prepare mutant gecko steaks.

As much as we crave individual liberty and the ideals of a libertarian society, human civilisation as we know it is wholly collectivist. Look no further than the gas shortages and the grain blackmail to see that whether we like it or not, humanity relies on each other to survive. So then, I ask, what can the individual do to put not just their mind at ease but also actively impact the world around them?

“Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.” – Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight (2008)

Be Batman? Yes but also no.

Latex nipples and gruff voices aside, that quote from The Dark Knight can easily be applied directly to you. Change the word “Batman” to “human” and there you have it. The purpose of individual liberty is laid bare: the choice to make the right choice. Whether that means grinning and baring yellow bell peppers in bolognese or standing on a picket line as the person you voted into office slanders you to millions.

It’s ironic that Christopher Nolan’s trilogy ended up being as strange love letters to authoritarianism and thinly-veiled fascist ideologues.

I suppose in these last few months where the world has seemed to time travel backwards to the Cold War, with nuclear panic and purging of women’s rights, keeping your head seems to be the only real victory worth living for. We may be broke, depressed and suffering through one modern crisis after the next yet we are unbroken still; no matter how hard edgy, rage-fueled cokeheads in office and podcast booths try to destroy all that they do not understand or care about.

“‘No thief can steal your will.’ – So Epictetus.” – Meditations, 11.36

In a time where history tells us we’ve never had it so easy yet the victories of the individual remain the same as they did millennia ago.

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.” – Meditations, 7.69

Prosperous Journeys

I was watching Ryan Holiday’s videos again and he told the story of Zeno – the proper one – and his process in founding the stoic school of thought. It got me thinking about my own journey and perhaps perspective on the collective journeys of us all. It reaffirmed to me the purpose of the philosophy, one that has become almost a reflexive action: a innate moral code much that I can’t break from like a kind of happy programming. I’m sure Jordan Peterson would have something to say about that but I’ve always been more of a fan of Obi-wan Kenobi when it comes to worldview.

So, the story of Zeno starts in Greece two thousand or so years ago. He was from a wealthy merchant family that moved between the island city states. It was decided – by him or circumstance – that the business would be moved to Athens which required putting all of the stock and money on board the one ship. I’m sure they could have done it in a few trips but why bother when one would manage just fine? In a sudden storm, Zeno was shipwrecked and lost everything aside from his own skin. Yet years later, looking back on this devastating loss, he described this as a ‘prosperous journey‘.

Well, not all of us can be so fucking glib, you may say. Well, I’ll tell you another story – warning: some grossness.

During my GCSE year at school, I was not doing well at all in Maths. I was put in a intervention class to secure a C Grade. As it turns out, pretending to know what’s going on can only get you so far so, of course, discovering that I couldn’t really tell the time from an analogue clock at 16 was an interesting experience. In this class, a girl sat in front of me and one day she lifted her hair up from the back of her neck and started scratching at a nasty looking case of psoriasis. She scratched a wad of dead skin into her hands and with a cheeky grin, turned around and decided to blow it all into my face. Never in my life have I worked so hard to pass anything to get out of that class.

So then, my experience of classroom biological warfare was prosperous.

Obviously a different catalyst to pass my Maths GCSE would have been kinder but as Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want.

Now, in my life, I am coming to an end of a rut. A year of headaches and constriction has only eleven weeks left to it before I am off to start a new chapter. Without this year, I don’t think I would have come to the same conclusions, learned the same lessons or be the same person. I am even grateful for a failed attempt at romance that lasted for half of that time.

I keep coming back to the same lessons: the Code of Jagger, the Law of Rolling Stones, etc. I don’t mind repeating myself. I hope whoever reading this doesn’t mind either. Alas:

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. Or is it?

… yes it is, but you’ve got this.

Z3N0

Not Bad

I’ve not written here in a while, and I think it’s down to a case of retreating from the world and myself. To paraphrase Malcolm Tucker, it’s what we in the dark arts call a blip. A blip medicated by meditation, Red Bull and vodka and a singular focus on future planning. It’s time we all go through, in my experience anyway, talking to people. Caused in my case by a movement towards acceptance of what will be will be evolving to this too shall pass.

It starts off very dark but not angry darkness, just a total sadness. A helpless sadness is the antithesis of stoic philosophy, where everything appears totally nihilistic and meaningless. The only thing that kept me going was the underlying faith I carry with me regarding the divine forces beyond my comprehension – all of our comprehensions. If anyone tells you they understand eternity in its entirety, they’re lying to you. That energy suddenly became directed and fixated on material pursuits. For some, its a hobby. For others, its work. In my case, it was a bit of both: writing my novel (over and over because of perfectionism) and going back to university to be able to teach English. While the novel is at a standstill at Chapter 5, the city of Leeds is beckoning, and my interview is imminent, so I can’t complain about that front.

Can I complain about any front? It could be much worse. I could be experiencing this exact same situation yet in a cellar in Mariupol with soldiers levelling the building over my head and the society I have known all of my life collapsing around my ears. It’s a problem that exists entirely within my own sphere of influence, which is myself and only myself. I am the only one affected by my own emotions, and thus, the responsibility to deal with them has been entirely on me. Which I think is something a lot of people need to think about. When we feel hard done by a situation that is wholly Fated, a problem of the heart, for example, the onus is not on the world outside of the individual to make them feel better. It’s my job to take a moment to take stock and move forward, no one can do that for me and neither should they.

Where there was sadness now there is only love. I suppose it’s quite mushy and irritating to read about, I’m sure. It’s about as useful as this too shall pass being told in a way that’s trying to not sound patronising to those hurting. But, it’s true. Sorry. It does pass. It does get better and there is only love for those around us. Even in work, while we may despise our co-workers we end up loving them in our own way like Professor Snape and Harry Potter. Harry is and always will be a little shit but we love him anyway begrudgingly.

In my situation, it’s a case of loving someone who does not love me back and that’s okay because, in the end, I want them to be happy. At first, it was a difficult process, as I’ve spoken about but it’s not an unpleasant feeling in the end, is it? Love is not unpleasant otherwise we would hate entirely. But then, I ask, would that mean we would love to hate?

I was watching Bill Bailey this morning. He was talking about the very British phenomena of saying, “not bad” when asked how we are doing rather than saying “good”. Our happiness is measured on whether or not things could be worse rather than actual happiness itself. In the world we live in, in the world you or I live in within ourselves and our own energies, I’m happy to take that as a victory. So, in taking this moment, I can say, I’m not bad.

How are you feeling?

Toughen Up Pills

Today after spending my morning writing I was trapped in a room with Sam Smith music for an hour. The perfect storm of catharsis, lack of citalopram – since Christmas which I was proud of -, and sad poetry had me sobbing in the staff bathroom.

I called a friend who suggested that I allow myself to feel but previous experience has taught me that expressing those feelings come back to bite you. For example, a family drama that involved a sociopathic relation caused me to breakdown in front of my mother who then brought it up as a joke a few weeks later. I was in an argument with someone I care about greatly over Christmas who said that my emotional weakness was a symptom of male ego. Just the other week, one of my senior managers handed me “toughen up pills” when I explained why I was limping.

So how can I allow myself to feel in a hostile environment? One of my favorite lines is: “there is no emotion, there is peace” from Star Wars. I’m fully aware of the point and I see peace on the horizon.

Yet, in this moment as I write I am very thankful for the box of citalopram buried at the bottom of my work bag.

Not very stoic, I know. But perhaps a self awareness and reflection is. I feel myself slipping further and further away from my old philosophical neighborhoods, the only certainty is that this too shall pass. It’s a nice thought but entirely unhelpful in the throws of a break down.

I feel pathetic. Should I? Or should I accept my feelings. I know the answer, obviously. Yet it feels like a pyrrhic and bitter victory.

Perhaps the curse of reconnecting with our own humanity is having to feel it. It would be helpful if the world wasn’t so hostile and hypocritical towards feeling. Yet, as the philosopher Jagger once wrote:

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”

Z3N0

Pastures New

I’ve been away for a while thanks to work, hobbies and writing. Life has found its way to keep me on my toes and busy enough to be able to shy away from the crushing sense of loneliness that I so smugly dismissed over Christmas time. To be fair to my past self, I had Hugh Grant movies on repeat.

I discovered a great tragedy of time that actually I found to be very amusing. I have spent two years achieving a qualification that is entirely irrelevant to the process of what my true goals are. In the stoic sense, the momento mori that ticks of the days of my life to the end would feel rather pointless. Wasted and lost, my early twenties swallowed up by a smug and dismissive management structure. While yes I did find love of a romantic sense in this time, I now suffer from that irritating curse of what I very much believe to be unrequited love and am stuck in a situation of silence. Yet, even as I see my money dwindle on piss-poor pay and my mental health decline from having to re-live my teenage years living with my parents, I find the whole thing rather darkly funny.

As I look over at pastures new, my application processes in the works and hope in my heart, I feel nothing but a profound sense of amusement.

You could, I suppose, chalk it up to divine timing. We could say that we all experience years of being stuck in ourselves, trapped in our own paradigms until the tipping point. When we reach this point, we look back and laugh and how silly the whole thing was in the first place. But would I give the time back? Would I hop in my TARDIS and change my own timeline for a more streamlined life experience? No of course not.

That’s the funny thing, even more so than how little my current applications care about the two years of work. It’s the acceptance I feel. Perhaps it is a universal experience regarding how we look back on our lives not with regret but a bemused shrug, if not pride at least. Then we can ask ourselves, I suppose, even in stagnation are we ever really stagnating or just slow-moving. Each day we make progress as small as it seems. I’ve spoken about this before, this phenomenon but I think that each time I’m reminded of it, it’s worth mentioning. Not just for me, but for whoever reads this.

“What is your profession? Being a good man.” – Meditations 11.5

Despite the dead-end job and the laughable excuse of a pay-scale, and the shitshow that is finding a life partner in 2022, Marcus Aurelius here, still 1842 years after his death, is right. It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we can say we are doing our best in each moment to be the best we can be.

So, in my final thoughts after my hiatus, I ask of you, the reader to ask yourself to be the best you can be. If you are doing anything in your life just doing your best and trying to be your best is all anyone or anything – divine or otherwise – can ask of you.

Between you and me, if being your best means napping for at least three hours a day to attempt that, then I salute you. I need at least an hour, myself.

Z3N0

Christmas Cheer

This year Christmas will be different for many people, I’m sure. It’s going to be one on my own; in my lock down hacienda, the invisible weight of COVID sat on my chest. It’s a lesson – again – to be careful about what I wish for as I’ve always idealised the Hugh Grant About A Boy Christmas, watching horror movies. The film says that no man is an island, and I think there’s a lot of undue stigmas that come with being an island. In this case, we’re going to think philosophically, not literally, as I’ve gotten quite accustomed to the privilege of timely deliveries of brie slices at my bedroom door.

I’m now at Day 4 of my isolation and Day 2 of being confirmed as a plague carrier, and this is the earliest I’ve been up all week. Which is perfectly reasonable, hell, Descartes had all of his best ideas in bed, and that’s not something you’ll hear on a self help YouTube video. Even stoics would ask, is this your purpose? To be in bed? I ask, how do you know it’s not? We can get a lot done from our beds; Descartes did, so did Cassanova. So now, in bed, I am reflecting on being alone. My best company hundreds of miles away, and my family on eggshells not sure what to say – from either pro-vax or anti-vax camps.

I’m not feeling down about it, nor should anyone, but it’s understandable. I understand that I have a more extraordinary privilege than, say, an older adult entirely alone in every sense and not just experiencing a weird yet relatively comfortable alienation. It would be understandable that I would be wallowing in despair, coming out of a proto-relationship mired in miscommunication, baggage and excessive hope to add to my troubles. Understandable but not rational.

“Let nobody any more hear you blaming palace life: don’t hear yourself blaming it.” Meditations 8.9

I’ve concluded, in this odd little way, I’m happy. I am legitimately happy. Despite my body complaining and fighting itself, I have nothing in my mind and soul to complain about. Sure, the future of going back to my job doesn’t excite me all that much, but it doesn’t exist. Nothing outside of the moment we live in exists, not really. The only thing we bring to the moment is ourselves and lessons from the past, and everything I have learned has led to this realisation of happiness. Yet, I am alone. Alas, I couldn’t give a shit.

I’m too busy to care. There are too many things to read, write, watch and think about. I am enacting purpose. There is purpose in my thought, purpose in my action, each thing in its place. The worst part of this momentum was how it began: randomly like the odd collision of two atoms in an expanse of nothingness.

So I can’t be preachy; I can’t help anyone find their moment because of its randomness and nature of being such a personal beast – like Christmas cheer, I suppose. The truth is we are islands by nature if we can find the just-right moment to see how to utilise the island’s natural resources. Sovereign islands, of personal luxury solitude. Yet, not at all alone. For all the water separating the islands, there are billions of them, each unique and each that can offer and give and share, trading ideas, lessons and life.

In the end, I suppose, removing all the fluff and analogies, with happiness, as is written on Bukowski’s epitaph: “don’t try.” Failing that, there’s always a Hugh Grant movie on Netlfix.

Happy Holidays,

Z3N0

Being Like A Squirrel

We often find that we keep ourselves busy just to avoid thinking.

It’s one of those wierd coping methods we all have and fill our lives with work, activity and Netflix to keep sane when we try to run away from our own thoughts. Is it cowardice that keeps us from looking where we don’t want to look? For me, I can’t sit on the bus without music or risk the creeping invasion of overthinking and hollow gut feelings of a strange dread. It makes those moments before sleep the most terrifying parts of the day. Those moments where there’s nothing else to think about other than exactly what we’ve been trying to avoid.

Then perhaps, is this why we find that some people have such a hard time on holiday? A panicked pause between stuff – a silence of the mind leaving nothing but the echoes of exactly what we don’t want to hear.

“You’re going to be alone.”

“You’ve failed.”

“They hate you, you know.”

“What was that earlier? Did you notice that?”

“Have you checked yourself for lumps?”

So what can we do to combat this? When the panic strikes it seems entirely hopeless to escape the thoughts and patterns until we find something to distract us from them. Here, I think of a song I heard recently that I forget the name of, the core concept was: be like a squirrel.

A squirrel gathers nuts and acorns for winter, one at a time. They don’t attempt to tackle the enormity of the task all in one go, this tiny animal takes things as they are, one piece at a time.

You’re going to be alone – we call a friend or look for a social outlet.

You’ve failed – you’ve not attempted.

They hate you – you haven’t asked.

And so on…

Of course, easier said than done but we approach these problems and each of our worries and troubles like a squirrel, acting with one acorn at a time. It’s the core of stoicism: progress everyday. As long as we can make progress in some way everyday, then we are achieving. Even if that means spending an entire day in bed, trapped by lathargy, we are making progress by taking that time for ourselves in some way. Even a relapse, we think of them as backsteps but in fact we are falling forward, with each new thing to trip over, a new lesson and thus: progress.

Recently, I lost someone. Not literally, but it was a rather definitive break up for the sake of prioritising healthy choices and recovery over relationships. Which is fine of course, a reasonable and logical choice. Yet for us both, I think, when we both felt such a pull towards each other, it makes for a difficult ending. But like the Jedi philosophy (psuedo-Taoism), says, nothing is ever really gone just transmuted. A feeling of loss, transmuted is a lesson in ressiliance and a smile of gratitude for the experience in waiting. So how do we transmute?

The answer is another question with a more satisfying answer: how does the squirrel meet it’s problems? One nut at a time.

There’s a joke in that, I’m obviously far too mature and serious to make (wink).

Z3N0

Hello Old Friend

I suppose that it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I suppose that’s on me, I have been distracted with trying to live the socially and emotionally invested life full of romance and optimistic visions of love and unity. Alas, at this time, it was a failure and it has faded into obscurity as if I was trying to catch fog with a net.

“It is clear to you, I know, Lucillius, that one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings wisdom make life bearable.”

Yet, I seemed to forget in my fumbling in the world of Love Actually the following passage that came in the next sentence:

“Yet this conviction, clear as it is, needs to be strengthened and given deeper roots through daily reflection; making noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already.” – Letters from a Stoic, XVI

In a sense, it seems that in my hastiness to apply the knowledge and wisdom that I have learnt over my years of readings and reflecting, that I have forgotten to keep going. It’s almost as if my brain – or rather just me – retired from it all at the first glimpse of hopeful domestic bliss as if I had come to the end. There I was, as George W. Bush full of strange vacant smiles waving the flag to claim that the mission was accomplished.

A pattern is forming, I think across the board in all my relationships as I have to watch myself like a hawk: I’m either entirely disinterested in the maintenance of the thing and disturbed by a glimmer of intimacy or deeper understanding, or enraptured with the whole thing.

I’m finding myself a binary being of either off’s or on’s when it comes to enjoying the company of others and following another rather disappointing ending of things, I’m leaning to the off switch. There are no mistakes, of course, we have to remember that as a point of not just stoicism but Buddhism and Taoism and even the Abrahamic faiths and I’ve spoken to no end about that before. Yet here I am, understanding and observing the familiar pattern of my own behaviour, breaking it down and analyzing each piece of it still strangely uncomfortable. Reason dictates that, as we know, there is no ignorance, there is knowledge, yet I feel ignorant all the same.

I was reading recently about Cixin Lui’s Dark Forest novel and the eponymous principle of existential cosmic horror. It states the universe is a finite dark forest with a finite amount of space and resources. Each civilisation within it is a dark hunter, moving as silently as they can to not be detected: a kind of Hunger Games if you will, of cosmic proportions. It speaks of the dread we feel in the dark, hiding from each other and ourselves, watching and waiting with a quietened breath to what will happen next or who will strike. It’s almost as if, I play this game – or perhaps we all do – with the universe, or Allah or Yahweh or God or Brahman or The Dao, on an individual level. A level of deep apprehension and tension with the cosmos: a gunslinging showdown with destiny seeing who will blink first.

Or perhaps I’m being a miserly fart who just got dumped and I’m sour at Fate and all it brings. In another sense, it’s a kindness to be given a new perspective and a new breath of inspiration to reflect and turn inwards. It’s a silent companion we all have: the ability to turn inwards and talk to ourselves intimately the way no one else is allowed to do. Solitude is a gift granted so rarely in the 21st Century that we should smile and say thank you.

Hello old friend, and thank you.

Z3N0

Identity

I was in an art class a few weeks ago discussing the topic of identity. This particular little thing took me a lot longer than everyone else it seemed and seemed to consume my thoughts at home with a need for just the right felt tip pens to finish it off. It was a breathe of fresh air after being confronted with weeks of writer’s block and a near total lack of creative and philosophical inspiration. Perhaps it’s true what my old friend from university said that I miss the visual creativity and my subconscious is crying out for a return to the media. Or perhaps it was a precursor to a conversation I had days after beginning this project with someone I care about very much. This person, following a mental break, reflects and makes art from what they were feeling at the time, finding it near impossible to verbalize feeling like a ‘snail mushroom’.

Strange how an oversized doodle is the only thing that has brought me any real creative interest over the past fortnight as the days become shorter and the nights become a little more restless each day. What then, can I learn from my own expression of identity aside from being a big nerd with a thing for sci-fi?

I ask myself this, in the stoic sense: what purpose does my action serve? Or perhaps, when it comes to writing on philosophy or creativity, what does my inaction serve? My mind moving from one little project to the next, drifting through thought processes in a fever dream of obscure fleeting ideas. I am comforted, however, as should you be, that everything in a rut has been experienced before and will continue to be experienced by the human nature. Which is almost ingrained in our identity as Star Wars references are ingrained in mine. I tell people all the time who claim to be feeling alone that they are not truly alone in what they are feeling as otherwise words would not exist for it in the first place. Obviously, feeling like a ‘mushroom snail’ is a little more niche which requires some other advice for that one but you get my point.

We drift through this existence always, as I have been drifting in my own. I think back to the advice from a friend: where is your action. I ask myself this, but then I ask, what is in my nature to act for and what does that mean for who I am? It’s something we all need to ask ourselves, isn’t it? Who we are before we act. Or perhaps alternatively, it is what we chose to act upon and how we act that defines our identity more than our innate being itself.

I was reading a few weeks ago that events and personality traits formed from events leave markers on DNA and can be passed through to offspring. So if a person is identifiably callous, the child shall have traits of callousness. It seemed a bit questionable and sparked another internal debate about condition versus nature. Going back to my own pseudo-theory that:

Biology + Condition = Person

So I look to my doodle, one that I seemed to spend so much time on when I could have been mind mapping ideas for short stories, full length novels and screenplays. I see perhaps only 2 things within it that relate to biological function rather than condition. Those being: the representation of sexual identity and the constellation of Taurus, showing my birthdate (vaguely). Or perhaps, I am being cynical of my own development, claiming to be a being entirely made of other people’s creations and influence. Perhaps the stack of books under my coffee of the philosophers and spiritual leaders are a biological factor. Perhaps human nature is instinctively driven to search for meaning, for the divine path, for the harmony with The Way and all of its manifestations. Perhaps that’s the point of this very minor exercise, to reflect on that fundamental truth that all things we experience as human beings are in our nature to experience and come together as ultimately the collective human identity as well as the identity of the individual. Each element representing a deeper complexity from the strange fascination with the unknown represented by Cthulu to the desire to explore and find purpose in the stars with the U.S.S Voyager.

Or perhaps, it’s really not that deep and doodling at work to stop me from counting the ceiling tiles over and over again is just that. Who knows, give it a try for yourself, let me know what you find. If anything to save you from counting ceiling tiles.