This is becoming a weekly thing, finding myself reflecting on a single piece of wisdom rather than coming up with something actually original to say. Yet I think it’s a good thing, a refreshing thing, to have a focus. My focus today has been BBC Bitesize Cardiology because, of course, I’m hooked now on the topic. I’m not going to mention The Falcon and Winter Soldier or the fact that I’ve had five coffees and two energy drinks today because that doesn’t seem very learned. But we follow the patterns, don’t we? People tend to like things because they are good, it doesn’t mean they aren’t any less well natured because they are not inherently stoic in their content. What’s wrong with a little indulgence? A can of something, pizza and Disney+ isn’t an unworthy night in. I’m retreating from the world, retiring inwards after a week of work.
“A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm – an intimate who leads a pampered life gradually makes one soft and flabby; a wealthy neighbour provokes cravings in one; a companion with a malicious nature tends to rub off some of his rust even on someone of an innocent and open-hearted nature – what then do you imagine the effect on a person’s character is when the assault comes from the world at large? You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.” – Letters from a Stoic VII
How many people have we all encountered this week? How many of us could do with a little retreat over the weekend to recharge and wipe off the rust of another. Call a true friend over this time, call them and discuss something easy, something you can learn from, something you can appreciate and take comfort in. I have a friend who inspires me. They find themselves in retreat and I respect that – as do I find myself now in retreat. Passive activism of the self: shake off the dirt and energy of the week and its people, see it for what it is in its nature and return with a smile on Monday.
Gosh, perhaps maybe delete your news app just for this 48-hours. Delete your social media, if you can bring yourself to do it. Feel the weight of the world’s vices lift from your shoulders while you can before returning to the fold as the social being you are, as we are. I’m maintaining you can be a social being without social media, but not everyone has that luxury to switch it off anymore. I’m not judging, I’m just suggesting; a suggestion from one person on the path to another.
I’ve come to the end of my reading of Meditations and in the stoic sense, I am observing with dignity the end of my journey with the Emperor and I’ll revisit often. I’ve never been able to deal with endings before but recently, I’ve been more and more accepting of them. Perhaps it’s even time to finally get round to watch the final season of Bojack Horseman.
There were somethings in the 12th Book of Meditations that seemed to stand out in my mind more so than the rest of the book. Each verse being more and more relevant to my life or the life of the 21st Century. So without further delay, something to reflect on and take into the weekend:
“When you fret at any circumstance, you have forgotten a number of things. You have forgetten that all comes about in accordance with the nature of the Whole; that any wrong done lies with the other; further, that everything which happens was always so in the past, will be the same again in the future, and is happening now across the world; that a human being has close kinship with the whole human race – not a bond of blood or seed but community of mind. And you have forgotten this too, that every man’s mind is god and has flowed from that source; that all is as thinking makes it so; that each of us lives only the present moment, and the present moment is all we lose.” – Meditations 12.26
I write this and think of a friend. A friend who is worried by family, by work, by a relationship, and by housing issues. I think of myself. I think of all those across the world and beyond into the past and future. Then I think of the now and the only thing I lose…
Tonight being Good Friday, I thought I’d share some words about rebirth and rejuvenation without my usual waffle, exposition and/or bollocks. While I have my own issues on Easter and what it represents that I’ll be another post. Tonight, I thought I’d share some words from Lao Tze not Marcus Aurelius, today. I, like Jesus, am coming out of my cave (and yes, I’m doing just fine, thank you) fresh as a daisy wearing my Taoist Sunday best not my stoic toga. In these days of modern excesses of chocolate and eggs, I like to think about the middle path, the way.
“Do that which consists in taking no action; pursue that which is not meddlesome; savour that which had no flavour. Make the small big and the few many; do good to him who has done you an injury. Lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes difficult; make something big by starting with it when small. Difficult things in the world must needs have their beginnings in the easy; big things must have their beginnings in the small. Therefore it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great. One who promises rashly rarely keeps good faith; one who is in the habit of considering things easy meets with frequent difficulties. Therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult. That is why in the end no difficulties can get the better of him.” – Tao Che Ching Chapter 63
“In the pursuit of learning one knows more every day; in the pursuit of the way one does less every day. One does less and less until one does nothing at all, and when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone. It is always through not meddling that the empire is won. Should you meddle, then you are not equal to the task of winning the empire.” – Tao Che Ching Chapter 48
You’re wondering: “Z, what the fuck has that got to do with Easter?“.
Easter is a fraud: you should be experiencing and celebrating change and rebirth everyday. You should be experiencing change through learning and evolution of the self to the higher self. Be actively passive in your evolution, like the natural world around you. The Neanderthal did not evolve to the rational, free and critical thinking creature reading these words now, overnight. Life and change and learning is a constant celebration of you and the world that spins around you.
Eat all the chocolate eggs, pilgrim, it’s always Easter. The day is always good.
Not for Jesus at the time, obviously, but that sort of ruins my point, doesn’t it?
I work in an environment where a lot of people disliking me or having a particular opinion of me in one way or another is a borderline expectation. It is what it is and a reality to be accepted yet not everyone accepts this. I act as I do in a professional way to my colleagues and while not as personal as I would be with those I consider friends, I try to be virtuous in my actions. For some, if not most, it can be unnerving or uncomfortable to work with and around those you know don’t like you – either personally or professionally. And are not all people of the world our colleagues in life? Luckily, our favourite Roman emperor has some words for you:
“Someone despises me? That is his concern. But I will see to it that I am not found guilty of any word or action deserving of contempt. Will he hate me? That is his concern. But I will be kind and well-intentioned to all, and ready this very person what he is failing to see – not in any criticism or display of tolerance, but with genuine good will, like the famous Phocion (if, that is, he was not speaking ironically). This should be the quality of our inner thoughts, which are open to the gods’ eyes: they should see a man not disposed to any complaint and free of self-pity. And what harm can you suffer, if you yourself at this present moment are acting in kind with your own nature and accepting what suits the present purpose of universal nature – a man at full stretch for the achievement, this way or that, of the common good?” – Meditations 11.13
Phocion was a Greek statesmen nicknamed: “The Good”. He was sentenced to death and as his final words were to his son to not hold a grudge against his executors. I’ve spoken before about reputation and being liked yet I think it’s worth repeating the point. Are you, in your heart, a truly virtuous person – not without sin, perhaps, yet without blame?
Drink up your sangria, summer-child, give a genuine “hello” and “how are you” to your neighbour in the glasshouse with their stones. The sun shines on you both.
This is going to be a short post.
Something however has stuck with me all day from Meditations that I’d thought I’d share. It speaks for itself and puts things into words better than I can – tonight at least. I know how arrogant that sounds but I’m now four cans of IPA down and I’m feeling bold enough to take on the Emperor.
“My soul, will you ever be good, simple, individual, bare, brighter than the body that covers you? Will you ever taste the disposition to love and affection? Will you ever taste the free of need, missing nothing, desiring nothing live or lifeless for the enjoyment of pleasure? Or time for longer enjoyment, or amenity of place, space, and climate? Or good company? No, will you not be rather satisfied with your present state and take pleasure in all that is is presently yours? Will you not convince yourself that all your experience comes from the gods, that all is well and all will be well for you, all that gods see fit to give you, now and hereafter, in the maintenance of that perfect Being which is good and just and beautiful, which generates all things, sustains and contains all things, embraces all things as they dissolve into the generation of others like them? Will you ever be such as to share the society of gods and men without criticism of them or condemnation of them?” – Meditations 10.1
Go ahead, ask yourself those questions in succession. I did, am and will continue to. They are difficult to answer with words and harder with action. Yet, no one said the Path would be easy.