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).

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Quick Quote Post: 7

I want to take today to share two verses from the Tao Te Ching on the balance of character. A friend spoke to me last night about having relationships that are unbalanced, unequal in their respect. For as long as I’ve known this person, they have been one of the most quietly strong individuals I’ve ever known, my best friend throughout my darkest time and perhaps there may have been more had I not in my arrogance neglected them too. They feel complicit in the behaviours of others for being a passive supporter of the relationships yet I disagree with that belief. I think this present moment and this very time is when they have been able to instead reassert a balance between integrity and passiveness. Now is the time for the archers on the walls to fire back at the invaders to the kingdom, dismissing trifling perceptions and immorality before they can reach the city. Like Bukowski said about success, these kinds of revelations are like flies: let them come to you before you can swat them. Don’t try.

“To use words but rarely is to be natural. Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on for ever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way! A man of the way confirms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way gladly is gladly accepted by the way; he who conforms to virtue is gladly accepted by virtue; he who conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss. When there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.” – Tao Te Ching XXIII

“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk. He who shows himself is not conspicuous; He who considers himself right is not illustrious; He who brags will have no merit; He who boasts will not endure. From the point of view of the way these are ‘excessive food and useless excrescences.’ As there are Things that detest them, he who has the way does not abide by them.” – Tao Te Ching XXIV

Find your faith in yourself, find your way, find you middle path, find your balance and you will be the happier for it. It’s a natural thing, the natural state of being to be one with your own flow, synchronised with you chi and spiritual path.

As Bukowski said: don’t try.

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Fear of Rest

There seems to be a pervasive fear of passiveness within stoicism and a demand for action where often non is required. I’ve spoken about this before and my disagreements with Marcus Aurelius but it seems to be a thing that permeates society entirely. There’s this stigma against just sitting, just resting, just taking a moment to passively reflect and recharge. It’s considered a thing for the retired or the dead yet what is meditation if not preparation for the state of death itself?

So you want a lay in on a Saturday after a long week? Ok – do it. Where’s the guilt in creating a balance for yourself between the needs for individual recuperation and the demands of the capitalist worker machine? It doesn’t take much of a scroll through channels to find some documentary that demonizes people for being ‘lazy’ or for living a life of harmony with themselves. When has ever, in the media, there been a positive story about a meditative retreat other than to mock it?

There’s this frenzy for activity and no time to reflect on the activity in need of doing or has been done. If we can’t take the time to reflect – just to sit or lay down – where do we find time for art, culture, growth? To pause in a place, to take in the breath and not just breath but to experience is how we experience inspiration. When we find these moments in the eyes of a loved one, taking in a panorama, sitting within the halls of a temple, we are at rest. We are experiencing a waking moment of meditation. The last time I felt this was when I held a lamb heart in my hand and the universe span around me as I was calm at the eye with this moment of inspiration and clarity.

Descartes and Seneca had this in common: both sought to retreat from society to be able to see it better before returning to it. Of course, the two philosophers couldn’t be more different yet despite my claim of being a stoic, I lean on the side of Descartes’ method of philosophy. He believed that the best ideas come to you when you are most comfortable and where he felt comfortable was in bed. It’s a balance isn’t it? We must not indulge the body to a point of poor health in this comfort but we must also not reject these comforts that nature and Providence has provided for us. What would be the point of that? Rejecting our own nature is self-defeatist.

Do not fear rest or moments to indulge in being passive. Being actively passive is a Taoist practice, to observe the yin and yang in harmony. How can we observe, if we do not pause? There’s a proverb that I’m going to paraphrase: you cannot be one with the divine if you do not appreciate it’s manifestations.

Appreciate the time you have, don’t rush through it. I’m 23 years old and I don’t want to rush my life, to achieve all there is to achieve overnight without ever stopping to ask why I’m doing it; without ever stopping to feel the moment; without ever stopping to feel the touch of linen on my skin, the pleasure in holding an equal in my eyes; the moment to enjoy the sensations of foods and warmth of the sky. It could all be over tomorrow and I appreciate and accept that. So why would I rush to the end, with no care for the journey?

“It is knowing what you want to say and never finding the words. It is a chorus, replaced with silence. Hearing teachings without meaning. It is like having a beloved pupil to whom you have shared everything, sacrificed everything, and then having them turn from you… and forget all you were.” – Kreia, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

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The Anxious Mind

I have an anxious mind.

This may sound strange coming from someone who claims to be a stoic but it’s a reality I face, it’s something I manage. It’s a restlessness of what if’s and maybe’s in a simmering soup of existential dread, occasionally bubbling over if I allow it to. My life is a gif on a loop of me sat watching a stew bubble in on a camping stove while the winds rage around me. In this scene, my face is expressionless, my posture relaxed but my eyes are always on the pan. The lid is made of a material comprising of philosophy and medication and meditation.

Occasionally it will whistle and hiss phrases and buzzwords such as: “the reason they don’t reply is because they’re sick of you”, “don’t even bother, you’re ideas are stupid”, “they’re looking at you”, “you look fat today“.

In reflection do you know what all of those phrases and buzzwords are? Hot air making noise. Just hot air. Like a fart and like my father says, we should never trust a fart because the moment we do: it will be shit. Lovely imagery to remember, but that’s all it is.

The answers these common buzzwords and phrases are as follows: no it’s because they’re busy, people have lives; you’re ideas are not stupid, if you don’t bother that is stupid; they’re not looking at you and if they are, say hello; you’re not fat but let’s be honest you could do with getting into shape – you’re quite skinny.

“Erase the impressions on your mind by constantly saying to yourself: ‘It is in my power now to keep this soul of mine free from any vice or passion, or any other disturbance at all: but seeing all things for what they are, I can treat them on their merits.’ Remember this power which nature gives you.” – Meditations 8.29

Marcus Aurelius is right, it is in our power to keep the mind free from this disturbance. If we need a little medication, meditation or a qualified professional to help us keep it free of such disturbance, there is no shame in that. The anxious mind, by it’s very nature is volatile and doesn’t trust itself until we are able to take it from the heat of our own overactive thoughts.

The anxious mind needs a friend. The anxious mind, paradoxically, doesn’t treat friends well. The anxious mind treats friends with suspicion and disdain. It questions why they are there and questions why they are not there. Both questions are meaningless. Both questions do nothing other than foster worry and resentment against a strawman argument.

“Grapes unripe, ripened, raisined: all changes, not into non-existence, but into not-yet existence.” – Meditations 11.35

Maybe one day those words will ring true: the people may be looking at you because you have mustard on your shirt. Your idea may be stupid because living life like Sporticus from LazyTown in a blimp is not a good idea and you should not bother with that – refer to The Hindenburg Disaster. And the truth may become because of a cloying habit of you needing to check the validity of a relationship because of the anxious mind, they will become sick of it and say that they do not have time to nurture the kind of support you need. Yet, with support and the right tools, who cares if they do? What will you care? You’ll be in your blimp eating apples, and fighting Robbie Rotten, and saving small puppet children from a life of sloth and gluttony.

The anxious mind is a hostile one but only if you leave it unattended. One day, it will simmer down but maybe it won’t. It’s hot air all the same.

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