Recently my books and scribbles have been lent out all over the place in a mini venture to help improve the Religious Studies course that a colleague of mine is running. This means for me, in the mean time I am without my usually well equipped utility belt full of stoic quotes and Chinese proverbs. Of course, I’m no Ryan Holiday, able to whip out quotes and phrases at the top of my head at any given moment to give you the top 5 stoic tips on how to improve your finances and what not.
That being said, I’ve began to dabble with Diogenes and the Cynics in my reading, expanding the philosophy to not just be stoic focused as this journey – in my opinion – is one of many ingredients. Of course, with that in mind, as well as Confucianism and the work of Sun Tzu, it means I will be needed to revamp my categories and classifications of posts to not just make it easier for me to reflect on later but also for you to navigate.
Stoicism is now Philosophy
Spiritualism is now Spirituality
Taoism is both, so will be falling under both (“perfectly balanced as all things should be”).
Naturally, my typos and grammatical fuck ups will be still staying, how could they not? It’s why people read my stuff, right?
Filial, is the act of being a good child to ones parents and Confucius talks a lot about this in his writings. He speaks about being the ‘good son’ and respecting the wishes of the parent and holding their honour in high regard even if they act without. It’s seemingly the root of the reverence of blood in our philosophies that spread westward. While there is nothing wrong with respecting ones elders and holding high esteem for our own family, we also have a standard duty of care irrespective of differing bonds.
“A youngster should be filial to his parents when he is at home and respectful to his elders when he is away from home.” – Analects 1.6
Not particularly controversial, of course, we should have respect for everyone. In my opinion, it is the elderly who can teach us the most about the world but that is not to say that we should also stick stubbornly to outmoded and harmful tradition out of respect and resistance to evolution.
“The Master said, ‘When your father is alive, observe what he would like to do. After your father is dead, reflect on what he has done. If for three years you refrained from altering your father’s ways, you can be called filial [xiao].'” – Analects 1.11
This is where I disagree with Confucius with this level of predisposition to fixate on things that in the stoic philosophy is ultimately meaningless and transient. To be a good child to a parent we must follow every whim no matter how harmful? Sure, observe but in no means act upon things that would be harmful not just to our own virtue but also that of humanity as a whole – with each person representative any harmful act committed is just so to the person committing it. I agree with reflection, how could I not? Yet remaining unmoving in action and evolution of idea and process for three years is a dilution of the self for purposes of some semblance of title and honour. What is honour but that of virtue?
It makes me think about this, because of course, I am a geek:
Final wishes, are as adaptable as the perceiver of them like any lesson or message making such statements of being filial, ultimately entirely open to perceptions of the observer rather than actor. So what makes a good child? Blind following of ideals that are not fit for purpose in a universe of transience and flux, or adaptability and one’s own virtue within the teachings of one’s parents? Of course, no matter the relationships we have with our parents, positive or negative or non-existent, we learn lessons from them. Not just from the impressions in the DNA, but also in the philosophical and spiritual.
Being filial does not mean we mourn for three years and break our backs to please and seek approval from the present or non-present figures in our lives. It means we live true lives as virtuous beings for the common good. Pride is in that, not within ourselves – we do as we do -, but from those who brought us into this world whether we realize it or not. And, in those cases where the parental figure is adversarial and a figure of vice and malice, surely then our own virtue is a testament to the stoic epithet that to overcome our enemy we will not be like them. The say apples don’t fall far from trees but this is horseshit. Apples fall where they fall, the tree has little to do with the universal forces that we all obey. Once the apple has fallen, it is no longer to the tree to dictate its course.
“I do my own duty: the other things do not distract me. They are either inanimate or irrational, or have lost the road are and are ignorant of the true way.” – Meditations 6.22
In my job I often see people actively self-destruct or push people away. Now in these circumstances, I find myself apathetic to the causation and entirely focused on minimizing and keeping the peace from the reaction. It’s not as if it’s an active apathy or one of malicious intent, it’s the kind that is a habit born from practice of distancing from someone else’s problems, allowing the actor to do as they will with agency, being there when it is right to be there. Sometimes, we can see these events coming and intervene as a preventative measure with the fallout from instances of harmful behaviour but often they come out of nowhere and nothing can be done but react and adapt.
“Adapt. React. Readapt. Apt.” – Micheal Scott, The Office, “The Fire”
Yet when it comes to the personal realms and not strictly professional, things get a little closer to home and apathy is a luxury. Of course, acceptance of another’s distance is something to expect but often its a harder job than we first think. While we may not respond in the moment with immediate efficiency identifying when we are being pushed away or when someone is cutting themselves off from you, the clarity of realisation is like a breath of fresh air. It’s comforting to know almost that something is changed or changing rather than experiencing a limbo of uncertainty without equality of transparency or feeling. All things change, I’ve said before that leaves grow, die, fall from the tree and new ones grow in their place. That’s ok, it’s a part of the great cycle of things and to expect to hold on to something that was never yours in the first place is a delusion. In the end, no relationship, whether that be romantic or platonic belongs to anyone individual as it is a shared responsibility. There is no blame in the failures of each other’s character, only room for more growth and changing of the states.
“All things are the same: familiar in experience, transient in time, sordid in substance. Everything now is as it was in the days of those we have buried.” – Meditations 9.14
It’s a kind of death to be expected in life. It’s a part of our existence and will continue to be a part of existence for eternity. Why shed tears over something so inherently unoriginal? Of course it boils down to the primal fear of a loss of tribe but are we not evolved further in our society and philosophy to be able to understand and cope with the changing winds? Even as we watch someone pull away in real time, make mountains out of mole hills to test and push and destroy, what can upset do to change the actions of a stranger?
“If the choice is yours, why do the thing? But if it is another’s choice, what do you blame – atoms or gods? Either is madness. There is no blame. If you can, put him right: if you can’t, at the least put the matter itself right. If that too is impossible, what further purpose does blame serve? Nothing should be done without purpose.” – Meditations 8.17
Be clear with your intentions and see if the other actor meets you half way and if they can’t then it’s something to leave where it lies. It’s a kind of acceptance we all need I think as a part of life that we can only meet people half way because when we overstep that, it becomes a co-dependency rather than cooperation of equals. And it’s not to either fault or blame its just something that is and will continue to be. Likewise the sun will not shine because we will it, neither will a person reach out to you with the same blind hope. Of course we can make a case for manifesting, this is the summer solstice after all, but at the end of the day, only time and fate will know the outcome of whatever is decided. We can’t expect change from someone, to better bring themselves in alignment with our own wants and needs as individuals, it just isn’t a reality. The only thing we can do is be honest and open in ourselves and firm in our own convictions and truths. What someone else does is inconsequential to what you do and can do. Will you be an actor for the balance and peace or one of similar destruction?
Take a moment, observe and breathe.
“Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and around it the seething waters are laid to rest.” – Meditations 4.49
If you need more evidence about the transience and flux of time, see how much can change in a single 24 hour period. From the micro to macro, we have examples throughout history of how single moments in minute corners of our experience can change the course of fate. Of course, by changing the course of fate, I mean to divert it for a brief instance in the history of the multiverse, before it returns to it’s new equilibrium on a path of fine.
Take the current UK COVID-19 response, for example. Lockdown lifting seems imminent one day and hopes of holiday dashed by the next. One day the Conservatives seem set for an electoral landslide in the next GE only for Dominic Cummings to appear with enough bombs dropped to level Whitehall.
One of my favourite comic books, The Killing Joke talks about this from the perspective of The Joker.
It’s entirely nihilistic and on brand for the supervillain but is he wrong to define how changeable the world is, our reality is? A single experience can change our entire outlook on life for the better or worse, dependant on how deeply we allow it to affect us. For that, I refer to Stilbo:
“…when his home town was captured and he emerged from the general conflagration, his children lost, his wife lost, alone and none the less happy man, and questioned by Demetrius. Asked by this man, known, from the destruction dealt out to towns, as Demetrius the City Sacker, whether he had lost anything, he replied, ‘I have all my valuables with me.’ There was an active and courageous man – victorious over the very victory of the enemy! ‘I have lost,’ he said ‘nothing.’ He made Demetrius wonder whether he had won a victory at all.” – Letters from a Stoic IX
While the film of The Killing Joke was an insult to the source material, I can’t deny the raw talent of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy all the same… I digress.
The Joker isn’t wrong but his nihilism is terribly destructive and selfish – realistically, what can we expect from a comic book villain? In a sense, it’s so meaningless and transient that it is maddening but its also brilliant. So brilliant in fact that we should not be surprised by anything at all nor upset by it. One day we sleep under a roof the next day open sky, yet we endure and overcome. We do this together, for the sake of each other not just ourselves.
The Way flows ever onwards never stopping, as our blood and our breath, even in death: we return to the blood and breath of the universe.
Each day when we wake up, take stock. See all the things you have and all the things you need. Take stock of what you are grateful for having because in seconds it may all fade with you or without you. From your friendships and relationships to the sheets you sleep in.
Amor fati and you will love whatever it brings, whatever the day.
I suppose, despite how sad it all seems, how lonely it is in the moment of these things happening, we learn quickly. I’m not above feeling sad and alone and despairing but I’m also someone who can find the root causes of these things. Fate, and love and all that comes with it are surmised by a metaphor my friend told me today.
“If you have a horse at your stables, that you love taking care of and it enjoys your company. You do activities together and everything’s perfect. Then a storm strikes, the horse is not being itself, it’s afraid and stressed. As the owner, you wish to calm it down and let it know that all is well. You tug at its reins, but it does not comply. It shoves away instead, so you naturally tug at it harder to make it come back to you. It’ll eventually relent and do as you wish but then it’s no longer genuine. It’ll look for chances to escape and be free again while you as the owner forces it back, it’ll be unhappy and so will you since things are no longer the same.” – X
Don’t tug on the reins and let this happen organically. Or rather as Bukowski said about fame and success: don’t try. You’ve got this more than you realize, fellow traveller; trust me and trust yourself.