Concepts of Self

I’ve found myself increasingly attached to concept over reality when it comes to things I become passionate over and for things that irritate me to my core. Such things like story ideas, frameworks of how things should be and could be, development of philosophical thought and reflection. Ironic, how the real world bothers me less than the fantastical and in comparison never scratches that depth that the fantastical does. It’s almost as if that I have created a disconnect within myself and those around me to establish myself as a calm presence yet my own internal world in a warzone of its self.

I know for a fact that for the past few days and weeks, my own growth within has been tangible to my own observations and from others yet for the life of me, I cannot seem to shake this conflict between yin and yang and the passions of my own imposed impressions of vague thoughts. This is most experienced when playing Star Wars The Old Republic and roleplaying imaginary aliens fighting imaginary creatures. I spend hours on these concepts and developing plans and perfecting the tiny corner of the tiny corner of the tiny corner of my own imaginary landscape. Not just for myself but for others to enjoy and have a proper and enjoyable escapism. Yet isn’t it amusing, how escapism itself is so anti-stoic. How can one live in the moment by not living in this moment but literally another, in a galaxy far far away? So I play a character who is my aspiration, my goal for development of the self, the higher mind as it were and my philosophical, spiritual and intellectual superior – with minor quirks of course, for some separation to not be entirely lost in my second life like Dwight from The Office. It’s a helpful concept, like looking at art in motion and a concept in motion with a continual free forming journey. Yet these concepts, these minor obtuse details irritate me more than the thought of my own death.

Strange is it not? That such things can have a hold on us. As someone who roleplays as being a Jedi without attachment, it becomes rather laughably ironic that I hold an attachment to something so intangible. Yet I have gained friends from this experience and learned lessons about the self along the way with this art being my own guiding light.

Tonight for example, I was irritated and came into conflict with someone I consider a close friend over the specific decorations of a specific room that’s not even real. What was the purpose of the conflict? What did either of us gain other than hurting each other’s feelings – another failing of my philosophy but at least one I can recognize.

In the end, I ask myself, can I call myself a stoic? Can I call myself a philosopher of the school or at least follower if I cannot seem to confront this very simple thing? I lean on a crutch here, what crutches do you need? I’m perfectly capable of living up to my own aspirations without the need of an amphibian Jedi avatar yet I find it comforting, I find solace and peace method acting. If Stanislavski would see me employ his technique of theatre, I suppose he would be impressed with my dedication of playing the stoic man. I play the part, I become the part, that is the goal, it’s what always has been the goal, has it not for all those walking the Path?

You play the part and you keep nudging yourself and returning to the reflection and the texts until it becomes a part of you. Like muscle memory or just you. It’s like learning times tables, we will stumble and fall and trip and bitch and moan. Eventually though we can say that four times six is twenty-four without a second’s thought or even that. It is a skill in the end not a talent. I see myself failing everyday in lots of different ways but I see myself growing too. I see myself identifying the mistakes and I see myself trying to move on from them. Perhaps from this minor thing, mine and my friends relationship is irreparably damaged, I don’t know but I’ll accept consequences of that as my failing to learn from.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” – Meditations 10.16

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Subject of Scorn

Today was challenging, not just because of the heat in a shirt and tie. I found myself in a situation, the subject of scorn from another, hatred even as I came to learn from evidence of messages. It was strange, I do not know this person yet they made judgements about me, about my nuances and intricacies and decided to brand me as a passive aggressive and snooty sexual deviant. This person did their rounds, telling people about their incorrect impression of me, deflecting from their own short comings and obsessions. I was not the only one to take some heat, another friend of mine was in the firing line too over old scars.

How does it feel to be the subject of scorn so open and free? The fire that was aimed at me and a friend was so convoluted and meaningless to the source of all of this anger that it seemed almost ridiculous. His associations were so subjective and second-hand that they tasted faintly of some strange desperation as if he was a drama student trying his best to stammer through lines.

“When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is not need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you. But you should still be kind to them. They are by nature your friends, and the gods too help them in various ways – dreams and divination – at least to the objections of their concern.” – Meditations 9.27

I wrote in my notes beside this passage: “disagree. Kindness yes, universal friendship, no.” We are kind to things that we have no use for in our lives, the same way I have no use for the opinions or company of an individual chasing desire, lashing out any those who are perceived to be threats to that goal. It’s like the noise of a lawn mower on a lazy Sunday: it’s there, it would be great if it wasn’t but what’s unkindness going to do about it? I certainly don’t want to be friends with the thing or friendly but I will tolerate it as a part of the same Whole that I exist in.

Sometimes, the kindest thing to do is let someone fail in their turbulences and misgivings. Why? Failure is the best way we learn and today I failed to leave his wrong where it fell, inserting myself into the conversation rather than letting the situation extinguish itself. Another friend of mine saw failure in their actions, being too trusting and open with an individual who betrayed that trust and used it as a weapon of accusation at another to simply stoke the fire of a fight. As for the betrayer and stoker, the spiteful chick was kicked from the nest to fly or fall. We have nothing left to teach, nothing left to give and no half-way points met with a person who rejects it all – so what else is there? As someone who has been barred from my favourite haunt in the past I know that there will be another and I will take my lessons from that with me so where is the true blame? With the establishment that I compromised my position in, or within my own conduct? The latter of course. My only wish for the stoker and betrayer is that they come to a similar conclusion about the breaking of these social bonds.

I have noticed a progress within myself, however. Some time ago, I was writing about being tested and the lies of another and the opinions of another. This was nearly 100 days ago now – nearly a 100 posts ago – and it consumed my thoughts. Today I feel only a fatigue that washed off with a shower and meditation and a concern for a friend. I have our scorner to thank for that gift of clarity and wisdom in this moment after the drama and ruckus. Sometimes, we can only see the true horizon when the dust settles.

“Up, down, round and round are the motions of the elements, but the movement of active virtue follows none of these: it is something more divine, and it journeys on to success along a path hard to understand.” Meditations 6.17

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Schrodinger’s Douchebag

Urban Dictionary defines this term as:

“One who makes douchebag statements, particularly sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted ones, then decides whether they were “just joking” or dead serious based on whether other people in the group approve or not.
“Oh man women should just stay in the kitchen, it’s the only place they’re useful”
with one group “Haha just kidding, that’s sexist”
with anther “lol amirite”
“You’re a total schrodinger’s douchebag you know that right?””
– theoriginalspike October 23, 2013

Today I found myself in conflict with one such individual and it was remarkable to see it in action from another perspective outside of my teenage self. Of course as an adult it was a massive pain to deal with and entirely unnecessary. We encounter these professional gas lighters everywhere: in our workplace, in our local town centres, in the media, and in our homes. Are we surprised by this?

In a world of unaccountability and limited self-awareness, can we truly be surprised by this kind of behaviour? It’s not limited to individuals either. Entire corporations and governments get up to this sort of thing all the time. This ironic little paradox seeps into every layer of our society out of a refusal to face the music of immoral and unvirtuous behaviour. One such example who sticks out in my mind is Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket who’s so-called sense of humour has masked a number of rather exposing social faux pas. Another example: Kathy Griffin, who’s depiction of Donald Trump’s severed head was dialled back as a joke not a strange poor taste act of political activism.

In my experience today, I was faced with an individual who made a comment about a friend of mine. When challenged on this, it of course meant that I was the snowflake and couldn’t take the joke – something I have come to expect from this person after getting to know them over the course of the last five months. Admittedly, I lost my zen.

Of course, now, I’m the idiot who got angry on the internet over ones and zeroes by a perfect stranger. While my anger was well intentioned in trying to uphold my own integrity and stand up for a person who I trust as I trust myself, I feel a failure. I, in the moments following it could be accused of being a Schrodinger’s Choleric. I said to the others who were a part of this that I was fine and entirely at peace with the situation and that my tone was not intended to come across as angry. Of course: a lie. Here I am now, alone with myself, unable to justify my own feelings of rage towards someone who means very little to me. I’m also trying to justify how my rage affects the person who means a lot to me. What am I doing for them now aside from being distant and cold in my brooding?

“Anyway, where is the harm or surprise in the ignorant behaving as the ignorant do? Think about it. Should you not rather blame yourself, for not anticipating that this man would make this error? Your reason gave you the same resource to reckon his mistake likely from this man; yet you forget and are now surprised that he went wrong.” – Meditations 9.42.3

In reflecting on my own blame for this situation which has led to a number of awkward social snafus and potential further dramas, I see myself repeating in actions I thought I left behind. I see myself almost enjoying the drama of it all; I see myself indulging the ability to put someone down with words over some slight. It feels dirty and it feels like I need to have a bath to wash off my own stink. Yet, should I be surprised of my own nature to indulge in having a barbed tongue? Or would it be better to accept my flaws and see them for what they are which is a part of me and reflect on the application?

“Constantly test your mental impressions – each one individually, if you can: investigate the cause, identify the emotion, apply the analysis of logic.” – Meditations 8.13

This feeling I have now is shame. A shame for losing my temper and rather than teaching or tolerating kindly, I took a strange pleasure in the moment to be cruel. In defending others, I exposed my own darkness; something I thought fading like the night sky at dawn as I grow closer to my balance. Yet perhaps it was the desire to protect a person I care about that unbalanced me. I need to reflect and do better of course, yet if being unbalanced in the moments where we stand for those we love, then I think it’s entirely forgivable. A lesson to be learned in attachment, expectation of the ignorant and the expectations of the self.

In the end, the situation is resolved and while the offender is dealt with and my friends are secure in themselves and alignment, I feel alone. It’s a loneliness of my own making and I accept it.

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Pity not Anger

Currently I’m dealing with a person that should anger me. Or rather, other human beings would understand looking objectively if they were to anger me. They have accused me of things I have not done; warped facts to establish a false narrative; weaponized honesty against others; acted in hostility to defend their own demand for pleasures, and actively inflate minor details for a larger reaction. It’s annoying, no? Angering? Worthy of pure contempt and fiery rage to throw the interloper out for their nature as a cheese grater on my brain. No, because then I will be no better than them. Would any of us be better than the creator of upset if we were to become upset ourselves? Of course not. We would just be adding to the hot air and noise and disruption to our own natures.

I pity this person because I see a desperate act and need for validation. I see anxiety that I see in myself. I see a desire for pleasure and the thirst to be seen. It’s pity I feel, a deep heavy sense of pity. I cannot change this person’s behaviour, they have identified me as a bad actor for revealing truths, not in a malicious way but as a way to hold a mirror to someone so that can see too.

“When someone does you some wrong, you should consider immediately what judgement of good and or evil led him to wrong you. When you see this, you will pity him, and not feel the surprise or anger. You yourself either still share his view of good, or something like it, in which case you should understand and forgive: if , on the other hand , you no longer judge such things as either good or evil, it will be easier for you to be patient with the unsighted.” – Meditations 7.26

This person used me as a weapon to emotionally manipulate another to satisfy pleasures. It’s a very convoluted and complex situation, perhaps so niche that it’s never happened before. Yet, that’s not true either is it? Every emotion we can experience has been experienced. Every manipulation at its core, each scheme and plot has been played out. From the betrayal of Caesar to the Gunpowder Plot to this very niche instance. Nothing that happens cannot be overcome, nothing in your life you are truly alone in experiencing.

“Nothing can happen to any human being outside the experience which is natural to humans – an ox too experiences nothing foreign nature of the oxen, a vine nothing foreign to the nature of vines, a stone nothing outside the property of a stone.” – Meditations 8. 46

It’s strange this feeling of calm, it’s almost unnatural in comparison to the feelings of those around me. I feel ambivalent of the words they call me, the lies they say, the vitriol they spit in my direction to unbalance others. Instead, I feel a deep remorse for them. I am sorry that their life is in such a state that this was necessary. I will be there for my friends, wholly, to support them, to love them as I love myself to repair their hurt hearts. A weird kind of sadness to be sad for another’s actions towards me instead of hateful. It’s a new experience for me and I don’t mind it. It’s not as heavy as anger nor is it as sticky.

My priority, as should yours in these situations, are the ones who are hurt. I will be there not for reasons of making myself look better or improving relationships but to genuinely be there for them. Anything else would be an injustice of the soul.

“What is my object in making a friend? To have someone to be able to die for, someone I may follow into exile, someone for whose life I may put myself up as security and pay the price as well.” – Letters from a Stoic IX

Anger is not for the stoic neither is retribution. My first, and your first priority should be the return to a new, better equilibrium, friends first.

Love fate and all it brings and you will be secure in your self. When you are secure in yourself, you’ll feel no anger to those who don’t.

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The Entertainment of Conflict

From Grey’s Anatomy to Batwoman to The Vampire Diaries most stories in the modern fiction landscape have the singular focal point of emotional conflict. With conflict there is no story. It’s almost as if there were so few solely dedicated Mr Tuvok stories in Star Trek: Voyager because the stoic Vulcan had no conflict and when he did, it required the influence of outside actors. Another good example from Star Trek is the case of Mr Data who’s best stories came from times that he activated his emotion-chip. Would we watch House MD if Dr Greg House shrugged off things? What would WandaVision be, if Wanda Maximoff viewed death in a stoic way? Kids love Anakin Skywalker and see him as the coolest Jedi despite being the antithesis of stoicism.

Stripping this back, taking this back 2000 years, to the gladiator pits of Ancient Rome, we see the nature of our love of conflict bare faced. Because that’s what is it is. We find entertainment in stories of people inflicting pain on each other. It’s almost a human desire to see it whether that’s in the Colosseum or in a deathmatch in Halo or in some trashy teen rom-com on Netflix. What’s the difference between inflicting physical pain and emotional pain? Both leave scars.

“The spectators insist that each on killing his man shall be thrown against another to be killed in his turn; and the eventual victor is reserved by them for some other form of butchery; the only exit for the contestants is death. Fire and steel keep the slaughter going.” – Letters from a Stoic VII.

Here, Seneca is speaking about the barbarism of the half-time shows at the Colosseum but doesn’t it sound familiar? We delude ourselves with sophistication but with each comic book, each novel, each TV show, each film franchise, each is just a protagonist going against and an antagonist over and over again. The only escape is death for both the spectator and the participant.

I was a habitual watcher of The Jeremy Kyle Show before that was cancelled. It was an emotional and at times literal gladiator match under the guise of conflict resolution broadcasted everyday. It was fantastic and I hated it because of how much I liked it. Of course, I never enjoyed the conflict and drama when it was thrust upon me, as is the way. We haven’t changed as human beings from the Romans to our post-modern reality televised Truman Show 21st Century existence.

I even know people who start fights because they’re bored to watch the chaos. I used to do it in secondary school for the shit and giggles. It’s wanton violence on the soul for what? A little butchery at lunchtime? Can we humans be truly entertained without an antagonist to conflict with?

There are six types of conflict in all fiction even in non-fiction: person versus person; person versus society; person versus nature; person versus technology; person versus self, and person versus supernatural.

All conflict in our lives can be boiled down to those six things. Why are so entertained by it? In Taoism, this conflict between yin and yang is life so does it stand to reason that life is conflict? Is our purpose in life is to stand as a rock in this conflict uninterested, apathetic? Is that even possible? We are both the conflict and the peace. We neither one thing nor the other, are we? And, in the end:

“Yesterday a sperm: tomorrow a mummy or ashes.” – Meditations 4.48.2

I don’t think I’m educated or experienced enough to decide. I’m certainly not far enough along the path to come to any rational conclusion on my own right now. Does it make me any less of a good man for indulging as a spectator in what I can only see to be human nature?

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Meditations 10.16

Only one thing that I can be certain of is that Anakin Skywalker is a terrible Jedi.

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