Tests of Strength

Today I found myself in conflict with family regarding the vaccine programme not 24-hours after finding myself at peace with the resolutions of the last conversation. I lost my shit, in simple terms before having to face the consequences of my anger like we all have to, with a level of humility and understanding. Yet the outcome of the situation was not what sticks with me for it was and is the journey that was far more important. I realized on this journey that the truest test of any stoic learning or teaching will come at the death of my grandmother.

The subject of death was something heavily involved in the conflict regarding the unknown affects of the vaccine programme, following the money back to government contractors and allusions to authoritarianism. Throughout, I realized how much I relied, rather quietly, on the counsel of my grandmother and rely on her as the voice of calm reason in the chaos whatever that may be. While I backed down in the conflict, being the empathy sponge I am, unable to cope with the overwhelming fear and sadness and disappointment, I still found comfort with her without judgement.

So then, it means a test will be coming at anytime destiny chooses to remove that support in some way or another. The cause will be irrelevant, the impact will be the true trial. Not just for my grandmother in whatever situation that may be – in fact, worrying about her seems quite futile as whether she realizes it or not, stoic is her middle name -, but for everyone around her, myself included. So then, how do I reconcile this? I know for a fact that the likely situation is that in the next two decades or, Universe willing, more, that I will face this challenge as I will have to face any loss. It’s part of nature and the ouroboros of existence. Yet despite all of my aspirational stoic goals, I know that it will hurt. I’m not sure that I fear the hurt, yet I can imagine it all the same and know it is an inevitability.

It’s the final test of strength: not some weight lifting or personal battle of ambition. It’s the loss of those around us that tests us because then finally, we are alone. I have a friend who knows of this better than me and is a reality of their life from a young age. They tell me about vemod and the feeling of true loneliness as something I cannot yet comprehend. They are most likely right.

I won’t be posting any quotes up or reflections from others as I believe this test, as recurrent and natural as it is, is something personal to us all. And, in doing so, I will keep this brief and up to you, reader, on where to take your thoughts past these words.

Yet, despite all preparations and wonderings, only fate knows and only time will tell how any of us face reality.

Z3N0

Disappearance of the Cat

I was asked to make sure the household cat remains in eyesight at all times today as she’s reached an age that cats do, whereupon they have a tendency to wonder off, finding a cosy spot to die without a fuss. She’s not been eating much all week, this snow white feline, sleeping for most of the day almost defeated by the heat. She sits in the shade in the garden, or rather, she flops to the stone and sits there immovable. If anyone tries to approach she attacks and hisses at the disturbance.

It’s made me quite reflective however on the nature of my own demise at the end of my own journey. Would I have a similar dignity or would there be people around to watch the rather normal event. It made me wonder too on the reaction of death and how death impacts the survivors more than the dying with the cat being a microcosm of the observation. While the cat is disinterested and ambivalent to its own passing, its almost a expectation to not have the same reaction. After all, our minds are far more evolved than the cats, surely it would make sense for us to mourn and grieve unlike them. Yet are they not more evolved than us in this philosophy? Seeing death as a part of life and the natural conclusion to their experience rather than a grand sadness. Yet we feel it all the same.

I was reading a post on Reddit the other day that said about control not rejecting emotions when the come to never allow them to overtake you or overwhelm you. It’s perhaps why the stoic Jedi philosophy leans into this and why it has become so misunderstood in both the real world ethos of stoicism and the fictional one of Star Wars. Of course there is sadness at the end of a life, as there is any sadness at the end of any chapter or any journey but we are not to be disabled by the emotion as it is our duty as living animate beings to continue to walk the path. As someone’s comes to an end, or they begin a new journey, what else is there to do but pause, reflect on the good and keep going?

The lessons we learn and the memories we keep from those who’s journey has ended are what keeps us smiling even after they go and when we feel that loss. It’s like the funny stories and the laughter that lightens the skies at a wake following a cremation. Of course, there will be tears of sadness but also joy, and neither should be a thing to oppress us in our own journey. Would the deceased want for us, that morbid existence too? A waking death, fixating on what isn’t rather that what is there in each continual moment of our lives. I know for a fact, my cat wouldn’t give a shit what I do, but that’s besides the point.

Of course our friend Marcus Aurelius had some things to say about death. Rather blunt if you ask me with little nuance about the greater human condition and expectations from others. Yet perhaps it was not expectations of others that he held in high regard but expectations in those he called stoics. As someone who calls myself this, I like to think I meet those standards but it’s always a work in progress. Ironically my own death does not concern me or worry me but the death of others, well, I’d prefer not to test my resolve yet I know ultimately whether I prefer or not that time will come as it does for all of us.

“Do not despise death: welcome it, rather, as one further part of nature’s will. Our very dissolution is just like all the other natural processes of life’s seasons being – like youth and old age, growth and maturity, development of teeth and beard and grey hair, insemination, pregnancy, and childbirth. In the educated attitude to death, then, there is nothing superficial or demanding or disdainful: simply awaiting it as one of the functions of nature. And just as you may no be waiting for the child your wife carries to come out of the womb, so you should look forward to the time when your soul will slip this bodily sheath.” – Meditations 9.3

One day I will be tested again as I have before, this time I wonder if I shall uphold my philosophy…

The cat returned, sat smugly on the kitchen tiles. I couldn’t help but smile.

Z3N0

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a novel I’ve started reading, gifted to me by my workplace’s book club. I’m 35 pages in and so far I can say with almost certainty that I’m not going to enjoy it. Now, that’s not a criticism, far from it. It’s a masterpiece and is written with such precision, I can only aspire to be able to craft such atmosphere and feeling in a reader. The feeling from the first page evoked in the reader can only be described as vemod. I’ve spoken about that before, probably horrendously misspelt as vermod not vemod. To recap: vemod is a Scandinavian word that describes a poignant and lingering sad nostalgia.

The book about loss and times gone by – so far at least – put me in a reflective mood. I left my school at 18, being there from age 11 and stuck to the same friendship group for the entirety of that period. Yet, barely five years on, I’ve lost contact with every one of them. I look back now and think why that was and how I ended up where I am now, with the friends I do have either hundreds of miles away or entirely online. What a lonely feeling it is to realize ones own singularity. All that history, all of those stories gone like, to quote the 11th Doctor, “breath on a mirror“.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain.” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner

Even the name of the book, Never Let Me Go, is so human. It’s a clinging on to the dreams and loves of the past as they slip from our fingers into the mists of eternity. All of us, one day become a few faded lines of text on a stone tablet in a field of stone tables and bones. It’s a tearful smile of an existence, all of us existing between each tear. It’s beautiful like a Bob Ross painting and as soothing as his voice as we are lulled into a casual sleep.

The thing I always noticed about Bob Ross’ paintings was that they always felt lonely to me. Like we, as the observers of his landscapes were alone in this wonderous vista, Adams and Eves, entirely alone. Perhaps that’s the unspoken beauty of the art and the art of life. In the end, we all have to let go – of the past, of our loves, of ourselves. We cling on as long as we can but in the end, not even the wind blows forever. And when we do leave, we leave by ourselves.

“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 forever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way.” – Tao Te Ching XXVII

So now, in knowing that all things are in a state of fading into eternity, why do we forego the moment? Why do we fret about the others that we have no control over rather than living in pure contentment with the moment that we exist in? Life is a series of moments so love each one and embrace each one. With each thing, ask of yourself, am I to regret this? Am I making the best purpose of my time? From being actively passive with some meditation or a well deserved nap to climbing to the tops of Kilimanjaro for a little perspective that you cannot find in the mirror, find purpose in it all. Ask yourself what benefits you and the greater good. Ask yourself what do you cherish?

Reflect on your life perhaps and see what you should let go, despite the things protest. What are you holding on to that hurts you and pricks at your soul? Which habit? Which condition? Which person? If we can’t hold on forever to our own flesh, we can’t hold on forever for someone else. What feeling are you holding on to? What detrimental responsibility long overdue to be let go of? Remember in these cases the tale of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion rode on the frog’s back across the river with the promise that it would not sting, alas it did. When the frog asked why kill them both as they were drowning, the scorpion asked why the frog would even ask. It was the insect’s nature to sting.

So, as I continue to read Never Let Me Go, I’m sure Kazuo Ishiguro will treat me to further bluer shades of melancholy and opportunity for reflection. I welcome it, and recommend it.

Z3N0

Are You Suffering?

I’ve had a cold for the past week or so, brought on due to working in close proximity with someone who has no concept of hand sanitizer or understanding of why smearing bogies onto desks is not exactly sanitary. Yet the issue arose for me with a single question one morning before I went to work.

“Are you suffering?” – X

“No. I’ve got a cold.” – Z

It seemed a simple answer for me because having a malady of the body is a nuisance not really suffering at all and in my own experience, suffering arises from the self, whether that be spiritual or emotional. Effectively, bodily pain, is just that. Now I’m speaking from a position of privilege, my only real experiences of pain are from anaphylaxis, asthma and burns. Perhaps my view would change with continual pain, perhaps I would be less stoic about it and my hubris would be plain for all to see. I’d like to think that my philosophy would hold true, to my way, The Way.

“Pain is an evil either to the body – so let the body give its evidence – or to the soul. But the soul can preserve its own clear sky and calm voyage by not assessing any pain as an evil. Every judgement, every impulse, desire and rejection is within the soul and nothing evil can penetrate.” – Meditations 8.28

The Buddhists believe that all life is suffering and we can escape suffering by walking the Eight Fold Path to enlightenment and subsequently Nirvana when we break this cycle. The Taoists, a philosophy I lean closer to, see it as a balance between the yin and yang and you cannot have darkness without light and vice versa. This is a far more stoic approach and one I subscribe to. If we fear the coming of suffering and coming of pain we are fearing to live, yet if we obsess about pain and suffering and see only those things, we are not living.

In the end, all suffering comes from love: either a lack of, too much, or a loss. We cannot exist without love even octopi have some concept of the chemical compounds that flush the mind and carry the soul. It’s a fact of life and I’ve spoken about this to no end that life is love and love is life. Not to be gushy or romantic only seeing the clear truth of it all. After all, in the Taoist sense, how can we be one with divinity if we do not love the manifestations of it?

Even loss. Even the most painful of experiences where we lose something that can never be replaced in our own understanding of existence. While yes, we all return to universe, you can’t hold atoms like a parent, child or friend. We carry them with us in the impressions they leave, they’re never truly gone and we carry the lessons, the love, the suffering. We are immortal in each others lives until we fade entirely. In the face of such loss to who can we turn to aside from the stoics for our comfort or the Tao for security in the balance in the face of perhaps such random chaos. But, there is no chaos there is harmony. I can’t talk like an expert on this loss, I’m sure I’ve felt it for lovers and friends and my own actions yet, one day I will be faced with this challenge to be able to say something tangible past my own shallow impressions.

“Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?” – Meditations 9.35

All things are under going change. We are transient beings, as is the universe.

I have not been suffering from a cold and never will, I will and am suffering from my own impressions of love. I asked for love from the universe in my subconscious, in my desire in my action and I gave it readily. The universe provided yet there are conditions, uncontrollable conditions that everyday test my love and my soul. Or perhaps these things do not test but I allow myself to be tested by feeling this pain in my chest. I see my love and I see it for another and it’s not returned. It’s not returned in the same kind and I am left with a feeling of inadequacy, loneliness and a deep amusement. Why amusement? Because each time in my life have I properly loved another, it has ended poorly and been rather unreciprocated or poorly timed never to come to fruition. Yet, I have been loved and not loved back myself, my focus on this unrequited feeling. It’s my own conceptions and impressions that hurt me and it’s all self-harm.

Perhaps I am coming to conclusions now because I have no citalopram in my system to help regulate my internal ecosystem. Not being caffeinated doesn’t help either.

It’s love that causes us harm but also sets us free and makes us human. This pain in my chest despite how it harms me and how I let it harm me, feels me with contentment. It reminds me that I cam capable of love, it reminds me that I can and do love and I am alive. Feel alive, feel this moment, feel your pain and your joy at the same time and love it all in the experience of what it mean to be human.

Love your suffering because it makes you you and how you respond defines your impressions on the world.

I’m sat here, suffering at a situation I’ve found myself in twice before. Where I can’t decide whether or not this is going to end the same way where I allow myself to be led around like a slave to my feelings tied to another or if I’ll miss the point entirely like the latter situation. I see it with contempt yet love the experience. What else is there to do with this pain other than laugh, live – not unlike a terrible live, laugh, love sign, the bane of my life. It’s something I’m going to move pass yet this feeling has become synonymous with my nature: to be a pining philosopher in a turtleneck, sipping wine, feeling alone in others’ company. I can think of worse fates. I’m not unhappy about it, I suppose.

See your suffering. Look in the mirror and face it. If you can’t reflect on your own suffering past your physical hurt and see its root cause, then you are enabling it. You are ignorant to the directing motions of your own mind and soul and you have lost your way. Reflect and see past your eyes to what ails you and find your cure. What do you live for? Who do you live for? The answer will take you back always to the same word: love.

Z3N0

Clouded Destiny

In roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons and other things like that we can see clearly the trajectory of our character, if not the story itself. We can cheat and expose the mystery and see the bigger picture, finding comfort in the predictability like an episode of Columbo. In these roleplaying games, we can say that character X is going to do occupation Y because of Z reason and that’s that. Before we know it, we’ve got ourselves a grand high wizard regardless of circumstance. It’s playing god with the fates and twisting the threads to our will to see life through a clearer lense.

It’s not like that is it? In the real world, destiny is clouded; it’s a mere concept that exists always one step ahead of our own cognition and only identifiable with the gift of hindsight. All of us, are fish swimming down a ever transient stream, totally oblivious to the grander ecosystem of the planet around us. Is the fish any less of a fish for its ignorance? Does it panic in existential dread on what the future holds, on what destiny has predetermined for it? No, of course not – it keeps swimming.

Our lives are in motion and grow with us like a simulation, with new area coming into view and buffering before our very eyes. Destiny is the programming behind the simulation. As a player in the great game of life, do you seek enjoyment from the game, or the lines of code behind it? It’s the principle of The Matrix Trilogy, despite it allegories and meanings, are those who are ignorant of the truth of the reality any more or less happy or enriched as the ones who are? Yet, perhaps it’s less complex than those very good films by the Wachowski sisters, perhaps it’s simply something that we humans cannot comprehend in this material form. Case closed, discussion over: while we exist as minnows in the ocean, we could never appreciate the dry land.

It’s all fluid, this clouded destiny and constantly evolving and moving around us before returning to an apparent equilibrium of ‘okayness’. It’s not a fixed structure like we can understand or read like a very long novel, it’s…

“A big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff” – The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who

When we talk about fighting destiny isn’t that such an automatically arrogant statement? Because to fight destiny implies that we can even try. If a person overcomes great adversity and defies the odds to become a good and just and virtuous icon then that implies that was their destiny. They did not overcome destiny, they were an actor within its stream, carried by its circumstance. Even on death and the passing of all things, while to the individual grief is a damning thing, to destiny, all things have been in motion and will continue to be in motion. Life is renewed, loved ones life on in another state of being whether that in memory, teaching and learning, or scientific research donation which leads to a cure for bowel disease.

“Mortal man, you have lived as a citizen of this great city. What matter if that life is five or fifty years? The laws of the city apply equally to all. So what fear is there to your dismissal from the city? This is no tyrant or corrupt judge who dismisses you, but the very same nature that brought you in. It is like the officer who engaged the comic actor dismissing him from the stage. ‘But I have not played my five acts, only three.’ ‘True, but in life three acts can be the whole play.’ Completion is determined by that being who caused your first composition and now your dissolution. You have no part in either causation. Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you.” – Meditations 12.36

Be at peace with not knowing your destiny or where your path will take you. It started the same way mine did and will end the same way mine will. What happens in between is for you to remember and find out, yet the only certain thing not clouded by perception is the current moment that you exist in.

Stop your questioning, start your living. Love it all.

Z3N0

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

Z3N0

On Love and Vemod

I’ve realized that in my past few writings and beyond that I’ve been rather critical of love and the feelings associated with the comfort in another. Like Marcus Aurelius focused on death, Seneca on civilisation, it seems my repeating topic seems to be love. Not that I’m comparing myself to those two, it just seems rather funny to me. A voice in my head says it’s pathetic but a louder chorus tells that voice to shut the fuck up and embrace the flow of my own journey and its inspiration.

Today, that happens to be a friend, a friend who I love and a friend who Seneca would describe as a friend, being a person who I can share everything with. I’m also finding myself attracted romantically to this friend but that’s neither here nor there and not relevant to our friendship, in my mind at least because it’s a minor detail; a fraction of a Whole, and I like clear sign posting for these kinds of things. This friend, explained to me the concept of vemod. It’s a Swedish term for a very specific feeling of nostalgic sadness, a feeling of loss of a thing that can never be replaced. My friend explains that they have this feeling, like a passive passenger. In a sense, so do I – ever since I confessed my feelings thanks to the stoic in me saying that an omission of truth is just a lie with a different flavour. For them, it’s more tangible of a partner in life rather than my own bashfulness and self-conciousness.

Perhaps we all feel a sense of vemod constantly throughout our lives without realizing the word for it. It’s similar perhaps to how so many people discover a diagnosis later on in life that explains away a million different circumstances with a single phrase. Reflecting on my past, the phrase in my life to explain away all the nostalgic sadness is my own name, my own mistakes, my own responsibility. If I pause, I think of all the hurt and heartbreak and destruction I caused in my own arrogance and feel a deep sadness for times before, not when I was doing these things but before I did them. A lost time of a cleaner soul, gone forever and irreplaceable within this existence.

I can’t reflect on my friend’s feeling, yet I can understand the circumstance. This friend who sees death regularly in a professional capacity and has seen it in the past in a personal way, perhaps may feel the erosion of the soul for this tender sadness. Would my own philosophy stand up in the face of that? Could I truly say amor fati in the presence of that overwhelming vemod?

In all truth, I don’t know and I don’t know what to say to my friend. I have nothing but admiration and love for them, a deep respect for the strength of character they possess. Even without claiming the stoic path, they remain stoic. I can’t say anything that won’t sound patronising in some way or reductive of their experience. To say a Jedi epithet that nothing is ever really gone, no one is ever really dead, is that a cure for vemod or an agitator? Well, you say, clearly something is gone as it’s not present. Was it not me who only days ago spoke about a void of the self? An undefined vemod?

I’m prone to cynicism but tonight I’m not feeling cynical I’m feeling hopeful.

I’m feeling that love can conquer vemod. A love of self, life, death, others, and fate itself. Loving death is not so bleak as you might think. Loving death is a beautiful thing, a thing of acceptance and kindness. A person fights for life, but if they lose, there is no shame. The body is a vehicle and the soul is the driver and one day for all of us, the car will break down and we have to get out.

Journey’s end, new ones begin, the highway never sleeps.

I love my friend. I embrace all of them and accept all of them, all of their being.

I love myself. I embrace all of me and accept all of me, all of my being.

I love Nature. I embrace nature and accept all of nature, all apart of the Whole.

How will you know? You will feel a fullness in your heart, both atriums filled and pumping warmth. Feel your chest now, place your hand there and breath in the air. Love it and yourself.

I love it, I love you – why wouldn’t I?

Fuck vemod, it’s an anchor to slow your voyage across the ocean of time and space.

“Joy varies from person to person. My joy is if I keep my directing mind pure, denying no human being or human circumstance, but looking on all things with kindly eyes, giving welcome or use to each as it deserves.” – Meditations 8.43

Z3N0

A Mindful Moment

Mindfulness as a practice is a fundamentally stoic one yet particularly spiritual. Taking a step back and to be absorbed in the simplicity of existence removing the façade of the complex and the overdone is an underrated pleasure. It’s one of the few pleasures that can be called wholly virtuous. To be free of thought and noise in a single meditative, mindful moment is a practice in presence.

In the spiritual sense, I like to keep the catchphrase of my favorite Reiki master Sarah Louise Tilsley: “grow roots“. Stepping back within your own mind to use your third eye to picture roots shooting from your heels to the core of the Earth to tether you is something I practice nearly every day. I breathe in, picturing myself breathing up the nutrients and energies from the ground up and out. I focus on the the movement of breath on this journey, nothing else matters but the simplicity of the fundamental elements and my relationship with those elements. My blood is oxygenated, my mind is calm and my soul is at peace. Mindfulness and energy work is not difficult, your perception of what it takes to start makes it difficult. It’s a universal force for everything and everyone.

In the more rational sense, when it comes to mental health, being mindful puts everything into a relative placement. The skewed and chaotic priorities and immaterial issues of 2021 slip away for you to process in your own time, in your own way. Mindful moments exist when time rejects meditation. Yet, when we think about it, even time is a construct and immaterial: everything happens in it’s own time. You will make it to work exactly when you need to; a child will be born exactly when it needs to; a person dies exactly as they do regardless of the time. The planet keeps spinning.

Today I didn’t realize what I needed until I took a mindful moment and what I needed was just that: simplicity. The smell of a book and sensation of linen on my fingertips and an absence of thought was exactly what I needed. What can you feel? What can you see? What can you hear? What can you taste? Connect to it and feel it with no thought nor judgement. Be one with the universe around you and sink into it accepting of the endless hug it’s giving you. Close your eyes and breathe – it’s all you need.

To be morbid, when we meditate or be mindful we practice death. Yet is this morbid? Or is this beauty of reality. To be still is to be dead, to be dead is natural, to be alive is to be still and so on and so on. The opposite of life is not death as death is a part of life. Do not fear being without thought or judgement or the confines of space and time. Just breathe.

“Withdraw into yourself. It is the nature of the rational mind to be self-content with acting rightly and the calm it thereby enjoys.” – Meditations 7.28

As you grow roots outward, a journey inward is needed to discover your own. How can any of us find anything amongst the noise of our own thoughts? Personally, I’ve always got five or six tabs open in the web browser that is my conscience mind yet, in moments through mindfulness I can make a be bee-line through the chaos to the close button. How? A moment of mindfulness: the smell of a book, the touch of soft linen on my fingertips. Silence and stillness is an underrated pleasure of life, and learning to be silent and still is an underrated skill.

Z3N0

The End?

Yesterday the news broke about possibly my favourite TV star: Jessica Walters passed in her sleep.

I’m sat here now, reflecting, smiling not crying and listening to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones with a root beer. She had a good life, she was the best at what she did and in a way, I’m comforted as she is reunited with her husband, Ron Lieberman. I’m not apathetic. My heart is still human and it feels a little heavy but the world, and my world, was all the better for having her; all the better for her comedy and talent, as is the next place. Maybe it’s my distance that lets me so stoic. Yet when my own great grandmother died, her funeral was not a sad time but a bittersweet one. We all wore bright colours as she asked and we reminisced and ate sandwiches, chatting about good times, a packed church of people smiling in memory of a beautiful soul and the light she brought. I was sad, I was sad because my grandmother was in tears and I couldn’t do anything to comfort her. I was drunk when I was first told the news some weeks before – when was I not at the time? Smashed out of my mind on a pitcher of Bloody Mary pre-drinking for a night out that never happened, I was wailing into the arms of my best friend. Funny, in that moment when I was lowest, I realized that I was in love with the one that held me. Even in death, Nana was teaching me things, giving me gifts of affection and showing me that I wasn’t alone.

“What is death? Someone looking at death per se, and applying the analytical power of his mind to divest death of its associated images, will conclude then that it is nothing more than a function of nature – and if anyone is frightened of a nature, he is a mere child. And death is not only a function of nature, but also her benefit.” – Meditations 2.13

To use an analogy that Marcus would like: when a fruit is ripe it is picked. But what if a life is taken before it’s time? An untimely death where infinite potential is never fulfilled? What then? Is there comfort in knowing that the soul is an eternal being or that the death served a purpose to forge the greatness of another? A medical student attending the scene, a mother, a daughter? Or is it much more gentle?

The universe, the Tao, God, that exists as a great intelligent ocean or permeating mist: do our eternal souls drift through? Like dust drifting through the water settling on the sandy bed with trillions of other grains, all once great rocky structures.

“Many grains of incense on the same altar. One falls to ash first, another later: no difference.” Meditations 4.15

I’m writing in reference only to my reading of Marcus Aurelius on death. The Emperor of a brutal bloodthirsty empire that carved its way through Europe and Asia taking lives. In his 58 years he would have seen more lives being taken than I will in my estimated 80 – unless of course, 2073 is as exciting as I’ve been told it will be. Even then, in the face of the mindless scattering of souls to solar winds, what is death but specks cast into a galactic maelstrom? Life is a mandala: a beautiful formation of differently coloured grains of sand coming together to make something moving and impactful only to be brushed away with the tide. As grains, we will never see what it means, or what it looks like, or who observes us in our way, only the coming of the tide and the scattering is certain.

Do we scorn the change of tide? Do we fret about the summer changing to autumn then again to winter? Do we fear blinking or sleeping?

“Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?” Meditations 9.35

They live on, the people we knew, souls eternal. The parts that they consisted of them, live on: returning to the world that they are born from. It will be the way for the living too. What is lost is never truly lost, as nothing is ever truly ours: calcium, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etcetera. With each inhale we take in the ones long gone and with each exhale with give them back with thanks for our lives that we live now. We are tribal creatures, us human beings. We mourn the loss of our tribe, it’s only natural but loss is also natural. All things are natural and we can take it. We can carry it and carry on because that’s what we do as the summer turns to autumn that turns to winter, as the tide comes in and comes out. The universe exhales and inhales.

There is no end, the is no beginning – “There is no death, there is the Force”.

“Consider any existing object and reflect that it is even now in the process of dissolution and change, in a sense regenerating through decay or dispersal: in other words, to what sort of ‘death’ each thing is born.” Meditations 10.18

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This post is dedicated to those who have passed, those I knew who have passed, not that they will read it, and you – who is.

Fame

I spoke about fame and it’s nature in another post but I keep finding Marcus Aurelius reflecting on the same topic over and over again, starting (or at least talking about it most notably first) in 4.3.3

“Look at the speed of universal oblivion, the gulf of immeasurable time both before and after, the vacuity of applause, the indiscriminate ficklesness of your apparent supporters, the tiny room in which all this is confined. The whole earth is a mere point in space: what a minute cranny within this is your own habitation, and how many and what sort will sing your praises here!”

He speaks again on this next in 4.19:

“One who is all a flutter over his subsequent fame fails to imagine that all those who remember him will very soon be dead – and he too.”

Then again in 7.6:

“How many who once rose to fame are now consigned to oblivion: and how many who sang their fame are long disappeared.”

Is this indicative of that no one was listening to him at the time? Which seems a bit silly since he was the emperor of the largest empire in Western history. So then, is this instead indicative of the allure of fame and how everlasting the cult of celebrity is. From Love Island to the amphitheatre of ancient Athens, has the cult of celebrity persisted this long? A need to be known? A maddening desire for people to recognise you in the street, to be praised?

I don’t get it.

I know that sounds like I’m othering anyone who ever wanted to be famous with some brush of judgement. Once upon a time I used to be into theatre, extra work and being in front of the camera. I understand that pull, that weird sensation of wanting spotlight. Yet, I think even as a kid I knew I’d never be in control of who controlled that spotlight or when it would eventually flick off.

More so, however, I am too introverted to ever want that spotlight to linger a little too long.

Perhaps that’s why it amuses me so much that Marcus Aurelius speaks so much on the topic. Was the epidemic of fame-hunger as bad in Ancient Rome as it is now? Sure it’s a different, much larger sphere of influence but is this indicative of human nature of the cyclical nature of time?

Cynically, it’s human beings, addicted to the sound of their own name. In the cosmic sense an argument could be made that the universe is a circular novella written by a slightly more long in the tooth John Steinbeck. In the end, I suppose, even that will fade to dust and be reborn in the great heat death and rebirth of the universe.

I’m setting a challenge for myself: find at least a dozen names of Jacobean actors and know them as well as I do a dozen alive in 2021. How many Hugh Grants have there been? How many Mindy Kalings? Then I wonder, how many names have been lost. Gone from memory; gone from the record; gone from their own very bones. A sad, maddening thought.

No, not sad nor maddening:

“Mere things, brute facts, should not provoke your rage. They have no mind to care.”Meditations, 7.38

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