Hello Old Friend

I suppose that it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I suppose that’s on me, I have been distracted with trying to live the socially and emotionally invested life full of romance and optimistic visions of love and unity. Alas, at this time, it was a failure and it has faded into obscurity as if I was trying to catch fog with a net.

“It is clear to you, I know, Lucillius, that one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings wisdom make life bearable.”

Yet, I seemed to forget in my fumbling in the world of Love Actually the following passage that came in the next sentence:

“Yet this conviction, clear as it is, needs to be strengthened and given deeper roots through daily reflection; making noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already.” – Letters from a Stoic, XVI

In a sense, it seems that in my hastiness to apply the knowledge and wisdom that I have learnt over my years of readings and reflecting, that I have forgotten to keep going. It’s almost as if my brain – or rather just me – retired from it all at the first glimpse of hopeful domestic bliss as if I had come to the end. There I was, as George W. Bush full of strange vacant smiles waving the flag to claim that the mission was accomplished.

A pattern is forming, I think across the board in all my relationships as I have to watch myself like a hawk: I’m either entirely disinterested in the maintenance of the thing and disturbed by a glimmer of intimacy or deeper understanding, or enraptured with the whole thing.

I’m finding myself a binary being of either off’s or on’s when it comes to enjoying the company of others and following another rather disappointing ending of things, I’m leaning to the off switch. There are no mistakes, of course, we have to remember that as a point of not just stoicism but Buddhism and Taoism and even the Abrahamic faiths and I’ve spoken to no end about that before. Yet here I am, understanding and observing the familiar pattern of my own behaviour, breaking it down and analyzing each piece of it still strangely uncomfortable. Reason dictates that, as we know, there is no ignorance, there is knowledge, yet I feel ignorant all the same.

I was reading recently about Cixin Lui’s Dark Forest novel and the eponymous principle of existential cosmic horror. It states the universe is a finite dark forest with a finite amount of space and resources. Each civilisation within it is a dark hunter, moving as silently as they can to not be detected: a kind of Hunger Games if you will, of cosmic proportions. It speaks of the dread we feel in the dark, hiding from each other and ourselves, watching and waiting with a quietened breath to what will happen next or who will strike. It’s almost as if, I play this game – or perhaps we all do – with the universe, or Allah or Yahweh or God or Brahman or The Dao, on an individual level. A level of deep apprehension and tension with the cosmos: a gunslinging showdown with destiny seeing who will blink first.

Or perhaps I’m being a miserly fart who just got dumped and I’m sour at Fate and all it brings. In another sense, it’s a kindness to be given a new perspective and a new breath of inspiration to reflect and turn inwards. It’s a silent companion we all have: the ability to turn inwards and talk to ourselves intimately the way no one else is allowed to do. Solitude is a gift granted so rarely in the 21st Century that we should smile and say thank you.

Hello old friend, and thank you.

Z3N0

Equalizer

Even after my little outburst on Friday, I’ve found a great equalizer and the rebalancing of my social environment. It was almost as if the great push I experienced was pushing me in a direction that led to a greater understanding of myself, the people around me and even strangers who I have become friends with. Maybe it’s not the most amazing of revelations but when it’s tangibly happening around you, it’s nice to see. Even in the most minor way possible – it’s a sense of calm through my own perspective. It’s a feeling of support from the universe that we can all experience in one way or another. This strange equalizer, crafted a situation where my own abstinence of certain habits were broken and I indulged in the company of it. Yet days before I was set on a life of pure ascetism which leads me to take notice of the will of the Tao nudging me back to balance: of both indulgence and absolution.

“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk.” Tao Te Ching, Chapter 24

In a sense is the Universe (God, Yahweh, Tao) ultimately an actor for benevolent balance? In all beings balance means different things but ultimately one who is balanced is a still lake and at peace. I was talking to a Muslim friend some time ago who told me that Islam is the way of the middle path – this of course sounds familiar to me. In both Abrahamic ideologies and the ever more ancient Asian teachings such as Buddhism and Taoism and Jainism (I’m excluding Hinduism here as I’m not educated enough to comment) balance seems to be the goal. Balance in oneself is to be in tune with The Way and a state of living nirvana.

Was it a coincidence that in his philosophies, Zeno of Citium – my moniker namesake -, founded a school of such balance? Neither overly indulgent like the Epicureans or wholly ascetic like the Cynics: a duty to the natural order of things and others and balance within the self. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying: a very real possibility.

“The Whole is either a god – then all is well: or if purposeless – some sort of random arrangement of atoms or molecules – you should not be without purpose yourself.” Meditations 9.28

The purpose I find myself working for is balance. To welcome the great equalizers and be grateful for them. While not everyone will find purpose in being a still lake in the perception of chaos, it still stands to reason that everyone should be grateful for the equalizers and opportunities all the same. I think perception plays a big part in being able to observe the things that create equality of forces in our environment. Even in the most rationalist sense, our bodies seek balance in the form of homeostasis as a biological imperative.

“Calm acceptance of what comes from a cause outside of yourself, and justice in all activity of your own causation.” Meditations 9.31

Lady Justice’s scales have to be balanced, don’t they? Balance the needs of the body, balance the needs of the mind, balance the needs of the soul: you will find the Way, the middle path, whatever that may be.

Basically: have a balanced diet of life. Too much cake or too little cake does no one any good.

Z3N0

Destination Unknown

I was thinking about destiny today and the matter of free will versus predestination. It’s funny how stubbing my toe can cause some grand introspection. Perhaps it was fated? Clotho herself weaved stubbing my pinky against the bathroom door into the story of the universe to lead me to some revelation.

Fuck knows but it makes for good content.

Can we as human beings defy fate or would it be against the primary directive of the Universe whatever that maybe?

I think the answer is both complex and very simple: yes and no. While life entirely seems cyclical like a hardwired program, free will exists on the individual level. We can choose to get with the program or not knowing full well that it will run with or without us. You can choose to vote in an election or not, someone will still win. You can choose to accept a marriage proposal or not, would God blink at one less union in the kingdom? Then that raises the question, was it fated, weaved by ancient Clotho, to never be married in the first place? Each life a reflection of the grand program around it. I’ll reuse a quote from our favourite Classical emperor:

“You will see everything the same. People marrying, having children, falling ill, dying fighting, feasting, trading, farming, flattering, pushing, suspecting, plotting, praying for death of others, grumbling at their lot, falling in love, storing up wealth, longing for consulships and kingships. And now that life of theirs is gone, vanished. Pass on again to the time of Trajan. Again, everything the same. That life too is dead.”Meditations 4.32.

While the fate of all of us is ultimately returning to the earth from which we came, is what occurs in between really that important? Quite demoralising in that sense. So let’s think on a wider scale:

Worker in a factory, feels lost and on autopilot everyday making toys. Without them on that particular day, a certain toy would not be packaged and sorted into a loading truck…

A truck driver is stuck in traffic, transporting these toys. The delay causes another complication: the shipment is fulfilled and so the driver is rerouted by their boss to another store…

The store the driver delivers to is closed due to an incident in the shop floor so it is deserted and the toy stock is resupplied. The store is closed until the next morning preventing customers from buying the toy at that moment…

As soon as the store opens, a mother who is running late, goes in and sees the toy and picks it up for her son, not really looking at it but thinks he needs a treat after catching COVID (or something)…

She gifts the toy to her son, the toy happens to be the exact one he wants, it’s his new favourite and he keeps it for years, sharing it with his own son decades later…

Another:

I sleep funny last night so when my alarm wakes me up I feel groggy and I need a coffee…

I get to work and have a coffee and then I have another after a rather slow morning that does it’s best to send me to sleep…

Three coffees later I have a Lucozade with my meal deal and feel quite buzzed…

I get home and seem quite peppy and zip around the house and in my haste I stub my pinky on the bathroom door…

Here were are now.

Are those stories examples of the butterfly effect in action or destiny in motion? Why not both?

In the end, the worker in the factory while feeling like they would never make an impact on the world around them is the most vital part of the story. Even the minor inconveniences along the way shape the river that we all flow down. It’s not as morbid as it first appears. It’s actually rather comforting to think in these terms. On these terms, we realise that all humans, all things, know each other. There’s close to 8 billion of us on Earth, the web Clotho weaves must intersect so many times that it stops resembling a web at all. It’s a tapestry: the very fabric of time and space that our stories form the fibres of for an audience of our Maker. Or perhaps, the tapestry itself – thriving, breathing, ever growing – is our Maker. No bearded man in a toga; an intelligent magic carpet we all ride atop of.

I can’t think of what a better comparison would be: Towelie from South Park or Magic Carpet from Aladdin.

In any case, I’m digging being part of it and even though I’ll never see its destination, the journey’s just as good. Whatever the truth really is, I’m grateful for a bad night’s sleep and a sore toe.

Z3N0

Trust

Trust is funny.

That’s not exactly an exciting or ground-breaking revelation as it could mean dozen things depending on your definition of ‘funny’. In this case I mean it’s funny in both the weird sense or rather subversion of expected reality as well as funny (usually in hindsight after it’s broken).

Personally, in general, I don’t really trust people. Which as a novice stoic probably a counter intuitive state of being. I love to trust people, I try to trust people but time and again, that trust is broken. Just today, for example, I confused co-workers with friends and ended up having a sizeable chunk of my ass bitten off. Now that was my fault of course, for sharing information with people I thought were trusted friends when in fact they were and are untrustworthy colleagues. A lesson learned – in fact, several but who’s counting.

Yet even though I don’t generally trust people, I trust the universe, Providence, God , etc. To an atheist stoic like Massimo Pigliucci this may seem like acceptance of truth with extra steps with the truth being: it’s going to be ok in the end. We all start our lives in the same way and we all end up in the same state. It’s like an RPG game where we can take twists and turns but the ending is just the same (maybe with a few fun differences). Unlike Mass Effect or Skyrim or D&D, it’s less clear. The same narrative elements exists in the theoretical sense but it’s far more fluid. I, a human person, who would describe myself as having a reasonable disposition would rather trust in an unseen truth than the truth presented by other human persons.

There are people I do trust, don’t get me wrong. What well adjusted person can exist in 2021 without confidants? It’s a healthy facet of life to have, we are communal creatures. Prof Pigliucci wrote in his book How to be a Stoic about that being a difference between a cynic and a stoic: the embracing of each other. Or at least I think he did? I could be entirely missing the fucking point (who knows?). In the spiritual way of thinking, the one I subscribe to, human beings are in their nature expressions of the universe. So by not trusting other people, my own trust in universe, Providence, God, etc. is ultimately flawed.

It’s something I’ve got to work on and on the positive I trust myself to try.

But maybe it’s far simpler and naval gazing solves nothing. Do as Yoda does: trust or do not (there is no kind-of trusting). If I’m the only person who finds this amusing so be it. From my own experience today I have this cold knot in my gut which can most likely be described as anxiety. In my head I fully am aware that the feeling of anxiety is from the underline fearfulness of what the impact of this event will be. I accept the unknown and I know worrying about it doesn’t change anything. Yet this seems to be undermined by this inescapable feeling in my abdomen. Head says trust, gut says panic, universe shrugs, in between I’m laughing myself silly. Just like that, while I’m busy in hysterics I find acceptance and trust with a tipsy hug.

Funny, no?

Z3N0

P.S. I recommend Prof Pigluicci’s blog for notes from the man who helped start my journey:

https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/