Falling Forward

I’ve been in discussion with someone tonight about the nature of the mistakes we make and how we respond to our mistakes and other mistakes. Because there are no mistakes and everything happens for a reason in line with our own natural ability to endure. Destiny and choice are not words that come associated with each other yet the way we fall, the way we get up often is. This person I’m talking to described it as falling forward which I’d never thought of before.

It’s such a simple phrase and something that will come up in all facets of the stoic philosophy. When we trust in the universe, we fall forward and get back up with ease because we know that each misstep happens for a reason. Without a faith in the universe, we can even say we fall forward because of a faith in ourselves and our philosophies of constant self improvement. Even naturally, we are hardwired in our biology to be kept safe and learn from these trips to not do them again. Our bodies repair themselves, forming new skin over the old damaged parts. It’s all transient and we all move forward and we fall in the same direction, following the laws of time and space that bind us all.

“Whatever happens to you was being prepared for you from everlasting, and the mesh of causes was ever spinning from eternity both your own existence and the incidence of this particular happening.” – Meditations 10.3

Billy Joel famously sings that we didn’t start the fire and it’s true.

“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of the lesser men to light the flame.” – The War Doctor, Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor

It’s how we step from the fire is what defines us. How do we carry those burns forward? Or if we emerge, unscathed, how do we tread? Is it with an ashy coating on our feet or are we victorious like Apollo in the sun? Yet, it’s always forward and always in the singular direction never turning back. We will all meet the same end but we all fall and stand up a little differently.

I like to see myself as a person who walks with my hand held behind me for someone to hold on to and pull themselves up when they need it, without looking back to see or care who it is I’m helping. I needed the same help to stand up in my own time, from my very first stumbling as I was learning to walk to this morning when I needed help at a self-checkout. It’s all altruism that has been offered to me, it would be such arrogance to not think to return the same good will back to the humanity that shaped me.

For others, it’s different: a life of challenge and pain to overcome. They stand up again and again with bruised knees, a limp yet with a determined demeanour. Those are the people I admire and if called, my hand will be held out to them all the same without judgement. We walk in parallel and entwined with each other in this existence, all moving forward, stumbling, standing, and carrying on.

It is our nature. To expect not to fall forward is to expect to never learn. I carry a cactus on my journey – it incentivises being cautious when both falling and standing. What do you carry?

“Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.” – Meditations 7.59

Whatever it is, with a smile; always with a smile. Keep finding your own goodness, each fall forward is a gift and a testament to your own strength. Be proud of yourself for each lesson learned and each vice overcome and every virtue met as you move forward, joined in the chorus of footsteps of the universe.

Z3N0

No Bad Decisions

There are no bad decisions, there I said it.

That may seem easy to say and reductive in the long view of a heinous and hateful history that all humans share and that we all either suffer from or have privilege from. Yet in the end, on the personal level, the lessons we take from the mistakes we make are the ones that teach us the best. With that logic, if all mistakes are lessons and all lessons are inherently in service of growth, there are no true mistakes.

If we trust in Universe, The Way, God, then we trust that all things happen for a reason. Even if we trust in none of those things, trust in the self and the nature of things. By doing that, we feel no ill will towards ourselves or others. It’s a stoic philosophy, not spiritual or intangible, it just is the way. When we reach this conclusion, even in the face of great pain and loss, everything becomes lighter and warmer.

“With each object of experience consider its origin, its constituents, what it is changing into, what it will be when changed – and that no harm will come to it.” – Meditations 11.17

See through the hurt and ask yourself, what have you learned? What have you learned about yourself and what have you learned about the object that leaves its mark on you? What mark is this, even? Scars are lessons, even the unseen ones and a reminder that we heal and move on. A friend said to me on Thursday, “grow and go“.

So what in the grand scheme of history, am I saying that the atrocities of the past and present are inherently good? No, those things are unjust and manifestations of wanton vice. What did we learn from them? Aside from learning about better ways to kill each other, what did we learn? Too many lessons for me to count here, but we grow as a people, united as kin. On the macro and micro, we grow. Even in the darkest of nights, there is dawn on the horizon and that will never change, not until the Sun swallows the Earth and by then, perhaps we would have transcended to the stars to a new form of being.

“You should meditate often on the connection of all things in the universe and their relationship to each other. In a way all things are interwoven and therefore have a family feeling for each other: one thing follows another in due order through the tension of movement, the common spirit inspiring them, and the unity of all being.” – Meditations 6.38

Another way of thinking about it is this: locked yourself out of the house? Call the locksmith. If it ever happens again, you will know who to trust to get the job done. Miss an opportunity to ask out the person you are in love with? You have learned never put anything off again, never procrastinate. Like me, have you eaten something without checking the ingredients for allergens? You will suffer sure, but you will not be so careless again and you will handle it better next time at least.

Love all of your decisions. Amor fati.

Love all of their decisions as opportunities to be better, to learn to be better and not be like your enemy. Amor fati.

Love circumstance, you will learn to find strength in yourself and what you have. Amor fati.

“A stone thrown in the air: nothing bad for it on the way down or good for it on the way up.” – Meditations 9.17

Z3N0

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I don’t think I’ve spoken about this before explicitly.

Today I got a present, The Republic by Plato – a book I wanted to add to my collection like a philosophical General Grievous, but it was not of the same publishing collection so subsequently sticks out like a sore thumb on my shelf. I was asked if it was what I wanted and yes it was. Was I specific in my ask for the particular design collection? No – so there is no blame. So when asked if I liked it, I said yes because it’s what I wanted. Of course I will at some point replace it and pass on that copy to a friend but it highlighted for me a facet of stoicism that is acceptance of things that we cannot control.

Similarly, another situation that I find myself in is that my job is out of my hands in the sense that my continued employment is no longer secure. Was it ever secure? No, of course not, all things are temporary and come to an end when they do. It’s not what I want, but what is there to do about it? Scream and yell? What a waste of energy when the only person who will feel anything negative is me. The universe doesn’t care, my employer certainly won’t considering the forty or so million employable people in the UK to replace me.

I suppose in a sense, the past year has been a continual lesson for the entire western world about learning about not being able to have what you want. Going without services and luxuries that those in impoverished places would not even dream to be a given as it is in other parts of the world. Yet, like Jagger says, as we near the end of another lockdown: we got we needed. What we needed was perspective of what matters and what doesn’t. For the better for some, for the worse for others – yet even then, what is good and bad but relative constructs?

The only thing that seems to matter is the acceptance that you can’t always get what you want. Expecting otherwise would be insanity. Parents and teachers tell children that they need to get up for school even if they don’t want to, explaining that as an adult you have to do things that you don’t want to do so get used to it. Yet when at school, we are taught that the free world is our oyster to do anything we want to do. It stands to reason then that two fundamental ideologues are being taught. The first: you can’t always get what you want; the second: you can always get what you want if you try hard enough. Again, missing the crucial point from Jagger in both, tying them together in a nice harmony: if you try sometimes you get what you need. Want, more often than not, has absolutely fuck all to do with reality. To quote another philosopher slash musician: don’t be another brick in the wall. Don’t expect things to go your way – I don’t, not to say you should do what I do because I’m as flawed as any other. Yet should surprise be our reactions when they do go right and we do get what we want?

“First, do not be upset: all things follow the nature of the Whole, and in a little while you will be no one and nowhere, as is true now even for Hadrian and Augustus. Next, concentrate on the matter in hand and see it for what it is. Remind yourself of your duty to be a good man and rehearse what man’s nature demands: then do it straight and unswerving, or say what you best think right. Always, though, in kindness, integrity, and sincerity.” – Meditations 8.5

Look back over your past at what you’ve got but not wanted but needed.

For me it’s being absolutely drunk at the time of receiving a phone call about my great-grandmother’s death. I was drinking pitchers of Bloody Mary mix like they were going out of fashion in the comfort of my own university dorm room and since, I’ve avoided that kind of consumption like the plague.

Another: a serious telling off from the Head of Human Recourses at my workplace about disclosing information to colleagues. I didn’t want that but needed it as a wake up call at my own miss placed trust and my own misconceptions about what a friendship is. Since, I’ve had a much quieter, much more peaceful time at work. Such a step back actually gave me more time to read the philosophies in my breaks. I am actually, very grateful.

Maybe that’s the takeaway: be grateful for every experience. Be grateful for every heartbreak and every mistake.

The stoics have a famous saying: amor fati, which means love fate. You can’t always get what you want, but you will love it anyway. It’s part of the Whole; you can’t love the day and reject the night as they are in their nature one of the same. It’s all the same, so love it all, from your kin to your death.

Z3N0