Sudden and Unexpected

A received a tearful call tonight informing me that the young son of a family friend had been killed in a car accident earlier this afternoon.

We weren’t close yet in these moments all I can remember are the days when we were both at school. I was a few years older and asked to look out for him when he started big school. He never needed looking out for, he was far savvier than I ever was even at that young age.

I think about the lessons taken from Marcus Aurelius and the philosophers and wonder if in the face of sudden and unexpected death we can ever truly practice what we preach. It’s a twisting of the gut that I can’t rationalize.

Einstein said that there is no death – not really. All of space and time were created all at once; destiny is and was always set in stone. There is no death because as we travel across this oceanic landscape of space-time, nothing is ever really gone. We all have been dead for trillions of years and are yet to be born for aeons more. Is that comforting to say or to feel?

A little distance perhaps from the immediate family affords me the privilege of a little naval gazing rather than crying. While millions across the world – and billions throughout history – have lost a child, the reality of it still doesn’t strike as logical or aligned with some natural order of things.

What is the natural order of things?

I was in a bar yesterday discussing happiness with a man who, in a past life, found himself living with Buddhist monks.

“What is happiness?” – X

“Fulfilment I suppose, an acceptance.” – Z

“What is acceptance?” – X

Well? What is acceptance?

When we are happy, we can say nothing affects us, or we’d all be taken with the wind like a limp tree. Yet what is acceptance? Is it accepting people on the bus playing music too loud or is it acceptance with the blind faith of the natural order that would kill a young man barely twenty with a bright future?

Marcus Aurelius writes that the griever’s problem is not mine since I would be carried away with the same grief. Yet apathy is the enemy of humanity, and we live for each other and mourn for each other the same way.

It’s an interesting conundrum and an emotional tightrope walk.

I feel loss, that’s perhaps the only way I can describe my emotions. It’s a hollow cold feeling. It pulls downwards like a heavy crown of ice. My feelings don’t bother me though.

The well-being of his parents bothers me.

Another futile projection perhaps. I’m miles away and neither my presence nor words could bring much comfort.

While being both sudden and unexpected, loss brings a minefield of conflicting thoughts and emotions. I suppose then, we can never truly be prepared beyond our own impressions of what could be.

Loss. Such a familiar word and experience to humanity yet so sudden and unexpected every time.

I have no final words of wisdom nor concluding sign-off. I’ve yet to come to any conclusion on how to react or feel appropriately. Perhaps when I figure it out I’ll add an addendum.

Observing Destruction

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

Z3N0

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

The Little Things

I was properly angry for the first time in months last night. What was it you ask? Was it some massive injustice that caused you to lose your rag? Some Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker duel of wits and fates? No, of course not don’t be ridiculous: it was my friends having a Netflix watch-along group and had omitted to tell me. Incredible isn’t it? I do not feat my own death nor do I fear the loss of my home and all my treasures yet this is what upset me, this is what I allowed to upset me.

Perhaps it was the hypocrisy of it all, being told to try more with them while at the same time being excluded from an area of expertise that would have allowed me to have a good time with them – a degree in media helps with film recommendations. Or perhaps I was allowing myself to self-destruct to protect myself further from minor slights.

When we spend our time in our philosophies dismissing the big things like death and loss and pure hatred of circumstance, the little things slip through the cracks. It’s like a land slide: little droplets of water accumulate in the mountainside until one day they little droplets become force to topple the mountain. It was in Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds that the technologically superior and almost all powerful alien invaders were defeated by the common cold. Perhaps it’s hubris not to assume that nature would do as nature does if left unattended – if I left my own circumstance unattended, and if I left my own emotions to them unattended.

I reflect now, what other minor things have been bothering that I’m allowing to build up under the surface in the shifting soil? Each passive aggressive slight, each mosquito bite, each stubbed toe. What things are in my power to regain control over? Not the slights, they are actions of another; the bites can be cured by closing my window at night and some spray; the stubbed toes can be avoided by being more careful with the bathroom door late at night.

What of the tribe? What of my lack of faith in the tribe? I cannot control what they do only my perceptions of them and I perceive little mutual respect, my cup flowing over to receive dust in return. Perhaps I’ve missed the point of friendship if I expect something, anything back at all even the sanctity of trust and transparency. I cut myself from them, finding myself to be lonely in their company, now I am alone – bar one individual. They asked me why, why I could not bring myself to eject from them too. The truth is and was that they are my best friend, the one I thought and perhaps think I can be raw and honest with in the truest way possible to my own nature.

“The Doctor: You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. You let me down!

Clara: Then why are you helping me?

The Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” – “Dark Water”, Doctor Who

Perhaps in the end, we all rely on people more than we like to admit to ourselves. The contented man is happy within himself true, but when we taste that sweet fruit of truest company, nothing compares. Yet like all fruit, it turns sour. Its time comes and there is a time to accept and throw it away. There will be more fruit: unripe, ripening, ready to be harvested and savoured. We are farmers in our own way. I keep finding myself coming back to the same tree for the same fruit.

My intent now is to ensure the soils around this tree – the entire orchard – never shift and slide down the mountain again.

As a man once said: “It ain’t much but it’s honest work.”

Z3N0

Sunshine Perspective

Past few months I’ve allowed myself to be ruled by my emotions and it’s sort of come to a head. While I write about balance and goodness and contentedness, it took 3 hours in the garden and four cigarillos with a pot of coffee to see the truth. It was shown to me that I had been acting rather submissively to the whims of another, someone I cannot control yet my own ebb and flow was marked by their activity despite believing that I was in control of my own stock. As it turns out, I have not been and I have been falling back into the same patterns of blind chase of a shadow. It took the sunshine to allow me to see. The sight of birds at the feeder through the smoke of my cigarillo and steam of the black coffee to hypnotize me enough to open up the third eye to see through illusion. Or perhaps, rather delusion.

As Kurt Cobain sang, there’s something in the way and often, that’s the self. We get in our own way in some strange subconscious attempt to find our harmony instead of letting it come to us naturally. It was hubris that led me here. Hubris that led to what I can only describe as something close to heartbreak, a trust patched up with My Little Pony plasters. The truth tastes bitter today yet at least the weather is nice.

What do we do? What do I do?

I suppose we should refer to the certainty of our own human nature and the certainty that this has happened before, will again and we can endure – I can endure. Leaves grow eternal and even the dead tree gives back to the Whole in time whether as mulch or as pulp for knowledge to be printed on.

It’s amusing to me. Deeply amusing, in fact.

It’s a fresh challenge to my philosophy yet I could feel this coming in my soul which now stings a little. It’s a cold wound in the hot flesh that sits disquietly and is so intangible that perhaps only time can repair it. There is no blame, but perhaps if there was for this situation which I find myself in, it would lay at my own feet. My feelings are my own responsibility always and that I allowed another’s to harm me, that I allowed another’s lack of feelings harm me is a deep failing. But we learn don’t we? It’s just another test.

The situation, I described to a friend was that I exposed my tender flesh to the elements and now I’m feeling sorry for myself because I caught hypothermia. It was my own choice and it was my own failing to not prepare or at least guard myself a little better: rebuild, build better walls of obsidian not jade. Yet how can we exist if we don’t lower the drawbridge? What happens when the guests inside our fortress run amuck unsupervised? Is it the walls or our lack of vigilance to blame? Certainly not the guest, they weren’t to know they offended the customs of a land they are a stranger in.

Funny how a few hours of sunshine can pour so much light on the mind as well as the body. Baths bore me so they’ll be few eureka moments there but sunshine and cigarillos seem to do the trick, at least. In the silence and sunlight we can see clearly and hear the universe. For me, it speaks: let the peace come to you, cease the seeking, it will always be right behind you out of sight.

“Nothing happens to any creature beyond its own natural endurance. Another has the same experience as you: either through failure to recognize what has happened to him, or in a display of courage, he remains calm and untroubled. Strange, then, that ignorance and pretension should be stronger than wisdom.” – Meditations 5.18

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

Z3N0

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.