Progress Everyday

I was watching a Ryan Holiday video and he spoke about the point of stoicism not to be immediate change but the choice to improve oneself everyday in line with the stoic path. Which to me, is very similar to an exercise of the mind and soul as the gym is for the body. As the athlete trains the muscles and the physical nature of the self with routines and diet, the philosopher does so in a similar way with discussion, reflection and knowledge.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

It’s a choice, as I was saying not long ago. It’s an active choice to move on from one’s own vices to live a virtuous life in harmony with the greatest good of not just the self but all of humanity rather than fester in the status quo. It’s the difference between being actively passive and actively cowardly, hiding from the truth of consequences of thought and action. Ideologies that feed into our vices serve only to enable our behaviors that are destructive. So you have the power with your tongue to break someone’s spirit, but the true power is perhaps in holding it in the first place.

Brains are designed to keep us safe, locked in paradigms of familiarity rather than healthier alternatives. Say we were brought up on turkey twizzlers and microwave mac ‘n’ cheese, the change to broccoli and sashimi is not going to be particularly enjoyable. Yet, it’s better for us and others in the long run. Let’s continue the metaphor: not only are we healthier in ourselves but also it eases the expected pressure on medical facilities and family members who will watch us fester in this lifestyle of consumption.

It goes the same with philosophy and ideology of course, the more harmful things we consume and accept about ourselves the more unhealthy we become. I’ve quoted this particular scene before, but following the conversation I just had less than an hour ago, it’s in my mind again:

BoJack Horseman : “Ow, crap. I hate this. Running is terrible, everything is the worst.

[Lying down, panting heavily]

BoJack Horseman : “Oh my God, oh my God.

Jogger : [stands over BoJack] “It gets easier.

BoJack Horseman : “Huh?

Jogger : “Everyday, it gets a little easier.

BoJack Horseman : “Yeah?

Jogger : “But you gotta do it everyday, that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.” – BoJack Horseman, “Out to Sea”

So when we wake up in the morning and scowl at the sun for waking us or the unfulfilling shit job we have to go to, does this make us any less a stoic or a virtuous person? Or does it make us human on the path to make progress everyday to do as our nature has intended us to do in harmony with our surroundings and self?

I like to think it’s the latter. What can I say? I’m an optimist – yes, I surprise myself.

Z3N0

The Anxious Mind

I have an anxious mind.

This may sound strange coming from someone who claims to be a stoic but it’s a reality I face, it’s something I manage. It’s a restlessness of what if’s and maybe’s in a simmering soup of existential dread, occasionally bubbling over if I allow it to. My life is a gif on a loop of me sat watching a stew bubble in on a camping stove while the winds rage around me. In this scene, my face is expressionless, my posture relaxed but my eyes are always on the pan. The lid is made of a material comprising of philosophy and medication and meditation.

Occasionally it will whistle and hiss phrases and buzzwords such as: “the reason they don’t reply is because they’re sick of you”, “don’t even bother, you’re ideas are stupid”, “they’re looking at you”, “you look fat today“.

In reflection do you know what all of those phrases and buzzwords are? Hot air making noise. Just hot air. Like a fart and like my father says, we should never trust a fart because the moment we do: it will be shit. Lovely imagery to remember, but that’s all it is.

The answers these common buzzwords and phrases are as follows: no it’s because they’re busy, people have lives; you’re ideas are not stupid, if you don’t bother that is stupid; they’re not looking at you and if they are, say hello; you’re not fat but let’s be honest you could do with getting into shape – you’re quite skinny.

“Erase the impressions on your mind by constantly saying to yourself: ‘It is in my power now to keep this soul of mine free from any vice or passion, or any other disturbance at all: but seeing all things for what they are, I can treat them on their merits.’ Remember this power which nature gives you.” – Meditations 8.29

Marcus Aurelius is right, it is in our power to keep the mind free from this disturbance. If we need a little medication, meditation or a qualified professional to help us keep it free of such disturbance, there is no shame in that. The anxious mind, by it’s very nature is volatile and doesn’t trust itself until we are able to take it from the heat of our own overactive thoughts.

The anxious mind needs a friend. The anxious mind, paradoxically, doesn’t treat friends well. The anxious mind treats friends with suspicion and disdain. It questions why they are there and questions why they are not there. Both questions are meaningless. Both questions do nothing other than foster worry and resentment against a strawman argument.

“Grapes unripe, ripened, raisined: all changes, not into non-existence, but into not-yet existence.” – Meditations 11.35

Maybe one day those words will ring true: the people may be looking at you because you have mustard on your shirt. Your idea may be stupid because living life like Sporticus from LazyTown in a blimp is not a good idea and you should not bother with that – refer to The Hindenburg Disaster. And the truth may become because of a cloying habit of you needing to check the validity of a relationship because of the anxious mind, they will become sick of it and say that they do not have time to nurture the kind of support you need. Yet, with support and the right tools, who cares if they do? What will you care? You’ll be in your blimp eating apples, and fighting Robbie Rotten, and saving small puppet children from a life of sloth and gluttony.

The anxious mind is a hostile one but only if you leave it unattended. One day, it will simmer down but maybe it won’t. It’s hot air all the same.

Z3N0

This is the Way

I thought I’d share a chapter from the Tao Te Ching and shamelessly clickbait with the title (for those of you who know what I’m talking about). It’s a little snippet that I think more people should take on board and reflect on. I’ve been sitting alone at lunch for some weeks now and have found a profound peace in it. Yet for some, this is strange and something to have to be concerned about. Why? Is it my isolation that worries them or that there is a smaller audience for gossip that I don’t want to hear? Just a few hours ago I got a text asking if I was ok – it was a fishing expedition really, in my opinion – and the sender seemed unsatisfied by my response of (in lots of words) ‘yes’.

“To use words but rarely is to be natural. Hence the gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way. A man who conforms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way is gladly accepted by virtue; he who conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss. When there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.”Tao Te Ching, Chapter 23

This chapter talks about lots of things, and for me it’s about being measured and reserved, so my cup may never run empty. It’s also very stoic in its message about death and loss and even more so about virtue. There’s a comfort in the stillness of it, the universe, to be had in these words. I don’t think it’s appreciated enough in the aggregate that silence is not a sign of being discontented.

If heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man.

It’s true of course, this line right here. We can’t go on forever, so in our actions and exasperations: should they too go on. I can talk someone’s ear of all day and say absolutely nothing and add nothing to the universe only hot air. Does that have a point to it? Am I not just wasting my own time and others? Are you?

A man who conforms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss.

When someone asks me, typically, if I am ok I say yes. Not because of any formulaic politeness that British people have and expect but because I am. When we have faith in the universe (ourselves in the rationalist stoic perception) and our own virtue, how can we not be alright? I’ve quoted to no end on this blog about Marcus Aurelius and the idea that we can never truly be harmed and I think that is true. As Lao Tze says here, the opposite is also true in our perception of loss. When I was in my worst stages of depression some three years ago, my whole life was continual loss. This wasn’t because it was, in reality, but because in my conformation to that way of being, I was making it so with my own actions. Obviously, I’m not shitting on people who are depressed and saying lighten up, that’s not my place or right nor anyone’s. Yet would anyone or could anyone argue that that’s the optimal way of being?

When there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.

Can anyone argue against this? Seriously? Even in the face of pure humanistic values where the semantics mean more than the spiritual essence, this surely is a universal truth. I’ve spoken before about truth being fluid but even then, does the fluidity arise from a lack of good faith in the fact provider or observer? Look around right now and ask does this statement not ring true?

It’s funny how one message from a co-worker asking if I’m ok led me on a journey down this river. I like to think it’s given me the opportunity to learn something and share it. This is only going to be a short post compared to what this topic deserves. I’m sure I’ll revisit it when I’ve gotten myself a better understanding of the texts entire and can bring together contexts. And, I’m ok with this too. After all, as my third favourite Star Wars character says:

“This is the Way.”

Z3N0