Prosperous Journeys

I was watching Ryan Holiday’s videos again and he told the story of Zeno – the proper one – and his process in founding the stoic school of thought. It got me thinking about my own journey and perhaps perspective on the collective journeys of us all. It reaffirmed to me the purpose of the philosophy, one that has become almost a reflexive action: a innate moral code much that I can’t break from like a kind of happy programming. I’m sure Jordan Peterson would have something to say about that but I’ve always been more of a fan of Obi-wan Kenobi when it comes to worldview.

So, the story of Zeno starts in Greece two thousand or so years ago. He was from a wealthy merchant family that moved between the island city states. It was decided – by him or circumstance – that the business would be moved to Athens which required putting all of the stock and money on board the one ship. I’m sure they could have done it in a few trips but why bother when one would manage just fine? In a sudden storm, Zeno was shipwrecked and lost everything aside from his own skin. Yet years later, looking back on this devastating loss, he described this as a ‘prosperous journey‘.

Well, not all of us can be so fucking glib, you may say. Well, I’ll tell you another story – warning: some grossness.

During my GCSE year at school, I was not doing well at all in Maths. I was put in a intervention class to secure a C Grade. As it turns out, pretending to know what’s going on can only get you so far so, of course, discovering that I couldn’t really tell the time from an analogue clock at 16 was an interesting experience. In this class, a girl sat in front of me and one day she lifted her hair up from the back of her neck and started scratching at a nasty looking case of psoriasis. She scratched a wad of dead skin into her hands and with a cheeky grin, turned around and decided to blow it all into my face. Never in my life have I worked so hard to pass anything to get out of that class.

So then, my experience of classroom biological warfare was prosperous.

Obviously a different catalyst to pass my Maths GCSE would have been kinder but as Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want.

Now, in my life, I am coming to an end of a rut. A year of headaches and constriction has only eleven weeks left to it before I am off to start a new chapter. Without this year, I don’t think I would have come to the same conclusions, learned the same lessons or be the same person. I am even grateful for a failed attempt at romance that lasted for half of that time.

I keep coming back to the same lessons: the Code of Jagger, the Law of Rolling Stones, etc. I don’t mind repeating myself. I hope whoever reading this doesn’t mind either. Alas:

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. Or is it?

… yes it is, but you’ve got this.

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