What Can You Do?

I was reading today that the Loire in France is drying up in places and that three nuclear power plants rely on its water for cooling. Sometimes, I think that my urges to play Fallout: New Vegas come not from a deep desire to escape my step-brother’s yellow bell pepper bolognese dinners, but from divine intervention to teach me how to prepare mutant gecko steaks.

As much as we crave individual liberty and the ideals of a libertarian society, human civilisation as we know it is wholly collectivist. Look no further than the gas shortages and the grain blackmail to see that whether we like it or not, humanity relies on each other to survive. So then, I ask, what can the individual do to put not just their mind at ease but also actively impact the world around them?

“Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.” – Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight (2008)

Be Batman? Yes but also no.

Latex nipples and gruff voices aside, that quote from The Dark Knight can easily be applied directly to you. Change the word “Batman” to “human” and there you have it. The purpose of individual liberty is laid bare: the choice to make the right choice. Whether that means grinning and baring yellow bell peppers in bolognese or standing on a picket line as the person you voted into office slanders you to millions.

It’s ironic that Christopher Nolan’s trilogy ended up being as strange love letters to authoritarianism and thinly-veiled fascist ideologues.

I suppose in these last few months where the world has seemed to time travel backwards to the Cold War, with nuclear panic and purging of women’s rights, keeping your head seems to be the only real victory worth living for. We may be broke, depressed and suffering through one modern crisis after the next yet we are unbroken still; no matter how hard edgy, rage-fueled cokeheads in office and podcast booths try to destroy all that they do not understand or care about.

“‘No thief can steal your will.’ – So Epictetus.” – Meditations, 11.36

In a time where history tells us we’ve never had it so easy yet the victories of the individual remain the same as they did millennia ago.

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.” – Meditations, 7.69

Painful Perspectives

So I’ve discovered or rather rediscovered my complicated relationship with gluten. It causes stomach cramps, constipation and a lot of pain in the lower abdomen and back that made me double over. In fact it was so bad that I spent the first hour of my working day itching for my next toilet break like a secret crack addict. On my way out I explained my symptoms to a colleague who made the connection that my experience sounded a lot like period pain.

“How do women do this every month? It’s just not realistic?” – Z

“Ok so think, whenever you speak to a woman or someone who is biologically female, think that any of them could be going through what you’re going through now and have been for years.” – X

Amazing isn’t it, the little things that we seem to forget to be grateful for, even down to our own biology. I wasn’t ignorant of the problem before yet this painful perspective was something that I needed to hear to quit my literal bellyaching and shut up.

It was my physical pain of the day followed by a test of emotional pain. With truths being revealed that not was all perfect as I had envisioned – my own failing. A relationship on hold or not at all existing to begin with has me asking where was the purpose? All things have purpose and all things come from the Whole so to this end where is the purpose of such tests? For the other party, a lesson in what could be and for me a test on what could be with neither thing coming to fruition for perhaps the point of this connection was just that and nothing more.

Of course, I wasn’t so gracious about it and needed a nap and a few glasses of Fireball to contemplate the purpose of Fate’s plan. Fate asking: do you love me? Of course, but also fuck you – there was a nicer way to do that. But obviously, what does Fate care? It conspires to protect us all as a friend once told me but it teaches painful lessons most efficiently with a ruthlessness that tests each of our convictions and philosophies. It’s a thing that brings us perspective after the fact and leads to such conclusions so unsatisfactory at the time – much like the season finale of Loki – yet only in reflection can be appreciated for what it was. I’m not sure if I’m there yet with the acceptance and smile to give to Fate. I mean, yes of course, thank you so much for the medicine but it tasted like shit so I’m still a little salty.

I think that’s fair for us all to be like that in our philosophy. One day I will look back on this and ask why I wasn’t more accepting immediately and stoic immediately like the Stoics on Reddit would love to see. Yet I don’t think it’s about that. Are we to be as harsh with our own growth as Fate is?

There are some key stoic lessons to take from my day at least, some key quotes of reminder and reflection to take into tomorrow, at least with a begrudging smile.

“It is ridiculous not to escape from one’s own vices, which is possible, while trying to escape the vices of others, which is impossible.” – Meditations 7.71

“Mere things stand isolated outside our doors, with no knowledge or report of themselves. What then reports on them? Our directing mind.” – 9.15

“That all is as thinking makes it so. – and you control your thinking. So remove your judgements whenever you wish an there is calm – as the sailor rounding the cape finds smooth water and the welcome of a waveless bay.” – 12.22

Needless to say, the copy of Meditations on my bed side table is battered and covered in scribbles by this point.

Z3N0

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

Science!

I got into a rather in depth discussion today with a young person about the importance of science. It seems very obvious later on in life but at an age where science is a means to an end to pass exams it’s all very arbitrary. I must admit, I went on a bit of a ramble and I remember it vividly.

“It all starts with simple physics to push to atoms together to make chemistry and then as more atoms come together to form compounds and tissues you have biology. To reject the study of science is like rejecting the study of your own existence. A scientific mind can exist congruently with the spiritual, it’s poetry in motion. You sat here right now are the product of the science of the universe. Let me demonstrate some astrophysics: the Parallax Effect. Hold your pointer finger out in front of you and close one eye. Now open and close the other. See it move? Congratulations, you’ve just discovered how astrophysicists map the distance of stars from Earth.” – Z

Listen to the music of existence, open your window and stick your head out. Listen to the cacophony of biology and chemistry, feel the forces of physics whip across your face and dance through your hair. You are a part of this chorus. You are a beautiful expression of the universe and you can revel in it. Feel the air on your skin as you read these words; feel the pulsing of blood and the beating of your heart. We are all connected and made of the same stardust.

You are brilliant, it’s scientifically provable.

“I think therefore I am.” – Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method.

The fact that you can think about thinking is an amazing feat of nature and biological advancement. Each firing neuron and whiz of electrical energy in your cerebral cortex is a homage to the sciences. But what about God, you ask. What about God? Would he not be as amazed by this achievement? From our reaching into the stars to the bottom of the oceans to the deepest recesses of our minds, we grasp closer to divine understanding. It’s an achievement of monumental proportions that you and I meet and excel every single day. Each time you awake you have won the great game. Every time you smile and be thankful for the existence of your very being and the existence of those you love, you are thanking the sciences that made you you.

Stretch your mind with philosophy, open up your senses to the science around you. Break each thing down to its core nature. Look at your phone and trace it back to the factory and then back to its conception on a sketch pad in some office. See all the moving parts and the engineering. See the human biology of those crafting the device. See the forces of nature acting on the shipping vessels and the great waves that crash into the sides of cargo ships. See the chemistry within the device, the lithium-ion battery stirring with each motion. See the chemistry perhaps, between a vendor and a buyer: a spark of destiny bringing two people together in harmony. See how you are a part of it all like a single cell in the conscious thriving ocean of our reality. You deserve to be here.

Science will take us off-planet and save it. Science will make immortals out of fools and heroes out of altruists. Today, I look back and I am grateful for the man now dust: Edward Jenner who has saved the lives of billions and future billions through his discoveries – a hero of our human industry.

Thirst for knowledge of sciences and you are thirsting for knowledge of existence. Who are we to deny such hunger? Perhaps you can even argue that it is philosophy is a kind of science, defined by Google as: “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline” and “a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour“. Science is the study of our universe and philosophy is the study of how it all ties together.

Tether your philosophies to scientific principles and be scientific in everything you do. Whether you be Taoist, Jewish, Muslim, Lutheran, Hindi or Sikh: notice that the very air you breathe is bound by the same laws of physics that binds us all. We are one in this discipline regardless of faith, culture or race. We are all expressions of the same wonderous Whole.

It may be all relative, from the speed of light to universal truth, yet we are united in that relativity. We will be born the same way and die the same way. It’s a stoic principle and a human principle.

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch that illuminates the world.” – Louis Pasteur

Z3N0

Unexpected Wisdom

I was rounding off Seneca’s 9th Letter when he verbalised what I’ve always thought about the impact of meaningful literature and media on us and the wisdom therein.

“Think how many poets say things that philosophers have said – or ought to have said! Not mention the tragedians of our native Roman drama (which has a serious element in it as well and stands half way between comedy and tragedy), think of the quantity of brilliant lines to be found lying about in farces alone!” – Letters form a Stoic IX

So, I thought I’d share some of my favourite lines from the farces that live on as tangible wisdom to live by. Of course, I’ve gone on about the Jedi Code to no end as a Taoist call to arms so I shall spare that here.

  • “Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It’s not the time that matters. It’s the person.” – The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who 

  • “Chance, Grace. Chance is everything. Whether you’re born or not. Whether you live or die. Whether you’re good or bad. It’s all arbitrary.” – Two-Face, Batman: The Animated Series

  • “Just when we think we figured things out, the universe throws us a curve ball. So, we have to improvise. We find happiness in unexpected places. We find ourselves back to the things that matter the most. The universe is funny that way. Sometimes it just has a way of making sure we   wind up exactly where we belong.” – Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

  • “We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.” – Andrew Ryan, Bioshock

  • “It’s what you taught me. Do the right thing. That’s all that matters.” – Batman, Batman: Arkham Knight

  • “Every day we change the world, but to change it the world in a way that means anything, that takes more time than people have.” – Elliott Alderson, Mr Robot

  • “Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.” – The Twelfth Doctor, Doctor Who

  • “Destiny? What would a boy know of destiny? If a fish lives its whole life in this river, does he know the river’s destiny? No! Only that it runs on and on out of his control. He may follow where it flows, but he cannot see the end. He cannot imagine the ocean.” – Jeong Jeong, Avatar: The Last Airbender

  • “It is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the Darkness at bay. Simple acts of love and kindness.” – Gandalf, The Hobbit

So wherever you may find it, don’t think to shun wisdom because some great philosopher wasn’t the one who said it. Wisdom is all around you. I suggest, start your searching in the mirror.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 3

Tonight being Good Friday, I thought I’d share some words about rebirth and rejuvenation without my usual waffle, exposition and/or bollocks. While I have my own issues on Easter and what it represents that I’ll be another post. Tonight, I thought I’d share some words from Lao Tze not Marcus Aurelius, today. I, like Jesus, am coming out of my cave (and yes, I’m doing just fine, thank you) fresh as a daisy wearing my Taoist Sunday best not my stoic toga. In these days of modern excesses of chocolate and eggs, I like to think about the middle path, the way.

“Do that which consists in taking no action; pursue that which is not meddlesome; savour that which had no flavour. Make the small big and the few many; do good to him who has done you an injury. Lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes difficult; make something big by starting with it when small. Difficult things in the world must needs have their beginnings in the easy; big things must have their beginnings in the small. Therefore it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great. One who promises rashly rarely keeps good faith; one who is in the habit of considering things easy meets with frequent difficulties. Therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult. That is why in the end no difficulties can get the better of him.” Tao Che Ching Chapter 63

“In the pursuit of learning one knows more every day; in the pursuit of the way one does less every day. One does less and less until one does nothing at all, and when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone. It is always through not meddling that the empire is won. Should you meddle, then you are not equal to the task of winning the empire.” – Tao Che Ching Chapter 48

You’re wondering: “Z, what the fuck has that got to do with Easter?“.

Easter is a fraud: you should be experiencing and celebrating change and rebirth everyday. You should be experiencing change through learning and evolution of the self to the higher self. Be actively passive in your evolution, like the natural world around you. The Neanderthal did not evolve to the rational, free and critical thinking creature reading these words now, overnight. Life and change and learning is a constant celebration of you and the world that spins around you.

Eat all the chocolate eggs, pilgrim, it’s always Easter. The day is always good.

Not for Jesus at the time, obviously, but that sort of ruins my point, doesn’t it?

Z3N0

Another Test

Last night I was tested again in my faith of the universe and my own philosophy. Marcus Aurelius talks about life being cyclical and what shook me has happened before. It was almost familiar, the gut wrenching feeling and chill of the blood. I knew the sensation immediately yet it was worse this time, much more physical. It was almost as if my mind had checked out; electing to fuck off and let the body do it’s thing while it disconnects and turns inward.

By all stoic accounts, I handled it poorly: drank a lot and spiralled into over thinking. Yet it took a near stranger to put things into perspective. Her words echoed the philosopher in my head that was drowned by cortisol. It’s funny as without this event, I’m not sure I’d have had the opportunity to talk to this person in such a candid way and connect with a stranger on the internet to become friends (or at least friendly).

“All that happens is an event either within your natural ability to bear it, or not” Meditations 10.3

Did I pass the test? Or did I pass it at my own standards? The damage to a reputation of a man several years dead means nothing to me as he no longer exists. The person writing this as we speak is fresh and new and his reputation has no bearing on me now. False narratives created to hurt a man long dead is meaningless, the only person affected is the malignant story teller. It’s not my virtue affected, it’s theirs. How many others can speak of this? How many other people on the planet who have evolved from caterpillar to moth must still carry the sins of the larvae? Perhaps I’m being too fast, perhaps I’m still gestating in the chrysalis.

My friends tried to make me see this yet it was the words of a stranger that I am truly bloody grateful for.

“Lying, too, is a sin against the same goddess: her name is Truth, and she is the original cause of all that is true. The conscious liar sins to the extent that his deceit causes injustice: the unconscious liar to the extent that he is out of tune with the nature of the Whole and out of order with the nature of the ordered universe against which he fights.” Meditations 9.1.2

I was a prolific liar, a conscious one who cared little for the injustices around me. Differentiating not giving a fuck and being generally a fucker was a talent lost on me. So when I hear of lies, conscious or unconscious, can I really judge? I know the damage they can cause in the material world but in my soul, do I have the right to feel anything other than pity? Failing that: apathy.

“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” – Jesus, John 8:7

And so:

“There is no blame. If you can, put him right: if you can’t, at least put the matter right. If that too is impossible, what further purpose does blame serve?”Meditations 8.17

Maybe one day, I’ll have to face the consequences of the lies of another in person. When that day comes, it’s not the alleger that’ll be my priority, it will be the consequences. Even then, what use is it worrying about now? What use is another’s false feelings about me to me?

After all, it’s 2021. It’s far simpler than it used to be when it comes to shutting out the noise. Two words on every device connected to the internet: shut down.

Z3N0