Life’s Narrative Theory

I’ve been meaning to talk about, for my own sake more than anything, the attachments that we have to our past. Even the grimy parts, we find a comfort in the knowing and the tried and tested methods of our own character. It’s human nature, surely, to hold on to the familiar and reject the uncertain path even if it might be sunnier on the alien horizon. It’s a part of the falling forward philosophy and acceptance of the forward motion of existence to continue into the unknown. It’s almost against our philosophical and rational nature to turn back yet we do it anyway. There’s this hardwired device that instructs us to return to a familiar equilibrium rather than face the new one.

Yet, it’s not possible. Life exists within the principles of Todorov’s Narrative Theory:

Stage 1: Equilibrium.

Stage 2: Disruption.

Stage 3: Recognition of Disruption.

Stage 4: Attempt to repair Disruption.

Stage 5: New Equilibrium – link back to Stage 1.

It exists in all of our fictions and non-fictions and has become a core reality of our human experience. Hell, perhaps the experience of Universe entire. It extends far beyond the academic theorizing of a Media Studies lecture hall and into the very chemistry of existence. This is what we know.

So why do we fight with our feelings to so desperately go backwards within ourselves and our conditions?

The “good old days” don’t exist and they never did.

Today I called an ex partner of mine, who is also a close friend. I did so feeling lonely, feeling starved of contact and touch. I felt the pull to the past, the pull to a time capsule of our perfect moments. They didn’t answer and I took it as a sign. It was a sign from Universe that I needed to check my own motivations, reflect on my purpose for calling. When they did call back, I was honest about this conversation with myself and it was all very amusing. Yet, when we finally said goodbye, it felt that it established a New Equilibrium and the pull at the old one felt less important, less probable.

I remember a time when I was never alone with myself. I lived off the Hank Moody philosophy that: “A morning of awkwardness is better than an evening of loneliness“. I romanticise this time: a time lacking self-awareness, a time lacking reflection, a time without thought just action. It was almost supernatural and a whirlwind of fleeting emotions and meaningless sex. A time when I could do anything and be anything and a time when my vices never caught up with me. Now, in the New Equilibrium, I can’t act without reflecting. Before I commit an act, I wonder first if this benefits the people around me, if this is a virtuous act. It’s progress no? A betterment of my own character yet still I yearn for the quick and easy.

Perhaps that will always be the allure of calling up an ex: the quick and easy way to feel wanted, to feel complete again and to feel appreciated. There’s no shame in it, but what does that do in the end? For us, for them, for the grander effect of Providence in the world around us? The path forward is harder yet more natural than the path backwards. It’s cyclical and it flows like blood in the cardiovascular system. The Universe pushes us in one and services our organs accordingly as we need not as we like.

It’s a painful reality to know that things for us, will not be the same as they were before. From accepting the loss of a former relationship to a distancing of a friend to a loss of a limb. But we endure, as our nature requires us. We push forward into the horizon together in the same motion. When we breach the horizon, there is a new day and at the end, a new dusk, a new night, a new dawn. Life spins in the circular motion like the Earth on its axis, like the Sol System around the galactic core, like the Milky Way entire.

Todorov’s Narrative Theory isn’t just some mental exercise, it’s existence on paper.

“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 it is true now even of Hadrian and Augustus. Next, concentrate on the matter at 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

Or perhaps I’m thinking too deeply and it’s easier just to say: forward, dear sibling, always forward.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 7

I want to take today to share two verses from the Tao Te Ching on the balance of character. A friend spoke to me last night about having relationships that are unbalanced, unequal in their respect. For as long as I’ve known this person, they have been one of the most quietly strong individuals I’ve ever known, my best friend throughout my darkest time and perhaps there may have been more had I not in my arrogance neglected them too. They feel complicit in the behaviours of others for being a passive supporter of the relationships yet I disagree with that belief. I think this present moment and this very time is when they have been able to instead reassert a balance between integrity and passiveness. Now is the time for the archers on the walls to fire back at the invaders to the kingdom, dismissing trifling perceptions and immorality before they can reach the city. Like Bukowski said about success, these kinds of revelations are like flies: let them come to you before you can swat them. Don’t try.

“To use words but rarely is to be natural. Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on for ever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way! A man of the way confirms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way gladly is gladly accepted by the way; he who conforms to virtue 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 XXIII

“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk. He who shows himself is not conspicuous; He who considers himself right is not illustrious; He who brags will have no merit; He who boasts will not endure. From the point of view of the way these are ‘excessive food and useless excrescences.’ As there are Things that detest them, he who has the way does not abide by them.” – Tao Te Ching XXIV

Find your faith in yourself, find your way, find you middle path, find your balance and you will be the happier for it. It’s a natural thing, the natural state of being to be one with your own flow, synchronised with you chi and spiritual path.

As Bukowski said: don’t try.

Z3N0

Humble Pie

Apologising has become such a dirty word as if it’s ingrained in us to fight to the very last than admit we have been wrong. There’s this pervasive feeling that when we expose our flaws to people who see them, or even admit to ourselves that we see them, that we will be hung, drawn and quartered for our admission. Fuck that. The truth is that eating humble pie is brave and necessary for our own growth. Before we can begin to take steps into the light of virtue, we must first accept our own vice.

The Catholics have been doing this for nearly 2000 years in the form of confessional. Personally, for me, this is a flawed concept. While confessing in sins and passing them to God for judgement, we are absolving ourselves of the responsibility for those actions. Worse yet, we expect the priest to absolve us – a member of the clergy who is as human as us. Perhaps I’m being cynical on that and it’s more wholesome and stoic than I give it credit for. Perhaps it is a case of any step is the right step when confronting our own mistakes.

Today, I upset a friend. I’ve spoken about this friend before but I was insensitive towards them in this case and made them feel uncomfortable. I could not think about anything else than to apologise for my words and put right what I did wrong. How could I not? What pointless pride would stop me? In the past I’ve struggled and fought with the words “I’m sorry” for what purpose? All the fear of that has done is killed friendships and slowed my own growth. What’s stopping any of us from seeing wrong in our actions. After all, inherently there is no wrong or right, only the consequences of what we do. So if those consequences are to the detriment of another or ourselves, it is our moral duty as human beings, as expressions of the universal Whole, to eat the humble pie and apologise for that.

“Please always call me out when I go wrong.” – Z

I’m quoting myself here quite shamelessly, words I spoke not even 7 hours ago. It’s a simple request to my friend and one I expect follow through on. Is it not something we should all expect? How can we ever return to the middle path when blinded by our own experience if we can’t allow someone to help us. An apology is that acknowledgement. Contrition is acceptance of the flaws within us all. Even the most perfect stoic, should understand that apologising and accepting perception of their action from within and without is a virtue.

My friends words to my blunt questioning:

Ask me different next time.” – X

I learned from this. I will ask about the topic that we were talking about with a gentler hand and tact. They showed me a better way to be and I will evolve accordingly. If I had been an arrogant idiot and said something like “no fuck you, I’ll say what I like” the relationship would have been killed then and there. Or perhaps not, it would instead lead to animosity and a lot more effort for something that would have been avoided had I just accepted my own wrong doing and faced it.

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.” – Meditations 6.21

To be a stoic not only means accepting of things what we cannot control but also of what we do control, accepting change within ourselves for the betterment of all around us. Disregard the taboo of admitting fault, of looking into the mirror to see warts and all. Experience growth in your mistakes and live a better life.

So, to be brief: un-bite your lip and eat your humble pie, it’s good for you.

Z3N0

Pity not Anger

Currently I’m dealing with a person that should anger me. Or rather, other human beings would understand looking objectively if they were to anger me. They have accused me of things I have not done; warped facts to establish a false narrative; weaponized honesty against others; acted in hostility to defend their own demand for pleasures, and actively inflate minor details for a larger reaction. It’s annoying, no? Angering? Worthy of pure contempt and fiery rage to throw the interloper out for their nature as a cheese grater on my brain. No, because then I will be no better than them. Would any of us be better than the creator of upset if we were to become upset ourselves? Of course not. We would just be adding to the hot air and noise and disruption to our own natures.

I pity this person because I see a desperate act and need for validation. I see anxiety that I see in myself. I see a desire for pleasure and the thirst to be seen. It’s pity I feel, a deep heavy sense of pity. I cannot change this person’s behaviour, they have identified me as a bad actor for revealing truths, not in a malicious way but as a way to hold a mirror to someone so that can see too.

“When someone does you some wrong, you should consider immediately what judgement of good and or evil led him to wrong you. When you see this, you will pity him, and not feel the surprise or anger. You yourself either still share his view of good, or something like it, in which case you should understand and forgive: if , on the other hand , you no longer judge such things as either good or evil, it will be easier for you to be patient with the unsighted.” – Meditations 7.26

This person used me as a weapon to emotionally manipulate another to satisfy pleasures. It’s a very convoluted and complex situation, perhaps so niche that it’s never happened before. Yet, that’s not true either is it? Every emotion we can experience has been experienced. Every manipulation at its core, each scheme and plot has been played out. From the betrayal of Caesar to the Gunpowder Plot to this very niche instance. Nothing that happens cannot be overcome, nothing in your life you are truly alone in experiencing.

“Nothing can happen to any human being outside the experience which is natural to humans – an ox too experiences nothing foreign nature of the oxen, a vine nothing foreign to the nature of vines, a stone nothing outside the property of a stone.” – Meditations 8. 46

It’s strange this feeling of calm, it’s almost unnatural in comparison to the feelings of those around me. I feel ambivalent of the words they call me, the lies they say, the vitriol they spit in my direction to unbalance others. Instead, I feel a deep remorse for them. I am sorry that their life is in such a state that this was necessary. I will be there for my friends, wholly, to support them, to love them as I love myself to repair their hurt hearts. A weird kind of sadness to be sad for another’s actions towards me instead of hateful. It’s a new experience for me and I don’t mind it. It’s not as heavy as anger nor is it as sticky.

My priority, as should yours in these situations, are the ones who are hurt. I will be there not for reasons of making myself look better or improving relationships but to genuinely be there for them. Anything else would be an injustice of the soul.

“What is my object in making a friend? To have someone to be able to die for, someone I may follow into exile, someone for whose life I may put myself up as security and pay the price as well.” – Letters from a Stoic IX

Anger is not for the stoic neither is retribution. My first, and your first priority should be the return to a new, better equilibrium, friends first.

Love fate and all it brings and you will be secure in your self. When you are secure in yourself, you’ll feel no anger to those who don’t.

Z3N0

Best We Can

If it’s not clear already: you can’t control Providence.

Things are as they will be without us becoming frustrated at our own powerlessness against the force of destiny. Sure, destiny can’t build a wall or take the bins out, only we can do that but further than our own actions, it’s all intangible. If it is in your power as an individual to change the world for the better, to be that change you desire take action, do it now. Yet we don’t all have that power do we? We make our own little ripples behind the best we can, nothing more and nothing more can be expected of us.

In my job, my contract is coming to an end and I have to reapply with a formal interview. I’ve been asked on several occasions if I’m worried. The answer is no because I have confidence in myself and have taken all the actions I can to ensure I’ll be successful. Not to brag, but I’m good at my job. Yet, if they choose to end my contract I’ll be good knowing that I did what I could and gave my best to the company and people. They’ll be no hard feelings because they’re my own feelings and why the hell would I allow myself to feel shitty about doing my best? Why should you?

I have a friend, who I’ve mentioned previously who I have romantic feelings for. Does what they feel towards me change my perception of them or cause hard feelings? No of course not. If they tell me they want to keep things friendly or that another is a better match, so what? I’ve been the best friend I can for them, for myself and others around us. Does it matter that others have expressed romantic interest in this person? No of course not. I’m still going to be me and love my friend no matter what. Did I do what I could to express my interest? Yes. Will things come to fruition? Who knows, who the fuck cares. In the past I’ve been quick to ruin things, quick to take rejection personally. But even if they are personal, are the criticisms of my behaviour not correct? If they are or were, I like to think I’ve changed. In college I was infatuated with a girl, in fact I think I loved her but it never happened. She described herself at a later time as the ‘villain’ of my story. Evidently: a drama student. Yet she was wrong, I was the villain to my own story and my behaviour was my own problem. But we learn don’t we? Grow and go.

We do the best we can.

It’s our duty as human beings to each other and for each other and for ourselves. I say this quite often at work when dealing with interpersonal conflict.

“She’s been saying horrible things about me behind my back, things that aren’t true.” – X

“Are you a good person? Do you believe it, I mean? Are you a good person and do you do all you can to be A good person?” – Z

“Yes.” – X

“So what does hot air matter?” – Z

So I ask you the same thing, reader. Are you a good person, in your heart of hearts? Have you grown into a person you can be proud of?

Do the best you can, and you will be secure in yourself. You may never be rich, may never be in love, may never be famous but what does that matter? Being universally good – virtuous – is a good life. Or at least, in the words of Batman himself:

“A good life … good enough.” – Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns.

Ultimately, if you’re not going to listen to your own rational mind or me, you’ll listen to Batman. I would, he’s scary and seems like he’s got a few issues.

Z3N0

Candles in the Dark

When you hold out a flame for someone the best you can to get them through the dark, what do you do when you stumble and they’ve left you behind? How are you supposed to feel, when one rock of two leaning against each other disappears, leaving you to metaphorically tumble down the mountain on your own? I don’t know what other analogy to use to describe it, this weird realisation that you’re not as integral to person as they are to you. Do we wait as we flounder? Wait for them and hope that they’ll reach out as you’ve right to reach out before? Or is it in vain?

If in vain, we are just left with this feeling of not rejection but isolation. Isolation in our own perception of how things are compared to how things really are. It leaves me to wonder and ask, are feelings of attraction and admiration mirages? Intangible things that deceive and delude, leaving us alone in the cold desert with only our own thoughts. It makes the whole process and exploration of finding some sort of happiness with another individual seem inherently toxic when we think about it in the stoic sense. It’s almost as if that desire for happiness over takes actual happiness.

Seeing things as they are, people as they are and not who we think they are to us – or we are to them – is, in my experience, a painful awakening. Like a beating heart in your hand turning to sand and spilling away. But in the end, it was always going to wasn’t it? A friendship, an affection, an attachment – all shifting sands.

Like candles in the dark, these things are brief and are prone to fading out.

How many candles have you cried over? None? Well, then, why shed tears over such things?

What have we to gain over such actions when we know the temporary nature of things?

Why am I upset? Ask yourself. Is it the effort you put into it? The money you’ve spent? The time?

What would you have done instead of spending those things? We can learn something from everything and everything has purpose, as I’ve said before.

“The recurrent cycles of the universe are the same, up and down, from eternity to eternity. And either the mind of the Whole has a specific impulse for each individual case – if so, you should welcome the result – or it had a single original impulse, from which all else follows in consequence: and why should you be anxious about that? The Whole is either a god – then all is well: or if purposeless – some sort of random arrangement of atoms or molecules – you should not be without purpose yourself. In a moment the earth will cover us all. Then the earth too will change, and then further successive changes to infinity. One reflecting on these waves of change and transformation, and the speed of their flow, will hold all mortal things in contempt.” – Meditations 9.28

It’s all in motion like blood around the body and it never stops and if it does then there will be nothing but the void until two tiny atoms crash into each other for the second big bang. Do we shed tears each time we exhale or inhale? Each time old cells die and others are born, and one hair falls from a follicle only to be replaced again, do we wallow in despair?

No. Fuck that.

Z3N0

The Void Within

Something is missing in my life. Maybe I’ve spoken about it before but it’s a feeling that comes and goes like the rain. It’s a feeling of emptiness. It’s a heavy vacuum within me like a black hole that pulls downward from the base of my heart to the pit of my stomach. It’s a cold feeling and it travels to my brain around where I imagine my third eye to be and sits there like a feeling of dread.

What is this dread?

It’s loneliness.

Yet I have friends?

What is this loneliness other than the gnawing broodiness coming on. A need for a deeper connection within myself like a primal directive to find a home and tribe of my own. Had I not evolved from these baser needs? Surely as a civilized man in the 21st Century, it is unnatural to have this almost biological lachrymose. So, remove the judgement. I’ve done that yet my body persists and the chemicals in my mind still demand satisfaction. It’s like a drug, a high on being loved and giving love.

I once purchased an in depth horoscope analysis to dissect my nature as a Taurus. As pathetic as that was in the rational mind, it was accurate and representative of a time before I began to grow into who I am now. Yet some things stuck. The first being that I rejected my mother emotionally but embraced my father and in doing so, vulnerability and feelings of love are seen as hostile actors. They’re seen as deep needs but also threats. Leading to, without a sense of balance, in fighting between masculine and feminine energies with both sabotaging and craving deeper human connections on an emotional and sexual level. The latter of that was something I overindulged in to try and to fill that vacuum (take that how you will) but it was never satisfied because surface isn’t enough. The surface of a still lake looks pretty but the true wonders lie within its waters.

It’s not very stoic though, is it? A lonely heart. I’ve been in love twice before. Both times being poor turnouts and I’ve been hurt before too. Yet we grow and go, don’t we?

What can we do in the face of this kind of void? A growing emptiness that only the right thing can fill. But then, would we be so distracted on the idea of perfection that we miss it entirely? That’s the curse isn’t it? With Tinder and Bumble, we look for the perfect match but sometimes miss what exists in our present moment. We forget the things that are really important, high on our own quests and desires that unbalance us to be able to find true balance, a true harmony with the yin and yang with our twin-flames.

Supposedly, when it comes to twin-flame romances, it may take lifetimes to meet each other and throughout lifetimes coming close and then missing the mark only to reunite in another meat sleeve centuries down the line, our past lives forgotten, our souls washed clean of the muck. Yet that’s not particularly encouraging is it? To be subjected to a life of mediocrity with the hopes that the next one will be better? Is it not the more stoic thing, the more rational thing, and more balanced thing, to find harmony in the present rather than wait for it to be thrust upon us through the window of death?

Yet we relapse into this void, this ache.

“It is such a quiet thing, to fall. But far more terrible is to admit it.” – Darth Kreia, Knights of the Old Republic 2

Is loving and desiring to love, against our nature? Or is it so intrinsically human that to deny the ache for meaning in the arms of another is the thing against our nature. Is this all we need? As people? Or is the answer rooted in the inadequacy of the self?

“Without stirring abroad one can know the whole world; without looking out of the window one can see the way of heaven. The further one goes the less one knows. Therefore the sage knows without having to stir, identifies without having to see, accomplishes without having to act.” – Tao Te Ching XLVII

As the harmony within settles and the balance of my chi takes hold, is there anything else but certainty in the okayness of it all? It will be okay: for me, for you, for us. Can you look in the mirror – truly look – and find your way? I’m smiling now, but I can’t tell if it’s a happy smile or one of simply amusement at the universe and my place in it. How fickle it all is, how fleeting and how much more fun it would be to share it with someone. All of us clinging to the surface of this rock, smiling at it’s irreverence. We are together in that, at least.

Z3N0

Seneca’s Third Letter

I shall start by saying that I am guilty of Seneca’s criticism of his friend Lucillius. I would be a hypocrite to say that I have not called people friends and not seen them as people I can trust. I collected people I would describe as friends, the word losing all meaning. What is this criticism?

“If you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.”Letters from a Stoic III

He’s right, of course yet I feel it doesn’t go far enough in this particular extract. The question can be asked how can a person trust in friends as they trust themselves if they don’t trust themselves to begin with? Can you trust yourself to keep a secret? No? Then how can you trust another to keep yours. Before we go looking for faults in others, we – and I, for sure – need to remember John 8:7 about those without sin casting the first stone at the sinner.

“Think for a long time whether or not you should admit a given person to your friendship. But when you have decided to do so, welcome him heart and soul, and speak as unreservedly with him as you would yourself.” – Letters from a Stoic III

Are you kind to yourself? Are you honest with yourself? Are you respectful of yourself? Are you accepting of yourself? If the answer is no to these questions then how can you in good conscience admit that friendship knowing that you will not speak as unreservedly with them, heart and soul, as you would yourself? Now I’m not saying that you can only be a straight laced, no-issues neurotypical perfect human to be able to have friendship. That would be hypocritical as I like to think that now, in this moment, I have true friends. What I am saying is, how can we judge the measure of another’s friendship on these grounds if we don’t look inward first and find out what that means.

“Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal. Some men’s fear of being deceived has taught people to deceive them; by their suspiciousness they give them the right to do the wrong thing by them. Why should I keep anything back when I’m with a friend? Why shouldn’t I imagine I’m alone when I’m in his company?”

Bernard Shaw said something similar if I’m not mistaken about treating people greatly and they will be great. I am also guilty of what Seneca says, I have a friend that I feel to be a true friend yet due to our electric communication and the distance between us – and the film Catfish – I admit that I assumed the worst, laughably so. Yet I trust this person with myself and from our conversations, they trust me with themselves in our truest way. What irrationality is this suspicion? It’s like shit on the shoe – it stinks but it can be wiped off. Of course things happen, there are lapses and gaps and the trust seems to be thin, and circumstantial. Yet is this my own perception and ingrained taught suspicion or reality? The former, obviously – monitored and regulated by citalopram and philosophies.

Yet Seneca goes on to make another fair point which I think is key to remember:

Trusting everyone is as much a fault as trusting no one (though I should call the first the worthier and the second the safer behaviour).”

We need to strike a balance in our lives, across all things. This expands to our social relationships and the emotion we put into them. A Jedi epithet is that desire unbalances us, and to an extent its true. Should we desire relationships or should we accept them as they come in balance and acceptance of when they do not – from acquaintances and colleagues to lovers. It’s like a balanced diet or balanced exercise regime. Stoicism and my preferred religious philosophies are about walking the middle path, in perfect harmony with the self and Universe. It permeates all our actions, a need for balance.

“For a delight in bustling about is not industry – it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind. And the state of a mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but spineless inertia…

A balanced combination of the two attitudes is what we want; the active man should always be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined towards repose should be capable of action. Ask nature: she will tell you that she made both day and night.”

Find your balance in friendships and yourself. Trust carefully but wholly. Love reservedly but give love unreservedly – both for yourself and others. Find your middle way along The Way.

Z3N0