Fear of Rest

There seems to be a pervasive fear of passiveness within stoicism and a demand for action where often non is required. I’ve spoken about this before and my disagreements with Marcus Aurelius but it seems to be a thing that permeates society entirely. There’s this stigma against just sitting, just resting, just taking a moment to passively reflect and recharge. It’s considered a thing for the retired or the dead yet what is meditation if not preparation for the state of death itself?

So you want a lay in on a Saturday after a long week? Ok – do it. Where’s the guilt in creating a balance for yourself between the needs for individual recuperation and the demands of the capitalist worker machine? It doesn’t take much of a scroll through channels to find some documentary that demonizes people for being ‘lazy’ or for living a life of harmony with themselves. When has ever, in the media, there been a positive story about a meditative retreat other than to mock it?

There’s this frenzy for activity and no time to reflect on the activity in need of doing or has been done. If we can’t take the time to reflect – just to sit or lay down – where do we find time for art, culture, growth? To pause in a place, to take in the breath and not just breath but to experience is how we experience inspiration. When we find these moments in the eyes of a loved one, taking in a panorama, sitting within the halls of a temple, we are at rest. We are experiencing a waking moment of meditation. The last time I felt this was when I held a lamb heart in my hand and the universe span around me as I was calm at the eye with this moment of inspiration and clarity.

Descartes and Seneca had this in common: both sought to retreat from society to be able to see it better before returning to it. Of course, the two philosophers couldn’t be more different yet despite my claim of being a stoic, I lean on the side of Descartes’ method of philosophy. He believed that the best ideas come to you when you are most comfortable and where he felt comfortable was in bed. It’s a balance isn’t it? We must not indulge the body to a point of poor health in this comfort but we must also not reject these comforts that nature and Providence has provided for us. What would be the point of that? Rejecting our own nature is self-defeatist.

Do not fear rest or moments to indulge in being passive. Being actively passive is a Taoist practice, to observe the yin and yang in harmony. How can we observe, if we do not pause? There’s a proverb that I’m going to paraphrase: you cannot be one with the divine if you do not appreciate it’s manifestations.

Appreciate the time you have, don’t rush through it. I’m 23 years old and I don’t want to rush my life, to achieve all there is to achieve overnight without ever stopping to ask why I’m doing it; without ever stopping to feel the moment; without ever stopping to feel the touch of linen on my skin, the pleasure in holding an equal in my eyes; the moment to enjoy the sensations of foods and warmth of the sky. It could all be over tomorrow and I appreciate and accept that. So why would I rush to the end, with no care for the journey?

“It is knowing what you want to say and never finding the words. It is a chorus, replaced with silence. Hearing teachings without meaning. It is like having a beloved pupil to whom you have shared everything, sacrificed everything, and then having them turn from you… and forget all you were.” – Kreia, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

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

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

Stoicism and Socialism

I was thinking today about public responsibility and the responsibility of a stoic to their fellow human being, as all human beings have a responsibility of unity. Politically speaking, it’s quite a left leaning ideologue that relies on the sacrifice of excess. If only in the entirely ego-centric way of thinking – something I’m not bashing just observing – a stoic lives within their means so not to over indulge the mind, body and soul with the material things rather than ensure that others too have sufficiently enough.

“Doing something? I do it with reference to the benefit of mankind.” – Meditations 8.23

It’s a balance though, isn’t it within the psyche of both altruism and egoism. We indulge in the pleasures of where we can but act altruistically to ensure others have the opportunity to access the same in perfect comfort and alignment with their own nature.

Ignoring the political fluff of it all, let me break down some concepts:

  • Universal Healthcare: an act of altruism designed to ensure the betterment of our society through providing of access of treatment to those in need without putting them in financial disarray. It’s an act of proscribed kindness with taxes paying for the scheme rather the lining the pockets of those who already live beyond indulgence. Of course, you can argue that in reality, it’s not the case with contracting scandals and crushing debt yet the concept within itself is stoic, no? To provide care to our kin expecting nothing in return.
  • Corporate bail-outs: to save a company that employs thousands upon thousands, a ruling body gives charity to save the welfare of its people at an expense to itself. It’s an act of giving, providing and acting in good faith. Ultimately, when we act in good faith, with good intentions and consequence, are we not virtuous?
  • Free education: a core principle of Marcus Aurelius is to “teach or tolerate” and how can we teach if we do not provide the means to access the learning? How can we expect our future generations to grow into virtuous and kinder beings than our previous if we do not share that same virtue and kindness to them? What lessons are learned for those who resent the burden of learning? It festers in to hatred and that kind of hatred is like a hatred of evolution. Which, in turn, is a hatred of the nature of the self.

“Have I done anything for the common good? Then I too have benefitted. Have this thought always ready to hand: and no stopping.” – Meditations 11.4

Today I said to a friend that if I made an impact on them through my philosophy, a positive and tangible impact than I know that I can sleep a little easier. I think it goes the same for my attitude towards service because there is no career, there is service. A career implies we climb a ladder for power and wealth and recognition. What need do we as stoics, as human beings have for these things? In service we provide to the betterment of others and our society. Politics in particular has become rife with career politicians rather than service politicians. We use the phrase ‘man of the people’ or rather ‘person of the people’ quite pedantically as if it’s some weird joke. Should it be such a rare find? Are we all not people for the people?

You can debate below in the comments about the finer points and failings of socialism and the left in general, that’s your prerogative. I’m no expert on political theory and history but I can only speak to what I observe. You’re opinion is your own and so is your experience of various ruling systems. However, what are we but social beings? Whether a viable concept or not in your opinion, surely we can agree to that our service to each other is as beneficial to the human condition as service to ourselves.

This will only be a short thinking exercise. I don’t want to presume to be so arrogant to tell people explicitly what to think or feel further than their own peace of mind. But I will leave you with this:

“Cling therefore, to this sound and wholesome plan of life: indulge the body just so far as suffices for good health. It needs to be treated somewhat strictly to prevent it from being disobedient to the spirit. Your food should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, your clothing keep out the cold, your house be a protection against inclement weather.” – Letters from a Stoic VIII

Of course who knows what to think, Seneca lived a life of luxury.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 5

This is becoming a weekly thing, finding myself reflecting on a single piece of wisdom rather than coming up with something actually original to say. Yet I think it’s a good thing, a refreshing thing, to have a focus. My focus today has been BBC Bitesize Cardiology because, of course, I’m hooked now on the topic. I’m not going to mention The Falcon and Winter Soldier or the fact that I’ve had five coffees and two energy drinks today because that doesn’t seem very learned. But we follow the patterns, don’t we? People tend to like things because they are good, it doesn’t mean they aren’t any less well natured because they are not inherently stoic in their content. What’s wrong with a little indulgence? A can of something, pizza and Disney+ isn’t an unworthy night in. I’m retreating from the world, retiring inwards after a week of work.

“A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm – an intimate who leads a pampered life gradually makes one soft and flabby; a wealthy neighbour provokes cravings in one; a companion with a malicious nature tends to rub off some of his rust even on someone of an innocent and open-hearted nature – what then do you imagine the effect on a person’s character is when the assault comes from the world at large? You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.”Letters from a Stoic VII

How many people have we all encountered this week? How many of us could do with a little retreat over the weekend to recharge and wipe off the rust of another. Call a true friend over this time, call them and discuss something easy, something you can learn from, something you can appreciate and take comfort in. I have a friend who inspires me. They find themselves in retreat and I respect that – as do I find myself now in retreat. Passive activism of the self: shake off the dirt and energy of the week and its people, see it for what it is in its nature and return with a smile on Monday.

Gosh, perhaps maybe delete your news app just for this 48-hours. Delete your social media, if you can bring yourself to do it. Feel the weight of the world’s vices lift from your shoulders while you can before returning to the fold as the social being you are, as we are. I’m maintaining you can be a social being without social media, but not everyone has that luxury to switch it off anymore. I’m not judging, I’m just suggesting; a suggestion from one person on the path to another.

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

Where is Your Action?

I’m inside on a sunny day because X is in one of those moods where everything must have an answer. There’s a need to talk about a lump on the back of my foot and to see a chiropodist; my nails not looking good again as we enter into a busy time at work; my constant back pain needing to be seen to; my space needing to be cleaned because it’s dusty. I spoke to a friend about this. She said simply:

“Do your feet need things? Does you back need things? Does your room need tidying?” – Y

Yes to all of those thing, of course.

“Then where is your action?” – Y, attached to a gif of Major Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist flexing.

So where is my action? Why am I avoiding conversations about these things when I could just do these things? What’s the hold up? Cost? Timing? Anxiety? I can afford the cost, I can spare the time, and I don’t feel any particular anxiety over these thing. Yet here I am.

What are you putting off?

I don’t even realize that I’m doing it. Right now, I’ve got a 2500 word report to write for my job due for the 27th, yet have I used this free Saturday to write it? No, of course not. I another sense, I’ve been actively passive: I smudged my house with sage, dusted and debating LGBTQ+ rights on the internet with strangers for who living and let live is a complex ask. Have I made much progress on teaching my contemporaries to be a little more tolerant? Not at all, and it perhaps I knew it was a fruitless task going into the conversation, knowing it would take up so much of my time to avoid the list of things I should be doing.

Interesting: I would rather be doing those things. So why do I find myself not starting?

The revenge of the procrastination nation.

I would quote from Aurelius or Seneca or Lao Tze, but tonight I feel ashamed to look in their long dead eyes, into the soul’s philosophy. What have I achieved in my avoidance? Nothing other than a minor headache above my eyebrow after trying to argue that the existence of another being is not up for the debate of the layman but universal truth.

Bracing the shame, removing the judgement of the words of another:

“I view with pleasure and approval the way you keep on at your studies and sacrifice everything to your single-minded efforts to make yourself every day a better man. I do not merely urge you to persevere in this; I actually implore you to.” – Letters from a Stoic, V

Implore yourself. I implore myself. Because today I have not kept to my studies or sacrificed anything to learn to be a better person. Yet in my reflection, perhaps the cognition of this is learning. Perhaps the sacrifice in the pride of a day doing nothing is the sacrifice and the feeling of a wasted day of nothing but flapjacks and playing Stellaris on the PC is the lesson.

Here’s to Sunday: a new day of action, one that Seneca would view with pleasure and approval; a day that I can view with pleasure and approval.

Z3N0

The Entertainment of Conflict

From Grey’s Anatomy to Batwoman to The Vampire Diaries most stories in the modern fiction landscape have the singular focal point of emotional conflict. With conflict there is no story. It’s almost as if there were so few solely dedicated Mr Tuvok stories in Star Trek: Voyager because the stoic Vulcan had no conflict and when he did, it required the influence of outside actors. Another good example from Star Trek is the case of Mr Data who’s best stories came from times that he activated his emotion-chip. Would we watch House MD if Dr Greg House shrugged off things? What would WandaVision be, if Wanda Maximoff viewed death in a stoic way? Kids love Anakin Skywalker and see him as the coolest Jedi despite being the antithesis of stoicism.

Stripping this back, taking this back 2000 years, to the gladiator pits of Ancient Rome, we see the nature of our love of conflict bare faced. Because that’s what is it is. We find entertainment in stories of people inflicting pain on each other. It’s almost a human desire to see it whether that’s in the Colosseum or in a deathmatch in Halo or in some trashy teen rom-com on Netflix. What’s the difference between inflicting physical pain and emotional pain? Both leave scars.

“The spectators insist that each on killing his man shall be thrown against another to be killed in his turn; and the eventual victor is reserved by them for some other form of butchery; the only exit for the contestants is death. Fire and steel keep the slaughter going.” – Letters from a Stoic VII.

Here, Seneca is speaking about the barbarism of the half-time shows at the Colosseum but doesn’t it sound familiar? We delude ourselves with sophistication but with each comic book, each novel, each TV show, each film franchise, each is just a protagonist going against and an antagonist over and over again. The only escape is death for both the spectator and the participant.

I was a habitual watcher of The Jeremy Kyle Show before that was cancelled. It was an emotional and at times literal gladiator match under the guise of conflict resolution broadcasted everyday. It was fantastic and I hated it because of how much I liked it. Of course, I never enjoyed the conflict and drama when it was thrust upon me, as is the way. We haven’t changed as human beings from the Romans to our post-modern reality televised Truman Show 21st Century existence.

I even know people who start fights because they’re bored to watch the chaos. I used to do it in secondary school for the shit and giggles. It’s wanton violence on the soul for what? A little butchery at lunchtime? Can we humans be truly entertained without an antagonist to conflict with?

There are six types of conflict in all fiction even in non-fiction: person versus person; person versus society; person versus nature; person versus technology; person versus self, and person versus supernatural.

All conflict in our lives can be boiled down to those six things. Why are so entertained by it? In Taoism, this conflict between yin and yang is life so does it stand to reason that life is conflict? Is our purpose in life is to stand as a rock in this conflict uninterested, apathetic? Is that even possible? We are both the conflict and the peace. We neither one thing nor the other, are we? And, in the end:

“Yesterday a sperm: tomorrow a mummy or ashes.” – Meditations 4.48.2

I don’t think I’m educated or experienced enough to decide. I’m certainly not far enough along the path to come to any rational conclusion on my own right now. Does it make me any less of a good man for indulging as a spectator in what I can only see to be human nature?

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Meditations 10.16

Only one thing that I can be certain of is that Anakin Skywalker is a terrible Jedi.

Z3N0