Sand on the Beach

Modern Art

When we think about our place in the universe we should reflect on our place as a grain of sand on this beach here. Each single grain one of a trillion of grains ever shifting under the pull of the ocean.

This will be a quick post, an uneventful, perhaps uninspiring musing on the divine meaninglessness of our cosmic nature and the beauty of that. It’s point being, with it all being as temporary and meaningless as it is, surely then, we should enjoy it all while it lasts and embrace whatever it brings. Because, of course, while for one grain a shift of position means nothing, when we zoom out we see modern art. Or, in this case, the word “penis” written out with my big toe, which for some infantile reason brought me great joy.

Even Dexter, the weeny mutt, seemed to enjoy the piece.

Z3N0

Tending to a Garden

I was talking today again with a friend regarding dysphoria and my own views of gender identity within myself. It was a discussion that I am accepting of my presentation and express femininity how I like, reaching a balance within the soul, of yin and yang being my constant duty of care to myself. It’s not troubling, this feeling yet it is disquieting to think it took me nearly a quarter of a century to notice my own reflection. With a genderless soul and comfortable presentation, in this life I am to be contented with how things are and accepting of change in the next. I’ve had conversations like this before, its the curse of constant self reflection that everything is under scrutiny even the most fundamental building blocks of my own identity. Is it not the duty of a stoic to look within, reflecting on the impressions of their own life?

In this conversation, I likened this progress and growth akin to gardening:

“From wasteland to Greco-Roman perfectionism, it takes time and maintenance and effort and I’m happy with that.” – Z

I shared my thoughts with another confidant, who provided another perspective on things:

“You cant water your plants everyday for a year but if you take a break for a month or so they’ll start to die. It’s not a process that’ll ever be finished but one you’ve got to keep on working at (and let’s be honest tending to an established, flourishing garden you check on everyday is easier than one you’ve neglected where you’re having to revive each plant every few months when you pick up that motivation to care for them again). But also you’re going to have a few plants that die off regardless of how much time and care you put into it. Concentrating on those losses which are essentially irrelevant to the bigger picture of what you’ve achieved just distracts you from how much of a beautiful garden you build from the ground up.

… If you have a row of plant pots each filled with different seed; some beautiful flowers, some plants toxic to humans and some useful for life such as food and herbs. It doesn’t matter how perfect those pretty flowers are if you’re using your time and resources to water the seeds in the the toxic plant pot, the only fully established plant with the most deep seated roots you’re going to get it in that of the toxic plant. Because, by giving it your time and resources, you’ve allowed it to grow and and in doing so you’ve not allowed the others to flourish because it’s taken all of those resources from you and you have nothing else to share with the others. … Not all toxic plants are awful to look at, a lot are the most ethereal flowers you’ve ever seen or the most colourful berries but they will still harm you regardless of how desirable they are to us.” – X

Aside from being in awe and overjoyed with the privilege of seeing this new perspective, I was also reflective on the words. It’s true, we can tend our gardens all day long but craft a garden of death, of nightshade if not careful enough to see what we sow. It’s also another indictment that truest wisdom is not just from the books of the ancients but within conversations with each other. True, not every conversation will bear such rich fruit but once in a while we find ourselves a golden apple tree in this murky wood. My advice to you, gardener, is to take a seed and plant it in your own psychic grove. Or at the very least, hug the tree and hold on with all you have, awaiting the fruit to fall and nourish you. For a diverse garden, at least, of healthy flora, of sage and lavender smells.

Sit in your garden now. Observe how your progress and sip some sangria in the sunlit with a warm contented smile.

Z3N0

On Gratitude and Praise

Today, I was advised to speak about or rather reflect upon the affect of praise and gratitude. It’s a strange experience for me to receive praise as I never know how to react. I’ve spoken about this before, my own feelings on it that I should never need to be thanked for doing what I feel is right aligned with virtue. Yet, I express gratitude myself to those around me to ensure that I stay grounded and that I speak my appreciation to those people and things that I appreciate.

Now, I’m sat here drinking a beer gifted to me for helping someone. Yet, I feel nothing but a strange sadness for it. It’s almost as if, while as lovely a gift it was, it was bitter sweet. I do not need repaying for what I do nor do I want it further than the financial compensation of my job required to live in the world functionally. I enjoyed receiving the gift true, but does it affect my virtue? No. Of course, I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong, it was a nice gesture, yet it feels almost – I don’t know what I feel. Perhaps I need to deconstruct my stiff upper lip to find out.

Today, a close friend said to me that they admire what I do, which I thought was ironic as I admire what they do a lot more. To compare, they are saving lives literally and I’m babysitting. Yet I’m going to steal the wisdom they shared with me to share to you:

“…a mountain doesn’t look as impressive once you’re at the peak but the ones around it do. Its normal for me, yet I can admire yours more as an observer” – X

It is hypocritical to give praise and appreciation and not be able to take it? Surely, as someone looking to live a balanced life, all things should flow equally in a give and take motion of forces. We all like to receive praise and gratitude sure, yet we shouldn’t act for those things. We should act in a way that comes naturally to our humanity in service of each other regardless of thanks or reward. When we start to rely on praise as motivators, we become seekers of fame and fortune rather than inner peace and outer peace.

It goes without saying that I admire my friend whether they accept it or not or whether they feel they deserve it or not. They continue to inspire me day after day with strength, humility and giving nature; a kindness rare and a beautiful soul always enduring never surrendering. They enrich me and I remind them, something I think, that doesn’t happen enough. Yet why is it so challenging to turn the same loving smile inward?

“They cannot admire you for intellect. Granted – but there are many other qualities of which you cannot say, ‘but that is not the way I am made’. So display those virtues which are wholly in your own power – integrity, dignity, hard work, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind. Or does the fact that you have no inborn talent oblige you to grumble, to scrimp, to toady, to blame your poor body, to suck up, to brag, to have your mind in such turmoil? No, by heaven, it does not! You could have got rid of all this long ago, and only be charged – if charge there is – with being rather slow and dull of comprehension. And yet even this can be worked on – unless you ignore it and welcome your stupidity.” – Meditations 5.5

I should begin to practice and will attempt to praise myself and show myself the same gratitude others hold for me as I them. I want to be able to be a mirror of their light as they are for mine. Love them, love myself, love universe, amor fati. It’s funny to me that for a philosophy seen so dry in the media through Mr Spock of Star Trek and the apathy of Jedi in Star Wars, stoicism at it’s core is about love, gratitude and praise for our reality. Embrace it all.

Z3N0

Further reading:

The Difference A Day Makes

If you need more evidence about the transience and flux of time, see how much can change in a single 24 hour period. From the micro to macro, we have examples throughout history of how single moments in minute corners of our experience can change the course of fate. Of course, by changing the course of fate, I mean to divert it for a brief instance in the history of the multiverse, before it returns to it’s new equilibrium on a path of fine.

Take the current UK COVID-19 response, for example. Lockdown lifting seems imminent one day and hopes of holiday dashed by the next. One day the Conservatives seem set for an electoral landslide in the next GE only for Dominic Cummings to appear with enough bombs dropped to level Whitehall.

One of my favourite comic books, The Killing Joke talks about this from the perspective of The Joker.

DC Comic, Warner Bros.

It’s entirely nihilistic and on brand for the supervillain but is he wrong to define how changeable the world is, our reality is? A single experience can change our entire outlook on life for the better or worse, dependant on how deeply we allow it to affect us. For that, I refer to Stilbo:

“…when his home town was captured and he emerged from the general conflagration, his children lost, his wife lost, alone and none the less happy man, and questioned by Demetrius. Asked by this man, known, from the destruction dealt out to towns, as Demetrius the City Sacker, whether he had lost anything, he replied, ‘I have all my valuables with me.’ There was an active and courageous man – victorious over the very victory of the enemy! ‘I have lost,’ he said ‘nothing.’ He made Demetrius wonder whether he had won a victory at all.” – Letters from a Stoic IX

While the film of The Killing Joke was an insult to the source material, I can’t deny the raw talent of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy all the same… I digress.

The Joker isn’t wrong but his nihilism is terribly destructive and selfish – realistically, what can we expect from a comic book villain? In a sense, it’s so meaningless and transient that it is maddening but its also brilliant. So brilliant in fact that we should not be surprised by anything at all nor upset by it. One day we sleep under a roof the next day open sky, yet we endure and overcome. We do this together, for the sake of each other not just ourselves.

The Way flows ever onwards never stopping, as our blood and our breath, even in death: we return to the blood and breath of the universe.

Each day when we wake up, take stock. See all the things you have and all the things you need. Take stock of what you are grateful for having because in seconds it may all fade with you or without you. From your friendships and relationships to the sheets you sleep in.

Amor fati and you will love whatever it brings, whatever the day.

I suppose, despite how sad it all seems, how lonely it is in the moment of these things happening, we learn quickly. I’m not above feeling sad and alone and despairing but I’m also someone who can find the root causes of these things. Fate, and love and all that comes with it are surmised by a metaphor my friend told me today.

“If you have a horse at your stables, that you love taking care of and it enjoys your company. You do activities together and everything’s perfect. Then a storm strikes, the horse is not being itself, it’s afraid and stressed. As the owner, you wish to calm it down and let it know that all is well. You tug at its reins, but it does not comply. It shoves away instead, so you naturally tug at it harder to make it come back to you. It’ll eventually relent and do as you wish but then it’s no longer genuine. It’ll look for chances to escape and be free again while you as the owner forces it back, it’ll be unhappy and so will you since things are no longer the same.” – X

Don’t tug on the reins and let this happen organically. Or rather as Bukowski said about fame and success: don’t try. You’ve got this more than you realize, fellow traveller; trust me and trust yourself.

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

An Inspector Calls

I was recently reading the play An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley and it’s considered one of the greatest political works in theatre and at it’s core, a socialist morality play. Yet, perhaps, rather unintentionally, this is also a lesson in stoic philosophy. Of course, I could be reinventing the wheel here, but I’m having fun nevertheless.

But just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Good night.” – Inspector Goole, An Inspector Calls

I’ve spoken before about the service we have for each other and that there is no such thing as a career or office for a stoic. There is only service and service to each other and the common good. The Inspector, amongst vice, stands alone and hated in the Birling household. He is both the calm and the storm in their lives and they despise him for the virtue. Does he care? No – he teaches a better way.

“Injustice is sin. When universal Nature has constituted rational creatures for the sake of each other – to benefit one another as deserved, but never to harm – anyone contravening her will is clearly a sin agaisnt the oldest of the gods: because universal Nature is the nature of ultimate reality, to which all present existence is related” – Meditations 9.1.1

“So anyone who is not himself indifferent to pain and pleasure, death and life, fame and obscurity – things which universal Nature treats indifferently – is clearly committing a sin.” – Mediations 9.1.4

The Birling family is guilty of the old stoic definition of sin. They fear the erosion of personal power, reputation, wealth and pleasures. They represent the bourgeoise for Priestly and the hubris of the time – of course very popular with the Soviets. Yet, it’s not a political matter in my eyes, but a philosophical one. One where we have an example of vice being exposed by virtue, or at the very least: simply exposed.

It means that we’ve no excuse now for putting on airs and that if we’ve any sense
we won’t try. Father threw this girl out because she asked for decent wages. I went and pushed
her farther out, right into the street, just because I was angry and she was pretty. Gerald set her
up as his mistress and then dropped her when it suited him. And now you’re pretending you don’t
recognize her from that photograph. I admit I don’t know why you should, but I know jolly well
you did in fact recognize her, from the way you looked. And if you’re not telling the truth, why
should the Inspector apologize? And can’t you see, both of you, you’re making it worse?
” – Sheila Birling, An Inspector Calls

It’s stubborn, and deep rooted vice. Like a stain that won’t wash out, it takes time to life from the fabric of our lives and great effort. It permeates the threads of our society and seems to be woven into reality by Clotho and the Fates themselves. I’ve carried the stain on myself. In many ways I still do. My impressions of people are not reality, much like Mrs Birling’s view on the lower classes. She builds a wall between herself and them to elevate her own shit from the rest of the stink. Perhaps in my own cloying romances, I assume myself more important than others for some people, I also assume I matter less. Is either true, or am I just projecting a framework of internalized prejudices that require an exorcism?

We all need an inspector for ourselves. That stoic voice in our own minds to expose our vices, hypocrisies and hubris. Eva Smith is the name of everyone we’ve ever hurt either passively or impassively. She’s the mark we leave and she’s the one who needs our help. Sometimes, perhaps, we are our own Eva Smith.

“Inspector: And be quiet for a moment and listen to me. I don’t need to know any more. Neither do
you. This girl killed herself – and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her.
Remember that. Never forget it. (He looks from one to the other of them carefully.) But then I
don’t think you ever will. Remember what you did, Mrs Birling. You turned her away when she
most needed help. You refused her even the pitiable little bit of organized charity you had in
your power to grant her. Remember what you did —

Eric: (unhappily) My God – I’m not likely to forget.


Inspector: Just used her for the end of a stupid drunken evening, as if she was an animal,
a thing, not a person. No, you won’t forget. (He looks at Sheila.)


Sheila: (bitterly) I know. I had her turned out of a job. I started it.


Inspector: You helped – but you didn’t start it.( rather savagely, to Birling.) You started
it. She wanted twenty-five shillings a week instead of twenty-two and sixpence. You made her
pay a heavy price for that. And now she’ll make you pay a heavier price still.


Birling: ( unhappily) Look, Inspector – I’d give thousands – yes, thousands.

Inspector: You’re offering the money at the wrong time. Mr Birling. (He makes a move as
if concluding the session, possibly shutting up notebook, etc. Then surveys them sardonically.)
No, I don’t think any of you will forget. Nor that young man, Croft, though he at least had some
affection for her and made her happy for a time. Well, Eva Smith’s gone. You can’t do her any
more harm. And you can’t do her any good now, either. You can’t even say ‘I’m sorry, Eva
Smith.'”

Reflect on your life. Question yourself and see your actions for what they are. Would you stand up to the scrutiny? No? Then it’s time to break out the stain remover by the names of Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus and get scrubbing. The present moment is all you have, use it wisely.

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