Identity

I was in an art class a few weeks ago discussing the topic of identity. This particular little thing took me a lot longer than everyone else it seemed and seemed to consume my thoughts at home with a need for just the right felt tip pens to finish it off. It was a breathe of fresh air after being confronted with weeks of writer’s block and a near total lack of creative and philosophical inspiration. Perhaps it’s true what my old friend from university said that I miss the visual creativity and my subconscious is crying out for a return to the media. Or perhaps it was a precursor to a conversation I had days after beginning this project with someone I care about very much. This person, following a mental break, reflects and makes art from what they were feeling at the time, finding it near impossible to verbalize feeling like a ‘snail mushroom’.

Strange how an oversized doodle is the only thing that has brought me any real creative interest over the past fortnight as the days become shorter and the nights become a little more restless each day. What then, can I learn from my own expression of identity aside from being a big nerd with a thing for sci-fi?

I ask myself this, in the stoic sense: what purpose does my action serve? Or perhaps, when it comes to writing on philosophy or creativity, what does my inaction serve? My mind moving from one little project to the next, drifting through thought processes in a fever dream of obscure fleeting ideas. I am comforted, however, as should you be, that everything in a rut has been experienced before and will continue to be experienced by the human nature. Which is almost ingrained in our identity as Star Wars references are ingrained in mine. I tell people all the time who claim to be feeling alone that they are not truly alone in what they are feeling as otherwise words would not exist for it in the first place. Obviously, feeling like a ‘mushroom snail’ is a little more niche which requires some other advice for that one but you get my point.

We drift through this existence always, as I have been drifting in my own. I think back to the advice from a friend: where is your action. I ask myself this, but then I ask, what is in my nature to act for and what does that mean for who I am? It’s something we all need to ask ourselves, isn’t it? Who we are before we act. Or perhaps alternatively, it is what we chose to act upon and how we act that defines our identity more than our innate being itself.

I was reading a few weeks ago that events and personality traits formed from events leave markers on DNA and can be passed through to offspring. So if a person is identifiably callous, the child shall have traits of callousness. It seemed a bit questionable and sparked another internal debate about condition versus nature. Going back to my own pseudo-theory that:

Biology + Condition = Person

So I look to my doodle, one that I seemed to spend so much time on when I could have been mind mapping ideas for short stories, full length novels and screenplays. I see perhaps only 2 things within it that relate to biological function rather than condition. Those being: the representation of sexual identity and the constellation of Taurus, showing my birthdate (vaguely). Or perhaps, I am being cynical of my own development, claiming to be a being entirely made of other people’s creations and influence. Perhaps the stack of books under my coffee of the philosophers and spiritual leaders are a biological factor. Perhaps human nature is instinctively driven to search for meaning, for the divine path, for the harmony with The Way and all of its manifestations. Perhaps that’s the point of this very minor exercise, to reflect on that fundamental truth that all things we experience as human beings are in our nature to experience and come together as ultimately the collective human identity as well as the identity of the individual. Each element representing a deeper complexity from the strange fascination with the unknown represented by Cthulu to the desire to explore and find purpose in the stars with the U.S.S Voyager.

Or perhaps, it’s really not that deep and doodling at work to stop me from counting the ceiling tiles over and over again is just that. Who knows, give it a try for yourself, let me know what you find. If anything to save you from counting ceiling tiles.

Writer’s Block

Recently, those who come to my blog will have noticed my writer’s block. Every day I sit down and look over a blank word processor unable to get my thoughts to find themselves on the page. I’m not sure why, it’s not that I’ve been without content. Several times a day I find myself falling back on stoicism and the philosophy of various places from Ancient Greece to Leeds.

There’s a dizziness to the modern work week. We get home at 5pm to find ourselves in a burnout with our minds racing with all the things from the day, each thing more meaningless than the last. The minutiae will be the death of this world, and perhaps the next global conflict will arise from a misspelled email.

So I asked myself today as I sat at work in the break room, shoving Mini Cheddars into my mouth in a mad rush, is it all worth it? When we get up in the morning, is this our purpose? As individuals in our workplaces we should ask ourselves whether or not this is our purpose, should we not? I know someone who was a plumber for years but decided to change and become a full time teaching assistant. Of course this caused some stir with a comment about this being the reason why we have skilled labour shortages. But frankly, fuck those comments because if we are destined to live the life the misanthrope would have us lead for their own convenience rather than our truest callings then we are doomed to their misery.

When you wake up, are you doing so with the view that you will act with your truest purpose? In my eyes, mine has been and always will be to write yet that’s not exactly a viable vocation in this climate, especially not one where my taxes are about to shoot through the roof to 47%. A strike down from the aforementioned misanthropic or just reality? When facing reality then, how can we live to our truest purpose and our utmost happiness under the restraints and expectations of others?

The answer is we can’t. We can’t function within the confines of another’s biases and impressions functionally and properly without our own integrity and individuality eroding. It’s the balance we strike between collective responsibility and individual expressions and freedoms that erode when we allow them to erode or more likely, are in a position where they do overtime. Of course, it’s like weather erosion: even the most stalwart of cliff faces cannot stat entirely pristine against a constant tide and acid rain.

Where do we go from here?

Where do we find ourselves and the outlets for a purpose unfulfilled under the constraints of modern financial expectations?

The only place of course, is within always.

You can vote for whichever political party you like and still feel disenfranchised with the self, who has power over nation is irrelevant to your own power of the self. The people who cry: “not my President” and the like, act as this is some major revelation like the leader of collective has ever been leader of you: individual. You have the choices to live your life as you see fit, yet must expect consequence for those choices whether they be for virtue or vice of a personal nature. While we toil under the flags and purposes and expectations of our forefathers, we have control over the thing they will never have: this moment.

What we chose to do with this moment, acting as our nature instructs and in harmony with our highest and greatest good, defines not just the self but the destiny itself.

So, while I sit here and type, as my nature demands, I ask you:

What are you doing?

Z3N0

In Practice

So today I went back to work after some extended time off and as I sat on the bus on my morning commute, I put into practice something I was forgetting. I was dreading going back, the institution representing my own stagnation in life with my career, family and development. There is nothing there for me in terms of tangible movement and aspiration other than my own progress of the self. Arguably this is the most important progress however some serotonin would be nice and future that seems tangible.

There I was on the bus – the later bus as I missed the first one thanks to an unregulated sleeping pattern – and I realized I had been forgetting to practice perhaps the most fundamental of all stoic practices and a phrase that I’ve repeated to no end.

“Today I escaped from all bothering circumstances – or rather I threw them out. They were nothing external, but inside me, just my own judgements.” – Meditations, 9.13

I took advice from another source, an unlikely source, that being Darth Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic 2, and felt the moment around me. I felt the surface of the seat against my body and the feeling of my hands in my lap and the headphones in my ears playing no music. My entire focus was inward and the external rumblings drifted away as I scanned myself and acknowledged each complaining part and released it unto itself. In the aftermath, as I was stepping off the bus at my stop, I was at peace with what was to come from the day.

It was uneventful and drama free as it was always going to be unlike my worst case scenarios. It had no real challenges or difficulties other than my body demanding sleep by three o’clock. Even the foible of the new policy of not having a coffee outside of breaks was negotiated and my addiction satiated. Everything was calm and serene or perhaps it was chaotic and it was I who was calm and serene – would I have known the difference?

It’s in these moments, in reflection of when these little occurrences take place that I enjoy my own progress of philosophy. That I’m not as Seneca said just growing in age not wisdom. To think without the practice of stoicism, I’d have been on edge all day waiting for it to go wrong as my own judgements had predicted and worn myself out more than I already was just from mentality alone.

I think back and wonder how many days slipped away from me just from lack of practice or practise – I never know which. How many hours I’ve wasted murmuring and chuntering to be entirely embarrassed only with myself and to myself about the lack of imagined scenario.

How many hours have you wasted?

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 13

Today saw the departure of dear colleagues and I must admit, I had to refrain from hugging anyone to stop myself from crying in front of 100 people. I know, I know, not very stoic. That being said, I am an empath, so to stop myself from succumbing to a collective despair and nostalgic melancholy, measures had to be taken. I recalled a few lines of Marcus Aurelius and became rigid in composure neither falling to ecstasy or despair. What despair is there? Three valued colleagues who have mentored and befriended me are retiring and due to spent the next few decades with a well-deserved respite from years of solid graft. What’s the tragedy? There is only celebrations surely at the closing of a chapter and welcoming of a reward.

“Somethings are hurrying into being, others are hurrying to be gone, and part of that which is being born is already extinguished. Flows and changes are constantly renewing the world, just as the ceaseless passage of time makes eternity ever young. In this river, then, where can there be no foothold, what should anyone prize of all that races past him? It is as if he were to begin ro fancy one of the little sparrows that fly past – but already it is gone from his sight. Indeed this is the nature of our very lives – as transient as the exhalation of vapour from the blood or a breath drawn from the air. No different from a single breath taken in and returned to the air, something which we do every moment, no different is the giving back of your whole power of breathing – acquired at your birth just yesterday or thereabouts – to that world from which you first drew it.” – Meditations 6.15

And another, to round off the thought:

“There is nothing to value in transpiring like plants of breathing in like cattle and wild creatures; nothing in taking the stamp of sense impressions of jerking to the puppet-strings of impulse; nothing in herding together or taking food – this last is not better than voiding the wastes of that food. What, then, is to be valued? Applause? No. Not therefore the applause of tongues either: the praise of the masses is the mere rattle of tongues. So you have jettisoned trivial glory too. What remains to be valued? To my mind, it is to act or refrain from action according to our own proper constitution, something to which skills and crafts show the way. Every craft seeks to make its product suit the purpose for which it is produced: this is the aim of the gardener, the vine-dresser, the breaker of horses, the dog-trainer. And what is the end to which the training of children and their teaching strives? So this is the true value: and if this is firmly held, you will not be set on acquiring any of the other things for yourself. Will you not then cease to value much else besides? Otherwise you will not be free or self-sufficient or devoid of passion: you will need to be envious and jealous to suspect those who have the power to deprive you of these things, and to intrigue against people who poses what you value. In short, anyone who feels the need of any of these things is necessarily sullied, and what is more je will often be driven to blame the gods too. But reverence of your own mind and the value you give to it will make you acceptable to yourself, in harmony with your fellows, and consonant with the gods – that is, praising all that they assign and have dispensed.” – 6.16

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 8

Tonight I was going to write about the massive topic that is suffering yet ironically, I thought this would be a pain. So that topic is shelved for another day.

Instead, I’m going to share a long quote that I found resonated with me on my travels today. I experienced feeling like I was standing in the oddly calm eye of the hurricane as the world span uncontrollably around me. It was a lonely experience but I was ok with it. It was almost alien and I seemed unable to reciprocate the panic and stress and anger of my co-workers – something I’m not entirely unhappy about at all.

“Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: ‘What is there in this work which I cannot endure or support?’ You will be ashamed to make any such confession. Then remind yourself that it is neither the future nor the past which weighs on you, but always the present: and the present burden reduces, if only you can isolate it and accuse your mind of weakness if it cannot hold against something thus stripped bare.” – Meditations 8.36

“Is my mind sufficient for this task, or is it not? If it is, I use it for the task as an instrument given by the nature of the Whole. If it is not, I either cede the work (if it is otherwise my responsibility) to someone better able to accomplish it, or do it as best I can, calling in aid someone whom in cooperation with my own directing mind, can achieve what is at this particular time the need and benefit of the community. Whatever I do, either by myself or with another, should this sole focus – the common benefit and harmony.” – Meditations 7.5

To quote another of my favourite things…

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

Reflect on these statements, next when you stand in a chaos of not your own making with the task of bringing harmony or keeping serene. On Monday, there are only four additional days to your Saturday morning off, if you are living the 9-5. It’s all fleeting and transient happenstance that you can overcome and be proud of overcoming each day. Even in your personal life, it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway for those who missed the point, and I may well have said it before:

You got this.

Z3N0

The Stoic Employee

Today I had an interview to determine whether or not I would be in continued employment or not. Before hand I was asked by several people if I was worried or if I was panicked. The answer was and is no. My body may have been full of adrenaline before the talking part but ultimately, the stoic employee is not worried. The stoic employee does their best and knows that is the only aspect of the role that they can control so worrying about what exists without that control is a waste of everyone’s time.

We are not career people, in my opinion. Ambition and pride are deceivers of ones own ability in life as well as office. Ambition is not a welcome thing in my life, yet purpose is. I said to my interviewer:

“I don’t want to be climbing the highest mountain of financial and career success if that is not my path, I want to perfect the service I can provide from the ground I’m on now” – Z

How can I do my job efficiently, with purpose and virtue if my entire mission is to climb up? Of course it’s nice to be recognized but that doesn’t affect my virtue either. Confucius speaks about this quiet effectively with the subject of office being important during his time of Ancient China.

“The Master encouraged Qidiao Kai to take office. Qiadiao replied, ‘I am not confident I am ready to take this step.’ The Master was pleased.” – Analects 5.6

“The Master said, ‘Do not worry that you have no official position. Worry about not having the qualifications to deserve a position. Do ot worry that others do not know of you. Seek to be worthy of being known.” – Analects 4.14

“Ziyou said, ‘In serving your ruler, if you reproof is unrelenting and tiresome you will end up being humiliated. If you are that way with your friends, they will drift away from you.” – Analects 4.26

While there are key differences in the stoic school compared to the practice of Confucianism, ultimately some core principals overlap with the seeking of a balanced and moral approach to life and each other. In office how can one do this without an ability to see truth within themselves. If you are not qualified for a role, do not go for it. In times of need, you will adapt like all humans. As I said to my interviewer when asked about my ability to reflect and develop my professional skill set:

“If I’m not learning, I’m dead. Growth, in my opinion is not just for the trees.” – Z

Amazing that I got the job right? My feedback however was that I have a reputation for having a black and white outlook, that when I speak and the hammer of judgement comes down that it’s final. Perhaps it was my reaction to the formality and the process that added a little strictness to my tone but it was something new that I’d never considered before. When asked on my practice and how I respond to mistakes, perhaps my response gave proof to the allegation:

“There are no mistakes. I have grown and learned lesson and adapted from the missteps so I don’t begrudge them. How can I? When faced with something where I’ve gone wrong, I can only adapt and learn from it, what else can I do?” – Z

Most likely a fair comment but, as is the right thing to do, I accept the criticism and adapt to meet it with the help and support that they can provide me.

“We all work together to the same end, some with conscious attention, others without knowing it – just as Heraclitus, I think, says that people asleep are workers in the factory of all that happen in the world.” – Meditations 6.42

Find your purpose and service and a career will form around you. Don’t go looking for a career without service or purpose or it will be a hollow and fleeting thing.

Love your purpose, love your service. Be a stoic employee which is to say not blindly shut up and put up with bad practice. It is to act with the stoic disposition of moral integrity for the self and the Whole in what you give to the world.

Of course, a decent pay is always nice, helps with the roof over my head. Yet to quote Seneca:

“… thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold.” – Letters from a Stoic XIII

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

Getting on With It

In my workspace, I am one of a number of people on temporary contracts that are coming to an end. We were told that we would have to reapply for these jobs formally with a month of a grace period before the roles would be advertised elsewhere. The reaction to this was poor. Questions popped up such as: “why do I have to reapply, can’t my I just have renewed or changed contract?” and “so I have to fight for my job?” and “if there’s no chance of me losing my job, why do I have to reapply?” and what not.

The meeting which took place two weeks ago didn’t have the same affect on me as it did everyone else. I’m not taking a high horse stance but I think that stoicism has a large part to play. My reaction to it was: this job is a stable job; the work is manageable; it’s close to home; I can do this for another year at least. So what’s a bit of paperwork and an interview with someone I’ve worked with for two years who I know well? An hour or two of my life to secure employment in a turbulent time that has a good income and pension scheme doesn’t seem to be a pain at all. The HR jargon given to us about why we needed to reapply and that the contracts wouldn’t be automatically extended washed over me. It was a whole lot of words to say very little and what was said was: this is how it is, get on with it, sorry not sorry.

Fire! Rabble!

“Are you not upset by this?” – X

“No, why? Are you?” – Z

“We have to fight for our jobs, I don’t get it.” – X

“Meh, I’ve seen Lord of the Flies, I’ve got this.” – Z

Okay, so maybe the sarcasm wasn’t entirely helpful but it was laughable. What do people think a fight is these days? A bit of paperwork and an interview? I understand that people have their own anxieties, I’m not knocking that, but really? A HR formality is a disprefferred incident not some grand injustice where someone is being dragged from their home in the dead of night to a gulag for an undetermined crime. In the stoic sense, sure, even that is a disprefferred in different.

This is the same odd hyperbolic logic that has caused thousands to flock to the local Primark today as they reopen across the UK. They must have a new pair of cuddly socks and some flip-flops so queued for hours for the privilege. Are we that privileged? Have we all become so accustomed to a life style of such ease and comfort that we go mad for leggings and panic at the thought of some minor administrative hoops.

“Nothing happens to any creature beyond its own natural endurance. Another has the same experience as you: either through failure to recognize what has happened to him, or in a display of courage, he remains calm and untroubled. Strange, then, that ignorance and pretension should be stronger than wisdom.” – Meditations 5.18

Getting on with it because we can, is something we should do. Is that British stiff upper lipped Blitz spirit or common stoic sense? For it to be truly British I think we need to be doing this with a cup of tea, at least. Yet I suppose that doesn’t really apply since the incidents I’m talking about all took place in the UK and include British people.

I’m not above complaining about things that have little to no affect on me in reality. Every night I seem to find myself grumbling at the amount of washing up to be done but with cooking comes washing up as a given. So in that reality, what’s the problem? It’s a logical consequence that shouldn’t bother me. My own ignorance can’t be ignored yet I take the victories of my rational mind where I can. The truth is plain: I need to get on with it.

“All that happens is an event either within your natural ability to bear it, or not. So if it an event within that ability, do not complain, but bear it as you were born to. If outside that ability, do not complain either: it will take you away before you have the chance for complaint. Remember, though, that you are by nature born to bear all that your own judgement can decide bearable, or tolerate in action, if you represent it to yourself as a benefit or duty.” – Meditations 10.3

What’s some paperwork? What’s some washing up? What’s some hardship, meaningless or meaningful? Nothing but swirling mist that will dissipate by our own action or on it’s own. What’s human life but swirling mist? What is the solar system but swirling mist?

I’m digressing but the point being: get on with it, no need for complaint, it’ll be fine. I can bear this life, you can bear this life, we can bear this life and it’s dispreferred indifferent pieces. When the whole jigsaw comes together, we see it’s beauty if we can allow ourselves.

Z3N0

This is the Way

I thought I’d share a chapter from the Tao Te Ching and shamelessly clickbait with the title (for those of you who know what I’m talking about). It’s a little snippet that I think more people should take on board and reflect on. I’ve been sitting alone at lunch for some weeks now and have found a profound peace in it. Yet for some, this is strange and something to have to be concerned about. Why? Is it my isolation that worries them or that there is a smaller audience for gossip that I don’t want to hear? Just a few hours ago I got a text asking if I was ok – it was a fishing expedition really, in my opinion – and the sender seemed unsatisfied by my response of (in lots of words) ‘yes’.

“To use words but rarely is to be natural. Hence the gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way. A man who conforms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way 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, Chapter 23

This chapter talks about lots of things, and for me it’s about being measured and reserved, so my cup may never run empty. It’s also very stoic in its message about death and loss and even more so about virtue. There’s a comfort in the stillness of it, the universe, to be had in these words. I don’t think it’s appreciated enough in the aggregate that silence is not a sign of being discontented.

If heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man.

It’s true of course, this line right here. We can’t go on forever, so in our actions and exasperations: should they too go on. I can talk someone’s ear of all day and say absolutely nothing and add nothing to the universe only hot air. Does that have a point to it? Am I not just wasting my own time and others? Are you?

A man who conforms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss.

When someone asks me, typically, if I am ok I say yes. Not because of any formulaic politeness that British people have and expect but because I am. When we have faith in the universe (ourselves in the rationalist stoic perception) and our own virtue, how can we not be alright? I’ve quoted to no end on this blog about Marcus Aurelius and the idea that we can never truly be harmed and I think that is true. As Lao Tze says here, the opposite is also true in our perception of loss. When I was in my worst stages of depression some three years ago, my whole life was continual loss. This wasn’t because it was, in reality, but because in my conformation to that way of being, I was making it so with my own actions. Obviously, I’m not shitting on people who are depressed and saying lighten up, that’s not my place or right nor anyone’s. Yet would anyone or could anyone argue that that’s the optimal way of being?

When there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.

Can anyone argue against this? Seriously? Even in the face of pure humanistic values where the semantics mean more than the spiritual essence, this surely is a universal truth. I’ve spoken before about truth being fluid but even then, does the fluidity arise from a lack of good faith in the fact provider or observer? Look around right now and ask does this statement not ring true?

It’s funny how one message from a co-worker asking if I’m ok led me on a journey down this river. I like to think it’s given me the opportunity to learn something and share it. This is only going to be a short post compared to what this topic deserves. I’m sure I’ll revisit it when I’ve gotten myself a better understanding of the texts entire and can bring together contexts. And, I’m ok with this too. After all, as my third favourite Star Wars character says:

“This is the Way.”

Z3N0