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.

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

The Tao: Chapter VIII

The Tao Te Ching has inspired me to realise some core truths about what matters and what does not in the spiritual sense more so than the rational philosophical. Yet perhaps that’s a bit of a fluff announcement in itself considering how the two were never mutually exclusive. There is a sense of great foundation in the 8th chapter, clearer perhaps to a layman than the other musings that have come before – some interesting things about the universe being inherently female is one but that’s another discussion in itself.

“In a home it is the site that matters; In quality of mind it is depth that matters; In an ally it is benevolence that matters; In speech it is good faith that matters; In government it is order that matters; In affairs it is ability that matters; In action it is timeliness that matters.” – Tao Te Ching, VIII

It’s rather to the point and as someone who has been criticised (or envied, depending on who you ask) for their pragmatism and bluntness, I rather appreciate its straightforwardness. It’s wholly beautiful, a code that requires few words and few interpretations to be understood.

In regards to the home, in my interpretation, the “site” refers to the foundations and environment. Homes are not houses and such, here we can say either this is in regards to a physical place or the family. Foundations of equality, balance, harmony and truth are the sticking posts of this structure, its confines filled with love stronger than concrete.

The depth of mind for me is comparable to the epithet from the Jedi friends: there is no ignorance, there is knowledge. A shallow mind is a stagnant one like a puddle. Quality is found in the growth and endless vastness; the ability to learn and expand beyond its own perceived horizons with infinite potential – a potential every human has access to if we just dare to see ourselves.

When it comes to allies, I’ve spoken about the stoic discussions of friendship before, specifically from Seneca. The same rings true here, in benevolence we find an ally and friend. That is the only motivation of a companionship: benevolence outwards and inwards, any relationship made to serve or fulfil a need other than the sake of friendship itself is fickle and flawed.

Now we come to the part that is less relevant perhaps to those not in office: government. I suppose it’s true though to an extent, anyone who watched the scenes coming out of Washington DC on January 6th would agree that chaos breeds chaos. An ordered mind, an ordered government is the only way to properly govern. Sure, the separation of church and state is important to ensuring the priorities of the people but so should there be a separation of self and state, because its not a career for the individual but a vocation of the communal – a shared responsibility that’s one for the greater good of everyone not just the few or fickle.

When we speak about affairs we speak about what we chose to do in our lives. For example, in my own affairs, it would be quite dim to decide to become a maths tutor when I’m not really good at maths nor do I like doing it. Ability and affairs are what we speak about when we talk about our natures in stoicism and what is true to our individual nature and what are we doing to enable we can live according to our greatest good in alignment with the greatest good of the collective humanity.

Finally, this line reminds me of the quote of Marcus Aurelius about never acting in a way that would be cause for regret. Action, while we can be actively passive, is required and necessary. If you a believer in divine timing and Providence, no action happens outside of when it is meant to, even your own. Living every day as it is your last, without some mad panic that the terrible “live, love, laugh” wall signs would have you believe is a good start. Even perhaps today you say, not today and you stay in bed, you are choosing to take that action and that’s fair enough. But if you decide to rush out of bed to get on a plane to take yourself off into the unknown chasing love and life, no time is the wrong time.

Z3N0

The Wrong We Inflict

So I was scrolling through Seneca’s Letters from A Stoic to look for something tangible to tie my day together, one marred by the random lies and misdeeds of others leading to these peoples’ own questioning of how and why they are perceived poorly, unable to understand or be at least self aware but trapped in a state of anxiety for it.

“Never do wrong to others takes one a long way towards peace of mind. People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives, passing their time in a state of fear commensurate with the injuries they do to others, never able to relax. After every act that tremble, paralysed, their consciences continually demanding an answer, not allowing them to get on with other things. To expect punishment is to suffer it; and to earn it is to expect it. Where there is a bad conscience, some circumstance or other may provide one with impunity, but never with freedom from anxiety; for a person takes the attitude that even if he isn’t found out, there’s always the possibility of it. His sleep is troubled. Whenever he talks about someone else’s misdeeds he thinks of his own, which seems t him all too inadequately hidden, all to inadequately blotted out of people’s memories. A guilty person sometimes has the luck to escape detection, but never to feel sure of it.” – Letters from a Stoic, CVII

There’s a lot in that that feels a little directed at me for my own mistakes in the past where a machiavellian tendency and self-destructive lashing out led to finding myself in numerous vulnerable situations both physically and morally.

Yet, reflecting on this, I look at those from my day, reflecting on their actions and choices too as well as my own remembering truly that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Yet it seems all too common in the modern climate to rush to make false apology videos for wrong doing as a confessional, as if the court of public opinion and own soul will absolve someone of their sins as quickly as their Hail Mary’s will. Actions like lying about illness or threatening others with no other reason than those self-serving seem to be common place. How far have we come that we feel so powerless in our own lives that we must pretend to be dying for a little social control? I’ve seen two cases of this in a week, not even that: three days.

Often, I believe, in 2021, it’s not our actions that follow us it’s the lies we tell to hide the truth of the action that weighs heavier not just on the self but also in people’s minds. If someone does wrong and admits to that, the situation is dealt with and often people move on, yet the cover up of an act is seen as more unforgivable than the act itself. Look above to Seneca: “never freedom from anxiety“.

So, when I say wrong in the title, in reference to inflicting wrong, we have to ask first what that means. Just punishments are teaching moments and quips and remarks sure, who hasn’t done those things in service of the greater good even with an air of emotion to them? Even telling someone to piss off is even rather blunt tool to demonstrate that now is the time for solitude but people tend not to want to hear that. When we talk about inflicting wrong here, as Seneca speaks about is the case of acting in a way that serves only vice and that exists to subvert the natural way of being, rejecting all the maxims of what it means to at least try to act in a virtuous way. The list is rather long.

So what do we do in these situations, if we inflict wrong? Other than take time to improve and to reflect on this action and take responsibility for it, not much. The gratification of forgiveness from those we wrong is self serving and unfulfilling even when our actions are exposed. So we apologise not for ourselves but for the people we have wronged as a sincere notice of reflection and implication that all efforts will be made to not do that thing again. You can’t unring a bell or unfuck your partner’s friend (or whatever), so realistically the only thing we can take responsibility for is the self and self improvement not the hurt inflicted because that is often immeasurable. It’s easier said than done, yet with all things, it’s the journey not destination that matters most as the destination for all of us is that very long sleep.

Z3N0

Willful Ignorance of the Soul

I was in conversation today – or perhaps it was yesterday, time seems to be moving at such a strange pace that I’ve not been able to keep up in my own mind – where someone told me that the topic of religious education and talk of philosophical concepts was a waste of time. Why, I asked was it a waste of time and the response was as follows:

“Well I don’t believe in it and it’s all weird.” – X

“What you’ve just said there is exactly why this sort of thing is needed.” – Z

It makes me wonder, whether or not this kind of willful ignorance of not only the culture and beliefs of others but in fact the self is indicative of a wider pandemic of ignorance. Let’s think about it for a moment. This cynicism or rather rejection of exploration of even the most basic of philosophical thought is perhaps a dangerous indictment of the kind of society we are all contributing to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just faithful in universe but also the principles of science that frame it. Take Prof. Massimo Pugliucci, one of the most famous modern stoics is an atheist and scientist, showing for me that there is room in the grand church of stoic philosophy for a wide range of thought.

It was in the aforementioned conversation that animism was the subject of discussion at the time, being the ancient beliefs of the Aboriginal peoples. The lack of willingness to learn and receptiveness to new ideas was oddly disturbing to me and I felt a irrational flush of panic for the future. Yet, I stopped myself, what could this snippet tell me about the human condition other than in that moment the content of the discussion was dry for that particular age group and those present were not the most receptive to ideas at the best of times whether they be of a philosophical nature or not.

Despite this good catch by the stoic voice, there is still some thought to be put into this. Has it become such a stigmatised thing in the West to have faith whether it be communal or personal? Between the extremists and the charlatans perhaps it’s not had the greatest press recently, to have a faith of some sorts that is. I keep in my mind what the stranger in Leeds told me nearly a month ago:

“Don’t be religious, be faithful.”

Or could it be that I am being too harsh on the uninitiated to this kind of reflection. It’s such a personal journey, who am I to judge anyone’s reaction or response to this kind of information. For some it comes so natural for others it’s alien. I suppose a diet of Cartoon Network isn’t so much conducive to philosophical thought as Bible studies which definitely aren’t for everyone – in fact may be too much for some who seem to take books of love and compassion such as the Bible and Quran and find hatred, which in my opinion says more about the reader than the text. Strange then, I had the same education of Justice League and The Batman yet still find myself here questioning here where things changed.

Perhaps it is my own wilful ignorance of expectation of others and my expectation of others which is causing a moral panic within my own soul about the fate of humankind. A kind of strange hubris of philosophy and I need to learnt to keep in mind, rather than postulate and diagnose the world with apathy to keep in mind a core forgotten tenet of stoicism:

“Teach or tolerate.”

Perhaps, in the end, we all should.

Z3N0

Progress Everyday

I was watching a Ryan Holiday video and he spoke about the point of stoicism not to be immediate change but the choice to improve oneself everyday in line with the stoic path. Which to me, is very similar to an exercise of the mind and soul as the gym is for the body. As the athlete trains the muscles and the physical nature of the self with routines and diet, the philosopher does so in a similar way with discussion, reflection and knowledge.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

It’s a choice, as I was saying not long ago. It’s an active choice to move on from one’s own vices to live a virtuous life in harmony with the greatest good of not just the self but all of humanity rather than fester in the status quo. It’s the difference between being actively passive and actively cowardly, hiding from the truth of consequences of thought and action. Ideologies that feed into our vices serve only to enable our behaviors that are destructive. So you have the power with your tongue to break someone’s spirit, but the true power is perhaps in holding it in the first place.

Brains are designed to keep us safe, locked in paradigms of familiarity rather than healthier alternatives. Say we were brought up on turkey twizzlers and microwave mac ‘n’ cheese, the change to broccoli and sashimi is not going to be particularly enjoyable. Yet, it’s better for us and others in the long run. Let’s continue the metaphor: not only are we healthier in ourselves but also it eases the expected pressure on medical facilities and family members who will watch us fester in this lifestyle of consumption.

It goes the same with philosophy and ideology of course, the more harmful things we consume and accept about ourselves the more unhealthy we become. I’ve quoted this particular scene before, but following the conversation I just had less than an hour ago, it’s in my mind again:

BoJack Horseman : “Ow, crap. I hate this. Running is terrible, everything is the worst.

[Lying down, panting heavily]

BoJack Horseman : “Oh my God, oh my God.

Jogger : [stands over BoJack] “It gets easier.

BoJack Horseman : “Huh?

Jogger : “Everyday, it gets a little easier.

BoJack Horseman : “Yeah?

Jogger : “But you gotta do it everyday, that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.” – BoJack Horseman, “Out to Sea”

So when we wake up in the morning and scowl at the sun for waking us or the unfulfilling shit job we have to go to, does this make us any less a stoic or a virtuous person? Or does it make us human on the path to make progress everyday to do as our nature has intended us to do in harmony with our surroundings and self?

I like to think it’s the latter. What can I say? I’m an optimist – yes, I surprise myself.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 15

I was reflecting on the nature of pride today and that I’ve found most common in the 21st Century is that people are often prideful and proud of people who they do not know and never will. It’s a fan culture and cult of celebrity that creates this strange relationship and expectation. It seems to seep into the culture of sports too and politics even – perhaps much more obvious than k-pop culture – with people taking pride in a team or national spirit that realistically has nothing to do with them. It’s like when some fans say: “oh we did well last night, we beat your team” or something to that effect as if they were there themselves on the pitch.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb sum it up quite well, no millenia old wisdom required.

“No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own. We praise a vine if it loads its branches with fruit and bends its very props to the ground with the weight it carries: would anyone prefer the famous vine that had gold grapes and leaves hanging on it? Fruitfulness is the vine’s peculiar virtue. So, too, in a man praise is due only to what is his very own. Suppose he has a beautiful home and a handsome collection of servants, a lot of land under cultivation and and a lot of money out at interest; not one of these things can be said to in him – they are just things around him. Praise in him what can be neither given nor snatched away, what is peculiarly a man’s.” – Letters from a Stoic XLV

Here perhaps we can argue that Seneca was sick of sycophants praising his massive estate and riches rather than how much of a man of character he was – or wasn’t depending on who you ask.

Take pride not in glory of the sports team, your favourite singer making it to No. 1 on the charts because it’s all arbitrary. Be proud and praise the virtue and nature within the individual; not just of others but also yourself.

People always forget that last part. Don’t, it’s important.

Z3N0

What No Longer Serves You

One thing that has always bugged me about the modern spiritualism and reiki practice is that there is an emphasis on removing energies that “no longer serve you”. This phrase is where stoicism and spirituality or neo-spirituality in the globalist internet amalgamism of the different faiths and practices clash, in my opinion. So the phrase, as harmless as it seems is clear enough. It’s purpose is to demonstrate that you do not need energies or emotions or thought patterns anymore that once provided support or helped your development. Yet, in this grand oceanic experience that we all exist in, to say that anything serves us is either misplaced semantics or pure arrogance of the human condition.

What serves you? As if you are the master of fate, destiny and its energies, as if the universal Way of things serves you and not collaborates or exists in harmony. Nothing serves you, because that suggests you have agency over the universe which you do not. The only thing that truly serves you is your own virtue that you project in thought, action and voice put out into the universe.

“Whatever happens to you was being prepared for you from everlasting, and the mesh of causes was ever spinning from eternity both your own existence and the incidence of this particular happening.” – Meditations, 10.5

Perhaps, if we think about it in another sense, if we take into account the butterfly effect of the universe – Providence or Fate – everything serves us from our mistakes to the grumble we have when we get up in the morning to appease or fulfil that simplest of truths: amor fati.

I’m not exactly sure where the concept comes from that the universal energies serve us (which I will continue to italicize to prove a point). So The Way, in its perpetual flow and forward motion bows to serve the individual rather than enable the collective consciousness of the universe? Perhaps it’s the human element on modern or contemporary spiritualism that has led to this idea that we have a control of the energies around us rather than see them as either projections of the self or harmonious external substances. It adds a comfort to think that we have control or agency over these things rather than the truth of the matter that the only thing we can control is ourselves. It’s a kind of strange mantra that we have power over the universal building blocks to elevate ourselves to some kind of wizard-like figures, each of us Gandalfs or Dumbledores or Dr Stranges.

I’m all for identifying energies and beliefs that are not our own and making efforts to remove those pollutants from ourselves to seek the truth within and without. But should we not be doing that with an accurate outlook on what is and what is not within our control as expressions of the same Whole? We have a commonality as human beings and that is our own plainness and also brilliance. What we do not share because we do not have it is the service of the universe, it does not serve us. We are a part of it similarly to how a carbon atom is a part of you or an anemone is a part of the reef. It’s a harmonious symbiotic relationship that just is. We serve the universe in its motion and in our actions in each moment that shape the course of destiny.

“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

We exist in harmony with all things and love what fate brings us. Try as we might to wrestle destiny into a headlock, to make the energies of the universe both of light and dark serve, we exist at the pleasure of providence not the other way around.

Take heart in it, don’t fear it.

Amor fati.

Z3N0

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