I didn’t have time to write up a post yesterday so I’m going to combined it with today’s post. As I mentioned I’m doing Stoic Week; a seven day course created by the group Modern Stoicism, a team of multidisciplinary academics whose goal is to make Stoic Philosophy available and accurate to the general public. Participants fill out a survey before and after to see if adopting Stoic values for a week help improve happiness and “flourishing” scores.
Day 3 Morning Meditation
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognised the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1
I’m actually very familiar with this quote since it gets a lot of air time in Stoic circles. In the morning as part of Stoic practices I’m supposed to mentally prepare for adversity and it (supposedly) helps to mentally prepare by planning out the day and imagining all the things that could go wrong.
See, my problem is with step one, having a plan for the day. My schedule constantly changes because I share a car with two other people, my work schedule differs week-to-week, and my homework gets done whenever I squeeze in time. So, I’m not going to waste time going over a plan that I know 100% is going to change anyway and it would be too exhausting to give the worst-case scenario treatment to every new plan. What I do instead is right before I have to do a task I’ll do a quick, what’s the worst thing that could (likely) happen and what would be my next step.
I mean, obviously the worst case scenario is an atomic bomb falls from the sky and we all die, but then I wouldn’t have to actually deal with the aftermath of all that (being dead an all in said scenario), so it’s not really worst-case. My plan B for whenever something actually would go horribly wrong usually involves first getting coffee (or tea) and then go from there.
Day 3 Midday meditation
Take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly and reflect on your relationships and how you could potentially view things differently. What would be the consequences of doing so?
Pass! I call pass!
My main relationships are with my immediate family (on the account of not having any friends). My youngest brother is suicidal and has depression, my dad’s an alcoholic, my mom’s a busybody, and I’m not technically responsible for any of that. They have their own agency and I am not responsible for their happiness.
Day 3 Evening Meditation
Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, think of the good qualities of those who live with you: such as the energy of one, the decency of another, the generosity of another, and some other quality in someone else. There is nothing so cheering as the images of the virtues displayed in the characters of those who live with you, and grouped together as far as possible. So you should keep them ready at hand. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.48
…….Marcus, no, just no. I have a cat. She’s a very nice lovely cat and she’s warm and fuzzy and she cheers me up. The people who live with me are going through a lot of crap right now and if I think about their good qualities it’s just going to make me feel really sad about all the other crap. It would not, in fact, cheer me up at all. Pass.
Day 4 Morning Meditation
It is important to understand that nature creates in parents affection for their children; and parental affection is the source from which we trace the shared community of the human race … As it is obvious that it is natural to us to shrink from pain, so it is clear that we derive from nature itself the motive to love those to whom we have given birth. From this motive is developed the mutual concern which unites human beings as such. The fact of their common humanity means that one person should feel another to be his relative. – Cicero, On Ends, 3.62-3.
Sigh, this section is going to take more than a week. I’m not a what you would call a “people person”. Like my youngest brother genuinely likes helping people. Customer service makes him feel good. Working customer service makes me want to eat a box of donuts by myself. I want to help people when I can (because Stoic virtue), but it does very little for me as an emotional payout like my brother.
Day 4 Midday
Take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly and practise the Circle of Hierocles exercise given here. Think of yourself as gradually expanding the circle of those you are concerned with till you reach the circle of human beings in general.
No comment. (But I need more practice)
Day 4 Evening Meditation
Let us embrace in our minds the fact that there are two communities – the one which is great and truly common, including gods and human beings, in which we look neither to this corner or to that, but measure the boundaries of our state by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth. – Seneca, On Leisure, 4.1
What benefits each of us is what is in line with our constitution and nature; my nature is rational and political. As Antoninus, my city and fatherland is Rome, as a human being it is the universe. It is only what benefits these cities which is good for me. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.44.5-6
My issue with these quotes is Seneca was a very, very wealthy senator and Marcus Aurelius was an emperor of Rome when Rome was the western world. I am neither of those things so when the course is asking “How far did you succeed in fulfilling your local roles and responsibilities today while also bearing in mind the broader values shared by humanity in general – or the needs of those human beings currently without a home or country of their own?”
The answer is null. Zip. Natta. Because I can’t. I don’t actually own anything. I rent a room in house with five other people, I share a car for work and school, I’m paying for college out of pocket (and by that I mean on my credit card in the hopes I’ll have it paid of in a year) so that I’ll (hopefully, maybe) get at least something out of all that effort in the end. I’m also super picky about who I donate to because some of the big name “charities” are actually really shady and barely anything gets to the intended receivers. Ugh, I hate this question because I feel guilty that I literally don’t have anything to give right now because I live from paycheck to…well, two thousand dollars in credit debt plus interest sooo… Well, I’m now I’m upset.
*deep breath* Okay, “roles and responsibilities” is the key words there, specifically civic ones. I’m a pretty, white “lady” (according to my driver’s licence) so nothing is preventing me from voting. My work place will give me time off to go vote and Texas has early voting. That is an important role/responsibility. I know who my candidates are and where they stand on issues. If I had extra money, yes I would donate to organizations I trust. Someday I hope to be in that position where I could commit to several small monthly donations (and have affordable dental insurance). That’s why I’m continuing my education, to better my self and position in life and then I can use that position to benefit others. I guess another one of my “roles” is being informed so I can inform others with the most accurate information I can provide or at least point them in the right direction towards accurate information.
Either way, it’s a work in progress.
I really like this quote actually. Epictetus was referring to how people become trapped by their thoughts and anxieties not realizing that we can control our thoughts. There’s a difference between a reflex emotion (like fear) and a “judgement” emotion like dread. In the example I used earlier, if I got called into my boss’s office on my way there I would probably be feeling worried or anxious, but that’s because of my own thoughts not because of any real threat. However, if I see a spider crawling one me all bets are off and I’m going to scream and brush myself off. That fear reaction is a biological reflex and I would need several months of exposure therapy to even try to gain some control over that (and it’s not going to happen).
The task for the midday meditation/reflection was to recall a time when I acted badly based on my emotional judgments and try to recall a time I acted correctly based on Stoic values. The first one is easy because I tend to get really annoyed when people ask for extra food like they’re entitled to it. Oh, the joys of food service. Some crazy lady wanted “extra jalapenos” and wanted to make sure I gave her “lots of onions” because she “always” gets extra jalapenos. Fuck that. I have a bar-code on my register that says “add jalapenos and onions”. It’s 75 cents. Her attitude about it really, really rubbed me the wrong way. And this other crazy lady who was not happy with the chicken we had on display so she point blank asks me “if it were your mother, what would you do?” the implication, of course, being that I would give my mom the best piece of chicken possible and I point blank responded “mom is vegan”. It wasn’t my most Stoic moment.
This week I’ve actually been really good about not getting irritated at my coworkers and just focused on enjoying their company and the sense of camaraderie.
I am very, very tired right now. Friday nights in food service are sucky, suck suck. Like it was an hour wait for some folks before they got their food. They could have gone home and just cooked dinner in the same amount of time.
I’m going to trust Seneca on this one, but I need to work on my self control (the proof being the ice cream in my freezer right now). On a side note, my emotions are a little off balance (and I was doing so well) because a dude asked me out. Again. I said no before. My coworkers told him I was asexual (I’m so happy they accept it) and that I would say no. I understand he’s coming from a place of ignorance and he can’t put himself in my shoes. I did the whole “you know when you’re not attracted to someone?” and I pointed so somebody random I knew he wasn’t attracted to. “Apply that to the whole human race”. I could tell he was disappointed, but it’s not my fault that I don’t feel love that way.
The sad thing for me is I when I was filling out the “self-monitoring” sheet this week I would get flashes of loneliness and I realized I was actually feeling jealous. It was weird to realize that jealousy had a colder form and not just the passionate green that always gets portrayed in media. It literally feels like a ball of ice is sitting in my chest. I feel like I’m “missing out” even though I can logically reason that I’m not actually missing out on anything by not having romantic attachments. I don’t actually want a romantic relationship. It’s against my very nature to be romantic, but the jealousy is still there. It’s irrational and it hurts and it’s probably going to take more than a week to deal with it.