Fun Fact! The individual parts of the GOP political platform are called “planks”. Haha! Cute, right? And, yup, that is all the fun we’re going to be having this evening. Because oh, my fucking God, I’m probably going to need to breath into a paper bag just to get through this. Fuck, um, read at your own discretion. And, no, I’m not just being dramatic.
This is my reflection post for day six and seven of Stoic Week, a free 7 day course hosted by the folks at Modern Stoicism, a team of interdisciplinary academics whose goal is to make Stoic Philosophy accessible and accurate for the general public. Because of work I didn’t have enough time post on either of those days.
Bonus lightbulb moment: Earlier in the week we read a quote by Marcus Aurelius about how if you want to cheer yourself up, focus on the positive qualities of “those you live with”. The problem was I took this too literally and you can’t do that with ancient texts. The people I “live with” are going through some crap right now. Like all of them. Different crap each. It’s a crap fest. So thinking about the quote literally doesn’t benefit me. I mean, if I lived alone would the quote be totally useless to me then? No, it would mean that I would have to expand the meaning of “living with” to make the advice applicable.
So that’s what I did. When I needed cheering up I thought about the positive aspects of my coworkers because aside from my family they are the people I spend that most time with. My coworkers are actually pretty fun. We spend the early part of the shift yesterday going by the names of the Madagascar Penguins and we have custom made flyswatters constructed out of cardboard and they named them epic-anime-esque names in black sharpie. It was fun.
Day 6 Morning Meditation:
Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’ This kind of event could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have borne it without getting upset. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49
This topic actually really helped me get through work the past couple of days. This week has just been unusually busy and I’ve been closing with a new person so that could have been a LOT more stressful than I was.
Day 6 Afternoon Reflection:
Take time to listen to the Premeditation of Adversity recording and rehearse facing some events that feel emotionally challenging or difficult.
Honestly? At my work I’ve been mostly trained to expect the unexpected because our equipment is constantly breaking, we have a huge and very diverse customer base so it’s near impossible for me to imagine everything that can go wrong. I usually just pick what I think is the most likely “worst” think that could happen and deal with that. Usually, my imagined first step is getting coffee. I refuse to handle situations unless I am properly caffeinated.
Day 6 Evening Meditation
Glad and cheerful, let us say, as we go to our rest: ‘I have finished living; I have run the course that fortune set for me’. If God gives us another day, let us receive it with joy. The happiest person, who owns himself more fully, is the one who waits for the next day without anxiety. Anyone who can say, ‘I have had my life’ rises with a bonus, receiving one more day. – Seneca, Letters, 12.9.
I’m actually not really worried about death. It’s the death of others that I struggle with more so I need to work on that. My grandparents have been dead for years and I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel about that. When my parents die I’m probably going to be devastated. I’m not sure yet how I’ll be able to deal with that so I didn’t pick it as my resilience practice.
Day 7 Morning Meditation
The works of the gods are full of providence, and the works of fortune are not separate from nature or the interweaving and intertwining of the things governed by providence. Everything flows from there. Further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. What is brought by the nature of the whole and what maintains that nature is good for each part of nature. Just as the changes in the elements maintain the universe so too do the changes in the compounds. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.3
I’m not sure how to unpack this quote. I’m going to need to read is a few more times when I’m not tired. I learned from the last M.A. quote that it might take a few days before it actually clicks.
Day 7 Afternoon reflection:
Take longer (20-30 minutes) to sit quietly and contemplate the View from Above, using the audio recording provided.
I didn’t have time to do this today because of work and Calculus homework I had to finish.
Day 7 Evening reflection
I travel along nature’s way until I fall down and take my rest, breathing out my last into the air, from which I draw my daily breath, and falling down to that earth from which my father drew his seed, my mother her blood and my nurse her milk, and from which for so many years I have taken my daily food and drink, the earth which carries my footsteps and which I have used to the full in so many ways. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.4
That was very poetic. I’m not sure I like it, but I appreciate the poetry of it.
Exit Survey results!
Life Satisfaction Score:
Me: 26 (Satisfied)
Participant Average: 22.5 (Slightly Satisfied)
Me: 18 (Slightly Dissatisfied)
Participant Average: 26.2 (Satisfied)
Balance of Positive and Negative Emotions (On a scale of -24 to 24)
Flourishing Score (on a scale of 8 to 56)
Me: 41 (Bottom 11% to 33%)
I firmly believe that my exit survey answers were 100% honest, but my scores actually DROPPED. That’s a little unnerving. I’ll keep practicing and reading about Stoicism anyway because subjectively I feel more resilient over all and I think adopting the philosophy has helped me and I do believe in the basic principles. I’m still a “novice” so there’s definitely room for improvement.
I felt really confident about today’s theme because it’s about Emotions and I’m actually a very calm person. I was very happy to share my “insert dragon” technique with someone. The conversation went like this:
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.
This week I’m taking part in a seven day introduction to Stoicism hosted by the Modern Stoicism group, a multidisciplinary group of academics who goal is to make Stoic Philosophy accessible and an accurate to the general public. I’m using my blog to record my thoughts and impressions about the material.
1) Morning Meditation
If you can find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage […] turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found […] but if you find all other things to be trivial and valueless in comparison with virtue, give no room to anything else, since, once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to what is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good anything alien to its nature, such as the praise of the many, or positions of power, wealth, or enjoyment of pleasures. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6
The nice thing about this quote is it acknowledges that there are other schools of thought and if that’s your jam, hey go for it. My coworker says he agrees more with Epicureanism. I don’t know what the modern flavor is, but ancient Epicureans lived in small communities that were very similar to how monasteries work. I honestly was considering joining a Buddhist monastery at one point, but there’s only one for women that I know of in the United States and then the nonbinary gender realization thing happened. I think it’s awesome that Stoics refer to social interaction and societal duty as “Justice”. It’s like, “I don’t work in customer service. I work in JUSTICE.” Branding is everything I guess.
2) Mid-day reflection
Whew~! I have never seen the store I work at as busy as it was today so I didn’t really get a whole lot of time to reflect. I spent my lunch reading the “Socratic Dialogues” about Stoic values on the website.
Honestly my brain is pretty fried right now, but I got a complement on how at work I generally always have a positive attitude and I don’t let things rattle me. I consider that high praise and was glad for the complement. I’ve been actively working on letting “bad” customers get to me. There’s something called negativity bias where things that cause us to feel negative emotions stick in our minds more clearly than positive experiences. I had a mindfulness instructor explain, “Our brains evolved to survive, not to be happy.” Negativity bias is a REALLY helpful survival tool, but we don’t necessarily need it as much in the modern world. Sometimes, but mostly not. I’ll have 99 meh/boring customers and it’s the one who’s an asshole that gets cemented in my mind because my brain is like “Threat! Danger! Beware!” That’s not fair to everyone else who were either indifferent or the few who were genuinely happy that I helped them. So now anytime I have an asshole customer I keep reminding myself, “Remember the mehs! You do this job for them.”
3) Evening Reflection:
From what did we gain an understanding of virtue? From someone’s orderly character, his sense of what is appropriate and consistency, the harmony between all his actions, and his greatness of spirit in coping with everything. In this way, we came to understand the happy life, that flows on smoothly and is completely under its own control. – Seneca, Letters, 120.11
…My brain cannot handle this now. *headdesk* I’m going to pat myself on the back for not freaking out despite how busy it was today then take an advil and go to bed.
This week I’m participating in Stoic Week a week long course hosted by the group Modern Stoicism whose mission/goal was to make Stoic Philosophy accessible and accurate to the general public. I’ve mentioned Stoicism in previous posts and these posts will just summarize my thoughts and impressions about week-long course.
1) Morning meditation:
The wise person does nothing that he could regret, nothing against his will, but does everything honourably, consistently, seriously, and rightly; he anticipates nothing as if it is bound to happen, but is shocked by nothing when it does happen …. and refers everything to his own judgement, and stands by his own decisions. I can conceive of nothing which is happier that this. – Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.81
Actually my “morning meditation” was at 1pm (but in my defense I work evenings so my day usually starts later anyway). The really nice thing about this quote (aside for it being properly cited unlike every Instagram quote ever) is that the last part “I can conceive of nothing which is happier than this.” means that Cicero is sharing with us an ideal. In real life are we going to do things we regret? Definitely. I regret getting the “bold” flavored coffee from the cafeteria today because it gave me the jitters like it was nobody’s business. Are we going to do things against our will? The possibility exists. Are we going to do everything honorably, consistently, seriously and rightly? Yeah, no. Is shit going to happen? Definitely. But we can still do our best besides all that. And if we did our honest best to be and do all those good things, should we really have any regrets?
2) Afternoon Reflection:
So, to get some verbage out of the way, the English word “Happy” comes from a Germanic root word meaning “lucky” or “blessed”. The opposite of Happiness is “Hapless” meaning “unfortunate” (which is the Latin/French fancy word that we prefer to use because of the Norman conquest of England). The Greek Philosophical idea of Happiness is called eudaimonia which (like a lot of Greek) is really hard to translate into English. It’s very similar to the Buddhist concept of Enlightenment. It involves ideas like mental clarity, true wisdom, freedom from folly. It’s not about being happy or joyful.
A HUGE part of the Greek Philosophic idea of happiness is agency. Apparently if you have all the luck in the world (fame, money, health, power), but are without agency you’re not really “happy” (and my brain automatically goes to dystopian fiction there). In contrast a person with no luck at all, but has true agency and wisdom is the one who has true happiness.
3) Donald Robertson’s Webinar
I was in class so I had to watch the recording afterwards, but the guy hosting the class gave an hour long intro for the class explaining the concepts, overview, who was working behind the scenes and what to expect. I actually really do like his videos because he’ll usually throw in a story and for some reason they always stick in my mind. My personal favorite was he was doing a book review and somehow squeezed in the story about Zeno and Crates of Thebes where Zeno became a student of Crates and they were walking in a busy market each with a beggar’s bowl of soup in their hands. Well, apparently Zeno sneezed or something because he drops the bowl of soup and I have this mental image of a bewildered Zeno in modest cynic garb in the the middle of this busy street with soup all over him now and he’s so embarrassed he makes a break for it, but Crates calls after him “Where are you going? No harm’s be done to you.” Which is a nice little story about how nobody ever really died of embarrassment and I always think of that story whenever I feel embarrassed.
Anywho, in the webinar Dr. Robertson was talking about friendship and how friendship comes really, really close to being a Stoic idea of good, but since you can’t control it (we’re stressing agency again) it doesn’t really count as a virtue, but even if it’s not reciprocated you can still be act like a good friend to other people. For this topic the story was about Socrates. The young son of Socrates’s best friend came to him and asked Socrates if he would be willing to help him make friends since Socrates knew a lot of people. Socrates agreed and asked the young man what traits he was looking for in a friend and, of course, the young man lists of several noble and ideal traits. Socrates nods and agrees that those all all good traits, but being Socrates he flips the conversation around and asks the young man, “And how many of those traits do you hold yourself?”
As someone who has trouble making friends I really appreciated this part actually. I’ve fallen out with all of my friends from high school. I never really had a “best friend” which I’m totally okay with now because considering my friend group in high school… well, I do believe environmental pressures played a major role in who I hung out with. I basically need to go out, like waaaaaaay out and make some friends that didn’t go to my high school and don’t live in the same ten mile radius as I do.
Socrates: So, what are you looking for in a friend?
Me: Well, so far they need to be cool with transgender individuals in the military and can go five minutes without mentioning the Second Amendment.
Me: Too much? It’s too much isn’t it?? *sobs* But I just want to meet some nice people who share a few of my values or at the very least don’t cause me anxiety!!
Socrates (Ancient Athenian): ….Noooo, I don’t understand what you mean by “transgender” and “second amendment”.
4) Nightly Meditation:
Will there come a day, my soul, when you are good and simple and unified […] some day will you have a taste of a loving and affectionate disposition? Some day will you be satisfied and want for nothing […] Or will you be contented instead with your present circumstances and delighted with everything around you and convince yourself that all you have comes from the gods, and that all that is pleasing for them is well for you? Will there come a day when you are so much a member of the community of gods and humans as neither to bring any complaint against them nor to incur their indignation? – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.1
I would like to point out that the Meditations is Marcus Aurelius’s PERSONAL DIARY that he asked to be burned after his death. It was not and a crap ton of people still read translations of it even thousands of years later. It’s not my favorite because it’s run on sentences for days and hard for me to read/understand. That’s usually how I spot fake quotes on Instagram. Did I read and understand it on the first try? Well, then Marcus didn’t write it. Seriously, if any Stoic quote fits in a Instagram box I automatically question its validity and they never. freaking. cite. them.
Phew~ okay. I think I (sorta) get what he’s saying (maybe). The first part sounds like it’s about external happiness “…a taste of a loving and affectionate disposition…” sounds like affection from others which is nice if you got it, but it’s not within your control. I think the meat of the quote is “…Or will you be contented instead with your present circumstances and delighted with everything around you and convince yourself that all you have comes from the gods, and that all that is pleasing for them is well for you?” That sounds very similar to the Zen Buddhist concept of “living the life that is given to you” which makes sense from a practical stand point because you only have your life to live and only creepy literary tropes about body snatching in a crappy filler episode can beg to differ. I got it, Marcus. Don’t be a creepy trope body snatcher.
Yeah, that’s totally not what he meant. *sigh* But to answer your last rhetorical question, Marcus, “No.”
Whoo! Day one done! Tomorrow’s topic is “Virtue”, which like the Greek Philosophical idea of “happiness”, doesn’t translate well into English. Stay tuned!
You won’t hurt my feelings. Promise.
But if you do skip it please refer back to my previous CoA post on mental health.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, but what if you’re too late?
TW: suicide mentioned