Hi folks! I’m still not ready to get back in full swing when it comes to posting, but there is something that I wanted to reflect on. I don’t know it this story will help anyone, but I wanted to get it off my chest.Continue reading “A Difference of Philosophies”
Phew~ I feel like I’m barely squeaking by with this post just before the deadline. Hi again everyone, this is my submission for the Carnival of Aros for May 2019 hosted this month by aroacepagans on the topic of “The Intersection of Religion and Aromanticism”. Unfortunately this is a rather complicated topic for me so I’m first going to have to dump a bunch of backstory exposition on you followed by a long historical tangent. History isn’t pretty folks.
Religion is complicated in my family as we don’t really put labels to what we are exactly or even agree on what we believe. My parents tried to do the Christian thing when I was younger, but it didn’t work out because the greatest sin in my family is ignorance. Both of my parents are the first in their families to go to college and especially in the age of internet with most “common” knowledge just a Google search away, they don’t tolerate ignorance nor denial of facts. The example my dad gives between “facts” and “truths” is it’s true that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It probably did so this morning even if most of us (myself included) didn’t witness it. The fact, however, is that the sun doesn’t “rise” or “set” at all, it’s the Earth rotating on its axis. So, long story short, my parents stopped going to church because the pastors kept getting the facts wrong. There was one particular pastor who was “talking” about Islam (yup, they were Muslim bashing back in the early 90s too) and he said that Muslims believed that the “Earth rode on the backs of four elephants”. I can just picture a double face palm from my parents at that slip up of common sense. After that incident my parents were like “Screw this. We’re not exposing our children to this bullshit.” and we never went to Church as a family again. Several years later when me and my siblings were old enough to understand the basics my parents spent the entire summer break teaching us about all the religions from Amish to Zoroastrianism and basically said, “There, pick one.”
To make things even more complicated my dad is ethnically Jewish and his younger brother is a gun-toting Republican Jew from Iowa, but my dad was raised Lutheran because half of the family converted to Lutheranism after WWII (and that is a looooong story that I’m not going to get into here). My dad is constantly arguing with his brother and his cousin, a Lutheran minister, on Facebook about climate change. My dad’s cousin made the mistake of saying, “There are hundreds of scientists who say climate change is a hoax!” to which my dad replied, “Oh, yeah? Name ten.” and that’s why they haven’t been on speaking terms since last Christmas. My mom was raised Irish Catholic, went to a Catholic high school and that’s why she’s definitely not a Catholic. No one in my immediate family belongs to an organized religion so the short answer would be that we’re “non-religious”…
…depending on your definition of “religion”.
The word “religion” is a very western and a relatively new idea. The word religion comes from the Latin religio meaning “reverence to the gods” (compared to superstition which comes from the Latin superstitio, meaning “soothsaying, prophecy, or fear of the supernatural”). Citizens of ancient Greece and Rome were required by law to have reverence for the local patron gods or goddesses and blasphemy was a serious crime punishable by death (yikes!). Modern scholars have a difficult time trying to pin down a definition for religion that isn’t too constraining nor too loose.
Obviously you have the big three western religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (and, yes, a lot scholars to consider Islam a western religion because of the HUGE impact it has had on western history and culture), but is Hinduism one religion or several different religions arbitrarily grouped together by western scholars? What about Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism; are they religions or philosophies? Where do you draw the line between philosophy and religion? How does it affect a person’s socio-political standing if they’re philosophical and/or spiritual but not religious in a very religion biased society? Are New Age religions legitimate practitioners or is it cultural appropriation? Mom and dad said, “pick one”, but holy jeepers it’s much more complicated than that. This is not an easy topic for me to tackle and that’s even BEFORE I throw in the aromantic aspect.
It’s a sad fact of life that a lot of major religions are not LGBTQIA+ friendly and those that are might not take converts and even then converting to a religion is a major decision that you cannot take lightly. Okay, then instead of converting to an existing religion how about just creating your own? It’s a nice idea, but then you have to consider how it’s going to be organized, how you’re going to deal with the legal matters, how you’re going to handle internal disputes, and how you’re going to get the general public to take you seriously. Politics and religion have been bed fellows for a long, long time. It’s only thanks to a quirk of fate and a Roman emperor that there’s a bunch of Christians even running around quoting the Bible right now because all y’all were like two inches from being Manichaens.
Cue long historical context tangent: Manichaenism is a weird blend of Eastern and Western religions; It’s something like a lot of Zoroastrianism with a little bit Buddhism and Taoism sprinkled in. At its peak Manichaenism was the most wide spread religion of its day with churches spreading as far East as China and as far West as Britain. I was learning about Manichaenism for a class and how it heavily influenced some later Christian big names like Augustine of Hippo and it’s where we get the idea that Good and Evil are locked in this eternal struggle and you don’t even think about it because that’s such an established literary trope you still see it today in pretty much every single epic movie pushed out of Hollywood. Can you even imagine being there back in the day when that idea was something new? Some dude was like, “Yo, bro, what if, like, there’s this great power that’s just, like, all Good with a capital G, ya know? But, like, the reason people do bad shit is because on the flip side there’s this Evil force that is the reason for hate and ignorance and people are made of the bad stuff, but everybody has a spark of good in them, you know? And the way to live right is you gotta feed that spark of good inside until it becomes a flame, a flame of knowledge, and you gotta keep feeding the flame so it never goes out because if you let the flame inside of you go out then the darkness wins. You feel me?” Yup, I’m definitely sure that’s exactly how that conversation went down.
Anywho, as I was learning about Manichaeism for class I kept thinking, “This sounds really cool. Why have I never heard about this before? Where do I sign up?” Well, turns out you can’t sign up because the entire religion is extinct, as in gone the way of the dodo, it is a looong time gone. A long time ago there was a Roman emperor named Theodosius I who was apparently kind of a big deal and he issued a decree of death for all Manichaen monks (hooo boy, that definitely escalated quickly) and declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion for the Roman Empire. Waaaaay to be a buzz kill, Theodosius. All the Manichaen texts were destroyed, all of its religious leaders were killed in the name of Rome and Rome’s Christianity, and everything we know about it today comes from teeny tiny surviving fragments that just barely manged to survive in extremely isolated regions in China. That’s why nobody’s ever heard of Mani and his kickass religion even though it pretty much popularized everybody’s favorite epic fantasy trope.
So, now I have a philosophical dilemma. History paints a dark and gritty story about how, like the empires that honored and celebrated them, great religions rise and fall and change with the politics that can both lionize them or vilify them. Theodosius didn’t put Manichaens to death because God said so, he did it for his own political gain. The US founding fathers didn’t say separate Church and State to protect the people, it was to protect the Church from political corruption. (Yeah, I know, joke’s on us.) So, just like my parents, I’ve got a problem. I have all these religious types telling me that they know this “great truth” and that they’re my “only shot at getting in to heaven” and “fuck those other guys because they don’t tell it like we tell it” and all I hear is these folks basically telling me over and over that tomorrow the sun is going to rise in the East and set in the West like it’s some great cosmic mystery…
But, like, dude, that’s just how the world turns. I don’t know how to reconcile being religious if it means ignoring the facts. I have tried for a loooong time, but I just can’t find a religion that calls to me, that that lets me believe in a higher power, be part of a bigger community, find a higher purpose, and be my aromantic, gender-queer, wisdom-loving self. Maybe, there was a religion like that once a long, long time ago, but then it got wiped out by political pressures bigger and meaner than it was. *shugs* History says it’s possible.
And I’m going to end the post there because that last bit is an existential crisis that can wait for another day. Hopefully this didn’t come off too much like religious-bashing because that was definitely not my intention and I just wanted to throw out some burning questions that I’ve run into trying to figure out what place religion has in my life and a lot of these are questions that I still don’t have answers for: Is it okay for me to believe and pray to a random deity that isn’t part of my culture and upbringing or is doing that disrespectful to the people who codified the deity and made it a pillar of their religious identity? Is it okay to mix and match religions like cocktails or is that just my white privilege/colonialism talking? How much of religion belongs to the private individual and how much belongs to the cultural group? Why is all this so complicated?!!!
aaaaaand on top of all that I’m still 100% aromantic and I need to reconcile how that’s going to fit into a religious identity because right now there’s like zero intersection because I haven’t exactly “picked one” yet.
Thanks mom and dad. -__-
I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently studying Modern Stoicism; In a nutshell Stoicism focuses on what makes a virtuous person and how a virtuous person should act as the starting point for answering life’s big Philosophical questions. Stoicism advises that a good life is one where you “live in accordance with nature”. By “nature” Stoics aren’t talking about flowers, trees and butterflies (as lovely as they are), but rather they are referring to human nature which they define as 1) humans are social animals and 2) humans are “rational” beings, as in “capable of complex thinking”.
Stoicism is definitely not a one-size-fits-all way of thinking. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it was going to work out for me, but I’ve been practicing and I’m happy to say that I’ve made some progress. The main exercise I’ve been working on is being rational in emotional situations. Like I said, this is a work in progress. I’ve gotten really good at calming down quickly after irritating instances, particularly at work. I’ve ranted about dumb customers on the blog before and how I dwell on the issue for waaaaaaaaaaaay too long and so being able to calm down almost immediately is huge progress for me.
Naturally I want to continue this positive trend of improvement so I usually like to try and find courses and lessons and the like that the folks in the Modern Stoic movie are kind enough to publish. Most of the courses are usually free because the folks in the Modern Stoic groups generally do really want to help people.
It just so happens that I picked up the latest book for beginner Stoics and I keep running into the same problem; Their examples aren’t really geared for an LGBTQIA audience so I have translate their heteronormative jargon into something I can actually use.
Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
Mike’s twenty-five-year college reunion was supposed to be fun. Instead, it has turned into an exercise in inadequacy. His classmates, Aziz and Slaiah, are still together, ever since their first date during sophomore year; Mike’s marriage lasted less than five years, leading to financial trouble and insecurity about romantic relationships that persist to this day. Steve, Mike’s former roommate, has maintained his athletic physique while Mike’s potbelly has only grown, a charming accompaniment to his thinning hair. And his roommate’s business major propelled him into the C-suite, while Mike has stagnated in middle management of a company whose products he doesn’t even believe in. Everywhere he looks, Mike sees success, but when he faces himself in the bathroom mirror after the cotail hour, he can’t help but feel like a failure. ‘No wonder I’m unhappy’, he thinks. ‘It’s because my life is bad. Everything is awful.’
-From the Introduction section of A Handbook for New Stoics; How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control
I understand that this example is playing on a series of well known tropes to help the reader easily pick apart the points of the lesson later on, but I’m already frustrated by this example because, dude, Mike is obviously coded a cis-hetero male and it’s actually really distracting how unrelatable he is. They made him too much of a cardboard cutout person and I really can’t deal so I’m going to have to write up my own, hopefully more relatable, example:
Last month I did the Stoicism Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) created by the folks at Modern Stoicism, a multidisciplinary group of dedicated people committed to providing accurate and informative information about Stoic Philosophy. This is the second course I’ve done by them (I did Stoic Week back in October). So, did this four week guided practice actually do anything? Sort of.
Here’s a comparison of my before and after survey results:
-Satisfaction with Life:
Before: 21 “Slightly satisfied”
After: 19 “Slightly Dissatisfied”
-Scale of Positive and Negative Experience where -24 is least positive feelings and 24 is most positive feelings:
-Flourishing Scale (score is obtained by adding up the scores for the all eight items giving a range from 8 to 56)
After doing the SMRT course the most obvious improvement is the Positive vs. Negative emotions which makes sense since that was a major component of the course and the thing I was focusing on the most. The scoring system for that is actually very easy so I’ll probably track my progress on that as I go along.
Now to the main question: Has Stoicism actually been beneficial to me?
Hmmm, overall I would say “yes” because the biggest positive impact Stoicism has had on me is self acceptance. I mentioned in a previous post that reading Epictetus’s quote about power was actually very helpful because he specifically mentions that our bodies are not within out control. That helped me accept my asexuality and I finally clicked that it wasn’t “my fault” that I hadn’t done anything “wrong”. Obviously Epictetus didn’t have any knowledge of DNA or environmental triggers, but I needed it spelled out.
Another thing I gained was Stoic compassion. It’s a lot easier to…not accept, per say, but be more mindful of idiots. Stoicism likes to point out that it’s only by chance that I was born into a nice, moderate family that values education. Both my parents were the first in their families to go to college. My dad literally told me growing up that our family mission was to fight against ignorance. That had a major impact on me and how I interact with the world, but it all comes down to chance. I could have been born into a family that didn’t value formal education, that was afraid of immigrants, and watches Fox & Friends. Now instead of dismissing people as “just idiots” I ask them, “Why do you think that?” My end goal changed from trying to convince people they were wrong (which, let’s be honest never works anyway) to asking them through polite questioning to think critically about their beliefs.
I think that being able to accept my asexuality and have constructive interactions with people I disagree with are worth taking the time to study Stoicism and I’ve become better at my customer service job and have been able to just deal better with people in general overall.
There is one thing Stoicism isn’t though. It’s not a magic wand that magically fixes all my problems and, oh boy, do I have problems. This past week if I had taken the survey again my results would have tanked. This has, for all intents and purposes, been a shitty week. The biggest problem is I’m not getting enough sleep.
Last Friday (my day off) my manager calls me an hour before my alarm goes off to ask if I can pick up a shift. Saturday my brother wakes me up an hour before my alarm goes off to give me some bullshit excuse of why there’s no gas in the car. Sunday/Monday are the first morning shifts I’ve worked in months so I’m waking up at 5am instead of my usual 9am. I make it to Tuesday thinking it’ll be okay because I get an easy closing shift with time and a half because of the holiday, but then my dad wakes me up two hours before my alarm goes off so we can take the dogs to the park. I keep telling myself, “It’ll be fine, I’m off on Wednesday.” Except Wednesday rolls around and bright and early my mom is yelling at us to high hell because we’re missing three car keys and it’s 200 dollars to make new spares.
Frankly, I’m just exhausted and there’s no Philosophy in the world that’s going to fix that. What I can credit Stoicism with is instead of thinking, “I’m so damn tired, I just want to die,” my thought process was actually very rational. My actual thought was, “I’m so damn tired I’m either going to a) use my work provided mental health benefits to see a counselor and kick them out of their office for an hour and take a god-damned nap; b) tell my family to ‘fuck-off’ and cash my holiday pay check to check into a motel six for two nights so I can finally sleep undisturbed; or I could c) pass out from exhaustion at work so I get workers comp, an overnight stay in a hospital, and a week’s worth of sleeping meds and a doctor’s note telling my family to ‘fuck-off and let me sleep.” Basically, I have options. I still have some control. Option b is looking very sexy right now. There’s like three hotels within walking distance to my choice movie theater. Dinner, movie, hotel, it’s like a date only it’s just me and Mr. Sandman. I could totally talk one of my coworkers into dropping me off or I could walk from work. Totally do-able. Oh, or I can just ask to crash at a coworker’s place for a few hours. See? Options.
Carefully examining what is within my power is an amazing tool. I haven’t perfected it yet, but I see it as a worthy practice. So, overall, I would say Stoicism is working out for me. I’m less miserable than I would be without it and it’s given me clarity over my real priorities, which it’s safe to say includes a well deserved nap.
[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for December 2018 hosted this month by Sennkestra on Next Step: Cake under the topic “Burn out”]
The topic of “Burn Out” is very appropriate because I’m in the middle of a burn out right now actually. I’m trying to finish school, but I ended up failing a class I needed twice so it’s obviously time to take a break. Every day while at work I’m constantly thinking, “I should not be this tired. This is not normal.” and when I talk about it to other people they’re like, “Tired and stressed? Welcome to adulthood,” or they break out into a story about how their grandmother survived as a single mother of five kids in 1934 during the Great Depression; Inspiring, yes. Helpful, no, but I’ll totally see the movie when it comes out.
I’ve burned out worse before several years ago to the point of more serious physical symptoms and thankfully I’m not to that point yet…I’m just tired. Very, very tired.
To deal with this I’ve been studying Stoicism through some free classes and by supporting the patreon accounts of my favorite Stoics. I’m currently doing a four week course called SMRT (Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training) where each week you’re putting a Stoic practice to use using the niffty audio recordings provided. I’ve been pairing that with the parteon articles and some youtube videos from the Stoi-con last October (and yes, there’s a Stoic Convention and someday I will attend).
Oh! For folks who don’t know Stoicism is an ancient Hellenistic Philosophy that originated in Greece, but gained some major traction in Rome. Our three main sources of Stoic teachings come from “The Manual” and discourses from Epictetus who was a slave and later a teacher; Letters and essays by Lucius Seneca (usually as just called “Seneca” or “Seneca the younger”) who was a Roman Senator and adviser to Emperor Nero; and lastly Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s person diary which is today known as the “Meditations”. Each of these sources has their own flavor, but my personal favorite right now is Epictetus because it was actually his student who wrote everything down. A lot of ancient Philosophers were apparently allergic to writing because Socrates and Confucius also didn’t. write. that. shit. down. and it was their students who were like “….we should probably be taking notes.” seriously.
Epictetus is easier for me to understand because it’s geared more towards beginners. The modern Stoic guy I support on patreon is a college professor and he says he doesn’t always like or agree with what Epictetus is saying, but he sympathizes the frustration of keeping young minds engaged in less-than-exciting material. Seneca’s stuff is very formal, very knowledgeable, and obviously proof read (unlike this post) while Marcus Aurelius’s lack of punctuation makes me want to bang my head against the wall. To be fair the Meditations is his personal diary that he specifically asked TO BE BURNED after his death and now it’s never been out of print. So, if you want something done right…
Anywho, so how is adopting Stoicism helping my sanity? Well, for the first week of the resilience training we’re supposed to track our negative emotional episodes because as it turns out people don’t usually feel things willy-nilly, something usually triggers it. Like last week at work we’re busy as hell, I’m behind so I ask my coworker to do literally ONE THING for me, so we can catch up. He flat out refused and said, “That’s not my job.” Which, first of all, uh, yeah it is your job and secondly it would have taken five minutes that you would have spent goofing off anyway. Naturally I was pissed off so I wrote that down as a negative emotion incident. The goal is to become more aware of early warning signs, i.e. I’ll eventually be able (hopefully) to predict that “hey, it’s really busy today and that tends to stress me out so I should mentally prepare for that and plan for a timout if I need it.” The goal is to approach difficult situations as rationally as possible and anger doesn’t help rationality.
This week we’re supposed to be tracking how long we dwell on negative incidents. Normally, I’m not one to hold a grudge, but Oh. My. Gods. this lady yesterday. We’re in the middle of a lunch rush and my coworker (different one from above) is stuck on a big order and is quartering six whole grilled chickens which is taking up the whole cutting board. I’m dancing around him trying to get the single plate orders out of the way. This lady orders a half-chicken plate and easy-breezy I just reach in the display case with my metal tongs and with a simple twist snap a grilled chicken in half and toss it on the plate as is because my coworker still has six chickens on the cutting board. But then the lady says, “Oh, no, no, I wanted the fresh chicken.” I’m staring at her stupefied like, what the fuck lady??? I look over at the grills because I think that’s where she’s pointing and the chickens on the grill are obviously still raw. Then she points to where my coworker is cutting up the chickens for the big order and she says, “Like what he has.” ????? My coworker seeing that I’m having problems reaches into the display-case with his tongs and picks up THE OTHER HALF OF THE SAME GODDAMNED CHICKEN and says, “Will this one work?” and she says “Yes, that one.” The way my coworker tells it he’s cackling on the inside like a Disney-villain-reject because he knows it’s the same chicken meanwhile I’m off to the side having a miniature aneurysm. I was off-and-on dwelling on this incident for 29 hours minus the awesome 8 hour sleep I got after my two hours of self-care. I bought special soap and everything.
Alright, let’s break it down Stoically:
- Idiots exists. Therefore if I am adequately mentally prepared, encountering one during lunch rush or be scheduled to work with one should not surprise me.
- Whether or my customer or coworker is an idiot should not impact my ability to serve people lunch to the best of my knowledge and ability.
- I can’t control whether someone is an idiot or not, but I can take the time to educate myself and take responsibility for my own pool of knowledge because if circumstances had been different, that idiot could easily have been me.
This model of thinking also applies to trying to educate people about asexuality. Seriously, giving asexuality 101 is one of my least favorite things, but I have to understand that the majority people grew up being told every single day of their lives that there are only two genders, that boy meets girl and they live happily ever after. If circumstances were different, if I had been born into a different family or my biology had presented differently, I totally have could turned out to be that same ignorant asshole that makes me want to beat my head against the wall. I know for a fact that someday I will walk into a fast-food place that I’ve never been to before and drive some poor food service person crazy because I misinterpreted reality. Some days you’re the woke asexual advocate on a mission to save humanity from itself, some days you’re the idiot that can’t order fast-food correctly, that’s life.
At its core Stoicism is a very empathetic philosophy. Wisdom is the ultimate virtue, ignorance is the ultimate vice, but we are born ignorant and must be taught to be wise. Nobody wakes up one morning and knows everything about the universe, or asexuality, or grilled chickens, so we have to either be taught or learn by experience. When you are trying to convince somebody that a core belief that they have is wrong you have to understand that you cannot convince them using logic, arguments or data; they have to be the ones to convince themselves. Nobody actually believes in something they do not think is true. Even when somebody is intentionally lying about it, they still believe the truth. The example Epictetus gives is he tells his students to try and convince themselves that day is night. Not gonna happen. Nobody wants to be flat out wrong and they will spend a lot of time and energy defending their beliefs. Check out this segment of the Q&A where the speaker’s talking about his friend from Tennessee. It’s totally worth fighting the good fight against ignorance, but jeepers it’s exhausting.
Right now I’m laying down in my bed thinking to myself, “I should not be this tired,” but I am. I’m sitting on a dozen story ideas for novels I want to write before I’m sixty. I have two other blog posts sitting in my draft box from months back that I still haven’t finished. My finals are this week and I haven’t studied. Plus there’s a million other little projects I want to do, but it’s not going to happen. “The spirit is willing…” and all that. The hardest thing I’m going to have to do the next couple of months is give myself a break, cut myself some slack, and just keep learning lots. A fun fact a day, an educational youtube video on my lunch, a quick audio book chapter on my drive to class, little things that keep me growing as a person.
I don’t really have the energy to make the word a better place right now, but I can definitely the time to make myself a better, wiser, person and Stoicism is helping me do that. Here’s a fun fact; there are no sages in Stoicism. We all just strive to do our best with the ability we have with as much wisdom as possible. I’m going to finish off the post with an excerpt from the SMRT morning meditation exercise:
As Epictetus tells his Stoic students, imagine that you’re entering a festival each day, and preparing yourself to endure the rough and tumble, and appreciate the spectacle, while accepting that soon it must all come to an end, and that you must take nothing for granted…
Take time to plan your day ahead, calmly and with reason and wisdom. Think of the day ahead, the tasks you face, and what you would prefer to achieve, fate permitting…Prepare yourself to meet adversity with as much practical wisdom as you can muster, with justice or fairness to others, and with self-discipline when it comes to any unruly emotions and desires… Epictetus says you should ask yourself what inner resources nature has armed you with to deal with external events… How can you excel in your character, and make the best use of whatever befalls you?
Rest well, everyone!
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!