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.
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 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
You’d think I’d by now I’d be used to being the odd one out, the part of the venn diagram that doesn’t overlap. I’m the only red-head of my generation in my family, I’m aro-ace and agender, and I’m a liberal living in Texas. The problem is I feel like I’m living on the edge of the edge of all of my social groups right now.
I’m a nerd. That’s not unusual, most people seem to be one in one form or another these days, but I’m more of the “may the force be mass times acceleration” kind of nerd.
Magic the Gathering is HUGE at my work. It’s all Magic all the time. Even the supervisors play on game days when enough people are off to get together. I’ve tried, but it’s not my thing. One of my coworker’s even offered to drop 50 bucks on a starter deck for me. …Like, can’t you just give me the 50 bucks? No? Really? sigh~ Fine.
I spent half that on a travel size Mahjong set and I have to say, zero regrets. I love playing Mahjong, but I literally cannot find three other people willing to play with me because it’s “too hard” and “too confusing” for my social circle. I literally taught myself the Cantonese style in a week and I just use a scoring app because, yes, scoring can be a little confusing for beginners, but I’m not trying to be a pro or anything. I play it because I enjoy it.
A good chunk of my coworkers dress up and go to Comic-con every year. Meanwhile, I’m saving up to go to World Con once every few years (next year it’s in Dublin!). I’m less about the action and spectacle of Science Fiction movies and more about the philosophy and social issues they try and address. My coworkers watch anime; I watch cheesy Hong Kong movies. My coworkers quote classic 1980s action films. Meanwhile my Netflix que is 99% mystery films from every decade. I’m definitely a nerd, but somehow I’m not really overlapping with the rest of my local nerddom. I could try a little harder do fit in, I guess, but if I may quote a more recent movie:
“I have lived long enough to know what I like. What I dislike, I cannot abide.” –Hercule Poirot Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
There’s several LGBT folks at my work and as an aro-ace it’s really hard to fit in (again) because their usual pass time is clubing and drinking. My dad is an alcoholic so it’s a very touchy subject for me. Apparently music plays a big role in LGBT identity? Makes sense I guess, but my tastes in music are a little…odd. Mostly because a lot of popular music is about romance or some teenage angst I missed out on because I didn’t discover my orientation until I was an adult. I’m weird about music because it’s like it needs to age for a decade or two before I can really enjoy it. I casually mentioned to one of my coworkers that I was listening to an Everyly Brother’s album “because they have the best break up songs” and he looked at me kind of weird and was like, “did a dog snub you or something?” Which I guess points for acknowledging that I don’t date and stuff, but at the same time- rude, dude! It’s not like I didn’t experience a profound sense of loss after realizing that as an aromantic all chance of the fairytale romance I grew up believing in was never gonna happen and because of that Bye Bye Love really happens to resonate with me and I’m Not Angry always cheers me up because it’s so freaking ridiculous. It’s not like there’s any music specifically for aromantics and yet there’s millions of love songs, so I’m working with what I got.
It’s definitely lonely living on the fringe, but it’s tolerable for now. I don’t have an over abundance of people I truly call friends, but I don’t want nor can I to change to accommodate others. I’m hoping to at least find a compromise, but as of yet I haven’t really found anybody willing to give my interests more than a passing “gee that’s weird”. Maybe, I’m just a little too out there on fringe.
[This is my post for the Carnival of Aces for August 2018 hosted this month by demiandproud under the topic of “Coming out“]
The topic for this month is Coming Out as an emotional journey based on Vivienne Cass’s identity model:
- Identity confusion – first (uncomfortable) inklings of being different somehow.
- Identity comparison – seeking out information and thinking about being different, perhaps.
- Identity tolerance – finding similar people and engaging with rising doubts as identity slowly shifts.
- Identity acceptance – making peace with a shift in (a)sexual orientation, tentatively opening up to others and processing the emotions that come with the change.
- Identity pride – a sense of freedom, a wish to advertise the change in identity.
- Identity synthesis – braiding together the new identity with the rest of oneself to make a whole.
Based on this model I would say that I’m in phase six: Identity synthesis.
I’ve accepted my asexual identity, I’ve bought a bunch of pride merch and like to accessorize using pride colors. I’ve explained my asexuality to a few people I was comfortable telling (mostly coworkers). But all that only applies to asexuality. When it comes to aromanticism and being agender I’m still in the process of emotionally coming out. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be completely out as aro and agender because these are less known identities. I’ve found it much more difficult to explain aromanticism and agender to the uninitiated than asexuality because most people have at least heard of asexuality while that is definitely not the case for aro or agender. Even my gay coworkers are like, “aromantic? wtf?”
The tipping point that allowed me to finally accept my asexual identity was I started reading about philosophy, specifically Stoicism. Stoicism is a branch of Hellenistic Philosophy; Hellenistic Philosophy is the umbrella term for several rival schools of philosophy that existed in Greece and Rome from after the death of Alexander the Great until they were eventually banned from Rome after the rise of Christianity.
I turned to philosophy because I had questions and the LGBT+ community wasn’t giving me a satisfactory answer. In order to accept myself as an asexual I needed more than Lady Gaga telling me “I was born this way” and folks on Tumblr reblogging “haters gonna hate”. The Tumblr affirmation posts were super sweet and all, buuuut they didn’t really do much for me. I needed to know “why me?” first of all and I needed to know why I had to be the “bigger person” than all the haters before I could fully come to terms with being asexual. Seriously, one of my biggest questions in life is “why does everybody else get to be an asshole and I can’t?”
If you catch an intro to Modern Stoicism video/lecture or pick up a book on Stoicism they are probably going to tell you “if you only remember only one thing from this lecture/book/whatever, remember this:
There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.
-which is the first paragraph from Enchiridion.
(No, not that one.)
The big take away for me was that Epictetus included “body” and “reputation” on the “beyond our control” list. It wasn’t until that sank in that I was able to accept my asexuality.
I actually came out to my parents a couple years ago shortly after I realized I was asexual.
It did not go well.
Which is kinda weird because my parents are liberals and very vocally for transgender and gay rights, but when it comes to me it’s “Asexual? Oh, you just haven’t met the right one yet.” *head-desk*
Basically since attraction (or lack there of) is just something the body does (as a fascinating yet delicate biological cocktail) it’s completely out of my control, meaning it’s not my fault that I’m asexual. The universe rolled a big-bang’s worth of D20’s (because Quantum Physics) and, whoops, here we are. I know that’s kinda of obvious now, but it wasn’t until I read Epictetus that it finally sunk in that I literally can’t change my biological make-up regardless of what the social norms are this hot minute.
Better yet, it’s totally out of my control what people think or say about me. I can definitely try to educate people about asexuality, keep some pamphlets on me, break out the powerpoints or whatever, but I can’t control what other people think or say once they’ve made up their mind. So, whether my parents accept my status as asexual is not in my control.
So, what can I control? According to the Stoics I’m only responsible for my own virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, temperance) and “living within accordance with nature”. This is where Stoicism gets a little more interesting because Stoicism defines humans as “rational, social animals”. By “rational” they mean capable of complex reasoning. People might not always utilize this ability, but the capability is still there. Stoics also accept that being social is necessary. We can’t all throw on some white robes and hide in a cave. Dealing with phobic assholes is pretty much inevitable, but why do I have to turn the other cheek, take the high road, be the bigger person…etc…etc…?
When your happiness is based on things outside of your control (relationships, a well paying job, your body/health) it’s like you’re playing craps (gambling with dice) for your happiness. It might or might not happen. But if your happiness is based on things within your control (your virtues and “living according to nature”) then your happiness will also be within your control. Not being an asshole is literally one of the few things I can actually control so that’s why I have to be the “better” person when other people act like jerks. I have to make the most of what little agency I got.
I really like the imagery of “braiding together the new identity with the rest of oneself to make a whole” because I do treat asexuality, aromanticism, and agender as separate pieces that make up my whole self. It just so happens that I also needed a “Stoic” thread to help tie it all together.
[Curious about Stoicism? Here’s a 20 minute video intro by Dr. Donald Robertson.]