Sage vs. Sage, “FIGHT!”

Why smelling burnt sage is a dispreferred indifferent.

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How do we arrive at Sagehood when there’s a lot of hood, but no Sage?  Hrmmm…ahem.  Learn from Socrates, duh. “Cash me ousside So-Crats, how bow dah?” (Google “cash me ousside, how bow dah,” for context.)

Speaking of Sage, I’ll segway now to a righteous declaration of contempt for the herb:  the stuff people burn to ward off evil spirits or negative energy. Actually, the impressive herb has been used throughout history for several medicinal and culinary purposes. It’s the burning of it that gets me, for clarifications sake. My personal opinion regarding the burning of the herb is that people like to engage in ritualistic/symbolic behaviors that signify a meaningful/personal intention for their lives. Perhaps by smelling the lingering scent or having a memory that they walked through a space burning the stuff, reinforces a healthier ATTITUDE in them, one that correlates with maximizing positivity in their lives. For the most part, we can manage ourselves; other people, not so much. The crank stinks when lit and I’m skeptical of the belief and practice, but keep in mind, this is coming from someone who would choose patchouli- mint soap over Dial or Axe body wash any day.

Funny story: I had a housemate in Asheville around 2013 who would walk around the house burning sage. One morning the scent traveled between the small line space between the hardwood floor and my door, up to my nose. I heard a deep roar of discontent within the belly of my spirit animal: a scorpion with a cobra snake head and batwings. “Cash me ousside SAGE!”  I went outside, and asked ole boy kindly if he would stop burning it outside of my room, that it was irritating my asthma. He said it was no problem, that he was trying to clear the house of any negative energy. FACEPALM! OBJECTIVE REALITY/SUBJECTIVE PROJECTED REALITY. Reminds me of the psychological effects of attitude and prayer. My belief affects my behavior, and my behavior can influence, like a stone,  the pond through a ripple. But if it’s raining hard, the ripple won’t be seen.  Sigh, TOLERANCE. Anywho, after we came to a civil agreement, I added as he was walking away, “Oh, Eddie… my demons are really upset right now!” He smiled a big silent surprised smile as his head inched back and up with widening eyes. Gosh, it was great! I love my life inspite of my asthma

Burning sage, astrology, country music, blind faith, intolerance, violence: these are all things that irk me. Some things should be tolerated, others not: sage, yes; violent acts of injustice motivated by greed – well, I’ll let you think about that while a soft rain of moral philosophy drizzles over your head.

Feel free to defend your belief in the practice and share any stories/comments surrounding the herb or comment about anything at all.

 

She cut her finger off.

Around two weeks ago I finished three months of Intensive Outpatient Group Therapy. Paired with individual counseling once a week, I will say that I found it to be as helpful as it was entertaining. I was able to learn a little bit about myself, what makes me tick. I also learned I don’t have to be an aggressive saviour type to effectively help someone; most of the time, a kind listening ear helps more than the rapid fire “gurification” of someone’s situation. Listening genuinely, with compassion, takes practice.

Quick story: one session in particular, we were discussing the dangers of anger and ways to stop it before it boils up and out of us. The instructor asked the group, “What are some of the warning signs that you are becoming anger?” One new girl spoke up and said, “You cut your finger off.” Immediately after she said this, there was this matrix-esque timelapse where a couple of people that had been there a while looked at each other with curious confusion. I let out a small burst of laugher. (Remember, laughter doesn’t always imply that the subject which stimulates it is of a humorous nature.) Another guy said, “That’s brutal!” Then there was silence again. People were in denial. Go figure. One girl in the group said, “Hold up, just to make sure I heard you right; you said you cut off, your finger?” The newbie said without hesitation, “Yea,” and raised her left hand, wiggling all her fingers except the little one. That one was gone. Not there. MIA. Awol. Like a little fireplace hand mantle with traditional family figurines atop it: you had Dad the thumb, Mom the index, middle was the first son, and the ring being the attention seeking sister. But the little pinky named Charlie got knocked off into the hellfire of the smouldering fireplace below. Little Charlie, come to find out was thrown out of a car window into a parking lot.  We learned from the young lady that it was either going to be her finger or her partner that was going to take the slice. Anger killed Charlie.

Everybody gasped, “Whoa!” No wonder Seneca said anger is the most dangerous of emotions. Let’s be real for a second: we don’t find ourselves in addiction related three hour group sessions, three times a week, for three months, because we’ve got it all fingered, I mean figured out. We have not  arrived at Sagehood. I sure as hell haven’t. But guess what? Right now, in this moment, I’m clear, cool, calm, clean, and collected. Hope you are too! Say yeah!

Why I didn’t go to Stoicon ’16

“When circumstances force you to some sort of distress, quickly return to yourself. Do not stay out of rhythm for longer than you must: you will master the harmony the more by constantly going back to it.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 6.11)

Hey all. It has been a few months since my last entry. I’ve been busy living, and painfully so at times. Around mid August (9 months as non-drinker/user) I discovered a dating app called TINDER. Yikes! Swipe! I went on my first date with this smart lady, who was my age, and  everything generally went as well as possible within a first date context. Something was awry though, behind the scenes. I had become complacent in my GROWTH. I asked for an O’douls non alcoholic beer. When I found out they didn’t carry it, I cracked under the pressure OF THE GODS (which all live and die within my head anyway), and asked for a Stella Artois, opposed to a soda water. Hrmmm…  “Cheers, new date friend!” …and subvocal “Hail Self Sabotaging Demon Dioynisis,” toast to myself. :/

Fast forward to September. At this time my vice humping is full blown. I basically gave away a fine dining job. I was tearing away on my rental car I had rented to go to Stoic camp. Maybe I slept in a graveyard one night. No, I think that was a dream. Hood-rats wanting so painfully to phone home, but weren’t lucky enough to get a signal. I had a signal though. My Dad was dying rapidly back home (had been steadily declining for three months) and my Mom needed me there. I came home and spent two hours with my Dad who was able to mutter “I love… (you)…” before he took his last breath.

Let’s just say the rest of September was a shit storm. Can you dig it? Intellectually I was able to prepare for my Dad’s death, but emotionally I wasn’t ready to see him go, over those last few summer months. Now, between six and nine months, the growth in MY recovery lifestyle hit a plateau. I grew complacent. Landing a great fine dining job as a Server boosted my confidence – I was on more of a success and ME-ME-ME, financial trajectory. So as these things were happening, my self awareness took a back seat, my support groups were in the trunk, and I was dragging my meditation along like “just married” tin cans painfully fucking the gravel. That in combination with seeing my Dad dying was what it took for me to not put up a bigger FIGHT to prevent September’s shitstorm. But you know what? Always start from where you are.

“DIG INSIDE YOURSELF. INSIDE THERE IS A SPRING OF GOODNESS READY TO GUSH AT ANY MOMENT, IF YOU KEEP DIGGING.”  (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 7.59)

Now, after dealing with consequences I’ve never dealt with before – hanging out with King Vice, I can safely say,  I’m in a new, more authentically healthy place. The self is discontinuous; we change daily. I don’t agree with some of the things I was enthusiastic about a few years ago, and in a way, moments are discontinuous too. Each moment is simulated differently in your brain than it is through the next persons, as life amorally flows into us all, sometimes screwing us before getting us off. You have a choice whether you want to be a dominant aggressor or not. Meow/Roar. Be what may, this business of HABIT CHANGE is hard work and recovery is a PERSONAL JOURNEY. I’m convinced now, after years of this, that if I’m not pushing uphill, then I’m asking the wind to strike up a partnership with gravity and knock me back on my angus. Sigh.  Getting up this time, I made a pact with myself: that I would stay as conscious as possible, so to arrest, with REASON, any self sabotaging thought-emo-behavior patterns, which make living stupid, seem like a good idea. What better tools to do this than a daily mindfulness meditation practice and living Stoically!

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I’m currently living and working in Cary NC these days and am taking a much more eclectic approach to eudaimonic living and recovery: therapy, 12 steps, SMART rcvry, Tai Chi, Meditation, Songwriting, Theater, Service, etc.

Eudaimonic Striving

My plan to leave the Service Industry.

Okay, life stuff…

I recently picked up my six month sobriety chip at the secular based 12 step meeting I go to this past April. It feels nice. I will say though, that recovery is the business of habit change… and it takes work,  but every cell in my being shouts through a megaphone, “IT’S WORTH IT!”

Listening to audio excerpts from the Enchiridion in the morning help tremendously with my morning meditation. A kind of bold centering of my moral purpose to live the good life, while I can. Today could be the day  you know, that we all get hit by a bus. Negatively visualize that for a second. 😉

After completing six months at a Recovery House I voluntarily put myself in, I moved into a much less structured sober living Oxford House for just that little bit of structure to lean on… just in case my Ruling Faculty got hacked by my  Unconscious Mind and lost the battle. This is the stuff of early recovery. 🙂 In all honesty though, there is a healthy comfortable system of accountability that works out well. The longer I stay sober though, I believe in more than one model of addiction, and that they exist simultaneously at certain degrees depending on specific factors at play at any given moment. For me, it’s a choice, after I have detoxed off said poison (VICE). During a flare up, which now, at 31, has become increasingly less frequent, (attributed to simply growing up) the choice has already been made, and it’s automatic plummeting (disease model) until the despair grows strong enough.

With more than six months though, I have been using Stoicism daily across the board to aid in my affairs, and have come to some conclusions about my life and the directions I want to take…thinking a lot about meaning and eudaimonia and what it means for me. It is a strong preferred indifferent to launch myself out of the Service Industry.

Here’s what I’ve been doing recently to get my bearings oiled and ready for the eudaimonic slip and slide: (… hold up, that doesn’t work. Hmm.. for the eudaimonic drag race. You get the point…)

I’ve taken two extra days off work during the week to explore my options and better manage my time in relation to said eudaimonic spring board. I’m a slave to the service industry during the weekends, so it’s good to have the extra time to map out my future, day, steps…

I’ve been volunteering creatively with some notable academic rock stars (Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez) to help out with this years first Stoicon in the US. Check out Massimo Pigliucci’s blog How to be a Stoic for more details. And go HERE to register for the actual event!

I’m studying Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as part of a six week online course offered by the awesome, YOUTUBE famous and super prolific Dr. Gregory B. Sadler, founder of REASON IO

GOALS

I need to finish my undergrad before I get hit by a bus or grow much older. Second, I “have to” transition to a more meaningful career than the Service Industry. So, this blog, over time, fate permitting, will serve as an example and progress report of how an individual uses Stoic principles to grow and live a meaningful life. And if it stops working, or if I get hit by a bus, then obviously the blogs will stop. 😉

This passage from the Enchiridion sums up my recent resolve to live a more meaningful, Stoic life:

“How long will you wait before you demand the best of yourself, and trust reason to determine what is best? You have been introduced to the essential doctrines, and claim to understand them. So what kind of teacher are you waiting for that you delay putting these principles into practice until he comes? You’re a grown man already, not a child any more. If you remain careless and lazy, making excuse after excuse, fixing one day after another when you will finally take yourself in hand, your lack of progress will go unnoticed, and in the end you will have lived and died unenlightened. Finally decide that you are an adult who is going to devote the rest of your life to making progress. Abide by what seems best as if it were an inviolable law. When faced with anything painful or pleasurable, anything bringing glory or disrepute, realize that the crisis is now, that the Olympics have started, and waiting is no longer an option; that the chance for progress, to keep or lose, turns on the events of a single day. That’s how Socrates got to be the person he was, by depending on reason to meet his every challenge. You’re not yet Socrates, but you can still live as if you want to be him.” -Epictetus’ Enchiridion, 51

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Doffing the Overalls: a Preferred Indifferent

Okay, so… THE SERVICE INDUSTRY IS CRAZY! The particular restaurant I work at poses daily challenges to my Stoic resolve. There is a level of cattiness among revolving cliques there that is detestable. Gangster rap and desensitized idle chatter violently churn the airwaves in the kitchen. On a given shift I will hear co-workers complain with passion about petty things, especially in regard to other co-workers. I’ve tried to admonish some by stressing that the trivialities they’re undergoing won’t matter, say, in 300 years, and encourage them to sustain that greater perspective when things seemingly go awry. I think some of them get that I’m trying to help, and share with me the serenity that comes from taking a few deep breaths in this chaotic business, but often times, in response to my attempted admonishment or simply my serving style, I’m labeled “weird.” Yes… I know I’m weird. I’ve known that since elementary school. I like it. It’s who I am. Now, lets get the job done and respectfully co-exist! Sigh 😉

I put in my two weeks notice around a week ago after I found another day time restaurant job. I told one of the managers I was being made to feel uncomfortable working with one particular employee and that I wasn’t making enough money during the week, though would “prefer” to still work on the weekends. She honored my requests, which I am grateful for – the money is definitely worth the craziness, on the weekends.

Without forgetting my bedrock, I can’t stress enough how reading and re-reading the later Stoic’s have helped me successfully navigate this restaurant terrain without going back to the bottle. When I wake up, I do a little bit of mindful meditation and stretching, then I say to myself:

“…The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 2.1)

Marcus-Aurelius

This type of mapping out my day is incredibly realistic and also, when practiced (alongside other mindfulness techniques and Stoic principles), generates an accompanying pause, calm, clarity, peace and tranquility when “life happens” in dis-preffered ways.

So, it was out of preference that I found another job. I started working at one of the restaurants within the farmers market in Raleigh. They specialize in southern cooking and are ALWAYS busy. My reasoning was that I would maximize my income by working there during the week and keep my weekends at the other job. I had to wake up at 5am tuesday morning to do all my morning rituals, including a HEALTHY BREAKFAST, in order to make it there by 7am, my clock in time for training for the next three days. The first day of training wasn’t so bad. I was given my uniform: a pair of overalls, to be worn over a black shirt. I got to see another dimension of how people tend to behave in this business. Nevertheless, it was busy and I wasn’t strongly deterred by any facet of the restaurant in particular.

The second day of training was a bit different from the first. Upon awakening that morning at 5am, however, I witnessed a battle going on “upstairs.” Anywho, I didn’t listen to that voice in my head that was persuading me to sleep in and avoid the duties of being a citizen of the world. No, instead, I got up and pushed through and thought about LIVING…. while living. Donning my overalls (new work uniform), I hopped on my bike and pedaled to work. Once at work I busied myself with learning their systems and helping out the lady I was training under. I witnessed the manager on duty bark with, what I thought was an unnecessary and exaggerated tone, at three other servers about organizing the coffee station. I saw them all bicker among themselves about her when she walked away. The manager went to the host stand and proceeded to talk about the incompetence of these three servers with the host. My eyes were starting to open to see more of what was going on here. There were strong redneck undertones beneath the facade of this southern charm.

At any rate, while training under this older lady, I got a since of the clientele this particular restaurant attracted. A rather large man and his demanding son came in and I was assigned to them. They were nice, I suppose, but kept demanding more biscuits and butter, biscuits and butter, BISCUITS AND BUTTER. And one time the overweight son looked at me with this condescending gaze as he motioned for me to refill his ever diminishing cup of sweet tea. He didn’t ask me with his words because his mouth was stuffed with biscuits and butter. I must try hard not to slip into a complaining air myself here, but deep inside myself, I began to feel disgusted. Was I to accept my station in life as a redneck server person? Hell no. This was increasingly growing into a dis-preferred indifferent. Moments later, my trainer asked me to shadow her as she took an order for an agricultural business party of eight people. I’m watching them laugh and talk about the difference between city ham and country ham, and how the country ham is too salty, but then one of them says, “yea, but it’s sooo good,” then all of them laugh in this contrived, unreal, kind of spooky fashion, reminding me of the old judgmental southern baptist ladies I used to serve at my first serving job when I was 17. Slightly creeped out, I look up and away from the table at my surroundings, and I see everything, the restaurant, the people, from a distance. I noticed I was experiencing mild anxiety, although I knew it wasn’t bad necessarily. I just knew… I didn’t want to work there. In that moment, there was a pause – a deep clear insight into the importance of choosing to be true to oneself. The space-time there would never be worth the money for me.

I went to the bathroom and called a good friend who knows me really well, and said that I was wearing overalls, training here at this crazy job. Her reply was, “What?! What are you doing? Get out of there!” Hahaha, that was all I needed. She knew as well as I did that I was of the artsy fartsy type and simply did not fit in that kind of work environment. I guess I was doing it for the money… but the money, no longer had priority over my well being. I called my brother who encouraged me to give it the benefit of the doubt for a month first, but I told him that I’ve been getting to know myself for a long time now, and with a sober mind, I KNOW I don’t want to work here. He gave me his favor.

Now, all I had to do was quit. How was I going to do that? Well… Stay calm, don’t show your bottom, and be respectful. (Things I have to remind myself to do from time to time.)

I left the bathroom and went to the managers office and knocked on the door. Mind you, I had a clear resolve of what needed to be done, though sometimes the order in which my logic is executed in speech gets scrambled. (Sort of like a nervous verbal dislexia). My only concern was I knew I was about to leave there, but didn’t bring a change of clothes. After knocking, the manager on duty told me to come in. I went in, sat down, and said, “Ms. Jane Doe, I’m not wearing any pants underneath my overalls.” Her eyes got big. “… and I just had a moment of clarity…” (referring to my dining room experience and confirmation from phoning my friend and brother.) I paused for one second. Her eyes grew wider and she sat back stiffining in her chair. “…from which I realized I’m not going to be a good fit here at this restaurant. And before I waste anymore of your time here, I am choosing to bow out now.” Her body and face began to relax back into a comfortable posture. “I don’t care about the money, I just don’t want to bike home in my boxer shorts and t-shirt.” She said, with a comfortable acceptance, to just bring them in when I could, in the following days and that she appreciated me being upfront and honest now, opposed to waiting til they had worked me into their schedule. So whew, that was that!

I calmly handled “quitting,” and walked out the door. Damn, the air was fresh. I hopped on my bike and started singing, as I was speeding down the hill away from that establishment. Like Voltaire, I am a proponent of toleration, because people have a choice and “right” to pursue biscuits and butter as much as they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with my pursuit of inner peace. 😉 So, paying great homage to the Stoics here, I will say that I achieved a freedom in leaving that place, reflecting on what’s really valuable: my time and well being. ‘Twas a preferred indifferent. ‘Twas a merry bike ride home indeed!

 

-Christopher Edwards

 

 

 

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New Years Eve Blues.

Did the Ancients enjoy coffee?

On New Years eve, I went back to the house where I stay and celebrated vicariously with the rest of the world via social media. An underwhelming, slightly depressing, “whew,” it was on my end. Nevertheless, I didn’t irritate my “allergy” with superficial socializing and booze – I stayed home, alone, and got plenty of zZz’s.

Seneca, in his letters, stresses how vices become contagious in crowds. He also says it’s more of a challenge to be “a part of” without sharing in the base behaviors of the mob. This whole, being dutifully engaged in our society (in accordance with nature), for the Stoics, is a big balancing act.

The next day at work was a joke. Most, if not all of the employees were hungover beyond recognition…  …no it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty bad. The zOmBiEaPoCaLyPsE was happening at my place of work! It was quite funny, actually, because I felt in perfect spirits, in comparison; darting to and from tables with a chipper air fueled by sobriety and my second cup of coffee. A part of KNOWING THYSELF for me, is knowing that I function better as a member of society when I don’t feast on the brains of vice. In the past, doing so tended to snow ball me into a super vice ridden Yeti – salivating and ready to scream, with cold heart pains heavy from cuts of dull machetes. Ha! – That was fun and unnecessary. Anywho! In that state, unlike the others (my co-workers), I wouldn’t have made it to work at all. So, I was grateful to be sober, albeit I felt “lonely” the night before.

At work, that day, I was a gladiator.

An important thing for me to realize as I practice Stoicism as a PHILOSOPHY FOR LIVING is to watch where I put my value. If I value my peace of mind, my good conscience, my zest for life, then I have to learn from the past where those very things were greatly diminished by mistakenly valuing externals: money, attention, fame, reputation, pleasure, etc.

Christopher

Songs About Philosophy

Overcoming Holiday Anxiety and Flourishing at Work.

Well, it’s been a few days since the 25th whence I traveled home to spend a couple days with family. All in all, the visit was pleasant. There was however, some anxiety after settling in initially. I didn’t know what to make of it: nervous energy, restlessness, and a little shortness of breath. Why was I feeling this way? Alone, in my room, I tried to calmly deconstruct the impressions (as suggested by the Stoics) and came up with a couple things. There was still some tension I was hanging onto in regards to my past with my parents AND I was struggling with really accepting them.

Getting to the cause of the anxiety doesn’t always dissipate the anxiety. I had to do something! I went outside on the deck and sat down with my back straight, relaxed, and engaged in some mindful breathing. After regaining sound composure I summed up what had happened to me. Through calm rational deconstruction and cognitive distancing, I was able to see where my judgements got me into trouble AND what I needed to work on: compassion and acceptance.

“Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be bewildered by appearances. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.” (Epictetus’ Enchiridion 20)

“So the person who knows what is good is also the person who knows how to love.” (Epictetus’ Discourses, Bk II 22.3)

Engaging in this years Stoic week, put on by the folks from STOICISM TODAY (Exeter), helped me tremendously in practicing Stoic principles like mindfulness and examining my impressions. (Follow the link above where you can find Wednesday’s Mindfulness Exercise from the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook.)

Also, taking part in Dr. Greg Sadler’s online course on Epictetus’ Discourses, offered by The Global Center for Academic Studies earlier this November through December helped enrich my living practice of Stoic principles as well. Here’s a link to a video of his, pertaining to anxiety: Philosophy Core Concepts: Epictetus on Anxiety (Agonia).

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Now for something, not so “close to home.” Lately I haven’t been experiencing as much agitation or frustration at work in the Service Industry. I wonder why? Oh, that’s right, practicing Stoicism actually WORKS! It doesn’t even have to be your philosophy of life in order to work. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of occasions in the past week or so to lose my cool and assent to the bait of trivial impressions; but, through the teachings of friends like Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and my newest road dog Epictetus, I’ve been able to slow down and assess each situation more clearly with a calm, accepting rationale. There’s freedom in this stuff! And as a consequence of me not fueling catty fires, my co-workers are being more friendly. I was prepared, as Epictetus says, ‘to be laughed at,’ for my philosophical pursuits. They still laugh at me and my adhd mannerisms, but it’s not a ridiculing laugh. And even if it was, my road dog would tell me, “It is nothing to you.”

Lately I’ve been engaging and networking with more people in the philosophical world online. Through one particular ongoing conversation, I’ve been nudged to really take on a non-stagnating life of meaning and productivity in which I take steps to cultivate my talents, actualize my potential, and pursue a different career. Now, it’s easy for one, especially in early recovery, to doubt oneself, to grow complacent, ruminate in the excrement of past regrets, etc… but there is this Stoic mantra that I can’t get out of my head, that’s reverberating like some catchy pop tune, “Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, 7.69) That has been helping me stay focused on the task at hand. I must remember that my attempts at actualizing these goals are conditional. I control my thinking, goals, attitudes, and actions BUT do not control the outcomes. So while I may have the preferred indifferent of leaving the Service Industry to write philosophical rock’n’roll songs for therapeutic use, I am ready to accept being thwarted by difficult events along the way. RESILIENCE!

Lastly, I’ll leave you all with some weird sounding videos I made over the past week. I’ve started a fun little musical project where I attempt to make SONG out of the passages of Epictetus’ Enchiridion. Coming from years of mixing with art and music people, I’m thinking the philosophical message herein may appeal to these audiences, (helping them with real life issues as Stoicism has helped me) where other means haven’t. Glad to be standing on the shoulders of giants!

~Christopher Edwards