Last May, I was at a relatively high functioning time in my life. I was clean, engaged in 12 step meetings, working at a upscale restaurant in Asheville, NC and was studying Stoicism daily. I’ll tell you, it’s one thing to put the rocks glass down, it’s another thing to modify/change the habits and thought trends that accompanied said behavior for X amount of time.
This is partly what this blog is about; my journey using Stoic philosophy as a way to look at and change the parts of me that are bad. Sure social conditioning had some influence, but I found out early on, most likely from soul searching walks in the woods near my childhood home, that philosophy would be a lasting guide to living a “meaningful” life.
So back to Asheville, NC this past May. I was pulling a double shift on a Sunday. We were in the beginning of our dinner rush when I began to stock plates on top of the expo line so the chefs on the other side would have enough plates to get through the rush. Got the scene in your head? Good. Okay, so I’m stretching, can’t really see, to slide a few plates on top of a section of the expo window, and I didn’t realize that I was actually pushing a lone plate OVER THE EDGE to the cooks side. The plate fell smack dab onto a trout dish the chef was preparing on the other side of the expo line. “GOD D***IT!!!,” he exclaimed. I froze. The situation had to be resolved – as a good service team, we had to adapt. The chef team immediately ixnayed trout from the menu that night, calling out, “86 TRout!” My shaken instinct was to grab a broom and dustpan and clean up the mess. I stood at the end of the line where the cooks were standing with broom and dustpan to help, the head chef, still frustrated at the monkey wrench I threw into the shift flow yelled, “Chris, get the F*CK OFF THE LINE!” Haha, I lost it. Not really… I paused, went inside myself and walked out of the kitchen.
I began to get that shakiness from anger boiling up. I walked outside and got some fresh air, trying to keep myself from taking this personally. I was still a wreck, beginning to ruminate and think nasty thoughts towards this man. All of which was carrying me away from THE PROPER USE OF MY REASONING FACULTY! Ha! So I went to the bathroom, and tried to objectify what was going on…
Here’s a noteworthy passage from Epictetus’ Enchiridion: “When any person does ill by you, or speaks ill of you, remember that he acts or speaks from an impression that it is right for him to do so. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but only what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from false appearances, he is the person hurt; since he too is the person deceived. For if any one takes a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, but only the man is deceived. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear with a person who reviles you; for you will say upon every occasion, ‘It seemed so to him.’ ” (Enchiridion 42)
…It wasn’t professional how he handled it, but I realized, as a Stoic would, what his conception of the GOOD was. He had a business to run. He was IN THE MOMENT making sure the food looked good, so that his livelihood would flourish, and that his kids would have extra money to buy Harry Potter books or whatever. I could see that. None of us are really free from the reflexive biological reaction to physical disruptions in our environment, but to the extent we let some of them gain momentum beyond our initial reaction, though, IS UNDER OUR CONTROL. My only qualm was getting my damn pride out of the way at this moment of insight. So I asked, “What would good ole Marcus Aurelius do here?”
Honestly, there are probably a few different things he would’ve done to keep his mind in a state conformable to nature, untouched, returning to his duties along with the rest of the crew. But since I wasn’t that cool (advanced) yet, and was having a mild breakdown as to how I should handle myself, and my emotions, in the employee bathroom, I looked to his VIEW FROM ABOVE TECHNIQUE for consolation and perspective:
“A fine reflection from Plato. One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds, armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamour of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.” (Meditations 7.48)
This technique is scripted here for your health by the wonderful Donald Robertson: VIEW FROM ABOVE
After successfully seeing this situation in a removed MACRO perspective from the outskirts of earths stratosphere, I took a deep breath with calm, and resolved to be silent and return to my work duties anew. I like doing a hyper-quick version of this from time to time to keep a healthy perspective throughout the day. The effect is an expansive calming where you realize nothing really matters, but you still should be a good person, doing the right thing, fulfilling your allotted time and role properly, in nature. Deep peace. I know my little view from above event in the employee bathroom helped me sleep that night.
When I decided to leave the restaurant months later and leave Asheville altogether, I spoke with the same Chef about my situation regarding addiction, and he said, “I worked beside you for months, I know you’re a smart man and that you can do well wherever you want as long as you have the focus.” He was encouraging me. That’s important. And after all, I don’t think his conception of the GOOD is too off kilter. Thanks Chef.