New Years Eve Blues.

Did the Ancients enjoy coffee?

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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

 

Challenging Automatic Judgments.

Rain, rain, rain! Yesterday and today, it rained here in eastern NC. I’ve always enjoyed the rain: trancy headspaces, long introspective walks, grey atmospheres. Sighhh…  ***DNNNN DNNNN DNNNN!!!!*** ALARM! Whoa!  Just as I was typing that last little part, my phone buzzed a warning: FLASH FLOOD WARNING THIS AREA TIL 8:00pm EST. So, even though I’m a devout pluviophile, I should use CAUTION when leaving the house tonight. The wind is picking up too. I’m negatively visualizing an inverted umbrella in my future.

Now speaking of using caution, Epictetus says we should use it in regards to our MORAL PURPOSE. That piece of divinity within us; our RULING FACULTY. We can be confident as we go about our lives concerning externals, but must take a moment to really exercise caution in our thinking about impressions and before making choices.

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“We have often said, and shown, that the use of impressions represents for us the essence of good and evil, and that good and evil have to do with the will alone. And if that is true, then nothing is impractical in the philosophers’ advice to ‘Be confident in everything outside the will, and cautious in everything under the will’s control.'” (Epictetus’ Discourses, Bk II.I 4-5)

Yesterday day at work, around an hour after opening the restaurant, I walked out front to greet passerbyers, with hopes of reeling them in. I also enjoy hearing the sounds of a busy city street and people watching. When someone chooses our restaurant, I’ll open and hold the door for them and often serve them, IF it’s my turn in rotation – something I don’t have control over.

Now, as I’m standing outside of the restaurant (’twas a slow shift mind you) I looked to the left, and saw coming down the sidewalk at a distance, a very large man. He would be classified medically as obese, I’d wager. As I turned my head back to the view in front of me, something funny happened. I went META! I caught myself thinking, automatically, “Yuck, that’s disgusting.” The unconscious unraveling process of me catching that impression/judgement, was met by the small amount of free will I do have. I consciously combated the negative thought toward the mans weight with, “He’s a person too. He may eat a lot, but he’s like me, just with a different addiction.” There was something liberating about consciously stepping in and analyzing the validity and HEALTH of my speedy (often automatic) judgements and thought processes, then saying, “NO! I’m not going to think like that.”

As the man approached, I greeted him, nodding my head, and mentioned the warm weather in December. He replied, “Yes, it is odd…” then said something about breaking for lunch while there was a lull in the rain. The gentleman did not have an accent, was very articulate, (enunciating well) and had a warm air about him.

I’m glad I caught this, but for the love of Zeno, how can I resist the pull from such unconscious clutter? What comprises the 98% of my unconsciousness? Can I recalibrate these automatic tendencies by mindfully practicing Stoic principles on a daily basis? What does neuroscience have to say about habit change and free will? Heavy questions. Epictetus says:

“What aid can we find to combat habit? The opposed habit.”(Discourses Bk I 27.4)

“Every habit and faculty is formed or strengthened by the corresponding act – walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint. Go a month without reading, occupied by something else, and you’ll see what the result is. And if you’re laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to walk any distance you’ll find your legs barely able to support you. So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different.” (Discourses Bk II 18.1-4)

Booyah! Epictetus with the SCOOOORE! The crowd goes wild! ***The Stoics are doing the wave across the Colosseum!!!*** I know, I know, Epictetus didn’t lecture there. 😉

I hear it often said in 12 step groups: “It’s easier to stay sober, than it is to get sober.” Same idea can be applied to combating negative thought patterns. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE, and in my case, practicing MINDFULNESS and SCRUTINY of judgements that follow initial impressions. Along the same lines, If the aforementioned  gentleman wanted to go on a diet, exercise and lose 150 pounds, I imagine it would probably be one of the most difficult things at first, but once hAbItUaTeD, seem routine to him.

In closing, I would like to think there are many others that engage in quick judgments based on cues then quickly go about whatever it was they were doing without giving them a second thought. What kinds of fires are we fueling when we do that? Some things ARE NOT what they seem, while others are – obviously the man was overweight, BUT he shouldn’t have been dismissed so incompassionately.

There’s plenty more to talk about and unpack related to this topic, but am going to call it a night. I’ll have to wait til tomorrow to dive into this new comic book I biked to get in the rain: The Extraordinary X-Men #4. Mr.Sinister is holding Nightcrawler hostage for who knows why and the Storm and Iceman are trying to locate them to save him. There’s something about them trying to close a hell portal, etc etc… So lets encourage and admonish those we can, but most importantly start with ourselves!

~Christopher

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Depression, Duty, and Triumph!

Applying Stoic Principles in the Service Industry.

Friday morning I did not want to get out of bed. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was down for some reason. Trying to actively grow as a person, I’ve found that I experience anxiety from the ensuing cognitive dissonance of challenging the nature of my beliefs, judgements, habits, etc. Upon awakening, I guess I felt as if I lacked the life steam to go toe to toe with my own psychology, putting forth the effort to analyze thoughts and motives. Going to work would be the easy part, so I thought. But still I was hitting the snooze button.

A Stoic wouldn’t snooze through life.

“At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this  thought ready to mind: “I am getting up for a man’s work. Do I still then resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for the purpose for which I was brought into the world? Or was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant.’ Were you then born for pleasure – all for feeling, not for action? Can you not see plants, birds, ants, spiders, bees all doing their own work, each helping in their own way to order the world? And then you do not want to do the work of a human being – you do not hurry to the demands of your own nature…. “ (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 5.1)

So I took heed to the suggestion of the ancients, and got out of bed! One thing I like to do at the end of my shower is turn the settings to EXTREME COLD, (does your shower have this setting? It should) for about 10 seconds and negatively visualize  all the bad things that could potentially happen to me during the course of the day, AND remind myself to face them all appropriately with acceptance and a good moral disposition.

Once at work, I felt better. I had begun to understand, just from living life, that FEELINGS should never be the CAPTAIN of a persons ship, if standards were ever to be upheld. Yay for DUTY!

There is this new Server I’ve been working with the past few days. He likes to speak Wal-mart. I must remember Epictetus here, as I recount the events from Friday at the restaurant, and refrain from gossip and speaking ill of my fellows. At any rate, this new Server was asked by management to close the shift and delegate side work tasks to other employees, me included. He “axed” me to do this and that, called me weird, and had a mean and contrived tone as he barked orders.

Initially, I reflexively, from that primitive part of my brain it seemed,  began to curse this man and stand in defiance to his recently appointed monarch stance of Service-Hood-Ghettodom, but paused, like now, thinking I probably shouldn’t have said ‘ghettodom’,  and realized the factors at play here and their part/relation to the bigger picture. Reminding myself of Epictetus and the Stoics, I thought, “That man has a fundamental makeup that is outside of my control. Ha! Am I too well put together?  Who am I to judge? Just because I have a liking for philosophy doesn’t mean I can wave an air of superiority all over the place. He is a part of my Service Team, which is the role I now find myself in as a human being. I must maintain MY PROFESSIONALISM and DUTY and see the components of each social interaction here at work, and strive alongside my fellow Servers to make for a pleasant restaurant.”Seeing it from this perspective helped me greatly.

“Doing something? I do it with reference to the benefit of mankind. Something happening to me? I accept it in reference to the gods and the universal source from which all things spring interrelated.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 8.23)

Throughout the shift, I looked for opportunities to excel in my duties and performance. As a consequence my tips averaged between 20 and 50 percent. That’s great! I had to watch out for over elation though. I was tempted to boast to my fellow Servers, but quickly checked myself and my motives, asking myself, “Is that what Seneca would do?” Would he boast about material gain. Does obtaining and possessing wealth reflect good character? “Hell to the nizoe,” Seneca replied. Seneca doesn’t speak Walmart by the way.

Riding my bike home in the afternoon sun, speeding down the hills of autumn carpeted sidewalks, I came to, as if out of a trance. I wasn’t under the weight of the depression from earlier that morning. It was pleasant. I paused. If I were to have ruminated in bed through a few more snoozes, I would have only perpetuated that feeling, I’m sure, but because of adhering to my duty as a CITIZEN OF THE WORLD I was able to enjoy the peace thereafter, on my gleeful bike ride home – so much so, that I wrote a little Stoic song on my acoustic guitar once arriving home. *Shall upload a few of these gems in the near future – STAY TUNED!*

Last night at work, Saturday, I only had one instance that challenged me to consciously exercise Stoic principles. I was serving a table of two guests who began to bicker, somewhat loudly, from which one guest left the restaurant. I immediately went to the table and asked if I could box up the food and return with the check. She agreed and apologized about having to cut things short. I returned with the boxed food and the check and she sat quietly finishing her drink. So at this point, I’m doing other things, waiting for her pay. The kitchen called for Servers to run food. I went to the kitchen to fulfill my duties and came back to find that the lady had gone and there was no payment left on the table. SHE DONE DINED AND DASHED Y’ALL! Whoa!

I immediately ran outside looking to uphold vigilante justice, but she was nowhere to be seen. JUSTICE is one of the four cardinal virtues of the Stoics’, mind you. I brought this to my manager’s attention. They were rightfully peeved. At this point, I had three other tables needing my attention and couldn’t let this hamper my flow. All the while, however, I started to fret that my managers might think that I took the money and just claimed that the lady left without paying. That thought started to give me anxiety. I’m glad I was AWARE of that, because, as soon as I saw that I was suffering at the hand of my own thoughts, I paused, took a breath, and realized where I stood in relation to THINGS NOT IN MY CONTROL. That’s huge, and I can’t stress it enough. By getting in the practice of clearly identifying your part in relation to EXTERNALS you begin to find this sort of spacious freedom to inhabit. Tranquil stuff, especially since I had to keep serving other tables.

“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them. Death, for example, is nothing frightening, otherwise it would have frightened Socrates. But the judgement that death is frightening – now, that is something to be afraid of. So when we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, never hold anyone except ourselves – that is, our judgements – accountable. An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. but the wise man never has to blame another or himself.” (Epictetus’ Enchiridion, 5)

After this blew over, and I was all caught up on my tables, I noticed that none of the management staff were on the floor. I went back to the office and found them huddled around the office computer, which was playing back the security camera footage of this whole dine-and-dash incident. Talk about a VIEW FROM ABOVE! It was a trip, seeing me race around doing what I do as a Server, smiling A LOT, with my bald spot gleaming, and energetically fulfilling my duties. I had a moment there. Anywho, the important thing was that the security footage showed that the lady never left any kind of payment and waited for me to go back to the kitchen before dashing. Whew! How silly did my thinking seem at that point. The thing is, and call me paranoid, IF in this privately owned restaurant, one of the managers disliked me personally, and wanted to fire me, saying that I pocketed the payment, how would I react? That would be a bigger test for Stoic implementation. Thankfully, it didn’t happen that way.

Salud! *raises coffee mug* 😉

 

Marcus-Aurelius

 

 

 

 

Dun-Dun-Dunnn, Tyrants!

Improper use of impressions and anxiety.

 

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Sighhhh, beautiful morning. Ate a banana and peanut butter sandwich on the porch with my coffee. Morning meditation peace. Mmmmm…

Dun-dun-dunnnn!!!!! Okay, so over the weekend I experienced a few difficulties, instant stoic victories, and some insight about me as a human being, being and consisting as a part of this WHOLE… mess…. Beautiful mess. Haha.

Friday afternoon, I had to leave work early to get steroids and antibiotics for this cold I’ve been enduring. It was mostly gone, but the effect of coughing had caused bronchial constriction, so, I applied the remedy, as Seneca (who also had asthma) would have, and got my bum to Urgent Care for steroids. Now I feel like a jacked up Cleanthes (former boxer, common laborer, and head of the Old Stoic School after Zeno) or Hercules blogging about the heroism found in “waiting tables.”

So upon returning to work with a sick note, the same afternoon, a fellow Server said, “Ahhh Chris, can’t you like, spot sweep, or do some side work or something, like omg?” I was on my way out, and had a note for the rest of the day off, for the medicine to kick in, so I would be up to par for the rest of the weekend. I told her I was on my way out, sorry. She snapped and said with the tone of an evil goblin mistress, “Well get outta here then.” I paused  (after walking away and mumbling under my breath for a heated second ), and smiled inwardly, thinking to myself, “It seems so to her,” remembering Epictetus. So there was this reflexive urge to react to the cattiness, but instead, as she turned and walked away bickering, I walked away too, still mildly frustrated, but didn’t engage further with the matter, trying to defend my case, so to speak. Later that evening I stopped in to speak with the manager and found an opportunity to reconcile the little dispute with this employee. Before I could calmly get out one soft sentence, she huffed and puffed, and stormed off w/ that same goblin air. Maybe I shouldn’t call her a goblin. I don’t know. I do know however, that I did what was in my power to rectify the situation. As a practicing Stoic, I see more clearly every day that one can merely influence other people and externals, but they are ultimately out of ones control, that’s why the focus should be on ones own proper good and moral character! Virtue ethics 🙂

Saturday was a busy day. I worked from 12pm til 10pm. Money day for sure. We were busy. My emotional intelligence was in tune, I was navigating my world smoothly, working hard, doing my best, keeping a sense of humor, all of the things I knew to do, to ensure a productive, turbulent-less shift. Now the main issue I had was when, during a busy pop, I went to clear the checks off of a table from which three people just got up. One of my supervisors, a stout man with slicked back hair was busing the table with the host. Now, when I came to the table to pick up the checks, thinking fast, for I was busy, that they had clearing the table covered, I was promptly scathed for not helping clear the table. And the air in which he criticized me was mean. I knew I was busy, and was prioritizing five other things at that point, and also knew, that I had been hustling the entire shift, clearing tables, helping out, etc. I couldn’t grasp or rather, initially accept this behavior. I wanted to defend myself, but I knew, that there was no time to do that, because we were slammed, and honestly, it probably wouldn’t be the wisest thing to challenge ones supervisor to a who’s right and who’s wrong competition, when they have the power to THROW ME IN JAIL, BEHEAD ME, or with this situation, fire me/send me home. Ughh, I approached him, and asked him what I could do to redeem myself? I must really want to be in good standing with everyone huh? Not so realistic. He told me, to have a more team oriented mentality, hustle harder, so forth and so on, from which I nodded humbly and said, “yes sir”. And just as I thought this was mostly resolved, he said with a tyrannical tone of the most ruthless of goblin kings, “Don’t expect me to have to call you out on this again.” Hahaha, wow. It seemed as if I was made to feel like I was on thin ice. Sighhh, I saw my mental composure slipping. I was taking this personally. So, I went to the bathroom for another hyper view from above session. YAY!

Amidst the piss that missed the toilet, the stall graffiti, my food crusted apron and shoes, the hoo-ha’s of tipsy guests coming in and out of the men’s room, I took a few deep breaths. I engaged in what Donald Robertson mentioned in this past November’s Stoic Week Handbook, a CBT technique called cognitive distancing. This is where you calm yourself, remove yourself from whatever troubling thoughts you might be experiencing, which can be achieved through different ways. I typically get a sense of calm from crazy thoughts by taking five to ten deep breaths, then pair this with visualizing the view from above, from the top of the bathroom, to over Raleigh, to the outer parts of our solar system. Aummmmm, that’s better. Once I had achieved some calm, I left the bathroom to re-assume my service duties, but began also, to re-assess my thinking about this whole situation. Here’s what Epictetus says:

“Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts; but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. 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.” (Enchiridion 20)

That’s what I did, I didn’t let my mental and emotional state deteriorate for long, before I practiced, calming myself, and gaining some kind of perspective by CALMLY running through the impressions again. So, where the first impressions of this encounter with my supervisor and the ensuing thoughts were to this effect: he’s attacking me personally on a power trip, I’m going to get fired, I don’t have any job security, how am I going to afford holiday gifts now, etc. I was able INSTEAD to step back and more rationally and calmly deconstruct what was going on. I thought, he’s been striving with the entire service team all day, he sees the standard of teamwork as most important, and felt justified in criticizing me during an instance, where on my part, it naturally fell through the cracks. Another thing I’ll touch on, that Epictetus mentions in Book III of his Discourses, and that Dr. Greg Sadler simplifies in his VIDEOS, is that, what I was really in fear of, was not losing my job, or being without the extra funds for gift giving, for I have resources where I stay, a will to work and persevere, and to survive. The fear was, “What will other people think?” What will people think if I got fired, backslide in my position from server to job hunting again? What would my friends think when I wasn’t able to get them something as special as I hoped this year for the holidays? I know I’d survive and get by, it’s the concern of my reputation that bothers me, which is ultimately, OUT OF MY CONTROL! HA! Do you smell the FREEDOM?!

Epictetus advises us, despite whatever happens, to preserve ones moral purpose, ruling faculty, and  fulfill ones social roles. All I have to do, is not get shit up about externals, from which, if I negatively visualize correctly the day before me, I’m already prepared to be thwarted by Goblins and other difficulties. What seems to be helping generally on a day to day basis though, is the correct use of impressions. Pausing, and thinking things through, calmly and rationally, resolving to press on in my social duties, and striving with compassion, with the rest of humanity.

 

 

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The Duties of Another Bozo on the Bus.

 

 

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A Stoic Service Industry Professional

Okidoki, today’s work shift went fairly smooth, mind you I’ve been sick with a cold since Friday. My head was (and still is) congested with mucus, but my reasoning faculty was not. Pushing through to do the right thing, where one is able, despite the hampering of bodily ills, is a virtuous thing for the Stoic. In my case, should I have gone to work knowing that I could potentially
spread the bug to other employee’s? Ehhhh… I need the money I thought to myself as I resolved to push through. “ACHEWW!” Juuuust kidding. 😉

I was scheduled to open at 10 am. I arrived and started setting up with the bartender and noticed that our other opener hadn’t arrived yet. This meant more work for us! Yay! The bartender began complaining about christmas decorations left unfinished in the restaurant and attempted to engage me regarding the matter, stressing about this and that. “Aha!”, I thought to myself, “this is an opportunity to exercise Stoic principles!” So Instead of adding momentum to the weight of her woeful impressions, I looked at her, took a deep breath and emanated an air of striving with her, so to push through and get the necessary task done. I am a part of a service team here, and I am to fulfill that role to the best of my ability. Dutifully fulfilling my role as citizen of the universe…. as a Server. 🙂 The other opener eventually showed up, by the way, which was a relief. 😉

As the shift went on, I noticed co-workers gossiping about other employees, and found myself curious to the content of the gossip, but then caught myself and thought, “What would Epictetus do?” (A question/practice of holding oneself accountable as if a wise sage or someone you greatly admire is observing your actions, that Seneca mentions in his Letters.) So, I remembered the Enchiridion: “Let silence be your goal for the most part; say only what is necessary, and be brief about it. On the rare occasions when you’re called upon to speak, then speak, but never about banalities like gladiators, horses, sports, food and drink – common-place stuff. Above all don’t gossip about people, praising, blaming or comparing them.” (Enchiridion 33.2)

Another thing I’ve found challenging about working at this particular location downtown, is that when I see a well dressed young business woman  with red hair walking by the front of the restaurant, I am tempted to be pulled away by the appetites of sexual passion. Pretty extreme right? Not really. I am a 31 year old man, still somewhat in early recovery from drugs and alcohol, my desires to feel good, alter my mood, escape difficulties, and numb stress, haven’t yet been fully eradicated, NOT YET! I Keep in mind,  though, that I am not trying to squash my libido here, but I am trying to catch myself (STOIC MINDFULNESS)when I am taken away by the beauty of a lady, check my motives, and ask myself, would it really be the wisest thing to do, to go outside and strike up a casual conversation with her, inviting her in for a lunch entree, on me? Would it? A good Stoic wouldn’t assent to that. I’m not condoning passing up life’s opportunities by any m
eans, but, I’m finding, with this specifically,  to exercise, as Epictetus points out in Chapter 10 of the Enchiridion, SELF-RESTRAINT!  Marcus Aurelius touches on this similarly, in his Meditations: “…One man prays:’How can I sleep with that woman?’ Your prayer should be, ‘How can I lose the desire to sleep with her?’

During the peak of the lunch shift, I found myself in the flow so many restaurant people can relate to. When you’re in this automatic zone of taking orders, multitasking, walking, dodging, smiling, connecting with guests, etc. – It’s the server’s rush, and it often leads me, to a overly elated, sometimes silly state/mood, where I am scurrying around on auto-pilot. I c
atch myself in little conscious moments, asking, “Where in the hell has your calm gone?” OR “Can’t you effectively get all this done without acting like a hyper circus performer?” I do like my tips however 😉 But what I’m getting at, is that, I feel that I’m letting myself get too carried away by the flow, and am not guarding my moral purpose, my reasoning faculty as closely as I should. I have slips of the tongue joking too much in the kitchen in vulgar conversations, and afterwards tell myself, “You need
to stay coooool.” These are behaviors I’m noticing that aren’t very becoming and want to change.

Checking and changing this behavior will be an ongoing test for me as I blog about my experiences serving in the coming days. I’m also finding that blogging about this is sort of like a SELF MONITORING exercise, which the ancient Stoic’s were fond of as well. Til next time, Keep Calm and Stoic On! 😛

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Patience at Work

So! I’ve just returned from an evening of serving our fellow citizens. One thing I like to do is correctly “map out” my day, work shift included. This is a practice Marcus Aurelius refers to in his Meditations Book 2.1. Also Epictetus mentions the same in Chapter 4 of his handbook:

“Whenever planning an action, mentally rehearse what the plan entails. If you are heading out to bathe, picture to yourself the typical scene at the bathhouse – people splashing, pushing, yelling and pinching your clothes.”

As is the case in the service industry. There are people who are mean, (often co-workers), demanding, rude, etc. So when this happens, I’ve already prepared myself for it.

My first table came in and ordered two beers. I put in the order and waited. The bartender wasn’t busy, and was casually talking with another employee enjoying a shift drink. I continued to wait, thinking that if it takes much longer, my guests would grow impatient. This situation involved some discretion, for if I were to remind the bartender, then she would’ve likely snapped back at me with a sharp tone. That’s one thing I’ve found in this industry, that you must have a decent amount of emotional intelligence and ability to read other people and discern the best way to navigate each situation, so that everything flows, so to ensure my tip. The beer was delivered within five minutes and my guests were happy.

Later on into the shift a drunk street bum was causing a ruckus and another employee was trying to get him to leave. Now, one of the Stoic’s four cardinal virtues is Justice. This guy was bad for business and posing a threat to the decency of the restaurant. I stepped in and asked him to leave. He began to curse and increasingly become belligerently defiant. At that point I went to the phone to call the police. He left cursing, so I didn’t have to actually call the cops, but was ready to do the right thing in the interests of the restaurant as a whole.

At five o’clock a party of 15 came in that I was assigned to. After delivering 14 out of the 15 drinks, I went down to the bar to retrieve the last drink. At that moment, a throng of christmas sweater wearing, mildly intoxicated sports fans came in flooding the bar with orders. Uh oh, I thought to myself, this is going to interfere with the timing of me getting my last drink to my party, and continue with their entree orders. I asked the bartender for the mimosa, and he snapped at me saying, “I KNOW.” At that moment, I realized the nature of what was going on, remained calm, and realized that I’ve done everything I could do in this situation. The drink eventually came, and I apologized to the lady at the party for it’s delayed delivery. She took it and looked mildly agitated.

Throughout the rest of my party’s stay, they were barking orders and running me around. “This is the nature of this industry,” I kept telling myself. Between retrieving items for my demanding party, I would be interrupted by other tasks, such as running food for other tables, or other servers asking me to do side work, all of which, in the heightened flow I was in, challenged me to remain CALM and PATIENT regarding things within and without my control.

Epictetus tells us, “For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it.” Patience is one vital attribute I have found to deal with the hustle and bustle of this industry. Also, the ability to see through the initial difficult impressions posed by fellow employees and demanding guests. Most of the time there is a justified reason people act in a offensive way.

The goal of the Stoic is not to be taken away by impressions, taking offense, or taking it personally, but instead to deconstruct each impression as it arises and doing ones best to maintain their proper good in relation to it, and realizing what’s in and not in ones control. My duty as a server is to do my best serving my guests, but as a student of Stoic philosophy, to navigate each difficult situation therein with a coolness, maintaining a tranquil air. It takes practice, though. 😉

marcus