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.