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* 😉

 

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Mindfully Alive

A ramble on the state of things in my world and how I am attempting to thrive therein, with adhd pen in hand 😉

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“Erase the print of imagination. Stop the puppet-strings of impulse. Define the present moment of time. Recognize what happens to you or to another. Analyse and divide the event into the causal and the material. Think of your final hour. Leave the wrong done by another where it started.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 7.28)

Last night I was taking a walk around my neighborhood reflecting on where I am in life today. After a relapse in September of this past year, and moving from Asheville to Raleigh, I can say assuredly, that I am no longer immersed in blind vices, and that my disposition is toward the greater good. So what’s all that about? Well, I stuck myself in a halfway house for structure, temporarily, so I could force myself to work, adhere to a few rules, save money, and rebuild quickly what I pissed away that last month in Asheville. That’s where my focus is now, growing, learning, drawing on the things that have always worked, and taking a look at what doesn’t work, in regards to maintaining my self respect, integrity, and in becoming my “ideal” – a good person, fulfilling his potential!

What has been incredibly helpful, outside of finding a couple of smart good people to confide in and dialogue with, is having a routine “practice” in the morning and at night – like a morning and evening meditation. This practice was prescribed by the ancients. Now, mind you… 12 steppers, new agers, christian authors, self help gurus, monks, business leaders, corporate executives, and rednecks (maybe over generalizing here 😉 ) most likely have some kind of morning/evening ritual to collect themselves in connection with their place in LIFE. It’s a good thing!  Be it a cigarette and cup of coffee staring out the window while skimming the news paper just being, in between stories, or be it “praying” for ones own happiness as well as their loved ones. Maybe it’s reading some recent self help literature, or walking the dog down that same quiet street every night before bed. It could be sitting still for 2o minutes relaxing while focusing on one’s breath. Whatever it is, it’s a form self maintenance. What do you think?

I’m in no place to say which practices work better, and I don’t know, and doubt if such a thing could be measured, because of the complex nature of values and world views scattered about a broad range of individuals. I have noticed, however, and can say from experience that a routine daily ritual associated with self growth helps me “deal” better with life, when I hear the white girls say, “I can’t even.”

So why can’t they even, anyway? Why do people complain? Why can’t people, as Seneca says, bring their mind to bear the hardships of life? I won’t go into everything that relates to these questions, for it is a lot to unpack. But what I will mention are the ways some types of social conditioning influences bullshit preconceptions in people. Flip on the tube dummy! Now, turn it off, go find a book and a trail somewhere and get to know yourself 😉 The second is a lack of mindfulness. (I pair mindfulness with CRITICAL THINKING here.) That objective look in the mirror at your psychological make up, which people fail to do, partially out of fear. The fear of difficulties one will encounter in attempts to surmount the emotional pains and truths of being alive RELATIONALLY to the BULLSHIT.  Sadly too, people lazily just go with the flow of the habits they’re already accustomed to, co-existing with that socially conditioned world view which perpetuates more momentous bullshit, without questioning the VALIDITY of the excrement on the plate. Don’t eat the stinky stupid!

“I spy veggies from my high fructose soaked high chair.” ~ Anonymous Infant

So gee whiz! What can one do? Maybe cultivating a radical sense of (non passive) acceptance of a largely fucked up world where political corruption, greed, and control influence the masses, while on the other hand, having an appreciation for whatever moral conditioning, ethical education, be it taught or learned, that has helped you navigate successfully through the poop so far. I’ll throw out a few things that have helped me navigate through not only the reality of life as it is, in its physical, amoral nature, but also through the socially immoral parasitic landscape of human reality.

Philosophy

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“The nature of what is!!!! The awe of being alive!!!! Questioning the meaning of your existence in relation to everything you  can and can’t possibly ever fathom. What is the right thing to do? What does it mean to be a good person? Should you be a good person? “The pertinent questions every adolescent asks remain as important in ancient times as today. The philosophy of STOICISM  helps me live out a meaningful life, one that I choose for myself, as I practice the principles therein. I can safely say, philosophy, in particular Stoicism, helped save my life.

PUNK ROCK

(music in general)

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There is a cathartic magic and medium in and through music which I can’t express. I continue to listen and create music daily. It has been an avenue for social change (as has art in general) to varying degrees. Music is therapeutic. It’s entertaining. It can be the path through which some troubled kid sorts out their resentment toward an abusive family. It can enhance lovemaking, put you in a trance, play with your emotions, and balance the feng shui of your mental life. Rock on Wayne!

Comic Books

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Marvel Comic book titles shaped my imagination growing up. A very pleasant distraction and artistic way to see the world and play with normal every day situations in your head. Identifying with characters, their stories, and striving with them in your own life. I often, depending on the situation, model myself after a super hero or comic character so to conquer some life obstacle, big or small. 😉

You could probably lump all of these into the arts, with the exception of the science and psychology found in philosophy. They’re all integrated anyway, in how they’ve helped shape my life. I will mention a few more things in closing that have added to the effectiveness of my survival kit.

  • Therapy: Be it talking with smart friends, or engaging with a support group somewhere.
  • Exercise: Riding my bike, long contemplative walks, jogging, sex, tai chi, mindful breathing, etc.
  • Staying curious: Always staying observant and asking questions. Reading what’s out there so to understand your world.
  • Meditation: Sitting meditation. Paying attention to your breath. Walking meditation. Learning to pause and calmly do the next right thing, or not so calmly depending on the nature of the situation. (Sometimes, you have to say “HELL NO, I WON’T GO!” My buddy David tells me, citing big findings in neuroscience, that whatever freedom/free will/volition we, as evolved biological organisms with brains have, lies in the ability to VETO what we become consciously aware of – SAYING NO to things! That’s huge for me, especially in recovery!)

All in all, during my walk last night, as a result of regular mindfulness and Stoic practice, I felt fully alive… As if I had a clear understanding of who I was, where I was, the sensations around me, the direction I wanted to go in, and the resources I have within and without to endure life’s struggles and to thrive while persisting in my goals to pay it forward.

~Christopher

“Nothing is so conducive to greatness of mind as the ability to subject each element of our experience in life to methodical and truthful examination, always at the same time using this scrutiny as a means to reflect on the nature of the universe, the contribution any given action or event makes to that nature, the value this has for the whole, and the value it has for man – and man is an inhabitant of the highest City, of which all other cities are mere households.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations, Book 3, 11.2)

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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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Throwback Thursday: Asheville Service Industry.

What would Marcus do? View from Above.

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.

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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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Disclaimer*

***This blog is my go at expressing life as I engage in and with it. I will most likely make multiple digressions from the general topic as the associations hit me, for I have been so fortunately blessed with adhd.

The reader too shall note, that I am in recovery from drugs and alcohol and will refer to my past and lifestyle, more often in relation to GROWTH and staying clean. There will be some mention of 12 step support groups (qualms and gems) but not in great detail, so to not break anonymity. 

I have a world view that has been chipped at, shaped, and molded by broad culture, life events, and my own liking to certain ideas over others. I will touch on my history and upbringing in a baptist home and my journey out of that worldview to that of current agnosticism leaning toward atheism. 

And finally, this blog may sometimes read plum crazy, because of my eccentric humor and creative expression, but the reader will find themes of philosophy (ETHICS), psychology, and art throughout.***

~Christopher