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

 

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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