Doffing the Overalls: a Preferred Indifferent

Okay, so… THE SERVICE INDUSTRY IS CRAZY! The particular restaurant I work at poses daily challenges to my Stoic resolve. There is a level of cattiness among revolving cliques there that is detestable. Gangster rap and desensitized idle chatter violently churn the airwaves in the kitchen. On a given shift I will hear co-workers complain with passion about petty things, especially in regard to other co-workers. I’ve tried to admonish some by stressing that the trivialities they’re undergoing won’t matter, say, in 300 years, and encourage them to sustain that greater perspective when things seemingly go awry. I think some of them get that I’m trying to help, and share with me the serenity that comes from taking a few deep breaths in this chaotic business, but often times, in response to my attempted admonishment or simply my serving style, I’m labeled “weird.” Yes… I know I’m weird. I’ve known that since elementary school. I like it. It’s who I am. Now, lets get the job done and respectfully co-exist! Sigh 😉

I put in my two weeks notice around a week ago after I found another day time restaurant job. I told one of the managers I was being made to feel uncomfortable working with one particular employee and that I wasn’t making enough money during the week, though would “prefer” to still work on the weekends. She honored my requests, which I am grateful for – the money is definitely worth the craziness, on the weekends.

Without forgetting my bedrock, I can’t stress enough how reading and re-reading the later Stoic’s have helped me successfully navigate this restaurant terrain without going back to the bottle. When I wake up, I do a little bit of mindful meditation and stretching, then I say to myself:

“…The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 2.1)

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This type of mapping out my day is incredibly realistic and also, when practiced (alongside other mindfulness techniques and Stoic principles), generates an accompanying pause, calm, clarity, peace and tranquility when “life happens” in dis-preffered ways.

So, it was out of preference that I found another job. I started working at one of the restaurants within the farmers market in Raleigh. They specialize in southern cooking and are ALWAYS busy. My reasoning was that I would maximize my income by working there during the week and keep my weekends at the other job. I had to wake up at 5am tuesday morning to do all my morning rituals, including a HEALTHY BREAKFAST, in order to make it there by 7am, my clock in time for training for the next three days. The first day of training wasn’t so bad. I was given my uniform: a pair of overalls, to be worn over a black shirt. I got to see another dimension of how people tend to behave in this business. Nevertheless, it was busy and I wasn’t strongly deterred by any facet of the restaurant in particular.

The second day of training was a bit different from the first. Upon awakening that morning at 5am, however, I witnessed a battle going on “upstairs.” Anywho, I didn’t listen to that voice in my head that was persuading me to sleep in and avoid the duties of being a citizen of the world. No, instead, I got up and pushed through and thought about LIVING…. while living. Donning my overalls (new work uniform), I hopped on my bike and pedaled to work. Once at work I busied myself with learning their systems and helping out the lady I was training under. I witnessed the manager on duty bark with, what I thought was an unnecessary and exaggerated tone, at three other servers about organizing the coffee station. I saw them all bicker among themselves about her when she walked away. The manager went to the host stand and proceeded to talk about the incompetence of these three servers with the host. My eyes were starting to open to see more of what was going on here. There were strong redneck undertones beneath the facade of this southern charm.

At any rate, while training under this older lady, I got a since of the clientele this particular restaurant attracted. A rather large man and his demanding son came in and I was assigned to them. They were nice, I suppose, but kept demanding more biscuits and butter, biscuits and butter, BISCUITS AND BUTTER. And one time the overweight son looked at me with this condescending gaze as he motioned for me to refill his ever diminishing cup of sweet tea. He didn’t ask me with his words because his mouth was stuffed with biscuits and butter. I must try hard not to slip into a complaining air myself here, but deep inside myself, I began to feel disgusted. Was I to accept my station in life as a redneck server person? Hell no. This was increasingly growing into a dis-preferred indifferent. Moments later, my trainer asked me to shadow her as she took an order for an agricultural business party of eight people. I’m watching them laugh and talk about the difference between city ham and country ham, and how the country ham is too salty, but then one of them says, “yea, but it’s sooo good,” then all of them laugh in this contrived, unreal, kind of spooky fashion, reminding me of the old judgmental southern baptist ladies I used to serve at my first serving job when I was 17. Slightly creeped out, I look up and away from the table at my surroundings, and I see everything, the restaurant, the people, from a distance. I noticed I was experiencing mild anxiety, although I knew it wasn’t bad necessarily. I just knew… I didn’t want to work there. In that moment, there was a pause – a deep clear insight into the importance of choosing to be true to oneself. The space-time there would never be worth the money for me.

I went to the bathroom and called a good friend who knows me really well, and said that I was wearing overalls, training here at this crazy job. Her reply was, “What?! What are you doing? Get out of there!” Hahaha, that was all I needed. She knew as well as I did that I was of the artsy fartsy type and simply did not fit in that kind of work environment. I guess I was doing it for the money… but the money, no longer had priority over my well being. I called my brother who encouraged me to give it the benefit of the doubt for a month first, but I told him that I’ve been getting to know myself for a long time now, and with a sober mind, I KNOW I don’t want to work here. He gave me his favor.

Now, all I had to do was quit. How was I going to do that? Well… Stay calm, don’t show your bottom, and be respectful. (Things I have to remind myself to do from time to time.)

I left the bathroom and went to the managers office and knocked on the door. Mind you, I had a clear resolve of what needed to be done, though sometimes the order in which my logic is executed in speech gets scrambled. (Sort of like a nervous verbal dislexia). My only concern was I knew I was about to leave there, but didn’t bring a change of clothes. After knocking, the manager on duty told me to come in. I went in, sat down, and said, “Ms. Jane Doe, I’m not wearing any pants underneath my overalls.” Her eyes got big. “… and I just had a moment of clarity…” (referring to my dining room experience and confirmation from phoning my friend and brother.) I paused for one second. Her eyes grew wider and she sat back stiffining in her chair. “…from which I realized I’m not going to be a good fit here at this restaurant. And before I waste anymore of your time here, I am choosing to bow out now.” Her body and face began to relax back into a comfortable posture. “I don’t care about the money, I just don’t want to bike home in my boxer shorts and t-shirt.” She said, with a comfortable acceptance, to just bring them in when I could, in the following days and that she appreciated me being upfront and honest now, opposed to waiting til they had worked me into their schedule. So whew, that was that!

I calmly handled “quitting,” and walked out the door. Damn, the air was fresh. I hopped on my bike and started singing, as I was speeding down the hill away from that establishment. Like Voltaire, I am a proponent of toleration, because people have a choice and “right” to pursue biscuits and butter as much as they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with my pursuit of inner peace. 😉 So, paying great homage to the Stoics here, I will say that I achieved a freedom in leaving that place, reflecting on what’s really valuable: my time and well being. ‘Twas a preferred indifferent. ‘Twas a merry bike ride home indeed!

 

-Christopher Edwards

 

 

 

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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