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

 

 

 

 

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 😉

Copy of bloodbrothers

“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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