Saturday, July 2, 2016

On "Real" Stoicism

I.
I was listening to the Painted Porch podcast, specifically episode 8. In this episode, they tackle the question of just how needed a god is to Stoicism. I remember the Facebook kerfuffle that happened, too. If I remember correctly, I saw a lot of the phrase “real Stoic” being thrown around.

While the main focus of the episode is an interesting topic, it's the idea of “real” Stoicism that got me thinking more. Just what is this “real” Stoicism that we sometimes hear about?

To be clear, since the fighting died down, I don't think I've seen this talked about since. But it could also rear its head again at any time, because any big enough disagreement seems to bring out the true Scotsmen. So, just what is “real” Stoicism?


II.
See, this all depends on who we ask. Today, you might get a lot of answers. “Those who follow Stoics ethics are real Stoics.” “Those who follow Stoic physics are real Stoics.” Oh, poor Stoic logic. Nobody seems to give two damns about you anymore.

Ask a Roman Stoic and they might be a little confused. “How could you guys be real Stoics if you ignore this part or that? Atheists, you ignore the physics. What good does that do you? And religious folk, you impose your religion's ethics on top of Stoic ethics. What's that all about?”

Then's there Zeno. “Hey, where's all the orgies I wrote about?”

III.
It's hard to find out what “real” Stoicism is these days. We've lost much of the history. That's what it got for being a “pagan” philosophy, after all. But from what we know, Stoicism changed much since it's time of the hippy Zeno, the boxer Cleanthes, to the slave Epictetus and emperor Marcus. In fact, we can say “real” Stoicism changed with each new head. Refined, if you will.

It's hard to say what Stoicism looked like when Zeno started it. In fact, it's hard to point out a consistent philosophy besides the basics. And without a head for the school, we'll never get back the unified philosophy of old. And we'll never agree on everything, not any more.

IV.
This isn't a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, it could help out school. By disagreeing with each other, we must refine our own positions or concede loss. If we aren’t will to do either, we’re missing the point of philosophy.

V.

In short, there’s no real Stoicism anymore than there is a “real” Scotsmen. In fact, the only real Scotsmen are, well, actual Scotsmen. And the only “real” Stoics died a long time ago. We modern folk are just picking up pieces they left behind.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Thoughts on Book 1

Today, I want to talk about the first book of Meditations.

When's the last time we thought about why we are thankful for people in our lives? Sure, we may be thankful for our parents and loved ones, but how many of us can sit down and say why, exactly, we are? I sure as hell couldn't.

That's why, even though it's a little boring, the first book is, when considered all at once, one of the more interesting books. He was able to sit and list various people in his life and consider what it was that made them so important.

It isn't just that his mother was his mother that he was thankful. He accredits her for teaching him reverence, generosity, and living simply. He thanks his great-grandfather for teaching him the importance of good private tutors. He even thanks a man named Rusticus for showing him he needed to learn discipline, a man he later states he was often upset with.

Isn't that interesting? He thanks people that, with good odds, butted heads with him often. When's the last time we felt thankful for people in life that upset us that much? Never, I'm willing to say.

And get a load of some of the things he thanks the gods for:

  • that he had a good family
  • that he didn't lose his virginity too early (and as he puts it, delayed losing it)
  • that he wasn't more talented in rhetoric or poetry, because if he had improved, he wouldn't have given them up
  • that his body held out
  • that he never did anything to Rusticus (you know, the one that pissed him off) that he would have regretted
  • that his mother spent her last few years with him, despite dying young
  • that he could always lend money without worrying about being told no
  • that he had dreams that helped him cure illnesses he had
  • and, lastly, “All things for which 'we need the help of fortune and the gods.'”

This is why I have a hard time thinking that Marcus was as depressed as some made him sound. Someone that takes the time to be thankful for so much had to realize a reason for thankfulness. This was a man that was thankful for putting off the loss of his virginity, something I think would surprise most young men these days.

I think, even if we read no other part of this book, we can learn more than enough from this.

It got me to wondering, though. Did he write this part all at once? The rest of the books was sort of like an undated journal, him just writing when the fancy hit him. I wonder if he does the same for this book. Was it written over time? One week? One year? An hour? Who knows.

I think we can all learn something here about being thankful. Here was the most powerful man in Rome thanking others for teaching him a sense of humor or showing strength in illness. And yet we of lesser status get mad that the fast food clerk forgot a packet of ketchup.


So, who can we be thankful for in life?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On East and West

I was listening to the radio, which in of itself is nothing special. I heard a song about some guy who had found new life in Christ, but was afraid of his old self coming back and ruining all that. He asks, “How far is east from west?”

The man was singing and said that the difference was from one hand to the other. But I don't quite think that hits the mark. Why? Because vice and virtue (as well as sin and righteousness) is a journey, not one side or the other. How far is east from west?

One single step.

One step is all that's needed to go from one direction to another. You don't even have to turn around: even walking backwards counts.

I feel that this is the way the path of virtue is. It's long and narrow. It only goes one way. And, as it turns out, a lot of things like to block that path.

Little wonder, then, it's so tiring and hard to become a Sage, to be like Christ, this, that, and the other thing. It's far easier to turn around, find another way, go around, whatever, than it is to keep on the path. And I think Stoics have it harder than the Christians. At least Christians believe there's a reward at the end. A Stoic without religion, atheist or theist, doesn't have that same promise.

Thankfully, the path of virtue will always be there, waiting for us to get back on it. It doesn't blame us for taking an easier path from time to time. It knows that if we are truly good people, we'll admonish ourselves for taking the paths of vice. And if we aren't that good, well, that by itself is its own punishment.


How far is virtue from vice? The same distance between east and west.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Week 7: Marcus Aurelius's Deconstruction

Besides being one of the most accessible Stoic writings, Meditations also has some of the best examples of how to practice Stoicism. This week, we're going to focus on one such tactic: deconstruction.

Break It Down

The idea behind deconstruction is simple: break down an object to simple terms. Marcus did this well, to the point that the stuff he deconstructed looked disgustingly absurd. For example, he took his royal robes, dyed purple, and explained to himself that it was nothing more than sheep's hair and urchin blood.

Oh, that's not that bad. I hear you. But what about what he said about the fancy foods he ate at dinner? He thought of them as bits and pieces of rotting flesh and plant matter, warmed up. Wine is nothing more than smashed and rotten grapes. Sex is nothing more than two people rubbing genitalia together and making odd noises in the hopes of inducing muscle contractions and the secretion of certain bodily fluids.

All I'm saying is, Marcus Aurelius ruined my sex life.

Buddhist Overlap

Some readers might recognize this exercise in Buddhism. In order to help break our attachment, Buddhists say we should imagine things in a decaying state, much in the same way Marcus did. See the food as moldering. When having sex, see your partner turn old and decay into nothingness.

Enlightenment, it seems, is learning how to hate sex.

You know, this doesn't seem all that fun.

Yeah, no, it isn't. But it is valuable.

Like Buddhists, Stoics cation against placing too much value into anything. For Buddhists, it's about avoiding attachment. For Stoics, it's for making sure we don't believe something other than virtue to be a good.

But this can also go the other way, too. Breaking things down can prove to you something isn't bad, either. What is pain but your brain letting you know something is wrong with your body? Fever is just the warming of the body.

Jealous of someone? Is it because of their money? Nothing more than little bits of paper. No, not even that, not anymore. Just little bits of data on some bank's computer. Their job? I'm sure you can find a way.

Like a lot of Stoic practices, the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Forcing yourself to see food as rotting might turn your stomach. That is, until it doesn't anymore and it's just one of those things you do.

Do this long enough and it'll become second nature. At least, it did for me. You won't even have to try.

The Challenge

In your journal, I want you to do your best to deconstruct something. Start small: try a food you've been wanting to avoid or a gadget you want to distance yourself from. It doesn't have to be intentionally disgusting, though when it comes to organic objects, odds are it'll end up that way. There's just no way to see meat as something other than a dead animal.


Next Thursday, I want us all to share one entry.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Musonius and Food, Part 1

This essay is more of a breakdown of the lecture Musonius gave about food. As a fat Stoic, food is of keen interest to me, more than any other subject. This essay focuses on part A. In it, I try to just both sum up and expand on what Musonius is talking about. 

I.

The first thing that strikes me about Musonius and food is his seeming anger about it. I mean, here's just a few quick quotes:

“He often talked in a very forceful manner about food...”

“We thought that this lecture about food was rather unlike the lectures Musonius customarily gave.”

Now, I can't say for certain, but something tells me Musonius wasn't one to just go off on a tangent. Yet shortly after the first quote, it's suggested that he didn't bother with his normal topics and instead spoke about food.

But it's the second quote that hits me most. Why was this lecture so unlike the others? This is a man who felt the need to tell men that they shouldn't shave their beards or cut their hair. Him telling people what to do doesn't seem to be the problem. No, I'm willing to bet what make it so unlike his other lectures is that he was actually angry about it.

So, my question is, why?

II.

Of course, there's no way of knowing why. Maybe he was a porker before becoming a Stoic and carried a hatred for food when he did because it controlled his life. Maybe he was sickened by the way the Romans ate. Or maybe I'm over-thinking this part. All I know is that this lecture stiffened my spine. And provides one of the few “practical” applications of Stoicism.

III.

He starts his lecture in a logical way. Choose cheaper foods over more expensive ones (I kid you not, there is a $5k hamburger out there). Choose foods that are easy to get over hard to get. And, lastly, choose foods that are good for humans over foods that aren't.

Simple, isn't it?

IV.

Well, not quite. See, Musonius felt there were only so many foods that were suitable for human consumption. Foods that didn't need to be cooked were the best. Fruits, cheese, honeycombs, things like that. Some cooked foods were a-okay, too. Bread, certain veggies, things of that nature.

V.

Perhaps you noticed that there wasn't any meat listed up there. That's because Musonius didn't think meat was human food. Sure, you can use animal byproducts like milk and eggs. But don't you dare eat that animal.

However, the argument Musonius puts out is, well, weak in today's world. He argues that meat makes people stupid and that the smoke from cooking it darkens one's soul. He also goes on to say that, because humans are closely related to the gods, we should eat like they do. The gods eat vapors from the earth and water, because yeah, sure. Whatever. But we should eat foods that are “light and pure” and meat just isn't that.

As you can see, talk of soul and gods falls flat in a secular age. As for if meat makes you stupid, there's been suggestions that the eating of meat does the brain a whole host of good.

It does get me wondering, though, how Musonius would argue this in a more modern age. Odds are, he would choose the religious route, which may convince some. I couldn't think of any good secular reasons, at least none that would make me give up meat all the way.

VI.

Now, when it comes to the pull food has in our lives, Musonius says we're worse than “brute animals.” This, perhaps, is both the most convincing and funniest. Convincing, because he says that while animals may wildly go after food, they aren't too picky about it. Humans, on the other hand, can be just as wild, yet act very fussy about it. The need to pretty up our food and come up with “tricks to...better amuse our palate” points to our absurd behavior towards food.

I can give you an example of this. Ever hear of the orange roughy? It's it type of fish that many people seem to like and can get a little pricey. Yet for the longest time, you couldn't find it anywhere as food, nor would anyone want to eat it. Why? Because before its name change, it was known as the slimehead. It was a marketing trick to make our brains think we're eating something tasty.

The reason I find this section so funny as well is because he talks about the dangers of – get ready for it – cookbooks. But it makes sense when you think about. This is a man who's idea about cooking is little more than boiling some veggies and baking some bread. Recipes, and the cookbooks they come in, are unnecessary.

VII.

Actually, wait, maybe this section is funnier. Picky eaters who eat rich foods are, he says, like pregnant women. Why? Because they eat weird combinations of food. According to him, both pregnant women and picky eaters can't tolerate regular food. Of course, I think Musonius is being a little harsh on pregnant women.

Now, this part is a little confusing for me. He speaks of people's appetites needing to be sharpen by unmixed wines, vinegar, and tart sauces. Appetite, in this case, isn't just being hungry. It's one's willingness to eat even if hungry. And I'm also assuming he's saying people need various sauces and shit to make the food more appealing and, thus, increase their willingness to eat.

So, in short, he's saying picky eaters that need to spice up their food in order to eat it, even if they are hungry, are strange for just not eating the food for the way it is. At least, that's what I'm getting out of it.

In any case, he tells of a story of a Spartan and a picky eater. Mr. Picky refuses to eat a expensive, fat, and tender bird because he didn't have an appetite. Now, it's obvious this guy was there to eat, so he was hungry. But it wasn't good enough for him. The Spartan, though, sneered at the man and said, “I could eat both a vulture and a buzzard.” To Mr. Picky, food needed to be just right. To the Spartan, food was just right.

VIII.

To finish off Part A, Musonius talks about Stoicism's founder, Zeno. In another story, he tells us that when Zeno fell ill, his doctor ordered him to eat young doves. Zeno refused, noting how slaves weren't treated in such a manner, yet somehow managed to get better. To quote, “A good man won't expect to be coddled, any more than a slave does.”

He also says that Zeno avoided gourmet foods because, like a drug, all you need is a taste to get hooked. (I can almost see a Stoic anti-drug message, but for food. “This is your brain. This is your brain on gourmet food.”)


That's it for Part A. Part B will either be sometime later this week or next week. There will be a part 3, in which I talk about some things I infer from all this, as well as a more modern Stoic approach towards food.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Week 6: Stoic Art

Create some Stoic art.

It isn't often we think about Stoicism and art. Try as I might, I can't think of too many lines of text where any of the major Stoics even spoke of it.

Yet when I was watching a video of Erik Wiegardt and saw in the background a man with a triangle body painted and hung on the wall, it seemed to me art had philosophical value. I later listen to an interview in which he explained it, though for the life of me, I can't remember the reason why he painted it. But it did get me thinking that art would be a good way to express Stoic ideas.

A few years ago, I drew a picture I called the Stoic Sage. It's a simple painting, but it has meaning to me:


The Sage is a circle because it represent completeness. The V is for virtue. The halo means the sage is a good person. To you, it might look like the paintbrush kind of just fell wherever. Ah, but that's art, isn't it?

The thing about this challenge is that you don't have to be good at art at all to do this. This is just some simple shapes, yet I'm happy with the result because it reminds me every time I look at it what it means.

The Challenge

This week I want you to draw some Stoic concepts. One a day, if possible.

Maybe a line from Meditations caught your eye. I remember reading a line about how one should be a like a cliff-side taking the ocean on, never moving. So I drew a little cliff-side with little waves hitting it.

Here's some ideas for you, to kick you off:
  • The Stoic Sage
  • In Harmony with Nature
  • Memento Mori
  • The View from Above
Now, once you've done a few, choose one to frame and put on the wall. Maybe even share it here or anywhere else.

How's the Journals?

Alright, I'm going to admit it; I haven't been keeping up with mine. I was doing it once a week as a reflection, but it wasn't working too well as the habit never stuck. But thanks to this post on r/Stoicism, I've renewed by effort in making it an everyday thing.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Week 5: Renounce

Renouncement. It sounds like such an archaic concept, doesn't it? Sure, these days we may “give up” things these days, but it doesn't quite have the same impact as renouncing something.

Renouncement is somewhat different than giving something up, though, yes, it does mean letting things go. It also means to reject something, to disown something. Disown. That's a harsh term, isn't it? Parents disown their kids and that's pretty much the only time we use that word.

I touched a bit on this in the last post about endurance. I talked about how I gave up my gaming system and had to deal with the subsequent feelings. I wouldn't call this renouncement, though, because I didn't give it up for my own good, but rather because we, uh, we bought a cavy. We needed the money.

However, if I disowned the system, I would have gotten rid of it because it was eating up my life. Even though I enjoy playing games and still do, I would have gotten rid of it for myself personally.

Of course, there's bigger things we can renounce in our lives, too. Perhaps we stop a certain way of living because, even though it may feel good, it ends up destroying your world and maybe even others. Maybe you renounce a job because of stress, even if it pays very well.

Okay, but how is this really all that different from giving something up?

To answer that, let me tell you a few things.

I just finished reading Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb, of Nerd Fitness fame. He speaks of calling his goals in life “quests” because there's a more heroic quality to them by saying that. It motivated him to live his life out like a video game.

Gretchen Ruben, author of The Happiness Project, calls some of her activities meditations. She isn't just standing in life, it's her “line standing meditation.” She isn't just writing, but her “writing meditation.” It helps her focus more and gives her an almost Buddhist-like patience, even if for only a little while.

The same could be said of renouncement. There's an almost mystical quality, something a monk does. There's something to be said about adding more profundity to life, even if you're the only person that knows you're doing it.

The Challenge

Like last week, this one's hard to make people do. Some people don't have much to renounce to begin with. Others don't even know where to begin. So this is going to be part challenge, part journal.

If you can think of something to renounce, try it. If you have given something up, write about it.


Yeah, that's all I got for this week. These past two weeks haven't been so much of a challenge as it was a spiritual exercise.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

#stoicliving2016

So I have to thank Aubrey Portwood for this idea because I never would have thought of it.

For everyone who feels like sharing their progress during the Year of Stoic Living, use #stoicliving2016 to let everyone know in the community.

Mr. Portwood posted his Week 2 and Week 3 experience over at his blog, https://medium.com/@aubreypwd. And if anyone else is publicly writing a journal or feels like talking about how they doing so far, let me know!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Week 4: Endure

For the next two weeks, we're going to focus on a paraphrased saying of Epictetus: Endure and renounce.

For the fourth week, we're going to focus on “Endure.” In order to do that, we have to know what that means in a Stoic sense.

Stoics were known for enduring a lot in life. Epictetus endured pain. Cato endured moral corruption. Marcus endured wars and traitors. And this isn't even to count all the nameless Stoics whose lives were filled with their own personal woes that had to be confronted and survived.

It might sound like the Stoics were sort of pushovers that let life do pretty much whatever it want to do. The thing is, endurance of problems doesn't mean you don't try to change anything. Cato fought the corruption he saw. Marcus forgave the traitors and did his best to end the wars. And Epictetus, unable to do much for the pain, focused instead on changing his thoughts about his pain.

Enduring is a concept seemly missing in today's world, at least as far as I can see. People openly complain about coworkers they don't like, making themselves and others around them miserable. If they don't like their job, they'll let everyone short of the people that can fire them know. Don't like your elected officials? TO THE INTERNET! Surly airing one's political views on Facebook will calm your ire.

Except, none of it does. Oliver Burkeman, author of the book The Antidote, cites a study suggesting that airing your dirty laundry to everyone – also know as letting off steam – can keep the feelings fresh. Plus, when other people can give you input, they also might give you even more reasons to be upset.

But endurance, as I said, isn't just rolling over. Is your coworker impacting how you work, or how well your job goes? If not, well, maybe you just let it go or muster the courage to talk directly to them. If they truly are a problem, talk – not whine – to management. Don't like your job? Quit, or work on finding a new one. Mayor Jim Bob McCoy passes a law you don't like? Write to Jim Bob. Protest Jim Bob. Let Jim Bob know.

Endurance helps us in other ways, too. For one thing, it helps build up our willpower. If we start a new diet or try to quit smoking or drinking, we're going to have to endure cravings, people possibly teasing us, and having to learn new ways to cope with the problems these things might have help us solve once. If we seek a new path in life – liking trying to write a novel or going back to college later in life – you might have to deal with mocking, uncertainty, and pushing past failures.

Endurance is a skill we all can learn. It's also something that, if weak, can be made stronger. It will also help you with next week's task: renounce.

There aren't too many ways we can build this skill up in life voluntarily, but here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Try to keep complaining down to a minimum. I've tried this one and, let me tell you, it's not as easy as it seems.
  • Quit doing something you find rewarding, but it impacts your life negatively. Video games were this for me for awhile. I'd play for hours, ignoring work I wanted to do as well as my wife and son. I sold the system I had (which plays into renouncing) and was able to quit for awhile. Now that I can play games again, though, I feel it creeping back up on me.


That's it for now. Next week, we're going to tackle renouncing. I'm also looking for ideas for week 6, so keep those suggestions coming.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Year of Stoic Living, Week 3: Create a Motto

I'd like to apologize for this getting posted late. My son has been sick lately and the doctor we've been seeing has been prompt, yet a little inattentive. So we took him to the hospital. Needless to say, he missed the strep throat my son has. Because of this, I'm not going to make this one too long.

Anyway, here's this week's post.

Stoic Memories

Part of the Stoic training of old included coming up with way to remembering the teachings in times of need. It's was hard to remember the entirety of The Discourses while in the middle of a war, in times of extreme distress, or any time that makes thinking too philosophical too hard.

The best way to remember something is to make it simple.

The Challenge

Okay, this one is simple, more for preparing for future troubles.

Choose some texts to read for this week. It could be from one philosopher, one text, whatever. It doesn't even have to be a Stoic text. Anything that inspires mental calm or moral fortitude in you will work.

Read however much you'd like or until you get inspired.

For example, having read Letter 1 of Seneca's, I came up with “I am dying everyday.” It reminds me that my life is short.


Like I said, I'm going to have to cut this short this week. I just wanted to have this posted for you guys.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Year of Stoic Living, Week 2: Negative Visualization

A lot of people like beginning the New Year contemplating all the good that might come into their lives. Everyone thinks about the weight they'll lose, the many book they'll read, and in general about the better people they'll become. But how many of us keep in mind that a New Year could mean things becoming worse, too?

We could lose loved one. We may lose our jobs. Our homes. There's as much hope in the New Year as there is dread. But most don't take this fact to heart. And I think this is what causes most people to stop improving themselves. Because they forget the other half of hope, dread overcomes them the second something bad happens.

Let's try to change that up by taking the time to think of what may go wrong with our resolutions.

How to Negatively Visualize Our Resolutions (or Personal Goals)

This isn't about being Sadness from Inside Out. We're not just thinking about the worst that could happen. We're also thinking of ways to deal with the worst.

Let's take the common resolution of weight loss. We already know the best outcome: we lose weight. But what's the worst outcome? We gain weight. And can we deal with that? By being careful observers of what gave us more weight. Maybe you binged. Maybe you have a food addiction problem. Whatever the case is, doing our best to detail what could go wrong and plan accordingly will help ease the emotions we may feel in our darkest times.

One way to make this process is to make a flow chart, like this:


Yes, I know. It's amazing.

Maybe a flow chart isn't your thing. You could make a bad things outline:

  • Resolution 1
    • Bad Outcome 1
      • Fix 1
      • Fix 2
    • Bad Outcome 2
      • Fix 1
      • Fix 2
      • Fix 3

As a general point, you might not want to tackle too many resolutions at once. And you should also keep in mind there isn't always a fix. Sometimes we fail and there's just nothing we can do but start over. Or perhaps our goal just isn't realistic.

But maybe you aren't a resolution kind of person. Maybe the resolution you have is to pick up the habit of negative visualization.

How to Do Negative Visualization

I've already written a post on this subject if you want to go more in-depth on the subject of why we should and how to do it. However, I'll do a quick and dirty version here for you.

This one is a little harder if you ask me, because it's not failure of minor goals we're focusing on. We're focusing on the things in life we could lose.

People could die. We could die. Bad things happen.

Much like with our resolutions, sometimes by thinking of the worst that can happen, we can think of ways to fix it ahead of time so that, when it happens, so can quickly try to take control. But more often than not, these bigger loses aren't about us being able to fix it. It's about being able to cope with the bad happening.

What if you were dying? Odds are, there's no fix for this. But there are ways to cope. There are ways to make it easier on you and others. The first step is to acknowledge that this may happen this year.

This doesn't have to be one of those things you do every year or even that long. Sometimes, the simple acknowledgment of something going wrong is enough to give us the ability to cope. A sticky note with the words I'm dying everyday placed somewhere you can see it might be enough to change how you live your life. Perhaps you want to take a half-hour once a week and pick something to think about. All you have to do is find what works for you.

The Challenge
  • Choose a resolution you made and make a flow chart or outline (or whatever) of things that could wrong. Make sure you include ways to cope and/or fix failures. Have this flow chart somewhere you can find it when you fail so you can remind yourself of your fixes and coping tacit. Aren't the type to make resolutions? Choose a personal goal of yours.
  • Pick up the habit of negative visualization. Figure out how often you want to do it and a way you want to do.

Your Journal

Just so we're clear, your journal doesn't have to be everyday. You could write once a week, once a day, once every five minutes, whatever. And it doesn't always have to be about the challenge, either. It could be how you used Stoicism or want to start using Stoicism. I like to do mine once every other day or so, at least once a week.

A Facebook and Subreddit

Next Week...

We'll see...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Short Post: Action and Inaction

I saw an interesting comic over on Reddit the other day that sums up something I never realized really until just today:

We make the lives we want not only by what actions we take, but also by what actions we don't take.

I guess that thought was always in the back of my mind, but it never really came out until now. While there is a lot to say about what actions we do take, I think we can sometimes found out more about ourselves by the actions we don't take. It also speaks a lot about what we say to ourselves.

For example, for the longest time, I've been determined to become a fiction writer. Or so I thought.

See, for all the complaining I do about having to deal with bosses, by not having enough time to do what I want with life, by everything I say really, I thought that somehow, one day, maybe something would click.

The only think that clicked was my mouse as I played video games.

See, my mouth might have been saying I wanted to be a writer, but my actions said I wanted to be a seafood clerk that pretends to really love his job but really just sort kind of like it. My actions tell me that I actually want to be an inattentive father who pretends he's just doing one more thing on the computer, trust me son, I'll be right with you, but oh look, I'm just checking this game out one last time.

My lack of actions as a writer, a father, and as a man who wants to be free of the 9-5 crap tell me that much as well.

“People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.” -James Baldwin

I would add one more line: People pay for what they don't do, too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Year of Stoic Living, Week 1: Cold Showers

Wow. Just, wow. I didn't think you guys would go down this route for the first week. But cold showers won, so...

Really? I have to freeze my ass off? For what?

Yes, but it isn't as bad as you think it is.

First, let's start with some non-Stoic reasons to take a cold shower.

  • It's good for the blood. Taking a cold shower makes your blood run towards your organs to warm them up. Heat it up and your blood goes to your skin to keep your innards cool.
  • It can make you happier. A quick cold shower releases a chemical in your brain that helps battle depression.
  • According to some, it'll help you lose weight. The cold increases metabolism, which works those calories right off. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

There are other reasons, but what does this mean for the Stoic? Why should taking a cold shower be considered a philosophical practice?

For starters, cold showers aren't know for being fun. I've taken a few myself just for the experience of it and still find myself gasping like a ninny, thinking that maybe, somehow, I'll be better about it. But, no, just as bad as before.

Which makes it great for confronting discomfort in a safe way. After all, there are good odds that a cold shower isn't going to kill you. Sure, maybe if you have a heart problem, the jolt could be too much. But for most of us, all it's going to be is a jolt. It doesn't hurt. It just sucks.

For a Stoic, this is ideal. Few things in your life is going to suck as much as a cold shower. Your day to day is not likely to be so disastrous and terrible that the cold shower is actually the best part of your day. Boss is getting on your case? Traffic is terrible? Well, at least they're not ice cold water running down your back.

Learning to deal with discomfort in this controlled way trains you to do better when other discomforts come along without warning. And it doesn't take much to train this skill, either.

How to Take A Cold Shower

There are few ways you can take a cold shower.

  • Just blast the ice and jump in. This is how I do it as taking a hot shower first lessens my chances of turning it to cold. It'll be the quickest shower you'll ever take, though. Get wet, get soapy, get rinsed. Out in a few minutes.
  • Do what the Art of Manliness calls the “James Bond shower”: Start hot to get wet and soapy, then turn it ice cold to rinse off. Supposedly, this is better for getting cleaned, as the hot water opens the pores to clean out the dirt and the ice water closes them up tight to keep dirt out.
  • Turn the cold water on to the point where it's annoying enough. This is good for your first time and how I used to do it. Start off like you'd take a shower normally, then get it so the cold is just a little colder than you'd like it.
How often should you do this? The Art of Manliness suggests taking a cold shower at least once a day. Personally, I think this is a bit much, but for this week, try to take one once a day if at all possible, barring anything that might prevent this (currently, our shower is being rebuilt, so to be honest, I'll have to start later this week). Afterwards, do it at least once a month.

Oh, One More Thing

You're starting a journal. No, you can't wiggle your way out of this.

I've avoided this one for a long time, too. But one of the best ways to keep habits we want is to monitor what we're doing and one of the best ways to do that is journal about what we're doing.

It doesn't have to be major. It could be at the end of the week, every other day, whatever. It's could be a paragraph or a full-fledged thesis. Whatever it takes for you monitor yourself and get your own feedback on how you're doing.

Anything Else?

Yeah, one more thing. I want to try to do a Google Hangout once a week, but I can't promise a certain date or anything like that. Retail makes that hard. But this is meant to be a group project, something we all have a say in, so I'd like it if we got together when we can and talk about how we're doing and where we want to go.

Next Week

Negative Visualization. It's good to practice the basics.

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