SW2013 Day 5: Friday

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Today’s exercise is on the praemeditatio futurorum malorum, or premeditation of future evils.

1. Situation. Not being able to find or get a new job when I’m ready to move on from current one.
2. Emotions. Produces a strong sense of helplessness, of being stuck.  Ineritial.  (85%)
(0-100%)?
3. Duration. Not too long, about 2 and a half minutes.
4. Consequence. It was reduced, probably to 40%.
5. Analysis. I thought about it, and it’s not really that awful.  I’m not up against a hard deadline, and this job affords me lots of time to do things (like this) which are important to me.

 

Stoic lessons in Man of La Mancha

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Don-QuixoteI had the pleasure of seeing Man of La Mancha preformed on the stage last night.  During the performance, I could not help but note some Stoic themes in the story.  I would not classify the whole as a Stoic work, nor do I think it was intended per se to be such, but it was an interesting lens through which to view the show.  I will look at a few instances in which I think Stoic lessons can easily be gleaned from the show, but this is by no means exhaustive nor complete.

***This will container SPOILERS of the show, so if you do not want the ending revealed, please read no further.***

Firstly, the story is of two parts. Miguel de Cervantes is imprisoned for levying a tax and foreclosing on a monastery, in 17th Century Spain, and in the prison he preforms a play for the prisoners who are determining his guilt.  One of his charges is “for being an honest man.”  The trial is a ploy to rob him of his belongings, the only one of which he actually cares about is his work, a manuscript.  He pleads guilty to the charges, but wishes a defense nonetheless, that the jury might have mercy.  These are the two stories, Miguel’s imprisonment, and Quijana/Don Quixote’s adventure which he preforms for the prisoners.  Cervantes does not fight his imprisonment, nor does he overly lament his station.  In a very Stoic way he attempts to make the best of it, to protect his work.

Now, Don Quixote:  Don Quixote is a man in search of a few things, Truth and Virtue, represented by Dulcinea, and adventure.  He warns Pancho that their enemy, the Enchanter, is a danger to them.  The Enchanter might be illusion of external indifferents, and internal values.  Where others see Windmills, he sees Ogres.  Where others see simple life, he sees Dragons, Knights, and honor.  Throughout the story, Don Quixote talks of the quest, the desire for perfection, truth, honor, and chivalry.  In the story, he is (maybe) quite mad.  Others see a sickened mind, or one under illusion.  His family and countrymen see a sick Quijana, whereas we see the noble Knight Don Quixote.

And do we not seem the same when we work towards our goals in philosophy?  We see an Ogre in the the illusion of what is or is not virtue.  We see the two things which we can either effect or not as a real problem to solve.  We see our thoughts, emotions, actions, and responses to those things as thing to be subdued.  Others see a windmill.  “So what,” they say, “if you’re mad at a traffic jam, it’s a damned inconvenience!”

Quixote stands a vigil before he is to be made a knight by the Innkeep cum Lord, and during it he fights off a number of men, protecting Dulcinea.  While his perception of the events are different than everyone else’s she is saved nonetheless.  Quixote extends kindness to the men, wanting to tend to their wounds, but Aldonza/Dulcinea goes in his stead.  She is, however, kidnapped and violence is done upon her afterwards.  She comes back to the Inn/Castle, and throws this in Quixote’s face.  She is used to abuses and violence, but the tender, chaste care of Quixote is a hurt she cannot weather.  Quixote sympathizes with her hurt, but he maintains throughout her lament her Virtue and his Quest.  We see a need for Virtue and Goodness, as philosophy and reason tells us it is, whereas others may see a scullery maid.

Quixote’s relatives come looking for him, and they stage a ruse, whereby Don Quixote will be restored to his sanity.  They do this, not for his own benefit, but so that he can make an disbursement of his estate to them.  Their ruse is successful, and Don Quixote faces the Knight of Mirrors who show him to himself in such clarity that he faints.  How so, does philosophy show us ourselves, and we can either faint and “return to sanity” by ignoring what we’ve learnt, or we can face up.  Sometimes, we faint.Don_Quixote

Quijana is taken back to his estate, and there in bed, he is restored to activity by his squire Pancho.  He does not recall himself as Don Quixote, however, and begins to disburse his property to those assembled.  At the last, Aldonza/Dulcinea comes to see him, and finally, she teases out of him Don Quixote!  Don Quixote is saved by Virtue and Truth!  They stand and rejoice in their shared experience, and Don Quixote breathes his last.  He dies triumphant.

Afterwards, we return to the Prison, and Cervantes offers comfort to his compatriot, and with noble acceptance, walks to his real trial before the Inquisition.  A Stoic act, indeed; Cervantes accepts his end with Stoic calm, as the Prisoners sing The Impossible Dream to their courageous exit.

To dream … the impossible dream …
To fight … the unbeatable foe …
To bear … with unbearable sorrow …
To run … where the brave dare not go …
To right … the unrightable wrong …
To love … pure and chaste from afar …
To try … when your arms are too weary …
To reach … the unreachable star …

This is my quest, to follow that star …
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far …
To fight for the right, without question or pause …
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause …

And I know if I’ll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I’m laid to my rest …
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach … the unreachable star …

On cold-heartedness

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In a facebook group of Stoics, someone posted a questions about what they should do if their practice of Stoicism was being perceived as cold-heartedness.  I’ll include an expanded version of my reply here.

My knee-jerk reaction is that your practice of Stoicism shouldn’t negatively effect those around you. Stoicism, to me, isn’t a total repudiation of emotions, esp. not sympathy and care for your fellow man.

Emotions, feelings, physical reactions can mitigated, but not eliminated. Nor would it be desirable for them to be so.  To me, it is not letting your emotions and whims control you. Within the two spheres of influence, what we can control and what we cannot, one of the things we cannot perfectly control is having a human central nervous system, an endocrine system, etc.  You cannot, and should not seek to, banish all emotions from you, least of all sympathy to the pain of your brothers and sisters.

First you might ask “Am I being cold-hearted? Am I doing something wrong?” If so, correct that error.  If in fact, you are doing something that does not represent your highest and best good, virtue:  you should want to change that.  If you are causing undue or immoral harm, you should want to reduce that.

Secondly, if you are not in the wrong, you cannot control how another perceives your actions.   You might attempt to educate or teach them about what you’re doing.  You might talk about healthy thinking and unhealthy thinking.  If the person can receive that message, of course.

Seneca talks about grief in Letter LXIII.  I think it’s reasonable to see if that applies to other emotions.
Helping a friend or lover bear some pain would be virtuous, to my mind.

Free

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“Says one: “There were thirty tyrants surrounding Socrates, and yet they could not break his spirit”; but what does it matter how many masters a man has? “Slavery” has no plural; and he who has scorned it is free, – no matter amid how large a mob of over-lords he stands.”

— Seneca (Letters, XXVIII)

SW2013 Day 4: Thursday

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Today’s exercise is on Mindfulness.

“It is not the things themselves that disturb people but their judgements about those things.”
— Epictetus (Handbook 5)

I found today’s passage a helpful reminder.  I have previously been exposed to these ideas of treating our thoughts and emotions as things we have, and not as ourselves-proper.  I remember being a bit younger, and the idea rankled me somewhat.  I didn’t quite understand it, and I didn’t want to accept it.  If I’m not these things than what I am?  I’m still not sure I have the answer, but the question bothers me less.

I was talking with a good friend of mine, who on the occasion of his thirtieth birthday found himself pensive on the ideas of aging and progress.  We talked, and I noted that although I’ve aged, I can’t really note a difference in my thought-processes.  I look back, and the years and numbers seem arbitrary.  My thoughts and self seem the same.  I then appended, it with, “well, my mind is … quieter than it was when I was younger.”

He agreed and said that it was a poignant note.

In some ways, that makes it easier to focus on Stoic Mindfulness.  My mind seems quieter, calmer than it did 10 years ago.
I think that’s a good thing.

On rising.

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At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this thought ready to mind: ‘I am getting up for a human being’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 born for pleasure – all for feeling and 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 do you not want to do the work of a human being, do you not hurry to the demands of your own nature?”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.1

SW2013 Day 3: Wednesday

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Today is about the Stoic Reserve Clause and action.  The Stoic position of acceptance or fatalism holds a seeming paradox in that we might expect the Stoic philosopher to be passive,  a mere victim to the whim of the world.  However both recorded history and the writings of these men prove the opposite.

Since our main chore is differentiating between those things which are under our control and those which are not, what we do after is sometimes not as focused upon.

It’s better to say we accept those things which we cannot control, and we try for more perfect control of those things which we may.

We should still for our very best, but this is merely a preference,  the outcome is usually an indifferent.

A timely anecdote:  today I have off work, and it’s my habit to take a long and relaxing bath in my free time.  Unfortunately,  I don’t have a bathtub at my apartment,  so I often make use of the one at my parents’ house.

Today, I had just arrived to take my bath when a friend called me with a problem at his house.  I experienced a momentary disappointment at havgin my plans twarted, but quickly set to thinking on it instead.

The absolute worst that could happen is that it could become an all day affair, and I wouldn’t get a bath today.  I have backpacked often, and at times went a whole week without a proper bath or shower.  One day wouldn’t kill me.  But what was more likely was that I would help my friend, and merely take a bath later in the day.

I also experienced then a momentary cheering up feeling, for getting to practice acceptance, as well as getting to help out my friend.

All in all, I did eventually get my bath, accepted the change in my schedule preference,  and was able to help a friend.

Additionally,  my mood is often turned for the worse by such changes, and the exercise today helped to keep that from happening.

SW2013 Day 2: Tuesday

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Today’s exercises are about Self-Discipline & Stoic Simplicity.

In the summers of my early teenage years, I would often stay at a rather ascetic monastery.  One where most of the day was spent in silent contemplation.  I enjoyed the environment quite a bit.

It’s funny, how we drift away sometime from the foundations of youth, yet often find ourselves pulled back there.  I have been trying off and on with some success to make healthier choices.  Today’s passage discussed the sort of regimes that the Stoics would sometimes adopt.

I think I’ll use this opportunity to get back onto my eating and exercise routines.  If you’re interested, follow this link to learn about Tim Ferriss and the Slow Carb diet.

I’ll use some time this evening to cook foods in advance for the coming days, I find this is a good use of time, and allows for easier food-choices when things are already prepared.

SW2013 Day 1: Monday

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Today’s mindfulness activity is about a situation which occurred, and divining what is in our control and what is not.  I’m going to go through that process now with the help of the Handbook.  It begins by answering a few questions.

1.   What’s the situation?
A semi-annual qualification was sort of sprung on us at work early, with less than a week to alter the schedule to accommodate all the workers’ participation and duty schedules.  A supervisor at work denied my schedule change, I then had  to do on which my job hinged after a 12-hr shift, having had a turn-around shift the night before (only 8 hours between shifts, 45 min commute each way).  When it came time for the qual, I only did the bare minimum to pass.  I had only had 5 hours of sleep in the previous 40 due to the duty schedule.  I was angry at myself for doing poorly, I was angry at my supervisor for “screwing me.”  The supervisor could have switched my coworker’s schedule with any of the other 18 employees, but it was easiest for him to deny my schedule change, which I had organized myself, and give it to the coworker who did not have one yet.
2.   How much control do you have over the situation as a whole (0-100%)?
10%
3.  Why isn’t it 100%? What aspects don’t you have direct control over?
  Over whether the change was accepted I had no control.  I could have quit as a result, but that would have been unreasonable.
4.  Why isn’t it 0%? What aspects do you have direct control over?
I had very little control over the situation.  I exercised almost all of my control by trying to get a schedule change, filling out the proper paperwork, and submitting it a week in advance.
5.  What would happen if you made a conscious effort to adopt a more Stoic attitude towards this situation by completely accepting things beyond your control, and taking full responsibility for things under your control?
I would have likely been less angry, I might have been able to focus better on my quals since I wouldn’t have had these thoughts on mind, and thereby done better.  I would likely have been happier at work the previous and following day, since I wouldn’t have been nursing hurt feelings.