This week is international Stoic Week. A week where one lives according to the principles of Stoicism, a philosophy founded in the Hellenistic age of Athens, made prominent during the Roman Empire and demonized by early Christianity. Throughout the years, Stoicism has had a bad reputation. When one describes a person as being stoic, a connotation of indifference or cold comes to mind.
I like to explain Stoicism as a way of life that could have ended the war in Westeros, Rob Stark could have kept his head and Joffrey would have died at the hands of the Starks. If Rob Stark had been a Stoic, he would have put his passion and love aside for the good of his people, his land and his family. But no, he chose to wed Talisa and break the alliance between The Starks and The Freys. Everyone was rooting for Rob Stark. That moment when he looks over to Catelyn, chest pierced with arrows, and says “Mother…” is both heartbreaking and enraging. I was rooting for you Rob and not only did you betray bitter old Frey, you betrayed me. ME. This is something that keeps me up at night and is probably a big reason of why I am still single.
But to those who don’t watch Game of Thrones, the principles of Stoicism teach us that humanity belongs to a single universal order. We are all part of nature, equal in reason and free of mind. It teaches us to keep our passions in check (Ahem, Rob Stark.) Passions such as love, greed, vanity lead us to stray from “the good life” or a virtuous life. Well, you can love partners and family but when it starts to cloud reason and judgment or when your army and kingdom depend on you marrying a Frey girl, then it’s a problem. Pursuing glory and fame for ones name is not a virtue. Apathy in state affairs or apathy in ones well being and health is not virtuous in Stoicism. Promiscuity is not virtuous. Marcus Aurelius, the last great Roman Emperor and Stoic, believed that homosexuality was not virtue either. Most ancient Stoics probably didn’t include women in their philosophy. The more I start to go on, the more it starts to sound like some early blueprint for Christianity. If this were a research paper, I’d make a case for that and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Hell, I’d say Plato was a proto-Christian.
But this isn’t a research paper tracing the beginnings of Christianity. This is a whiny post about war tactics in Fantasy worlds and post modern anxiety. Despite some of the negative attributes and connotations about Stoicism, I believe it’s a relevant philosophy that can and should be incorporated into some of our daily lives. I don’t consider myself a religious person but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am an atheist. Mainly because I don’t like to be associated with groups. I do me and only me. I am a spiritual person. I do believe in natural order, justice, equality and some universal energy that predates human, animal and cosmic existence. Not science necessarily but just something that has guided life, air, water and energy. I want to believe there is some purpose to our existence. Whether its defined by ourselves or by something bigger than us, we do have a purpose. It’s scary to think there is nothing outside of this realm of existence. I am a firm believer in balance. Naturally, I am a libra but whatever that’s some new age shit I won’t get into. If there is Balance in my life, I am happy. Stoicism is teaching me balance and patience so I can achieve a happiness that is bigger than my self.
I bring up Stoic week because I recently became obsessed with Marcus Aurelius and the Roman Empire. I started to read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I began to read it just after my holiday meeting at work where some of my co workers where recognized for their hard work throughout the year. I was not recognized. It was a serious blow to my ego because I as I sat in my chair, I began to think about what kind of strut I should do while I went to collect my Nightmare Before Christmas bobble head or some shit. I just thought, I’m going to be recognized. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve taken the responsibilities of a superior knowing full well I’d only get a quarter increment in my pay. I do it because I like taking care of shit and I do it well. But I didn’t get my stupid bobble head nor the recognition of my store in front of my peers. Naturally, I thought fuck this shit. My performance as of late has been flaky. I’ve called out more times than I should. I can’t do the minimum job requirements because I just don’t work that way. I planned out all of our Black Friday plans without the help of anyone and detailed and outlined it for the managers, because I’m just that person. But I still think, fuck this shit.
For the record, I am not one those people that is obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas. I actually have to repress my disdain for those things because everyone seems to love all that shit. I already have a reputation of being a hater. It’s not that I hate it, I’m just not into it.
Anyway, what does this have to do with Stoicism? After reading some of Meditations, I came across a passage where Marcus Aurelius talked about glory, fame and name. One must not seek these things. Simply do your work, do it well and go on with your life because there is always work to be done and if you seek glory for your work, you risk falling into the trappings of the vanity of your ego. I thought, well isn’t this appropriate? I always seem to think that the Universe is somehow against me. That I try and I try and I try and the Universe is just some mean dick yelling ha-HA at me constantly. Along with Meditations, I started to read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Now this is a guy who got bludgeoned to death for elevating Philosophy near Religion. In it, Philosophy is this angelic figure telling Boethius to quit his whining because everyone suffers; how dare he think that Fortune was forever. Laugh now, cry later motherfucker. That was my scholarly interpretation.
So I didn’t get recognized. For a few days I was depressed about it. It wasn’t just solely that act but just feeling alone, rejected and just frustrated with my lack of career or social level depressed me. The fact that I work in retail and I am part this empty failing corporation brings me no satisfaction. I can’t thrive in numbers. I don’t thrive on quotas or sells. I tell people not to buy dumb shit because it’s expensive. I can’t accept this as a livelihood but I am forced to because of my circumstances. And yes, I realize I sound incredibly whiny and privileged (big popular word now a day.) I know I am being self centered because there are a million and billion things that could be way worse.
When I walk into work thinking fuck this shit and I do the minimum or act like I am at least doing the minimum at work, I daydream about what it is to be happy. The definition of happiness that is. I’m sure this isn’t an earth shattering thought but Happiness is never out of fashion. From the moment we became self aware we started to ponder our happiness. Every philosopher and rich lazy thinker have written so many books throughout history about it. Happiness has never changed. Technology evolves, regimes rise and fall, revolutions come and go but we still can’t figure out what makes us Happy. Well, we still can’t figure out how to keep happiness. As Hobbes put it, the joyless quest for joy. I hate him so I’m not quoting him because I like him. I daydream about what makes me or what would make me happy and I get sad. Oh how I suffer, sarcasm. I’ve learned to be grateful and patient but what happiness is to me is simple: I want to ride my bike to a job where I contribute to something much deeper and greater than consumerism. Where my worth is not a number. Where I have a level of creative freedom and serve a part of a community. To be part of the greater good. To contribute not just in my own pursuit of the good life but to influence other people to pursue the good life. I want to be part of something much bigger than myself.
But when I come back to reality, I look around me and I think uuuuugh.
If I summed up my 20’s it would be uuuuugh.
I know I went into a terrible tangent because I am sleepy and I am a terrible writer but getting back to Stoicism, I’m slowly adopting some principles of this ancient Philosophy. It goes really well with the spirituality of yoga, it meshes well with Religion and it restores a balance that is sometimes offset by our 21st century anxiety. I can be really egotistical and self centered but Stoicism (and getting back to my History studies) has been teaching me to practice patience, letting go when I need to and living virtuous according to the law of own spirituality. So what I didn’t get recognized at work, I am going to school to get a better job. So what that boy didn’t text me back, there are a million other dudes in the world. I am not happy right now but there are going to be worse things in my life, in my future, that these moments will be completely insignificant. Just as there will be worse things, there will be way better and happier moments to come and I will be that much stronger and grateful for them. These are just my uuugh years and they will be over one day.
However, I do admit that this Friday will be one of my biggest challenges as a baby Stoic. Like I said before, I work in retail. I cannot harmonize my spirituality and philosophy with my work. I work with books but we all know most people buy shitty books anyway but that’s okay because at least they are reading. I don’t think I have ever been this angry or bitter about Black Friday. I don’t expect tons of people being at my work but I just get so angry at the idea behind Black Friday. I will try to stay patient throughout the holidays and try hard to think of the purpose of each human that I encounter, even the mean ones. I kind of had the same attitude last year, until a man sneezed on my face and left snot in my hair and dress. I just wanted to cry. What would Marcus Aurelius do? I think he would have probably said, fuck this shit uuugh.