What It Ain’t

This week I have been focussing on the practice of patience and I thought it would be useful to focus on what it ain’t. What isn’t patience – or rather, what isn’t a salutary practice to develop?

First, it isn’t resignation. Hopelessness, apathy, despair, none of these have any part in patience. Just as santosh doesn’t mean accepting that things will never chance, so patience doesn’t imply a belief that your goal will never come. Often impatience is driven by fear – if I don’t get this now it may never arrive. Patience is born of the knowledge that all things have a time and in that time they come.

Take gardening. Of late I’ve been going out in the garden and wishing my plants would get a move-on. Why? Because I’m afraid they may never flourish; that if I don’t rush around fertilising and weeding and watering and what-have-you, they’ll just give up and die. Patience implies a faith in the future; that things will come. You just have to wait.

Of course, there’s always the hope deferred thing, which means you should always take advantage of opportunities when they arise; that as well as being patient we should ask ourselves ‘is there anything I should be doing here that I’m not doing? Can I actually get this thing I want right now instead of waiting?’ Marcus Aurelius said ‘Everything I want in life I can have right now if I don’t deny it to myself.’ that’s a statement I’ve been wrestling with ever since I first read it. Stoicism is not a grim-faced resignation, a sort of Hilda-Ogden heaving yourself into the kitchen after a death like Victoria Wood said (I can’t find the routine but it’s quoted here) but a refusal to give up, even in the face of despair. And there’s a lot to despair about right now – but as OH and I keep saying, even if the worst happens and the Tories are stupid enough to saddle us with BoJo, he may not last long. Perhaps he will blow himself out like a storm at sea. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now to prevent it.

Stoicism is a useful philosophy and a forerunner of Christianity. It’s useful because it helps you to accept what is and to think of everything as contributing to your highest good. Let us consult the oracle on stoicism:

Me: how would you define stoicism in twenty words or less?

OH: We can’t control the world but we can control our emotional reactions to it.

Brilliant. So there we have it. I may not be able to influence the result of the leadership elections but I can ask myself ‘what would Marcus Aurelius do?’ As an Emperor who considered his duty to be the happiness and welfare of the people, he would deplore BoJo’s self-serving and duplicitous nature but he would say these things are sent to teach us something. And I suggest one thing to be learnt from this process is how better to campaign and organise to defeat what I can only call the forces of evil. I don’t think Boris is evil per se but I do think the consequences of having such a person as our leader would be.

Kirk out

Is it ‘One of those Days’ or Am I ‘One of Those People’?

Today is shaping up to be a fully-fledged, five-star, top of the range example of One of Those Days.  It started badly at 5 am when I woke and couldn’t get back to sleep: so eventually I sat up and tried to meditate.  But OH was fidgeting too much so I went downstairs, spread out my mat and began.  All was well for about five minutes, when OH decides it’s time to get up.  Footsteps clonking down the stairs.  The door opens.  The steps enter.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Meditating,’ I say.  The word, uttered through gritted teeth, just about makes it out of my mouth.

‘Oh, sorry.’

Well, honestly – I’m sitting cross-legged with my head and shoulders covered: what did you think I was doing?

OH then proceeds to open the curtains with a swish of fabric and a clacking of wooden curtain rings.  And when I complained, he had the nerve to lecture me about my levels of concentration!

Grrrrrrrr.

So we have re-established the ground rule: if meditating, do not disturb.

After that my brain was all over the place.  I managed to drink tea, do crossword and yoga but then there was no bread for breakfast and when there was it was squashed, difficult to cut and impossible to make into soldiers.  I need soldiers with my egg!!!

At this point I decided that today was going to be one of those days.  But here’s the thing: vis-a-vis yesterday’s post, was it the things that happened or was it my reaction to them?  Was I predisposed to react irritably because I hadn’t slept well?  OK that in itself makes it one of those nights, upon the heels of which may well follow one of those days, but sleeping badly doesn’t always make me irritable.  Sometimes I’m depressed; more often than not I’m just tired.

After breakfast I went upstairs to start work.  Everything was going just fine when I got a text from the bank: I’ve gone over my limit again.  Yep, that just about sums it up.  I’ve gone over my limit again; and from having a small but just about adequate amount to see me through the next week or two, I now have no money at all.

I have to say, sometimes it’s very hard indeed to ‘love only what happens.’  But is it the things or is it me?  Or both?

It’s ironic that I should be feeling this on International Women’s Day, a day of celebration about how far we’ve come (when I was young the phrase was, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’, which sounds incredibly patronising nowadays.)

But there it is.  That’s what’s happened.

You’ve gotta love it.

Grrrr.

Kirk out

About an Emperor

There’s nothing new under the sun – and not much new on this blog either.  I go to write about a topic and do a little search – and lo! I find three posts on the same subject without even trying.  But so what?  I mean, how closely are you paying attention anyway?

I’m kidding.  I know you’re all taking notes.

So, today’s topic is the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Aurelius was a stoic; which in many ways is not a philosophy I’m drawn to: I’m not much enamoured of cold showers or camping in the snow and I absolutely decline to whisper as I kiss my children good night, ‘tomorrow you might be dead.’  (I tell myself that child mortality was much higher in his time than now – but that’s not the reason.  The reason is that I simply can’t contemplate it.)

But I can contemplate things which are happening at the moment – at least to some extent.  I’m not sure what M A would have made of the constant negative outpouring of news to which we are subjected 24/7; I suspect he would have rationed his intake of it just as I try to do.  I don’t wish to be callous; I know the situation in Syria is appalling but I don’t want to hear about it every day: I know austerity is causing suffering but there’s only so much of it I can read about.  When I find myself becoming angry, frustrated, depressed or anguished I simply turn it off, reflecting that while we have a responsibility to inform ourselves about what is going on, that responsibility needs to be balanced with protecting one’s own mental health.

But where Marcus comes in really handy for me is in the personal arena; and the saying I’m focussing on right now is this:

‘Love only what happens.  No greater harmony.’

Of course you can see a problem right away: how can I possibly ‘love’ some of the terrible things that happen to me?  How can I ‘love’ a partner’s gender dysphoria or a son’s mental illness or a total lack of money?  Well, in order to do this you have to dig deeper.  You have to believe that underlying every life event is a purpose, and that that purpose is for your own highest good.

I wouldn’t presume to say this to anyone else; and neither, incidentally, did old Marcus: his sayings were written for his own use only.  It’s quite heartwarming to read, across the millennia, a man writing to himself things like ‘for god’s sake stop!’ and ‘when will you ever learn?’  I can remember writing similarly frustrated exhortations to myself in my old diaries.

That a Roman Emperor who wielded power over much of the known world should find the time for reflection and the humility to chastise himself, is truly astonishing.  To put his advice another way, ‘If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.’  That quote is from Leonard Cohen who, despite his sexual proclivities, was in many ways a stoic, able to look death and disaster in the face and know them for what they are:

https://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/goodadvice.html

Here’s some more information on Marcus Aurelius:

http://www.society-for-philosophy-in-practice.org/index.php/publications/pp-journal/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=131:ppr-spiritual-teachings-of-marcus-aurelius&catid=61:ancient-philosophy-reviews&Itemid=77

and a load of good sayings of his:

https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/marcus_aurelius

Incidentally, I can’t help wondering if the title character of ‘About a Boy’ was named for Marcus Aurelius?  He is after all a great stoic:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276751/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Kirk out

Black Dog

OK well it’s not going away so there’s nothing to do but write about it – depression, that is.  Quite unexpectedly along with a chest infection I was recently plunged into a most unpleasant depression: not the kind of blank, grey blanket which descends like a fog, but a squirming black horribleness which threatens to engulf my consciousness and, though the infection has receded, refuses to go away.

I’ve not been so prone to depression in recent years, though I had plenty of it in my twenties: thanks to a firmer footing in life, a grounded family, a reasonable work life and a daily yoga practice I was able to keep myself on a fairly even keel.  And although I had some psychotic episodes about a decade ago I’ve barely suffered an hour or so of depression since I got married.

But lately certain things have been spiralling downwards: a lack of material success in spite of huge daily efforts to make it as a writer; persistent poor sleep, struggles with my thyroid, a partner with gender dysphoria and a son with mental health problems have all taken their toll and I’m sure prepared my system to host the infection in the first place.  I have never been so wiped out by a bug as I was by this one: I was completely exhausted for days.  But as soon as the steroids and antibiotics kicked in, the depression made itself felt.  I haven’t felt like this since my twenties when a promising career and love affair went completely into free-fall.

But this is different – and although I know what it’s about, I don’t know what to do about it.  When I was eight I started to write a novel: that novel got squashed by huge and inexplicable forces which I still don’t understand.  I’ve been trying to get back to it ever since and now I’m there: I just never expected the process to be so deeply unpleasant.  I thought it’d be a kind of liberation but instead it’s utterly horrible, like opening the door to a deep dank hole with all kinds of monsters living in it.

All I know how to do is keep writing – and to believe that things are working out.  As Marcus Aurelius says, ‘love only what happens.  No greater happiness.’  In other words, believe that everything happens for your good, even though it may not feel like it.

http://www.great-quotes.com/quotes/author/Marcus/Aurelius

I find great comfort in Marcus Aurelius when things seem grim.

Kirk out

Bill Stickers is Innocent

– or at least, Bill Roache is.  Yes, the Corrie actor was cleared of all charges and I was quite pleased.  Obviously I don’t know anything about the cases but something just didn’t sit right.  I have no problem believing that DLT thought it perfectly acceptable and an extension of his ‘cuddliness’ to shove his hand down a girl’s pants on Top of the Pops: when the horrific Savile story spilt its guts all over the press I thought, this is awful but he did always seem creepy and weird – but whether it was the length of time that had elapsed in the Roache case, or whether it was his response to the charges, or just some indefinable aura around the story, I didn’t buy it.
Argh, now the post has done that weird italic thing and I don’t know how to undo it.  There seems to be a secret button on here which, when pressed inadvertently, activates the instruction ‘turn everything into italics and never turn it back again for some obscure reason that we can’t explain’.  So we’ll just have to live with it I’m afraid.  Where was I?  Oh yes.
These stories are not mere trivia.  Apart from the fact that if girls are raped by soap stars it’s a serious abuse of power, it undermines trust in the famous, and that affects all of us.  Every time someone in the public eye abuses that power, whether they’re a politician or a policeman or a sports’ presenter or whatever, it affects our perception of ourselves, and our perception of who we can trust.  It chips away another bit of our faith in ourselves.  And if it happens too often we all start to think that there’s no-one we can trust because everyone behaves like a materialistic, sexually predatory, unprincipled git.
 
I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius recently – he’s a good antidote to all this.
Check out some of his inspirational quotes here:
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/marcus_aurelius.html
 
Incidentally, I was impressed by Roache’s words on his acquittal.  Most people would condemn their accusers and thank the jury; he just said ‘there are no winners’ and that we ‘should all be much kinder to ourselves’.
Good advice, I think.
Kirk out