@noffle in #stoicism

In addition to buddhism, I've also been doing reading from ancient and modern stoics. (I keep a reading list of books, for the curious.)

This morning I've been reading and reflecting on this article on the ways that our beliefs and demands of the cosmos create unnecessary suffering for ourselves. It rings wholly true in my ears; this idea keeps on coming up for me in my day-to-day life. Letting go of those beliefs can be so difficult, but once you spot the demands you're making, it's even harder to stop continuing to see them.

Have you done any reflection on this? How has this understanding, over time, affected the way that you deal with undesirable conditions in your own life? Any other gems of wisdom you've accrued that helped you on your journey?

@nanomonkey in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

I've been struggling with this quite a bit lately. I spent my whole life trying to build up a concept of the most moral way to live. I've come to the understanding that this very same moral code is causing me to be overwhelmingly angry and upset when others don't follow up to my standards. Someone stands outside my window screaming at five in the morning, bam, I'm angry. Someone throws trash in the street, upset once again. Jerk decides to do donuts in a car in front of my house, boom!, I'm seething.

So I've come to realize that all of my frustration and anger is centered around my beliefs and expectations. My problem is trying to do something productive about the problems that I see while letting it go. I still want to do something constructive and want the issue to be resolved...I just can't always find an effective strategy that isn't pushing down my emotions and bottling it up until they overwhelm me, or "talking it out" in what feels like a passive aggressive or pedantic manner (which I dislike almost more than terse angry conversations).

So thanks for bringing this conversation up, as it's reminded me that the solution is to come at the problem with curiosity, like all problems, and not to hold steadfast to my expectations. I still can't imagine a solution to many of my current upsets...as so many of them are just people behaving horribly insensitive, but it's still a reminder not to internalize it upon myself.

@ezdiy in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

I still want to do something constructive and want the issue to be resolved.

My self-righteous ideal is to be a supervillain and fight justice, because it should be abolished. Everyone should be pig headed and selfish and do whatever they want to do.

in what feels like a passive aggressive or pedantic manner

There's also very thin line between stoicism (enjoying the little things you do have control over, and ignoring the rest) vs nihilism (fatly ignoring everything and rejecting the few things you have). Crossing that line is when the stoicist Zen monk self-immolates.

I'm often told it comes off as aloof whenever I rant about universe being unjust (duh!) - being an observer, never participant.

people behaving horribly insensitive

People one doesn't have meaningful connection with, that is, strangers, are just cold force of the universe. Regardless of what people say about strangers, strangers are object to you, and you're object to them, since you share no boundary of counsciesness whatsoever to base meaningful rapport on.

The silly abstractions called "culture" - delusions such as "world is just, all people are people, people are mostly good" - morals, religion and politics - are IMO frequent source of cognitive dissonance. While those do have their uses to pacify those who seek to be protected by order, one should always keep in mind that these are all mere self-fulfilling prophecies, a chain reaction mechanism, not a fundamental power. Ideology influences that which seeks to be influenced, but it won't change the very nature.

Because while you can change their momentum and direction, random objects in the universe will still not care, nor will they usually plan to hurt each other in particular either (ideology tends to orchestrate that). No need to get mad and paranoid, but being overly optimistic about our reality is just buying into one of the prophecies.

@pie pete in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

Thanks for sharing that article @noffle

I was woken up this morning by a guy using a very loud skill-saw outside my window. That article was a perfect reminder to examine why I felt so fucked off.

I remember the first time I heard these ideas a few years back at a buddhist evening. It felt like a weight coming off me to realise that I could control how I reacted to things. But that I can't control the things that happen out in the world. Seems glaringly obvious when I write it but there's something about western thinking that is really hung up on the way things 'should' be or 'fairness'.

This is also giving me good motivation to get my meditation routine back. It's totally slipped over the last month. I think mindfulness is the bit that makes it so much to easier to notice when you're getting stuck in one of these shitty 'should' loops.

<3

@mixxx in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

+1 mindfulness. For me learning to notice my state is the reall game changer. Just noticing what is happening and what I think is going on (being curious) can be enough to send the cart out of the same od rutt and into new (and happier) territory.

Another part of this practice that's been invaluable is finding and building communities which are forebearant (patient), curious, honest, and that are iterating through self-reflection and group reflection.
It makes it possible to be open enough to ask questions that can feel scary, to step back and see more and to fold your perception in ways you might not have considered.
Some people might mistake this as some hippy ideal of hugs and good times community, but it's more about kindness than niceness. Fuck nice. Tell me if I'm talking shit or have offended you :heart:

Finally, there's also a thread of normative gender in here for me. Stoicism and masculinity are quite related in my mind. (sorry I didn't read the article, I'm probably thinking of a loose definition of stoich). Modern western masculinity is so shit. It doesn't serve me (or my community), but it's more persitent than a reverse-transcribing veneral disease. Happy to have that conversation in ore depth if other people are interested.

@ev in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

This thread is going to make @gb so frustrated.

@gb in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@ev I just laughed aloud. Why?

@ev in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@gb haha. oh it turns out I'm frustrated not you, I was just trying to project what was going on for me on to you. That's not cool, is it?

@gb in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

Aww. Ok, that's sweet. Yeah, seems as though that was what was going on for you. I'm almost always happy to talk philosophy. Especially Stoic philosophy.

@ev in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

Let me explain. @gb and I have endless conversations about buddhism and stoicism and other associated philosophies on a daily basis.

I'm a big fan of stoicism, and not a big fan of buddhism. Why? That's a good question, that's why we have endless conversations.

My favorite real world example of applying these philosophies is walking home from work. As I've posted here before, @gb and I live at a weekly hotel in Fayetteville. It's about an hour and a half walk from our work at the ale house. Every night we get off work and there's a big question of whether or not we should

  1. walk
  2. get a ride
  3. call a cab

One day we walked and it rained on us. That was a very stoic moment. I just kept saying over and over again 'it could be worse, it could be snowing!' and now when we're walking I can say 'it could be worse, it could be raining'.

But I'm never sure what buddhism would say about walking home from work.

@Kas in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

But I'm never sure what buddhism would say about walking home from work.

I'm curious: what's the difference between stoicism and equanimity (a very popular word in Buddhism)?

@gb in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

I don't have a whole lot to add. The two of us have been talking about boats. As in, moving into a boat and floating around, paring down to the absolute minimum. I think that's a pretty Stoic move. Fewer cars. More nature. Very few people. The biggest responsibilities will be paying to dock, keeping the boat up and running, maintenance.

Which brings up an interesting book. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Now, ostensibly that was a book about Buddhism. But I don't think Pirsig presented any one size fits all solutions to life's problems just because it was a Buddhist book (one could argue it wasn't all that Buddhist, but then in a lot of ways that's Zen, man).

So, life would get very maintenance-y and less serverhoodish, which will present a new set of problems. And, if you know any words from the Buddhist way of thinking it's dukkha -- which Pema Chödrön captures in her teachings -- the wisdom of no escape means just that; it's all part of the practice, it's all part of this very weird human experience thing we've got to work with.

@ev in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@gb The boat example is another good one to bring up. There are a lot of boaters on scuttlebutt. I've sailed a few times. We were on the bus yesterday with a guy smoking a e-cig behind us with an old lady yellin' at him to 'cut that shit out' and the bus driver telling him to 'cut that shit out' and he was all 'I've been shot four times'.

Stoicism would probably say it could be worse, and ultimately you can just step off the bus to get out of the situation. I don't what buddhism would say.

But we were talking about boats, and how tranquil it might be to live on a boat and not have to take a bus. But then I can't stop myself from thinking about all of the work that goes into living on a boat, and all of things that I might not have accounted for. I try to weigh the struggle of making rent vs what I imagine the issues would be if I traded in the hotel life for the boat life.

@gb in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

The conversation continued as @ev started cooking chili with fresh garlic. I changed out the linens for fresh ones and got new trash bags. Each of us changed a trash can -- he did bathroom, I did kitchen area. While doing all that, the philosophy conversation continued.

Everett pointed out, and I think it's worth writing about here, that the goal of Buddhism (if there is a goal) is happiness. The goal of Stoicism is tranquility.

The 1st Century AD Roman philosopher and Stoic, Seneca the Younger (4 B.C. - A.D. 65), the most famous and popular philosopher of his day, took the subject of anger seriously enough to dedicate a whole book to the subject. He saw anger as a philosophical problem and amenable to treatment by philosophical argument, not just an irrational outburst over which we have no control. He thought that anger arose from holding overly optimistic ideas about the world, leading to unrealistic expectations, and advised a more pessimistic attitude so that one was mentally prepared for the kinds of bad things that happen, which would therefore not lead to such outbursts of anger.

Source

I think what Everett is arguing, and I concur, is that if happiness is the goal a person who considers herself or himself a practitioner might feel an ongoing frustration with the world. Especially during times of societal distress. The Stoics by contrast remind us (through their writings) that it could always be worse, rather than wishing/meditating/thinking they should be happier than they are. They close the cognitive gap between how things are and how we want them to be.

Two books I recommend:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy and On the Shortness of Life

@noffle in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

What a breadth and depth of responses! I really enjoyed reading everybody's notes.

I don't often talk about spirituality in public forums. It's been a very solitary journey for me: meditating in the morning, reading books, practicing in my day to day life; but not much of any community. Reading this thread helped me realize that there's a degree of self-righteousness in my practice: something I'd only openly admit in a community I felt safe in like this one.

@ev's mention of not being a big fan of buddhism triggered a non-trivial amount of frustration for me. I felt that frustration swelling up inside of me. A pretty big signal from my body, but I only barely noticed it. I don't think I realized how strongly I've come to identify with my practice. Instead of it being just a thing I do for me, there's a sense of me being on a bit of a personal crusade to convince others that it's the right crusade. I don't want that, though. So thanks, @ev, for helping me see that.

This is also giving me good motivation to get my meditation routine back. It's totally slipped over the last month. I think mindfulness is the bit that makes it so much to easier to notice when you're getting stuck in one of these shitty 'should' loops.

@Piet: I feel the same way, about mindfulness being a powerful tool for breaking the mindless cycles in our lives. I think meditation can act like a power-up for day to day mindfulness: if I meditate in the morning I notice a much higher awareness throughout the day than when I don't. The quality of meditation (whether my mind is wandering or if I'm truly taking the practice seriously) also seems to have a big impact.

Another part of this practice that's been invaluable is finding and building communities which are forebearant (patient), curious, honest, and that are iterating through self-reflection and group reflection.

@mix: I haven't really thought about this before, but this feels right to me. I get this vibe from this community. I'd like more of these in my life.

Some people might mistake this as some hippy ideal of hugs and good times community, but it's more about kindness than niceness. Fuck nice. Tell me if I'm talking shit or have offended you.

This really makes me think of one of my favourite terms, "idiot compassion". I did a lot of this when I was younger and wanted to please everybody.

One day we walked and it rained on us. That was a very stoic moment. I just kept saying over and over again 'it could be worse, it could be snowing!' and now when we're walking I can say 'it could be worse, it could be raining'. But I'm never sure what buddhism would say about walking home from work.

@ev: I don't know what buddhism would say either. If it were me, I think I would notice the sensation of the rain, the ways that my mind feels adverse to the situation, the emotions in my body that arise, maybe notice any thoughts or beliefs about the situation that come up. Sometimes I alternate between non-judgmental-awareness responses like this, and more direct belief-based stoic statements like yours.

I think I like how buddhism doesn't tend to have answers for what to do or say in hypothetical situations. It's more like: just be in that situation in a clear and present and honest way, and see what arises for you.

I'm curious: what's the difference between stoicism and equanimity (a very popular word in Buddhism)?

@kas: I'm fond of this article on equanimity. I think there's a lot in common between the buddhist notion of equanimity and the stoic sage ideal.

@ev in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@noffle I didn't mean make anyone frustrated by saying that I'm a huge fan of buddhism, I'm just not!

I should probably explain why I'm not, but I'm not completely clear why I'm not yet. I don't know what the bugs are in buddhism, I've just seen them appear over and over again in buddhist practitioners -- enough to be somewhat critical of whether or not the philosophy works. I've seen so many self-proclaimed buddhists over the years lose their shit (get frustrated and/or violent because something happened that they didn't like), and wonder ... why is that? That's part of the on-going endless discussion that @gb and I have all of the time. @gb says she's 95% stoic and 5% zen buddhist. But sometimes I catch a conflict there, and I wonder if maybe giving up the 5% would help?

I do self-identify as a minimalist (I want to keep it to one bag), and I do sometimes apply stoicism to situations. I'm not sure if I'm really a stoic, or if anyone can be, since the stoics lived a long time ago. Even though I consider myself to be living (similar to the stoics) during an age of a collapsing empire, I don't pretend to be able to imagine how it was for Seneca and Marcus as Rome fell -- I wasn't there!

@ev in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

Typo:

*I didn't mean make anyone frustrated by saying that I'm not a huge fan of buddhism, I'm just not!

@Kas in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@noffle,

I'm fond of this article on equanimity. I think there's a lot in common between the buddhist notion of equanimity and the stoic sage ideal.

Thanks!! I realize I should have been more specific: I've been meditating for many years and I'm not so much in doubt what equanimity is (the word is also kind of self-explanatory), but I don't know at all what stoicism entails. When I losely skim over what's been said, it seems to me that equanimity and stoicism overlap to a great extend – perhaps they're even synonymous. That's where my curiousity was at.

@ev,

I would say, and I could very well be wrong here, that the goal of Buddhism is what you with a shitty word could call enlightenment: the realization that the I is an illusion, that an inseparable entity does not exist – and never has existed – and that the seer, the seen and the sight are all one, that there is no distinction. With that realization comes happiness or bliss or whatever label you wish to attach to it, but the happiness is not a goal in and off itself. Realization that the ego doesn't exist as a separate entity, however, is.

I know Buddhists are fond of the »May all sentient beings be happy and free from suffering« (a.k.a. ‘The Four Immeasurable Thoughts’), which sounds all good and noble – I mean, who can disagree with that? – but at the roots I think it's an example of religion gone wrong: Ego takes over and thinks it can put the whole shebang on a formula. And I think it's very telling how relatively few ‘enlightened persons’ Buddhism has produced since Gautama Buddha allegedly walked upon Earth.

@nanomonkey in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@ev Stoicism and Buddhism are both practices so no matter what, the people that you meet that are into Buddhism are on a path and not at a destination. Enlightenment isn't a binary switch sadly. So they will break down and loose their shit at times, perhaps even catastrophically. I've noticed that often times the people that are vocal about their practice are the ones that are still early in their path. The attempt to convert others is just an attempt to validate their choice.

From this conversation it appears that westernized buddhist practice focuses so much on achieving happiness and enlightenment, which in my opinion are etherial and perhaps even unachievable. When conflict does occur wouldn't such a goal lead to externalizing the conflict, mistaking other people as the cause of your unhappiness? Stoicisms focus on tolerance or contentment on the other hand leads to internalizing the conflict, looking at your own internal processes with curiosity.

This is just my conclusion from reading this discussion. Having met the Dalai Lama and Suma Ching Hai, I would conclude that advanced buddhist practitioners are likely to be pretty unshakable.

@noffle in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@nanomonkey,

I've noticed that often times the people that are vocal about their practice are the ones that are still early in their path. The attempt to convert others is just an attempt to validate their choice.

I don't know if this is true in general, but this thread has really helped me see this in myself. I hadn't realized how important I thought it was that others saw buddhism as "the correct path". Gah! Just writing that aloud makes it clear how absurd it is. And yet there was that belief. No spiritual practice should be above criticism; especially by its practitioners. I think this points to some of the blind spots in my own foundations that need tending to. Thanks for this.

@dominic in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

I was once told that I was "so stoic I didn't even swing my arms when I walked". Not sure that is true. Not being affected by the things that are affecting you is hard, whether you call it stocism or not. Moving off grid is really a way to sidestep that - you are opting to live in a way that is more under your control. You trade responsibilities to other people (rent, bills, etc) for responsibility to your self (ensure you have drinking water, remove sewerage, etc). You'll definitely get an intimate experience of adversity, but the adversity of nature is different. Nature is impartial. Nature won't raise the rent on you, nature isn't trying to make a buck on you back. You can learn better how nature wishes to be treated and get better at it.

If there was a book about this philosophy, it would be called "life of the practical anarchist", but it would mostly be about growing vegetables or how to anchor your boat or store food.
so far, Voyaging on a Small Income is the best I've seen. When I first read this I didn't even realize I was reading about a life philosophy.

One time I took a philosophy class, that had a pretty terrible lecturer (if you asked a question, he just said the same thing again, but slower) but he did say one thing that stuck with me: of all the greatest philosophers ever, none of them have ever trained in an academic philosophy department. They always did something else first (anything: mathmatician, playwright... but just not a philosopher) I was polite enough to stay till the end of the class but I dropped out right then.

@dominic in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

Another thing, is that as westeners we are able to explore easten ideas like buddhism without the cultural baggage that would come if you grew up with it. I rode a bicycle through cambodia once, and I'd ride on dirt tracks past small wooden houses on stilts, then every 10 kilometers there would be a massive temple. How come the temple was so big and flash and the houses are so simple? It seemed clear to me that a lot of the prosperity was being funneled to exactly the people who claimed that they did not need it. Seemed like the institution of buddhism was in the same ballpark regards justifying systematic exploitation as christianity. But as westeners approaching buddhism it's easy it skip past that stuff and just take the good ideas. More spiritual, less religious. There are good ideas because there has to be if it didn't help people cope with the struggle of life then it wouldn't have become the power structure. If you flipped it around and approached christianity but stopped before 300 AD, also lots of good stuff.

Of course, there hasn't been a institutional stoicism since it was displaced by christianity in the colapsing roman empire, so it's somewhat free of institutional baggage.

@nanomonkey in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@Dominic I rode a bike through Cambodia once also, and like you was stunned by the opulence of the temples, when the surrounding huts were so simple.

After awhile I started to get a sense of what this stemmed from. In Khmer culture, the temples are festival centers, places of worship, and throwbacks to animism. In this way it is something that a village or town can share, much like a piazza, church or town hall for other communities. When I couldn't find a guest house to stay at, I would often go to a temple and ask if I could sleep on their floor; they always obliged.

It is very popular to be a monk, and isn't a lifelong commitment. Part of the distaste that I initially had was watching the monks talk on cellphones and smoke cigarettes. But then I came to realize that many were just young men fulfilling a cultural expectation. When I would hear stories of monks throwing rocks at other factions and other hooliganism, I became apparent how little separation there is from the community itself. We expect them to be holy and committed when often they are much more human.

The second part, is that the "huts" that people live in are super useful in their minimal state. Because they are up on stilts you can use the underside as a shaded work area or to get out of the rain. Also because the climate is so warm there is really no need for much else. Khmer don't have the same sense of privacy that westerners do, as sleeping and eating is done in common areas often on the floor.

I wish I could squat and feel comfortable going about my daily life on the floor...so much easier. My hip flexors and quads just don't extend that far (yet!).

@noffle in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

That's very interesting, @nanomonkey. What adventure brought you to Cambodia?

Your anecdote about the monks makes me think about the disconnect that gets brought about by labels and terminology. When I say "buddhism" or think of a "buddhist" (or a "stoic"!) I have some very specific ideas and requirements in my mind. Those ideas are tinted by not only my own experiences, but also my very western cultural background. When someone calls themselves a "*ist" I can't help but get ideas about what sort of person they are, or how they conduct themselves.

They can also divide: if someone calls themselves a "republican" I may experience distrust or have some ideas about what their values are. Maybe I'd even be inclined to end our conversation quickly, or refuse the opportunity to meet with them again. If they hadn't of used that label, I would have judged them based on their words and actions (and, let's face it, appearance) instead. A question I've been crunching on for the last few months is whether labels are ever helpful, or if they are inherently divisive?

@nanomonkey in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

@noffle The first time I traveled to Cambodia was to do a piece of journalism on the damming of the Mekong River, which starts in Tibet and travels through nearly all of the countries of Southeast Asia. I had read that the river overflows each year and when it does, one of it's tributaries reverses it's flow and floods the Tonlé Sap, a lake in Cambodia. The flooding covers nearly a 1/3 of Cambodia, and becomes this vast breeding grounds for many of the fish in the South China Sea. I was afraid that the damming of the Mekong would destroy this ecosystem and wanted to see it before it occurred, and hopefully write a stirring tale that would push others do something about it.

I should note that I was finishing up a Physics degree and am known to be quite shy...not necessarily trained in the fine art of striking up conversations and interviewing people. I spent three weeks traveling around, seeing Cambodia and taking boat rides out on the Tonlé Sap. No one I met had any clue what was happening and I was too overwhelmed with the thought of prying too deeply. I took thousands of pictures which are all on a dead laptop in my closet.

While I was there I realized that I needed to come back with a bicycle as I really thought that would be the only way to get to the non-touristy locations and meet people. I took a semester of Khmer before graduating at Berkeley. Khmer is the language they speak in Cambodia, which by the way is absurdly difficult, there are 33 consonants and 22 vowels. The vowels change depending upon what consonant is prior to it, and the consonants can be doubled up and thus have a separate script for doing so. But it was completely worth it, the looks on people's faces when I talked to them and read their own language was great. Plus, on the bike I had to read street signs and would get lost and end up in small villages where no one spoke english.

Anyways, my second trip was all on a Surley X-check, with a Bobcat trailer. I landed in Bangkok Thailand and ended up doing a nice 3,000 km loop: I started out north up to Northern Thailand to get used to biking by myself, check out Chaing Rai and Chaing Mai. Then I headed over from Bankok to Cambodia, crossing over the southern part, having seen the north during my previous trip. I traveled to Phnom Penh, then across the boarder into Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City. Once there I headed up the coast. I had met a young Canadian while in Phnom Penh who was biking a similar route to me...we both decided it would be nice to have company, so we traveled together. When we got 2/3 of the way up the coast of Vietnam, he decided that he wanted to head back to Thailand to see his girlfriend, so we headed east and crossed into Laos. Laos was rolling hills and little else...so peaceful. We crossed Laos and entered back into Thailand and headed back to Bangkok. By this time (3+ months later) my own girlfriend was writing that I needed to head home. I had an open ticket so eventually I did just that.

You can read my travels in the Livejournal that I was writing at the time. It starts at Feb. 2004.

@nanomonkey in #stoicism
Re: %aJMzTWuW2

Because Livejournal isn't easy to navigate:
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004