⨳ musings and meditations on music, philosophy, and consciousness ⨳

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a collision with the ancient philosophy of Stoicism

A Greek Philosopher, a Roman emperor, are seated at a desk... it sounds like the start of joke that only philosophy lovers would understand, but as it turns out, this story of mine involves a greek philosopher and a Roman emperor from antiquity.

Right as rain

I was on one of my evening walks with my dog Sunny, a ritual of mine that usually includes deeply listening to an album or listening to lectures from philosophers and mystics, and contemplating the reality that I’ve found myself in. As is a frequent occurrence on my walks, I found myself in a flow-state of contentment, delight in nature all around me, and deep-seated serenity in where I find myself right now. I am who I need to be, I don’t need to be anything more, I’m not responsible for changing the people around me, and my so-called purpose in life is becoming much clearer.

It wasn’t always this way. Much of my life I’ve been bogged down by depression, beat up by my insecurities, overwhelmed with volatile emotional states, and drowning in uncertainty. A bit melodramatic? Maybe, but it makes for good reading.

The picture I paint wasn’t that far off the mark though — there is a stark contrast to who I was four years ago to who I am today. So in an effort to try and further process through these changes, the transformations I’ve experienced, and the ideas that have helped lead me along this way, I’ve decided to try and process these “out loud” in the form of meditations, not unlike a certain Roman emperor from antiquity who kept a journal of his own meditations (which almost quite accidentally is now available to us today as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations — a staple within the philosophy of Stoicism).

But allow me the luxury of backing up in time and the pivotal moment when I began waking up.

You’ve got to start somewhere

It was like any other November morning on my way in to work in 2019 — I was tired, cranky from yelling at bad drivers, I was angry about the political climate we’ve found ourselves in here in the United States, and I felt absolutely powerless to do anything about all of it. I felt like I was on a collision course — I’m not sure what with, but I was spiraling out of control, descending into a place of anger, disgust with humanity, disgust with myself, and desperate for something to change.

Ever been there?

Staring lifelessly into my laptop at work and feeling unsettled, I’d opened up a new tab to YouTube and began a search. I don’t recall exactly what I searched for, perhaps something along the lines of a TED Talk and trying to get my anger under control and dealing with the feeling of powerlessness to change my circumstances. The first video that sprang up was a very informative video on Stoicism — a philosophy that I was unaware of. It offered up fundamental information about the philosophy and key points that are fairly common threads of thought found in most of the historical and philosophical texts of Stoicism.

One of the key ideas that I was confronted with was the Dichotomy of Control — a tool for helping steer your focus, your energy, and your attention towards more healthy perspectives and objective reality. The Dichotomy of Control is effectively this:

Know this fundamental — the difference between what is in your control, and what is not. The things within your control — what you say, what you do, your opinions, your aversions, your attachments, your actions, your responses — those are all within your control and is where one ought to place their energy, focus, and effort into. All the things outside of your control — other people, circumstances, outcomes, events, and a near infinite number of other variables — those things are out of your control and are not necessarily something you can change.

In my manic state of anger, depression, and hopelessness I was confronted with words that squarely put me in the driver’s seat: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU. Those words implied that I had a say in my feelings, my opinions, my actions, the things I say, even the things I think about or dwell on — I can change all of that, and it’s my responsibility. No one can do it for me.

As an important aside, because I can already hear some people saying to themselves, “but what if you have a medical condition that…” I hear you. There will always be conditions or circumstances that can or will impede us, but they do not in any way negate our personal responsibility when it comes to how we see the world, and how we respond to it.

I feel I should be entirely clear about this: I did not experience some sudden transformation, a golden grail-shaped light from on high, or some distinct pivotal moment when I suddenly changed and became a different person. Instead, the change for me was slow, distinctly gradual in nature, and required a lot of effort on my part.

Build it, and it will come

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner — the nostalgia of growing up with baseball, the landscape of the midwestern states, and of course the dulcet tones of James Earl Jones’ decadently rich voice. I like the story — man receives an unlikely vision, hearing voices, tells him to do something that is completely counter-culture, he does it, endures humiliation and suffering for it, but is rewarded with a remarkable outcome. Ray Kinsella remained faithful to the vision he received, followed through, and was more than rewarded for it. Stories produced from Hollywood are great and all — but the real world is a lot messier, complicated, and doesn’t fit neatly into a 90-minute movie.

My experience wasn’t entirely unlike Ray Kinsella’s — though I didn’t hear voices, or see words on a score board, or have dead baseballers showing up in my yard, there was this feeling inside that was unmistakable. You know when you’re in a sweet spot in life and everything feels like it’s supposed to be, like when you’re tuning your instrument and the two variable frequencies come together to unite into a single resonance? That’s what the feeling inside resembled — like I found a frequency that I could actually tune myself to and bring order to my life by keying into this sonorous feeling inside.

I started out my “build it” phase with the simple act of journaling with the aid of “Chapters” by Vertellis, a structured daily journal that helps you find gratitude for things in your life, help you evaluate what’s going well and what could be improved upon, and a question or prompt for you to reflect on and write about. (I’d share a link to, but at the time that I wrote this, the site appears to be “gone”. You can still find copies on Amazon.) Starting a daily habit as a distinct non-negotiable was the first step — kind of like having a prescription meditation regiment assigned by your doctor. Just writing out my feelings, writing what I am thinking about, and looking for other perspectives to help me through was quite helpful and instrumental in setting me on a better path.

I also had subscribed to the daily email from The Daily Stoic, a newsletter from author Ryan Holiday that covers relevant issues we experience in life and what the Stoics had to say about it. This was particularly helpful to have that daily prompt to keep digging, to keep looking, to keep searching for the better way of being, thinking, speaking, and doing.

It wasn’t long before I started picking up books on Stoicism — “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, “The Practicing Stoic” by Ward Farnsworth, Seneca’s “Letters from a Stoic”, and Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way” to name a few. I’d added daily reading and contemplation to my journaling habit, taking time to reflect and write about what I’m reading, what I think or feel about it, and what I plan on doing differently moving forward.

The world is your buffet

Now before I sound like a salesperson, pitching Stoicism hard in hopes that you’ll buy the 48-volume set of philosophical ponderings, I need to also clearly state that not everything in Stoicism works for me, and some of the ideas are antiquated and clearly reflect the way life was back around the turn of the common era. For example, as a non-theist, all the references to God by Seneca, Marcus Aurelis, and more were met with inevitable eye-rolling on my part, largely a byproduct of the religious trauma I experienced in the evangelical church, that and the idea of a deity on high just doesn’t work for me anymore.

I learned to sift through what I was reading, pick out what works for me in the moment, to discard what doesn’t, and just get on with my life. I started just focusing on what I can do right here, right now to try and be a better person, to live and act more virtuously, and to see what I could find within Stoicism to help me achieve that goal — to live my best life, to be my best self.

This act of picking and choosing — sifting through philosophy and spirituality a la carte style like at an all-you-can-eat buffet — became my model for looking for universal truths, universal ideas that more widely resonate with humanity and are not held hostage by dogmatic religions, institutions, and predatory organizations veiled under their 501(c)(3) non-profit status. With the spiritual manipulation and subtle abuses I endured through much of my formative years in the church, they led me to deeply question anything dogmatic or held behind some sort of “paywall” or barrier to entry (if you want X, you need Y, but you have to get it from us, because we are the authority on X).

I think about when I started exploring meditation as a further extension of my road to wholeness and healing — in my exploration, I had come across Transcendental Meditation, their claims, and the paywall behind which they hold all the “secrets” of having a transcendental experience through meditation. How is it that one small organization can possess all the answers, all the secrets to the universe and connecting to it through meditation? If it’s a universally accessible truth, you can get to it through other methods or means.

If you want to climb Mount Fuji, there is no one absolute way to get to the summit — there are in fact many ways that you could approach it from its 78-mile base. Find the route to the top that works for you!

This approach to seeking life-altering truth has been absolutely liberating, and encourages a sort of scientific approach to working on my humanity and tuning myself into the deeper realities found in the universe. The whole world is your oyster — try different ideas, see if they work or resonate, if they don’t work after a lot of experimentation or don’t have a broader universal truth to it that could work for anyone, then it’s probably safe to discard it (or in the very least, set it aside for now and focus on more important and pressing things).

Stoicism — the gateway to deeper truth and open spaces

There’s one last thing I want to write about before I hang it up for the day, and that’s this fact for me: Stoicism is just the gateway (and a very accessible one at that). As I’ve explored and started regularly practicing many of the other ideas found throughout Stoicism — self-control, kindness, humility, courage, justice, equanimity — this could have easily become THE thing that I devote myself to, becoming not just a fan-boy of Stoicism, but a living, breathing example of it.

I want to be clear though, for I feel the framework of Stoicism is incomplete, it’s imperfect, and there are gaps in some of the ideas or conclusions about life, people, and right living. But already, what I’ve gleaned from the Stoics (both of antiquity and modern era) has been transformative and instrumental in steering me off a one-way course of self-destruction.

As life continued to unfold in unpredictable ways and challenge these new-found ideas and ways of thinking and being, it was apparent to me that my search was incomplete. If I want to make more progress and see even greater transformation, it would take greater curiosity and a willingness to explore other ideas, ideas that have been cultivated for centuries by other much older and long-standing cultures and traditions than what we’ve seemed to settle upon as westerners.

In the writings that follow, I’m going to continue to expound on my experiences, the ideas that I’ve come across and have been playing around with, and the changes I’ve seen over these past few years. Just to be absolutely clear, the audience here is me — taking time to write and reflect on all that I’ve endured, what I’ve processed through, and some of the outcomes I’ve seen along the way. If you get something out of this, great — that’s just icing on the cake. My deeper desire, though, is to solidify the truths that I’ve found and embraced, and further incite curiosity within myself, to keep exploring and searching for ways to tune myself into the Universe and our shared experience in consciousness, and the obscured path towards awakening.

If you have questions or comments, I welcome them below in the comments section. As a rule of thumb though, be kind. I’d prefer to keep this space a safe place for honest and meaningful discourse. Hate speech, trolling, and other baseline behavior is simply uninteresting to me and isn’t welcome here. Save it for 4chan.

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