Tuesday, July 28 – Through the Bullshit, I Endure (A Meditation)
By Jorah Kai CHONGQING, CHINA
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Day 184. The stoics knew one thing that all of us could and should be practicing this year: He who knows how to suffer suffers less. The weight of bodily discomfort or disability is lightened when we can look at it dispassionately, without drawing rings around it and compounding our misery by adding layers of despair. Or, if you’re going to have to learn to eat shit for breakfast, the least you could do is use a spoon.
I swim every morning. Monday was shoulder day, and today is arms, tomorrow chest and back, and then legs. My torn ankle is slowly repairing. When you travel to a country where most people are much smaller than you, it is wise to pay special attention when descending their stairs. My feet are freakishly large to the Chinese, and now I take the stairs at an angle, cutting across like a skier, rather than risk another wet and manic tumble this summer. The floods continue, millions displaced, and now 30% of Bangladesh is affected, it’s just another thing. If you didn’t get the memo, you’re going to want to live on high ground from now on, it’s not gonna be any easier as the sea waters rise.
We got offered a Trip to Tibet for my birthday: top of the world? Maybe wait for 42. We thought about it, and it would be amazing, but right now, it’s just too risky. We just got the house paid off, but that means liquid cash on hand isn’t too high, and if we suddenly get stuck with an expensive pair of quarantine bills, we will be scrambling. This year it’s wiser to stay put, where we are luckily fairly safe and able to relax our vigilance more than most places; eat in public, enjoy the gym, visit family and some friends, and count ourselves lucky for that. So I continue to try to strengthen myself for what’s to come, and keep writing, and I am grateful for the relative ease of these days, even if it is easy to get cranky when it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside.
A few writers have been making impressions on me lately, and for all the stupidity of the mobs, there are clear voices determined to be lighthouses through this chaos. One term that’s been getting some traction is MASC: Mother of All Social Collapse(s): The idea that what is going on in the USA and by proxy, affecting the world is not simply a pandemic or economic depression but a multi-pronged entropic decay of civilization: most people cannot afford to live, the economy is only working for the richest of the rich, society and order collapse as people are fighting police in the streets and children are in cages, people are as divided as ever in history, foreign policy leadership is entirely absent, and there is no confidence that a return to normal life is coming, ever, and maybe that’s actually for the best.
I’ve often lamented Rene Descartes poorly phrased E Cogito Ergo Sum, I think, therefore I am, as everything that went wrong with the west, Europe, colonialism, and modern civilization. The reverse implication of course: you don’t, therefore, you’re not, has been poorly and illogically extended to justify atrocities and injustices to women, BIPOC, animals, both domestic and wild, natural “resources” in the place of nature, so on until the very climate and ecosystem is teetering on the verge of collapse and only a mass death event and the complete collapse of human society has a chance to give the Earth a reset. Because of this, we must End Human Supremacy (please help me get #endhumansupremacy trending). We must abolish the idea that humans are on top of the food chain: there is no top, only a delicate web of life that we have made a mess of.
In the last decade, moving from a life as a hedonistic superstar DJ to something of sustainable substance, I practiced CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to reprogram my brain to deal with hardships, discomfort, and pain without resorting to medication and fantasy to cope. Later came the poetry of Rumi, mindfulness meditation and my adoption of Stoic philosophy as a toolset to allow me to access happiness naturally, despite a flawed world full of disappointment and despair, because I learned how to be ok with being uncomfortable, unhappy at times, and that made all the difference. I hope, knowing so many of you are struggling, that these tools may serve you as well.
As we look forward to potentially decades of increasing turmoil before we get a respite and the chance of a reset after a millennium of poor decisions that spawned from the “height of the enlightenment” the poorly thought out a Cartesian split that means a company called Amazon can be worth a Trillion USD, but the lungs of the Earth, the Amazon rainforest can have no inherent value or protection, and we can allow it to be raped, burned and destroyed, along with its protectors, aboriginal people much wiser than the colonial fools that have led the Earth so astray all these years.
Learning to endure through the bullshit will hopefully give me the strength to see a ’20s full of virus pandemic and economic chaos, a ’30s where the environment collapses and displaces billions, a ’40s where we face global food supply shortages and a ’50s where the collapse of biodiversity creates a mass extinction on Earth. Maybe in the 2060s, we will see a SolarPunk (#solarpunk) revolution. By the ’70s and ’80s, a much smaller, more humble, the human race will be starting to rebuild a truly equitable society from the shattered remains of failed capitalism, colonialism, and white imperialism.
It is thus our duty to preserve natural and native cultures, wisdom, and traditions through the dark days ahead so that the next generations can have these tools at their disposal when the opportunity to plant new seeds and forge an advanced civilization is ready. If you want to hurry that along, rather than fight to return to a life that was destroying us, we must hurry along with the entropy of the world we know, push along social collapse and cross our fingers for the larger the mass death event of 2020 becomes, the quicker our chance at a better future may be upon us. Possibly, the effects of the next decades might be lessened. This may sound like madness, but, “Anyone who tells the truth sounds crazy because hardly anyone ever tells the truth.” (anonymous?)
In parting, here are four tips from Stoicism that could help to endure the bullshit society has crashed upon our doorstep:
Tip #1: Distinguish What Is in Your Control, From What Isn’t
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said: “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.” This became the basis of the Serenity Prayer made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Which aspects of being in pain or suffering from illness are up to you and which are not? Maybe some of the physical discomforts aren’t under your control, but you could change the way you think about it or aspects of your behavior.
Tip #2: What Are the Consequences of Struggling Versus Acceptance?
What would happen, over time, if you could learn to calmly accept the fact that some painful sensations are beyond your direct control? What if you took greater responsibility for learning healthier ways to think and act in response to pain? The Stoics liked to say that it’s not really pain that’s our problem but rather the fear of pain. Struggling against things we can’t change can add to our emotional suffering. The Stoics want us to learn a healthy and rational attitude of acceptance instead. Of course, if there are practical steps that could potentially help your condition, then take them.
Tip #3: Let Go of the Inner Struggle
The Stoics compared life to a dog tied to a moving cart. If the dog tries to struggle and resist, it will be pulled along roughly by the cart anyway. However, if it chooses to run behind at the same speed as the cart, things will go smoothly. If we struggle against unpleasant experiences such as pain and try to resist them or become frustrated or resentful toward them, then we often just make our lives worse.
Tip #4: Focus on the Bigger Picture
One of the most famous Stoic techniques is called the “View from Above” by modern scholars. It involves picturing events from high overhead, like Zeus looking down from Mount Olympus. Sometimes it goes further and involves imagining our current situation as a tiny part of the whole of space and time. When we become upset, on the other hand, we tend to focus on events very narrowly, and that can magnify our pain and suffering.