Category Archives: Philosophy

Stoicism On A Diet – What Would Marcus Aurelius Do?

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

― Marcus Aurelius

When we think about health, we think of ‘new beginnings’, of turning over a new leaf, or starting afresh.

It’s a time for throwing away our past defeats and diving into the kick with a revived child-like vigour.

‘This time it’ll be a success. I’ll have the willpower, time, and energy to make it work, and I’ll never give up!’

Admirable, in a ‘not gonna work, but I admire your zeal’ kinda way.

I’m not saying the effervescent optimism of a health kick isn’t charming, and useful, even, when used properly, but to win in the health game, you have to buckle down for the long haul. The honeymoon period doesn’t last long, and before you know it, that deliciously crisp ceasar salad, filled with antioxidants and nourishing vitamins, is a wilted, sweaty abomination, sending you overboard into a miserably deep ocean of relapse, filled with sweet carbs and sumptuous, forbidden fried delights.

That’s why I love that quote by Marcus Aurelius, a Grecian Emperor and stoic philosopher from ancient times.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Stoicism is the belief that all you can change is your perception. The only control that you have is in the way that you tackle the chaos that sweeps your daily life.

When you apply this to dieting, it provides you with a refreshing approach.

Instead of getting bored and giving up, then slipping into a spiralling pit of despair coated in syrup and lard, you can change your approach.

Having a bad day? Did you eat something naughty?

Ok, well now we get to analyse what we could do to prevent that. Could we take something out of our day that then makes everything more easy to tolerate? Could we maybe find a different way to approach a difficult or stressful task which makes it less of a monster? Do we need to think that all our hard work is destroyed because we ate something bad?

When we start questioning the habits that cause us to react poorly, we can begin to regain some control over them.

The obstacle becomes the way.

We want to look at what is making our life more difficult. The boulder of hardship. Can we find a way over it, a way under it or a way around it?

If we can, can we do it every time we come across it? Better to slip past, or chip away at an obstacle than to spend hours and days crumpled in a heap over the whole agonising weight of its total mass, like a behemoth of misery and despair that we, personally, have to lug up hill.

Changing our approach to dieting by making our lives easier, adapting our habits, and maybe even recruiting the help and support of our friends and families, can make the whole burden of the task so much easier to face.

That’s why I love stoicism.

I just like the simplicity of self-analysis it affords.

You just need to look at your biggest problems and find better ways to tackle them.

And I know, seriously, I know, that that is easier said than done when you’re already overwhelmed. Your plate is already well past full (your metaphorical plate, but your real plate can also be full so long as it’s mainly wholefoods, don’t limit yourself).

I’m just saying that self-care is really important, and if you don’t give yourself some time to reflect, you’re going to burn out faster than a tealight from poundland. Sometimes we need five minutes just for us to get some perspective and start tackling those problems, one at a time, bit by bit.

Meditation can also be great for this. Asking yourself a question, just dropping it into your subconscious. ‘How can we tackle x?’. Not demanding an answer, just taking 5 – 10 minutes and just dropping the question. Eventually, answers bubble up!

So anyway, next time your start to feel like flinging your salad, ripping all of your clothes off, and screaming from your cubicle in the office, just think, ‘how can I approach this differently?’. Give yourself five minutes to relax, maybe even take a meditative minute to drop that question in the dimming pool of your mind. See what comes up. ‘The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way.’

Diet is an obstacle. If we keep approaching it the same way, we’ll never keep going with it. We need to constantly find new ways to approach it, or the obstacle will overwhelm us. Just remember, there is always a way around, through or under your health obstacle, you just need to find out which way works best for you, and allow yourself the space to get there without judgement.

Now get your chisel, there’s a big bully boulder ahead, waiting to be slugged down to size.

5 Things I’ve Learned Being Fat

1. Finding love should be easier when you don’t meet societal standards of beauty, but societies standards make you feel that you aren’t worthy of love.

2. Negative comments about weight perpetuate weight gain. I no longer accept malicious comments and will challenge them or turn them into positive affirmations internally.

3. My time is for creative, meaningful experiences and not absurdly weighted towards attaining punishing weight loss goals.

4. Diets always fail and eventually lead to binges. Change habits in small ways to make a global impact.

5. Challenging negative self talk. I deserve better than to project social expectations which have never served me onto myself in a bad way.

I used to be fairly thin, but I was just as unhappy and so much more of my time was spent on dissatisfying activities that stopped me from developing spiritually.

I am beginning to experience a great deal of pain just getting about normally and I need to make room for exercise, but not at the expense of my happiness and progress in life.

I’m glad I’m not conventionally attractive because at least people see me for my personality and not what I look like. That’s a far better starting point for long term happiness than beauty.

I’m not going to sit here and say ‘fat is beautiful, or healthy, or happy’, but I will say, fat teaches you to accept yourself and to challenge your limitations, to become a person people can look to for other reasons than my flesh suit.

Fat is often seen as weakness, but fat can be powerful. A desire to overcome expectation, to become happier in spite of what you look like or who you ought to be. We learn acceptance and forgiveness, both towards society and towards ourselves, so profoundly affected by it before we even have a chance to fight back.

Fat is forgiveness, acceptance and power.

J

I Have Many Fears, but All Pale to This One

I am a naturally pensive person.

I spend a lot of time ruminating on things.

They can be hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares.

I don’t know why I do it.

To live in the moment, to experience life as it comes, to be, rather than to be thinking about being. You might call this being a zombie, or a drone, or some such kind of non-sentient thing. Something devoid of its humanity. Devoid of its sharpness and its soul.

A fool? The one who does, but never thinks?

I’m starting to change my mind. Maybe I’m the fool.

We live once and die once. We get one life, one slip in time, one moment in infinity to just be who we are. And what does the clever man do? He sits and thinks and never does. While we regard the fool as the one who does without thinking.

What backwardness in the face of living this view is!

Their is some kind of unspoken wisdom, some prescient truth in doers that speaks to the meaning of life. It speaks to the joy of being in the moment, of not wasting time, of being present and connecting with people.

I am so tired of thinking and not doing. And the more I think, the less I do. And the less I do, the more I think about how much I ought to have done, and how much time I might have to do it with the limited beats, predetermined in my heart.

I have only one fear that means anything when the whole of life’s purpose is condensed into a single point and all trivia falls away. I have fear that I did not love enough and was not loved enough by others. I have fear that time will limit my ability to address it. I have fear that my overthinking life will tie me so in knots, that I never address my need for love and my need to give love.

I am 27 now. Life is moving so fast and I have never met someone who I could reveal my heart to and peer in at another’s lit up for me.

I fear that I am empty.

I fear that if someone peaked into my chest, they would find only dust and darkness. That I am incapable of being seen as someone, a person filled with kindness and purpose and love for others. I want to be that person, but I am so terrified that I am empty.

I cannot open up, for I fear what is inside.

So there you have it. Any fear I have in this life comes from this singular fear. That I am empty and will not love, like a dead thing, still breathing and thinking.

I am not scared of death. I am not scared of people. I am not scared of anything, truly, except being seen.

With agony,

J

 

Meditation in a Busy World

It’s been a while since I last blogged about anything on my blog.

I have to admit, my passion for writing had all but dwindled to nothing in recent months, as I battled ever declining levels of physical and mental health. This isn’t the first time I have experienced problems with my mental health, and I am very open about it because I believe that talking about pain, heals. If you’re new to my blog, take a look at some of the background articles which explain why I’m writing.

My joy, my light, was going out.

I always imagine that there are two ways to go when you hit rock bottom. You can either give up and let the darkness take you, or you can make some drastic changes.

I couldn’t bear the next few decades in this state, so I have committed to many things, including radical diet changes. I am now essentially vegan, with the occasional lapse in having a bit of fish or meat at a special meal. I’m working on exercising, really slowly and carefully. I have quite flexible joints, especially in my legs, and so I have to be really careful about how much exercise I do in case I injure myself. The final thing I have committed to, and the topic of this post, is practising meditation, both at home and in the busy world where we spend so much of our time these days.

Keeping these pillars of well being at the top of my priority will be hard, as they are for anyone with a busy, full time job. However, they are necessary, as anyone who has struggled with their mental health knows, the alternative is much worse. I have been to some really dark places because I have not taken the time to look after myself, and it is amazing how much I am beginning to enjoy things lately because I have taken time for self-care. Neglecting our needs and accepting this as the status quo is the road to ill health and misery. With that in mind, I want to talk, briefly, about some of the ways we can employ meditation in our daily lives, when we are at work, or learning or practically anywhere.

Let me give you a recent example that can illustrate the calming benefits of meditation which can, without doubt, become a part of your busy schedule.

Yesterday, I had booked into the hairdressers for a cut and finish. For someone like me, a hair cut can be an uncomfortable experience. Often bustling, busy, loud, raucous places, filled with glaring lights and extroverts, my withdrawn and quiet presence can often curl up, further shrinking from its sizzling energy.

However, I’ve been following some meditation techniques on Headspace, an app for your phone which teaches meditation with a soothing voice and easy to follow instructions.

One of the most powerful things I picked up, were the techniques of listening to the sounds, smells and sensations of nearby space. The sound of your breathing, the rising and falling sensation of your chest. The soft pressure of the cushion by your side, or the mattress, if you decide to lie down.

It helps ground you in space. It makes you focus on now, as opposed to the fear of the future or lamenting the past. To centre yourself is to experience absolute calm. I really recommend trying a little of this out if you suffer from anxiety or depression. It can really help to bring you back to baseline if you are starting to spiral.

And this is something you can do absolutely anywhere.

Going back to my story about the hairdressers. For anyone with social anxiety and a largely reserved personality, these can be daunting places. However, I found myself naturally starting to use the techniques I had learned through meditation, to turn an experience which could be anxiety provoking, into a pleasant and calming 30- 40 minutes.

I found myself breathing steadily and deeply, staring loosely into the mirror in front of me. I started to sense the sounds and sensations around me. The gentle snipping sounds that scissors make by the ear, as my hair dresser carefully shapes and styles my unruly curls. The brief, warmth of body heat as the hair dresser brushes close by, adjusting their position to get at my tangled ends. The sound of foot steps on the hard floor, hurriedly clopping past and the ambient drone of hair dryers near and far.

I slowly began to fade away and lose myself in all the sounds and sensations. I was no longer on the defence against some perceived threat, very much imagined. It is like becoming a piece of furniture in a scene, totally blending in with an orchestra of noise, becoming silent and calm and completely malleable. The sense of you versus the world falls away, as if you were a piece of wallpaper, newly pasted on a busy background. You can become paper thin. Not literally, but in the way that you identify with what, or who you are, against what, or who, anything that isn’t you, is. It’s the active practice of dissolving the ego, a very important task for those who tend to spend too much time in their own heads.

You can really practice this anywhere, especially trying to work with this method in instances where you feel that anxiety may cause you problems. This can be busy places, or during stressful events in life, or perhaps even something like an interview waiting room, where the suspense of waiting to present yourself, can often times seem unbearable.

So there you have it, a little story from me about how observing and attuning our attention to the world around you can turn potentially unpleasant experiences into an opportunity for relaxation and a sense of ‘being’ with your environment, rather than against it. It just takes a little meditation and concentration, but we are all capable of reaping the benefits of calm and quietude, in the turbulence and chaos of modern life.

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