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The Serenity Prayer as a Stoic Meditation

Most days, I believe in a deity. Some days, I don’t. When I do believe in a deity, that doesn’t mean I accept all the trappings of a specific religion.

I mostly align myself with Stoicism, an Ancient Greek philosophy that can help you be happy and well-adjusted no matter your station in life.

Today, I thought about the Serenity Prayer. I grew up knowing it because I was raised in a Christian household. But it struck me today that the Serenity Prayer could be used as a Stoic meditation.

The Serenity Prayer is as follows:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Previously, I blogged about how Stoicism does not entail quietism. Yet, according to Stoics, the are things called externals that are beyond our control. The wise person will not let things outside of their control affect them negatively. Thus, the Serenity Prayer is useful as a Stoic meditation because it focuses on what we can and cannot change and asks for the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s important to know that, according to both Stoics and the Serenity Prayer, there are things that can be changed. The Serenity Prayer asks for courage to change things.

When I was in counseling, I learned a western form of meditation in which you fill your mind with quotes, passages, and other important things. You take several minutes just to focus on the quote or passage. I think the Serenity Prayer could be a useful thing to meditate on. You can use it whether you believe in a deity or not.

Standing Bear: A Hero and Civil Rights Leader

Dehumanization of Native Americans is definitely a thing and, back in the 1870’s, Native Americans were literally considered wild animals. There is a persistent view, to this day, that Native Americans are closer to nature than Euro-American settlers. While it is true that many Native people care about the environment, there’s a difference between seeing them as individuals who care about nature and being lower beings who are more of a part of nature than white people.

In 1879, the Poncha Chief Standing Bear became a civil rights leader when he successfully argued in court that Native Americans are persons under the law.

Standing Bear, Ponca Chief. (wikipedia)

You can read about Standing Bear’s journey and victory in the book Standing Bear is a Person. Standing Bear had to actually argue for his own humanity, saying before the court, “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain.”

In times like these, we need to weed out stereotypes and various forms of dehumanization. We can look to brave people like Standing Bear to be our guides.

Native American history is often sad. Standing Bear’s victory did some things for Native people, but bad policies and actions toward Native Americans continue to this day. During Native American Heritage Month, we can learn about Native American heroes like Standing Bear and share in their victories by seeing Native Americans as valuable, unique human beings who should be able to live freely and securely.

Native American Heritage Month: A Primer

November is Native American Heritage Month. I have been celebrating this month since 2003, when I first learned of it. Back then, I was an undergraduate at Stetson University doing research on indigenous justice. I was part of university-wide initiatives to read books, watch films, and bring in speakers for the celebration.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. That means I typically repeat the same things year after year.

I initially got into indigenous justice because my daughter is Choctaw and, in Kindergarten, for Thanksgiving, they learned about Native Americans. My daughter came home and told me that she didn’t want to be Indian anymore because “they aren’t smart and never did anything good.”

I will never forget those words.

No parent wants to hear their child say such a thing. I determined then and there to do research and engage in activism to make the world better for my daughter and kids like her. So, even though I often have to repeat myself on these things, I rarely mind doing it because, even if change is slow, it does happen and, when it does, it’s worth it. Here’s four points I say almost every year:

  1. Native Americans are different than other racial minorities. Most of them are citizens of their tribe and citizens of the United States. Being a citizen of a tribe means one can participate in tribal affairs, like voting in tribal elections.
  2. Tribal nations are real nations. They really are. If you tend to think of tribes as being different or a lesser nation than the United States, that’s probably colonialism at work. Native Americans have been victims of colonialism for a very long time at the hand of the United States. I think the end goal of colonialism is the total obliteration of the indigenous population by whatever means necessary. Currently, tribes advocate tribal sovereignty, whereby they act in a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States and can run their own affairs.
  3. Native Americans are individuals. Be aware of stereotypes on Native Americans. Each Native person is a unique individual their his or her own story. Remember that. If you would like to unlearn Native American stereotypes, here’s a good book on the topic.
  4. Treaties are still in effect. Treaties are not mere historical documents. Most Native American treaties are ratified, which means they are “the supreme law of the land.” All treaties have been broken by the United States, but that doesn’t make them ineffective. In fact, recently a treaty was used by the Supreme Court to re-establish a reservation in Oklahoma.

Learn about Native Americans this month and fight for justice for them.

What Being a Patriot in Trying Times Means to Me

In my personal life, I have met abusers. I have simply decided not to allow them in my life anymore. I don’t hate them. I just don’t let them cause me any damage. (As much as possible.)

In my political life, it’s very similar.

Yesterday, a large group of scholars warned of the collapse of democracy. They called upon ordinary people to do what they can–even peacefully protest–to protect democracy. In such times, patriotism requires us to do extraordinary things.

We need patriotism when fascism is rising. We need to set good examples of what our country is about. I am far from perfect on this, but I decided a while back to not hate my political opponents.

Don’t get me wrong: Fascism is evil.

However, if I hate fascists, I allow hate to consume me, and don’t present a good example for my grandchildren and generations to come.

It’s just like with abusers in my personal life: I try to minimize their presence in my life and continue to live the best life I can while protecting and loving those I care about.

Now more than ever, we need a good example of what America is and can be. It’s an America where people feel comfortable speaking Spanish in public, where Black lives matter, where we honestly discuss things.

That doesn’t mean we have to sit down and have a beer with far right conspiracy theorists. If you want to do that, feel free. But I probably won’t be. I have too many other people in my life who need my love and support–many of them marginalized and very much at risk. Patriotism, to me, is supporting those most vulnerable. It’s about triaging who needs you the most right now and, for me, it’s the ones I love.

There is no excuse right now to vote for Trump. One cannot say that one agrees with his proposed policies because he hasn’t any. If you decide to vote for him anyway, I don’t hate you. But, to be clear, I don’t fear you, either. I know that the arch of justice is long. I am in it for the long game.

You may not think it’s fair to have to rise above the tactics of the opposition. Why, after all, do those wronged always have to take the moral high ground? I’m here to tell you that you can matter-of-factly and vehemently disagree, but you do not have to let hate consume you. You will, in fact, probably be better off and able to help those who need it if you aren’t filled with hate. That doesn’t mean you have to placate fascists and tyrants.

Peaceful protests are always better. Doing violence only hurts your cause. Speak up for the oppressed and be a good role model for what America can be.

Election Final Thoughts

It’s just two days until the election and, on this day, I am troubled that a crowd of fascists in vehicles, some of them armed, closed in on a Biden bus, forcing the Biden campaign to cancel their stop. That’s bad. But, worse: Trump, at an event yesterday, appeared to encourage this behavior.

Yesterday on social media, I shared a quote from a book I read: On Tyranny. I studied ethics and political philosophy, after all, and I was especially interested in evil. Here’s the quote:

Currently, we are up against a fascist regime. It hasn’t totally solidified power, but it’s a fascist regime nonetheless.

The good news is that, if you read FiveThirtyEight, the polls show Biden winning this election. And closing polls–polls this close to an election–are fairly accurate.

Last night was Halloween. It was a quiet night at my house. I wrote my first political poem in quite some time, feeling it necessary to articulate the need to vote Trump out.

On Happiness

I live in America. It’s common here to think of happiness as an exuberant state when you are beaming smiles.

I’m going to argue that’s not the case. I am a woman who has been told by men to smile more because I look unhappy. In fact, I have never been happier in my life. My happiness is deep and steady. I don’t have to be giggling and showing my teeth in order to be happy. These past few years have been joyous.

Happiness is the state of being unperturbed. That is mostly within your control. It’s up to you to decide what perturbs you.

I face challenges. Just the other day, I was thinking about how to deal with a potential problem. That doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s a chance to work out rationally what I should do and see how it works.

Stoics often engage in such things. Marcus Aurelius often went over what he may do in an expected situation and wrote his thoughts in his journal. Dealing with expected challenges does not need to make you unhappy. It doesn’t need to perturb you.

In America, we have a false and shallow view of happiness. It is fleeting and dependent on external circumstances. It is smiling with your teeth showing. It is exuberant laughter. The type of happiness I experience is not so fleeting. It is steady. And I feel it even when the circumstances around me are bad. It’s my goal to stay that way and, with practice and meditation, maybe I will.

I am unperturbed. And that, I think, is the true state of happiness.

A Stoic Take on Voting

If you are like me, you want Trump out of office. Maybe you’ve voted already and made sure your vote was counted. Maybe you encouraged friends and family to vote. Maybe you posted voting updates on social media.

I have done all that, too.

It’s three days until Election Day and people are amping up.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to watch CNN 24 hours a day for the next three days. You don’t have to look at every poll. If you have put in the effort to get friends and family to vote and have posted such reminders on social media, you don’t need to remind everyone anymore.

In short, you don’t have to stress out about the election results. Stressing out will not change the outcome of this election.

As a Stoic and an activist, I am confident I have done what’s within my power this election. I fully realize what’s at stake–and what’s at stake is our very democracy. I know lives are on the line with COVID-19 in the air.

But if you stress out and are full of anxiety as Election Day comes upon us, it does no one any good. It won’t make you happy and it might not encourage the happiness of others around you.

You can matter-of-factly engage in activism and politics without stressing yourself out. You owe it to yourself and those around you.

The key is knowing what you can control and what you can’t. If you have reminded people to vote, made your case for voting Trump out, and have voted yourself, there’s not a whole lot more that needs to be done right now. Your stress and anxiety will not change the election results.

If Trump wins, there will be more to be done. Save your energy and keep your sanity for when and if that time comes.

Keeping up with politics can be stressful. Know what to pay attention to and what to disregard. You may like to keep up with every single poll–and that’s fine as long as you aren’t stressing about the outcome, which you cannot control at this point.

There are healthy and sane ways to deal with the likes of Trump that don’t cause distress, worry, fear and anxiety. In fact, if you let him have that power over you, he arguably already won.

Let’s keep our cool and be patient. We may not know the results until after Election Day. You can see the seriousness of the issues at hand without losing your cool.

Stoicism: The Key to Happiness (And Justice!)

Back when I was in graduate school, I read the book Radical Hope by Jonathan Lear. It’s a very short work of philosophical anthropology. In the book, Lear argues that the path Crow Chief Plenty Coups took–as opposed to Sitting Bull–was the best route. At the time, I offered many objections to this, seeing Sitting Bull as a role model for justice. Sitting Bull resisted colonization with everything he had in him while Plenty Coups encouraged his people to adapt to reservation life and get to work. Back in grad school, I argued that both tribes ended up basically the same, so wasn’t it better to fight injustice with everything inside you?

Fast forward to now. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had to leave school. Donald Trump is the current president. I have learned a lot–and have suffered a lot. In my quest for mental health care, I went to counseling and engaged in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a derivative of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

When Trump was first elected, my stomach was in knots. I lost a lot of weight. I was worried, scared and terrified. I knew services that I needed may be cut.

I see this a lot on the Left–anxiety, fear, worry.

Because I saw a great counselor, I was able to work through those emotions and come to better terms with things. I am no longer a wreck–and I haven’t been for quite some time.

This new perspective gives me a better understanding of Plenty Coups, who I previously regarded as a sell-out.

If we see Plenty Coups as being more of a Stoic than Sitting Bull, it makes sense that, when all was said and done, Plenty Coups ended up happier than Sitting Bull.

Stoicism is a philosophical position that you practice. You live it. For Stoics, the end result is virtue and a state of inner calm known as “Stoic calm.”

Stoicism brings you happiness.

That’s why it’s foundational to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. But he may have had better adaptation skills than Sitting Bull. He may have had better flexibility. And he may have been happier.

A lot of people think that Stoicism entails quietism, but it doesn’t. In fact, one of the key virtues of Stoicism is the virtue of justice–a virtue that is sorely lacking, including among the Left.

Ancient Stoics famously opposed slavery, even though they thought a slave could be virtuous and, thus, happy. Maybe they were against slavery because they thought slaves could be virtuous.

At any rate, Stoicism does not entail quietism. I am fairly Stoic in my lifestyle and I care for people, help people and voted against Trump. A Stoic sees brotherly and sisterly love among humans. That’s an essential part of being Stoic. Therefore, justice is required.

For a Stoic, happiness doesn’t depend on external things. You can be poor yet happy, dying yet happy. No matter what your state, you can be virtuous.

When I was studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for self-betterment, I learned that, often, unhappiness stems from cognitive distortions. Therapy, then, is the task of minimizing those distortions. Once you are in a state of fewer distortions, you can make better decisions–about life, about politics, about everything.

Being a slave to the political concept of justice–the way I thought of Sitting Bull–and dying and suffering for your just cause will make you less virtuous and also less happy. You may suffer mental disturbances. And this is true even if, like Plenty Coups and Sitting Bull, your fate is virtually the same and sealed from the beginning. Isn’t is better to have lived a happy life while also considering others than to suffer mental disturbances and do basically the same?

I think so. Too boot, I think the state of inner calm I experience puts me in a position to make better choices–about justice and all else.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. And Stoicism does not entail quietism.

Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Philosophy as a Kind of Therapy

In Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, he ends with the following:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

   He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

I am not an expert on Wittgenstein, although I read him–and quite a bit about him–in graduate school. The Tractatus is Early Wittgenstein; whereas Philosophical Investigations is Later Wittgenstein. Between these two works, Wittgenstein took a break from philosophy, having climbed the ladder and thrown it away.

Philosophy has long been hearlded by many philosophers as a way to solve things that trouble us. In a way, a philosopher, on this way of thinking, is a soul healer. This view goes back to Ancient Greece, when some philosophers thought they could help the souls of people.

Was Wittgenstein doing a sort of self-therapy? Is the Tractatus a work of personal growth and adjustment?

It may well be.

On the view of philosophy we are thinking about, philosophers, too, can be perplexed. They may turn to philosophers before them–those lovers of wisdom–in order to “see the world aright.”

These days, we have psychiatrists and therapists. However, there are places in philosophy we can also turn for help. That’s not to say to give up medications and counseling. It’s to say that there have been extremely wise people before us in philosophy whose work may assist us in addition to the modern treatments we have these days.

Wittgenstein didn’t give up philosophy forever, although, when he wrote the Tractatus, he may have thought he was completely done.

I want to suggest that, if the Tractus is a work of self-help, it was extraordinarily brave. Making the movement toward growth, healing and personal development takes courage. To put one’s thoughts out there when one is vulnerable this way is also brave.

Sometimes, philosophy is exactly the place to turn for our problems. We might, after we have reached our conclusion, leave philosophy forever. Or we might, like Wittgenstein, come back to it at a later date, perhaps with fresh new ideas.

If Wittgenstein’s task was self-healing, that, I suggest, is perhaps one of the most important tasks we can ever do. On my view, mental illness can be a complex working of environment, biology, socio-economic class, and personal psychology. This is generally known as the Bio-Psycho-Social Model. (I was trained on this model when I worked briefly as a mental health case manager.) On this view, one of the things that has gone awry in a person with mental illness is cognition. These are mistakes or errors in thinking. In order to, as Wittgenstein says, “see the world aright,” we may go to counseling–or even, sometimes, turn to philosophy.

Once one sees the world aright, one has the ability to flourish, which, on my view, is the telos of human life. One can make sound and good judgements, make appropriate choices, and exercise virtues. So, Wittgenstein’s task, on the view I am putting forward, was basically the most important task a person can accomplish.

Philosophy–in conjunction with modern treatments–may help with mental health issues. Wittgenstein may indeed show us that. Once we have climbed up the ladder and see the world aright, we may be done with philosophy or we may eventually come back to it.

Socrates and the Virtue of Humility

Socrates was famously considered the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing. In this blog post, I will suggest that Socrates had the virtue of humility.

These days, most philosophers work in academia and also mostly consult with one another about topics. Socrates was different. He went to ordinary people and asked them questions. Granted, he ended up annoying a lot of people and thus faced the death penalty for “corrupting the youth.” But it seems to me that Socrates had indeed reached a place of virtue and possessed the virtue of humility.

The virtue of humility is often confused with thinking you are nothing and having low self esteem. If humility were in fact that, it wouldn’t be a virtue. Socrates knew that in order to gain knowledge, he had to ask the people who knew. And that’s exactly what he did.

A philosopher, in Socrates’ sense, does not necessarily have any knowledge to impart. It’s other people—the ones out there working and doing the job—that have knowledge. Socrates was, then, humbling himself to other people by seeking them out and asking them questions.

As the wisest man, Socrates accepted his death. He refused to stop doing philosophy. We might ask, these days, if we want to go down the same path as Socrates. In general, people are still the same, and asking questions to ordinary people in order to gain understanding about things may still end up with us being the target of various abuse and mistreatment.

One thing we can learn from Socrates, though, is the virtue of humility. We can defer to ordinary people who have expertise in matters we don’t.