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Just a woman in the ‘burbs trying to work it all out…

Welcome to suburban PHILOSOPHY, a blog about a woman who is constantly looking for ways to become a better person, that’ll be me then!

Let me first explain what I mean by “better person”, this is my desire to improve in ways that increase both contribution (to humanity) and contentment (for self).

In terms of where I’m at right now, I do have a whole lot to be incredibly grateful for.  However, like most people, the journey has not always been a happy one, and I have endured some meaningful challenges and hardships along the way, with some lessons a lot harder to learn than others.  Yet, as a direct consequence of those ups, and more importantly downs, I can confidently say that I am a far more practical and peaceful human being than I was in my early 20s, thank goodness for that!.

So, I’m thinking it would be pretty cool to share some key moments I’ve had, especially those that have improved my life in a particularly meaningful way, in the humble hope that they might provoke some thought, an opportunity for reflection, and promote a desire to be better.

Whether you are looking for the meaning of life, or just some light hearted entertainment, I hope you will join me on my journey of reflection and find something in here that makes you smile.

Here’s to sharing stories about life, love, and everything in between xXx

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Find Stillness In The Chaos….

You may recall a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I attended a course on practical philosophy.

From the very beginning, and every week throughout the course, the lecturer really impressed upon us the value and importance of undertaking a regular meditation/relaxation practice, and he recommended that we undertook a process called the awareness exercise when we woke up in the morning, and at the end of the day.

FYI – according to Eastern philosphy, the best time to meditate is during the confluence of light i.e. dawn and dusk.

However, the lecturer also stated that ‘anytime you can’ is a good time to find stillness.

So, let’s now find out how we:

Find stillness in the chaos

The Awareness Exercise

To begin, sit in a balanced position with your eyes closed.

Let the body be still.

Let the mind be free of any concern or preoccupation.

Be aware of where you are now.

Feel the touch of the feet on the ground.

Feel the weight of the body on the chair.

Feel the touch of the clothes on the skin.

Feel the air on the face.

Be aware of the sense of smell.

And the sense of taste.

Be fully here.

Now be aware of hearing.

Let sounds come and go without comment.

Let the hearing extend right out the furthest and gentlest sounds, embracing them all.

Simply rest in this awareness for a few moments………(the end)

The practice from beginning to end should only take a few minutes, and provide a feeling of relaxation, as well as having benefits that last beyond the meditation practice itself.

So, I suspect the big questions are: how did I find it, what were the results?!?

Well, the truth is that I initially found the daily practice quite challenging, but mainly because I kept forgetting to do it (embarrassed face). It definitely took some time to change my ingrained habits and routines, which started with becoming aware that I spent so much time on autopilot i.e. doing without thinking, which was quite a confronting realisation (I will talk about this is greater detail in a future post titled Being Awake – How Awake Are You?).

However, once I started to adopt the practice regularly, both at the beginning and end of the day, as well as on an impromptu / adhoc basis during the day, I definitely felt better for it.

I suspect that my life is the same as a large portion of the population i.e. it’s all GO…GO….GO….  I can hand on heart say that it was really nice to start and end the day with a moment of peace, and I felt it both in a physical sense, and in the heart and mind.

I now feel like a much calmer human being, definitely more in control, generally more content, and definitely less frazzled.

Therefore, I feel it would be remiss of me to not encourage you all to try this exercise just once, and see if you feel any different afterwards. If you do, then perhaps you might consider changing your daily habits and giving yourself the gift of 5-10 minutes of stillness in the chaos every day.

…x X x…

 

Today……you will meet assholes.

Through the years I have made a number of attempts to learn about philosophy, in the belief that it would benefit me in some way or another (seems like a logical assumption right?).

I’m sorry to say that I have struggled.

Although I have enjoyed some of the concepts I have read about, like the Ring of Gyges proposed by Plato in relation to ethics (if you had a ring that made you invisible, what would you do, where would you go?), I unfortunately found a lot of the concepts too challenging to really grasp.

However, a couple of years ago my life changed forever (ooh, exciting!), when I went to the local library and decided to take home a copy of Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. After one read, I genuinely felt that this little book provided solutions to all the problems I had ever had, or could ever have. Wow!

“What is this book you speak of?” I hear you say……

Meditations is split into 12 books.

A quick summary of Book 1 is that it lists 17 people that influenced Marcus, people who had made a significant contribution to who he was, and in particular to the virtues or moral boundaries he subscribed to. This was an interesting read from a historical and factual point of view, but in truth it was far more interesting to stop for a moment and consider who would feature on my list (if I wrote one), and for what reasons.

Have you ever considered the people and the moments who have shaped you as a person? Who are they, how did they contribute to who you are?

As fascinating an exercise as that is, it is Book 2 that I would like to focus on for this blog, specifically the very first meditation, which was written among the Quadi on the River Gran (do you know what Quadi are, or where the River Gran is? No? Me neither). Anyway, here it is:

#1. Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial.

My interpretation of this statement is that:

Today you will meet assholes

(yip, I wrote assholes)

I am sure that we can all recall a bajillion stories of people who are annoying, inconsiderate, selfish, ignorant and/or downright stupid. So, to get in the spirit of things, I would like to share the following examples:

(1) First of all, and on the lower end of the asshole scale there are drivers on the road that seem to have no awareness of the lever on the right (or left) hand side of a steering wheel that’s sole purpose is to activate the car’s indicators. You know, the lights on a vehicle that INDICATE to other drivers what your driving intentions are. They really are brilliant little features, but sadly, they are regularly under utilised, or should I say, not utilised at all by some people.

I do ponder sometimes if it’s because in Australia they are often referred to as ‘blinkers’, and not indicators, which might confuse people as to their actual purpose, could that possibly be true?

(2) I also see people everyday on the train who are absolutely on the asshole scale when they are unable to get a seat, but instead of standing and holding onto the hand supports (which I am pretty sure are for people to HOLD ONTO when they are unable to get a seat), choose to plonk their bums on the back of seats i.e. ON the hand supports. This not only greatly restricts where other passengers without seats can hold onto, but more importantly, it means that their bums are practically sitting on the person actually sitting, putting their bum in an uncomfortable, and seriously inappropriate proximity to the seated passenger’s head. So…..not…..cool.

(3) Lastly, an example which is definitely more challenging is when someone you know calls you selfish, and accuses you of putting your needs and wants ahead of their needs ands wants. Instead, this person believes that you should put their needs ahead of your own. Which, in essence means that you are not to be selfish, but you are to respect their selfishness. Sheesh! Definitely assholish behaviour!

So……..how does Marcus Aurelius suggest we respond to these encounters? He proceeds to give us 17 things to consider, all of which provide strong reasoning as to why a negative response is futile, inappropriate, and even harmful to ones self. However, the two that I feel are the most helpful are:

All this has afflicted them through their ignorance
of true good and evil
.

I cannot help but think of the similarities of this response to the biblical quote “Forgive them for they know not what they do“, and…

You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.

I really love this quote, and think it is incredibly powerful when considering how to act, or think, or feel.

Just think about it……….do you really want your last thought on this earth to be – that asshole didn’t use his indicators!!!!

I summary, I think the point of Book 2 is to encourage us to cultivate a mindset of tolerance and sympathy, and in return, ignorant people should not upset, frustrate or anger us.  We really should feel nothing other than a mild sense of sympathy, and sometimes we may even manage a wry smile……

 

What Would A Wise Person Do?

Ok, so I got the jitters about having a blog titled Suburban Philosophy without being suitably qualified, and not really having had much exposure to ‘philosophy’ outside of reading a handful of books.  So, when I saw an ad in the paper for a 10 week night class titled – Introduction to Philosophy: applying philosophy in a practical everyday way, I thought……..perfect!

I went along hoping like mad that it wasn’t too high brow for this mere suburban philosopher. I’m glad to report that it wasn’t – woo hoo! The lecturer had me at ease with the opening quote: the fruits of an armchair philosopher stay in the armchair.

The main aim of this session was to examine wisdom, and consider whether wisdom is learned, or is it innate? What do you think?

We started with the etymology of the word philosophy being a Greek word combining: Philo & Sophia = the love of wisdom.

We then discussed what we thought wisdom was, putting together a list of attributes we would tend to associate with a wise person eg) mature age, calm, measured, unemotional, rational, logical, balanced, pragmatic, self-aware, serene etc…

The night passed very pleasantly and before I knew it we were wrapping up. Before we left, we were allocated some homework for the week which was pretty simple (thank goodness). All we had to do when presented with an issue, dilemma or general question was to ask ourselves:

What would a wise person do

The purpose being to see if our response to the situation would be different i.e. could we act / react more wisely if we just stopped to consider this question.

So, what did I learn?…….

The very next day I dropped the kids off at childcare and school and arrived at the train station. As is standard, I tried to position myself on the platform so that I was right outside a door when the train arrived, thus increasing my chances of getting a seat (surely a wise action?).

The train arrived and I was in prime position (yes!), and when I got on I was able to grab a seat in between 2 people (hurrah!).

However, it wasn’t until I sat down that I realised that I was a bit squished due to the people on either side being slightly larger than the seats they occupied. I went from elation to feeling Debbie Downer aka shitty. I was quite deflated, but sadly not by enough to sufficiently reduce the feeling of squishedness (lol…). It was in this mindset of harumph that I paused, and thought wait a minute!, what would a wise person do?

I quickly realised that wise person would probably say that I had a choice, and I could choose to stand instead. The outcome – I chose to remain seated, no longer felt shitty about it, and maybe even felt a tiny bit grateful.

As soon as I got off the train, I had another opportunity to put my homework into action. I was leaving the train station and heading towards work when someone rushed passed me and gave me a bit of a bump in the side, and they kept on walking. I immediately went into another harumph mindset and had thoughts along the lines of ‘bloody hell’, ‘how rude’ etc… But then I stopped, and again thought what would a wise person do?

The answer came almost immediately, and the answer was that the person had more than likely bumped me completely unintentionally, and that they had maybe been in such a rush that they didn’t even notice. Guess what? I instantly felt better.

Beyond these minor inconveniences, I had a pretty good week, and really don’t recall there being other harumph moments or tricky dilemmas to consider. However, I do think that if there had been, that stopping to consider the thoughts or actions of a wise person would definitely have helped.

I wonder if you might undertake the same exercise and see if it changes your reaction or behaviour to events that arise in your week. I think it might ; )

P.S. It is now nearly 9 months since I wrote this article and I have been in countless situations where I have consciously considered this question (from small everyday things, to much more challenging scenarios). I have absolutely no doubt that my thoughts / feelings / actions were improved as a consequence, and I do believe that there’s a little old wise person inside all of us, and we just need to ask them what to do.

In closing, I would like to leave you with the following: Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young, nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old.  For no age is too early or too late for the benefits of philosophy (letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus).

 

People Treat You How You Let Them

For my inaugural blog, I felt it appropriate to share one of the simplest yet most effective pieces of advice I have ever been given:

Lightbulb - People Treat You How You Let Them

I thought it might help if we started by considering the last time that:

  • a partner was particularly inconsiderate?
  • a friend did not treat with you the same level of respect that you show to them?
  • a member of your family took you for granted?
  • a colleague, boss or client treated you badly?

I’m thinking that there’s a good chance that it wasn’t that long ago, and maybe even happens all the bloody time!

People, can of course have a bad day, and might behave out of character on occasion. But we also know that people can develop a pattern of inappropriate behaviour, that can lead to regular and ongoing feelings of anger or frustration etc…

So, the question begs, what do we do?

My nugget of wisdom goes something like this:

I was in my late 20s, and I was really struggling to manage one of my client relationships.

A key stakeholder at a very important and lucrative client was treating me poorly, which left me feeling incredibly disrespected and demotivated.

The client in question never showed any appreciation for the consistently good work I did do, and instead demonstrated a disproportionate negative reaction (aka he cracked the shits bigtime!) to the small number of instances where the outcome was not what he wanted / expected , even when his expectations were completely unreasonable, totally ridiculous even! Jeez, I’m getting a bit arky recalling these memories, he really was an arsehole unfortunate person to have to work with.

His overt tones of disdain had really started to bother me, which made me question my capabilities and also affect my self confidence. So, one night, over a few beers I shared my tale of anger and frustration in a no doubt melodramatic fashion to my husband’s cousin.

Her answer was very direct and very simple: people treat you how you let them.

For the sake of clarity, in this moment I was being told that I was responsible (at least in part) for his behaviour, as I was allowing it, and in turn, enabling it. WTAF!

I’m not sure what part bothered me more, the assertion that I had helped create this situation, or the fact that she was absolutely right.

I quickly realised that I was going to have to confront the behaviour, and re-jig the relationship dynamic to one that was mutually respectful.

I felt like my best option was to wait for the right time, a time when a clear example of poor behaviour occured, so that I could address it in that moment. It then took some weeks for the opportunity to present itself, but when it did, I knew this was my moment to change things up.

Would you like to know what happened ,and what I did? Ok then….

I was at a cocktail party being hosted by the client, and I was happily quaffing on good quality bubbles and eating delicious little canapes (yeah, tough life I know). That’s when it happened….wait for it…….a canape of crispbed bread, smoked salmon, creme fraiche and dill broke in my hand, and a blob of creme fraiche fell onto my arm. Shock horror I hear you say, not!

I tried to discreetly wipe it away before anyone noticed, as anyone in polite company would do, but I didn’t get the chance before my not so nice client contact decided to ridicule me regarding my minor creme fraiche accident in front of my colleagues and other client contacts. Again, WTAF! Although I felt that this behavior reflected much more poorly on him than it did on me, I decided that it was the opportunity I’d been looking for.

A short time later I called him aside for a discreet one on one chat, and explained to him how embarrassed I had been at the canape incident. I then springboarded from this scenario to provide additional examples of when I had felt similarly embarrassed, or disrespected.

What can I say? He was absolutely bloody mortified. As he should have been.

The outcome…..

From that day on things were different, things were better. He started to give positive feedback, and was much more professional when discussing a concern. #winning!

Since then, I have lost count of the number of times I have considered this advice in relation to other relationship based issues I have encountered, both personal and professional. I also could not tell you how often I have shared this piece of advice to others who have similarly been struggling with conflict in some form or another, where it prompted a real lightbulb moment.

It truly is an undeniable fact: people do treat you how you let them.

Whether your issue is with your boss, your colleague, your partner, or whomever, it is also an undisputable fact that you have the power to change your circumstances. Whether you choose to confront the matter, or walk away entirely, you do have options.

I hope you have enjoyed this tale of woe with a happy ending. I would love to hear from you if you can relate, and if you have your own stories to share. Please comment below or send me a message.

Thanks x