Let Stoicism be my Calming Influence Amid a Troubled World
This rather lengthy post (so get your printer ready) is about a branch of philosophy which is close to my heart and mind, and is what I have applied practically to my life with positive results thus far – namely the philosophy of Stoicism.
For example, certain people who have been in my presence (especially at my workplace), seem to think that I don’t have a care in the world. They usually mention to me that judging by my demeanor I seem completely at ease and stress-free, despite others around me being totally anxiety-ridden and suffering from panic attacks whenever there is a slight (and I mean slight) sign of trouble in the air.
Don’t get me wrong, I too can suffer from stress and anxiety like the next person, and admittedly, can also be most impatient in certain situations and with people – this obviously, can lead up to me becoming angry which, I know, can be detrimental to my health and character. Yes, I have a few faults which I hope to address by using stoic techniques, which is up to now, helping to improve my temperament. Obviously, there are times when I do slip into error, but I’m not going to punish myself over the odd indiscretion – I am only human after all.
Stoicism, however, has so far taught me many valuable lessons in learning to be aware of myself and to withdraw into my inner kingdom whenever apparent difficulties or irritations threaten to disturb my mind and mood.
Now my attitude is: why have anxiety over something that is not in my power and control? The only thing I have power over is myself and how I choose to deal with these external influences – and that choice is to remain joyful and tranquil despite all hell breaking loose.
Yes I know. Much easier said than done in this most provocative and anxiety-ridden of worlds – but not impossible.
How can I hope to Achieve Happiness in Life?
For me, attaining peace of mind, equanimity and contentment ranks very highly on my list of things to achieve in my life. We have been conditioned to believe (by a mostly capitalistic society) that one will be happy if they attained: a high position in life; many luxurious possessions; a huge amount of wealth.
However, none of the much sought-after aforementioned superficialities can ever stave away the troubles of the mind and the negative emotions that can make a person’s existence a miserable one. By me embracing the stoic principles in my daily life, I have found that it has helped me immensely to become more patient (although, on some days I can be very close to losing it), healthier in mind, and powerful in spirit.
Hopefully, the practical wisdom of stoicism that I now share with you, can help to bring you both equanimity and joy whilst improving every facet of yourselves and lives.
Who were the major Stoic Philosophers?
The major practitioners of stoic philosophy were:
What major Stoic Writings are Available to read?
Come now and allow your minds to drink from “The Well” of stoic wisdom written by great ancient philosophers, so that you may then apply what you have learned and become masters of yourselves in the present.
I highly recommend the following books of Stoic wisdom:
Description: A philosophy that saw self-possession as the key to an existence lived ‘in accordance with nature’, Stoicism called for the restraint of animal instincts and the severing of emotional ties.
These beliefs were formulated by the Athenian followers of Zeno in the fourth century BC, but it was in Seneca (c. 4 BC– AD 65) that the Stoics found their most eloquent advocate. Stoicism, as expressed in the Letters, helped ease pagan Rome’s transition to Christianity, for it upholds upright ethical ideals and extols virtuous living, as well as expressing disgust for the harsh treatment of slaves and the inhumane slaughters witnessed in the Roman arenas.
Description: Epictetus, a Greek stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicropolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil.
Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature.
by Marcus Aurelius
Description: Written in Greek by an intellectual Roman emperor without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) offer a wide range of fascinating spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the leader struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe.
Spanning from doubt and despair to conviction and exaltation, they cover such diverse topics as the question of virtue, human rationality, the nature of the gods and Aurelius’s own emotions.
How can Stoic Philosophy help you in life?
The following definition perfectly describes what it means to be a Stoic who studies the wise art of living and applies it to themselves:
‘It teaches self-control and an indifference to pain or pleasure while advocating a staunch detachment from emotions. This allows one to be clear thinking, levelheaded and unbiased. In practice it is designed to empower an individual with virtue and strength and to give an individual the ability to readily refuse corruption, temptation, and help those who are in need. Stoicism also teaches independence, or more specifically, independence from society, regarding it as a chaotic and unruly entity that should be guarded against. Virtue, reason and natural law are prime directives. By mastering passions and emotions, it is possible to overcome the discord of the outside world and find peace within oneself.’
~ Hellenica website (http://www.mlahanas.de/)
As you can see, if you can manage to put the practical teachings of stoicism to good use, it can free your minds and help you to live a more peaceful and productive life, instead of being imprisoned by error of judgement, irrational fears, or self-imposed anxieties.
The many beneficial things that Stoic Philosophy can provide for us are:
- making one be aware of, and concentrate on, their own daily conduct, which helps to improve character and moral behavior
- producing calm indifference in the face of pain and difficulty
- having non-attachment and independence from superficial attainments, family and friends
- fearlessness of death and the loss of anything you may have acquired in life
- attaining peace of mind and total contentment with what you presently have in life, no matter how little
- learning self-mastery over all negative emotions, as well as encouraging the use of reason so to make the right decisions in important matters
- encouraging one to become good of character and to pursue wisdom, truth and virtue always
- developing endurance and self-restraint in terms of dealing with pain, adversity, or being able to refrain from over-indulgence or temptations
- teaching one to live with humility, frugality, moderation, patience and simplicity – all this without complaint
Zeno of Citium:
- “Fate is the endless chain of causation, whereby things are; the reason or formula by which the world goes on.”
- “No evil is honorable: but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil.”
- “Wellbeing is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.”
- “The point is, not how long you live, but how nobly you live.”
- “That which Fortune has not given, she cannot take away.”
- “Let Nature deal with matter, which is her own, as she pleases; let us be cheerful and brave in the face of everything, reflecting that it is nothing of our own that perishes.”
- “The soul should know whither it is going and whence it came, what is good for it and what is evil, what it seeks and what it avoids, and what is that Reason which distinguishes between the desirable and the undesirable, and thereby tames the madness of our desires and calms the violence of our fears.”
- “If my purpose on this occasion were to speak in behalf of concord, I should have a great deal to say, not only about human experiences but celestial also, to the effect that these divine and grand creations, as it happens, require concord and friendship; otherwise there is danger of ruin and destruction for this beautiful work of the creator, the universe.”
- “There is no sense in seeking many proofs for each point, but rather cogent and lucid ones. The teacher should rather touch upon each point just enough to penetrate the intellect of his listener with persuasive arguments that cannot easily be refuted. Most important of all is for him to show himself to act consistently with the wise words he speaks.”
- “In the care of the sick we demand the physician be free from error, but in the conduct of life it is not only the philosopher whom we expect to be free from error, but all men alike, including those who give little attention to virtue. Clearly there is no explanation for this other than that the human being is born with an inclination toward virtue; all men speak of themselves as having virtue and being good.”
- “If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows.”
- “When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, What can this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he still be anxious?”
- “Nothing outside the will can hinder or harm the will; it can only harm itself. If then we accept this, and, when things go amiss, are inclined to blame ourselves, remembering that judgment alone can disturb our peace and constancy, I swear to you by all the gods that we have made progress.”
- “No man is free who is not master of himself.”
- “If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone.”
- “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
- “Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together…”
- “If you are distressed by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”
- “If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.”
- “The mind in itself wants nothing, unless it creates a want for itself; therefore it is both free from perturbation and unimpeded, if it does not perturb and impede itself.”