Modern Days and Stoicism

Live each day as if it were your last – Marcus Aurelius

Over the last year, I have got increasingly more interested in the Stoic philosophical school. Life throwing challenges at you and application of mindfulness on a daily basis may prove difficult. Solutions and frameworks that can better aid you in these situations have been on my search radar for quite a while. Buddhism and Mindfulness are one of those frameworks that can greatly aid you coming from the Eastern Schools of thought. In the West, Stoicism is a philosophical school that covers many of the areas of study and practice by Buddhism with its own unique practices, values and beliefs about everyday life and adversity.

Stoicism was the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy founded in the last decades of the fourth century BCE by a merchant, Zeno of Citium (modern Cyprus). Born out of adversity and challenge the unique outlook of this school of thought on resilience, moderation and mindfulness aid the learner and practitioner to overcome obstacles in their daily life. You might compare Stoicism to the slightly earlier philosophy of Buddhism in India, which was also about inner peace, or Confucianism and Taoism in China, which had some similar ideas about balance and moderation. The Stoics were a group of philosophers who first began teaching their ideas in the Hellenistic period. Original Stoics included Seneca the Younger, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Chryssipus among others. Notable modern-day Stoic writers and readers of this school are Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss and Bill Clinton.

The Stoics had a number of core values and beliefs about how one had to carry himself through life into his/her behaviour, daily actions & thoughts. Simplicity and generosity must be demonstrated by the individual while always acting with integrity. Through self-control one has to be tolerant, curious and open to new ideas and behaviours as long as they don’t overstep the core values of the school.

The Stoics weren’t against earthly pleasures, food or intoxicating substances as long as one exercised control and moderation. Restraint of overindulging. The self-awareness and constant study of oneself and one’s actions would be crucial for developing confidence and maintaining humility through successes and failures alike. Finally, gratitude and compassion was a key to an accomplished and a happy life.

How does one practice Stoicism? There are a number of daily practices paired with the careful self-observation and compliance with the values and believes of this school of thought. Although one has to note that there is a certain flexibility to the ways one can interpret these teachings on the basis of the personal tolerance and situations one has faced. Hence this makes it a perfect framework to mould around a busy modern life.

Practising mindfulness and journalling are important parts of the daily practice. Marcus Aurelius wrote a journal addressed to himself.  To help him manage and restrain himself with a set of rules on a daily basis so that he can be the person who has become to be. Better, more just, more immune to temptation, wiser. Self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization and strength, balance, modesty and moderation are the key factors to sobriety and level-headedness. Practising misfortune. A way of conditioning ourselves to bad times and failures during the good times of success and fortune.

It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs. – Seneca

The perception of good and bad for a Stoic is greatly tested as one can decide if he/she wants to take ownership or identify themselves with negative situations or emotions. In other words, you will be hurt only if you choose so. There is no good or bad. There is only perception. You control perception. Stoics propose that life is too short to complain and be unhappy about how things turn out. Logic doesn’t always make sense, but everything happens for a reason. The Chinese Farmer Story below is a great example:

When it comes down to being in self-control and not losing one’s temper. We have to remember that everything is transitory and ephemeral. Being angry, festering about things going down south or seeking refuge in alcohol or drugs is not a solution.

Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. – Marcus Aurelius

Memento Mori is one of the mottos of Stoicism derived from Latin meaning Remember that you are going to die. Being present and making the most out of your day no matter the circumstances is a crucial ingredient in a good life. You never know when is going to be your last day so you might as well make the most out of each one.

For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Comparing yourself to others or judging and being judged is as detrimental to a person wellbeing as a physical disease. Marcus Aurelius says “So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mines. What is done to me is ordained by nature and what I do by my own.” Again this falls on the precept of perception and the universal logic that guides the nature of things.

The world is an unpredictable place that is constantly changing and evolving. Our lives represent just a brief moment in time. So we should treat what happens to us good or bad as just passing feelings and situations. Epictetus was right when he said that “life is hard, brutal, punishing, narrow, and confining a deadly business.” Stoics believe in the goodness of things no matter how bad they were at any given time. That’s why I believe that practising modern day Stoicism can greatly enhance the quality of one’s life.

Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything that is in her power. – Seneca

Bibliography:

  • Epictetus. Discourses and Selected Writings, 2008, Penguin Classics
  • Marcus Aurelius. Meditations, 2002, Random House USA Inc; New Ed edition
  • Ryan Holiday. The Obstacle is the Way, 2015, Profile Books; Main edition
  • Ralph-Waldo Emerson. Self-reliance and other Essays, 2016, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Seneca. Letters from a Stoic Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (26 Aug. 2004)

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