After my first post on Stoicism last week (which I strongly suggest to read if you have missed it) I had a dilemma on how to proceed. To start by quickly revising the history and the main characters or to introduce you to the main ideas and concepts first. I decided that the ideas are more important and after all, if you don’t like them, why bother with history and stuff? Lets jump into it then!
The three main pillars of Stoicism
- Logic - The Stoics propounded that knowledge can be attained through the use of reason, in principle capable of separating true from false. The ultimate goal: focus on the things that are in your control, do not focus on what isn’t.
- Ethics - Good lies in the soul itself - in wisdom and self-control. The four fundamental virtues of Stoic ethics are Wisdom, Courage, Justice and Temperance. Stoics believed that if someone does not live in a virtuous way he is ignorant and you have to try to teach him, instead of assuming that he is just evil.
- Physics - Stoic’s view of how the Cosmos. Most Stoics had Pantheistic view of the Universe. They believed that everything is interconnected and presents a whole. The entire Universe is an organism, which every single one of us is a part of.
Some of the important ideas that come from these main pillars:
For the Stoics it was considered immoral to not help and to not live for the common good, if you can. One can see how this principle is connected to the Stoic’s view of the Universe.
“We cannot build our own future without helping others to build theirs.” - Bill Clinton
“What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” - Marcus Aurelius
While most people are just waiting for their turn to talk, the stoic considers not only the words being said, but the thoughts and emotions from which they surface. This is the art of listening, which fosters understanding and connection between ourselves and others.
“Acquire the habit of attending carefully to what is being said by another, and of entering, so far as possible, into the mind of the speaker” - Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics believed in social reform, but they also believed in personal transformation. More precisely, they thought that the first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach the people how to achieve happiness depending as little as possible on the external circumstances. The Stoics would add that if we fail to transform ourselves, then no matter how much we transform the society in which we live, we are unlikely to have a good life.
“One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our human contract is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well educated, but to all our human brethren.” - Epictetus
All sounds good in theory - but how to achieve it? Fortunately the Stoic philosophy is very practical - it provides the tools, not only the ideas! A big part of it consists of different exercises, designed to help you with your transformation. Some examples:
Morning meditation – visualising the day ahead and thinking about the upcoming challenges. This is different to the meditation we know from the East.
Asking “Is this within my control?”. This is in my view the single most important question. And it sounds simple now when you read it, but it is so easy to forget! I bet that in the last 24 hours you did worry about at least 1 thing that wasn’t in your control. Why? Building the habit of asking yourself this question can help you if not stop worrying, at least worry much less.
The view from above. This is a very cool one. Wherever you are close your eyes. Then picture yourself from above. See yourself, how you are standing or sitting. Zoom out further, get out of the room, apartment, building (if you are indoor). Imagine that you are a little drone or a small airplane and zoom out even more. See your town from above, your country, the earth. Go as far as you can. The idea is to remind yourself that you are just a microscopic part of the much larger Cosmos, and your problems are not that important in the large scheme of things.
*Edit: Today I got inspired from this exercise and wrote another post.
There are many more tools and exercises, but I will save them for the future. :)
Next week I’m going to provide you with a little bit of history and introduce you to some of the main guys in Stoicism. Now I would like to wrap it up with a quote:
“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.” - Epictetus
I do not inspire to be a life-guru or to have any genius revelation about life.
My ultimate goal with this series will be to stimulate your brain cells to think on different topics. If I state something it will be merely my own opinion on things and I accept and embrace that yours may be different. Please share it with me. :)
I will be posting weekly on philosophy, life and ideas to improve it. Check out my initial post to understand more about my general idea.
Additionally I am interested in books, poker, cooking, psychology, astronomy. If you would like to know more about me, check out my introduction.
Bonus: check out this post if you want to make the best pancakes tomorrow for your loved ones!