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12 Stoic principles for modernity
Stoicism has become fashionable over the last decade due in large part to its ascetics and simplicity. Stoicism is the pursuit of harmony with the natural order. Stoicism or The Stoa was established by the Greek philosopher Zeno, whom was heavily influenced by the pre socratic philosopher Heraclitus. In essence the Stoics believed that nature is synonymous with god, or what is called double aspect monism. All things are god and god is all things, Stoicism is the embodiment of a logos of philosophy.
As this might seem a bit much for many of us in the modern day with a lack religious ties etc, below are 12 aspects of Stocisim that are nearly universal and have helped countless souls discover equanimity.
12 Stoic principles for modernity
An antidote for modern anxiety. With the emergence of technology and other advancements, we have become soft-minded and physically frail. We have created a civilization based on consumerism, entertainment, and worship of technology and fame. Paradoxically, many modern luxuries and comforts are impediments to a good life. Advertizing is designed to create new “necessities”, to make us feel incomplete, ever dissatisfied, to make the worst appear desirable. Stoicism is about developing strategies and habits of training and self-discipline, for times of excess as well as for times of hardship.
The most valuable things. Stoic maxim Omnia mea mecum porto “I carry with me all that is mine”. Our most valuable possessions are those that go with us all the time, our moral character, our freedom to choose, our knowledge. Peace of mind and integrity are far more valuable than wealth or notariety. Therefore, we should never trade an internal good for an external one. According to the Stoics, external things are to be regarded as “indifferent”, meaning only valuable if used for virtue.
Most things are not up to us. The Stoics made a sharp distinction between the things we can control and the things we cannot. We have some influence in keeping our health, acquiring wealth or gaining reputation, but those can be taken from us by external circumstances that lie outside of our control. They used to compare life with sailing. When sailing we have no control over the elements. We can choose the direction of our journey, decide when to set out, observe the waves and currents and adjust the sails according to the winds, but we are at the mercy of the sea. If we want to arrive safe to a harbor, we must cooperate with the sea. Changes of fortune and unexpected disasters constantly occur, and many times, the only thing we can do is to accept them, gain experience from them, and use them as training for life. Yet we suffer and waste a great deal of energy for things that are not in our control. Stoicism has been very influential to modern disciplines such as CBT and Logotherapy.
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” Viktor E. Frankl
Building an inner compass. Nothing reveals our true character as the choices we make in real life, especially when we are under pressure. Stoicism is all about practice, you begin by paying attention to simple things such as what triggers your anger.
Negative visualization. One of the most effective and interesting meditation techniques used by ancient Stoics was the practice called praemeditatio malorum “the premeditation of evils” or “preparing the mind in advance to cope with adversity”. Marcus Aurelius wrote in his private book, “Meditations”, a daily practice: “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.”
Reducing negative emotions. Stoics insisted that we are disturbed not by the things themselves but by the views we take towards them.We may not be able to control our emotions, but we can at least try to reduce them, and perhaps transform them into something more positive. We can try to transform our fear into prudence and our anger into determination.
The joy of simplicity. “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” Seneca. the so-called life of comfort is not as comfortable as we tend to think, and the simple life is not as harsh as it appears to be. Stoics followed the Pythagorean maxim that said: “choose the best way to live, however rough it may seem, custom will make it agreeable.”
Freedom from useless things. Fewer distractions mean more freedom, and more time for deep and sustained focus, spent in meaningful activities. “Freedom cannot be won without sacrifice. If you set a high value on her, everything else must be devalued a little.” Seneca
Living according to Nature. Do what is most natural. Natural order. Pantheism. Panpsychism. Survival of the fittest. All of these distilled tropes have credence in our daily lives even though most of us live in relative comfort and lack any real threat of violent death. It is essential that one remember that there is a finite period of existence for us all in our current forms. Amor Fati.
Reading the classics. human nature has changed very little in the last two millennia. In a time when slavery, exile, political assassination, war and plague were the norm, the Stoics thought that it was possible to live a good and serene life, regardless of the external circumstances. A classic, unlike a best-seller, is a book to be read and re-read, and never ceases to give you something new. The classics, are books that have been read by different people in different periods of history, by different generations, in different languages, and have delivered something true, beautiful or meaningful.
Rehearsing death. Meditating regularly about death can help us live more authentically. “Rehearse death” To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. Seneca
A good flow of life. The goal of life, for most Graeco-Roman philosophies, was to achieve Eudaimonia, meaning a flourishing life, a good spirit, or well-being. Zeno, the founder of the Stoa, said that happiness consisted in “euroia biou” or a Good flow of life. As a philosophy, Stoicism aims at removing the obstacles that prevent us from flourishing as human beings. But pleasure and happiness are not the aim, they are the by-products of a meaningful existence, they should not be pursued directly. Instead our actions should aim at Areté (virtue or moral excellence); the act and habit of living wisely.
“The happy life is to have a mind that is free, lofty, fearless and steadfast—a mind that is placed beyond the reach of fear, beyond the reach of desire, that counts virtue the only good, baseness the only evil, and all else but a worthless mass of things, which come and go without increasing or diminishing the highest good, and neither subtract any part from the happy life nor add any part to it.” - Seneca