What need is there to weep over parts of Life? The whole of it calls for tears: Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Stoicism, a school of Hellenistic philosophy extols the importance of virtue in a person’s life. It lays stress on what one can do rather than what one can say. In some ways, its principles are rooted in ground and talks at an individual level. Rather than encompassing everything that is good, Stoicism doesn’t ask you to be the perfect man, it simply asks of you to be a virtuous man.
Some of the seminal works in philosophy come from the likes of Seneca, writer and tutor to Caesar Nero (Nero later asked Seneca to commit suicide in front of his family) , Epictetus and Caesar Marcus Aurelius (You might remember him as the old king in the movie Gladiator, yes Aurelius did write some of the best pieces of philosophy in his tent while on campaigns against the Germanic tribes). It is truly amazing that these teachings still stand over 2000 years after they were written and I would definitely recommend reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
- Understand what you can control and what you can’t
So often do you hear people cursing the weather when stuck in an unexpected rain or depressed at how much weight they have put on. But is the weather in their control, what is in their control is how they eat and whether they choose to eat healthy and exercise.
Do not worry about what people think or say about you. That is their opinion and it’s strictly none of your business. what people think or say is not under your control but what is, is how you react. This is where stoicism tells you to realise that it’s better to put your effort into something which you can clearly direct. You cannot control the weather but you can surely expect it and bring an umbrella!
2. Learn to be content
I earlier used to be absolutely devastated by failures. After all, there are no prizes for second place but then what if the second place did mean something? What if I could take something out of the second place? What if I can learn from my mistake? What if I can build upon it and get it right the next time? Okay so what did I do right this time? Turns out quite a lot. And now I started to feel a bit better. I was starting to feel content with the effort.
Stoicism doesn’t promote passivity. It teaches you to put your heart and soul into any endeavour and at the end of the day once the dust settles, to look back and be content with your effort. Only when you are happy and appreciate yourself, will others start to appreciate you. This is but another aspect of positive thinking and helps develop a positive aura around you. The more content you are, the more infectious your aura becomes.
3. Understand your emotions
Emotions are deeply ingrained and stem from one’s beliefs. However over the life cycle our perspectives change, we become emotionally stronger or weaker, our beliefs change. When I was in highschool, I used to consider Lance Armstrong as my hero, the story of a man coming back from Cancer to win the Tour de France, probably one of the most physically strenuous competition in the world seemed nothing short of a fairytale. After the doping scandal, it all went sideways, my beliefs changed.
The most dangerous emotions are often based on false, unrealistic beliefs. Angst, frustration, despair are nothing but a manifestation of our inability to realise the boundary between optimism and fantasy. After all a bird must first learn to walk before it can learn to fly.
4. Do the right thing, No matter what the cost
You can group all the people in this world into either a sheep or a lion. We either want to be in control or desire a sense of control. But for the lions, do they really control anything. It’s an illusion really and the truth of the matter is that one can only control his mind and soul.
One of the most powerful lines from the Hollywood movie Kingdom of Heaven comes when Orlando Bloom, when rejecting the King’s offer of becoming his successor delivers the powerful statement “A King may move a man, but he cannot move his soul.” In the end that is what you really control, your soul. No one and no one can take away who you really are.
Conforming your mind to reality will lead to virtue. Do what is right not because your parents, teacher, friend or some priest tells you so, do so because its Right.
5. Events are not problematic, it’s your thinking that makes them so
Hope is a powerful thing. In one of my earlier blogs, I had written about the importance of hope. However one needs to be careful at the same time for unfounded hope can be dangerous. Hope is that urge that helps you climb back the ladder after you have fallen down but climb too far and the next fall would hurt that much more. It becomes important hence to rationalise. Remember you need to be aware of what you can and cannot do. You need to be mindful of your urges. Ask yourself, Is that what you really want? What is the worst that can happen if you don’t have it? Try to put it into a perspective and then value the urge. Again this is not passivity, it’s you detaching from the materialistic.
Epictetus put it wonderfully, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.”
6. Live with compassion and respect for all
This is a common teaching in most of the religions. Stoicism believes that there is a spark of divine logos within all of us. The way people interact with you is nothing but a reflection of your own behaviour towards you. Remember “you reap as you sow”. A kind deed goes much further than any punishment.
Humans by nature are a social breed and we crave for a community and acceptance. Most of the people who admire someone will often talk about how down to earth they are. In reality they might not be! but they would certainly give the impression that they value others, give respect and genuinely care. And how difficult it is to share a few kind words and while at it, why not genuinely care and be content when the same is reciprocated. Life doesn’t need to be a zero sum game.
7. Meditate, Contemplate, Reflect and Journal
“Soon you would have forgotten all and all would have forgotten you : Marcus Aurelius”
Death is Inevitable. There is no hiding from this fact. How would you like to be remembered once you are gone. They say your entire life flashes before your eyes just before you die and you know where, heaven or hell are you going next. You don’t get time to contemplate what could have been! I know many of us would want to go back and change some of the things we have done in our past but rarely do we stop and think about it and even rarer actually do something about it.
Do not dwell over it, but Remember. Remember your past. People who forget their past are bound to repeat the same mistakes. Remember your failures and your successes. Remember your friends, family and all those who have helped you to get to where you are today. Ask yourself who will this action benefit. If this will make a difference to the lives of people you care about or the community at large. Remember Remember.