Intro to Stoicism

Oxford Dictionary defines Stoicism as “an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

At its core, Stoicism is about trusting life as it is, not how we think it should be. 

It’s about focusing on what’s in our control — our lives, and acting virtuously, not being pushed and pulled by our emotions.

Practicing Stoicism helps us see life objectively, giving us an understanding that we are not the center of the Universe — That the Universe is indifferent to our thoughts and feelings, and that that’s perfectly okay. This knowledge helps us live less selfishly and more cooperatively.

Stoicism has been practiced for thousands of years by numerous people. Other than Zeno, a few famous early practitioners of Stoicism were Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, about 2,000 years ago. The modern day leader in Stoicism is Ryan Holiday, who gave me the opportunity to intern with him; a modern day apprenticeship. There were many events that led to this, it didn’t just happen, which you can read how it all came to be here on Thought Catalog.

During this time Holiday deepened my knowledge of Stoicism, inspiring me to apply these practices into my life — which doesn’t make someone perfect, it just makes us more Stoic, which you can decide if that’s good or bad.

I contemplated Stoic ideas before knowing they were Stoic ideas, thinking they were just far-out thoughts. Then, when reading Holiday’s book recommendations, I came across Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and devoured it. It was one of those books that I got pulled into and didn’t want to leave. I highly recommend reading the whole book, but here’s a link to some of Meditation’s main ideas for now.

Below are 4 fundamental Stoic principles you can begin practicing today:

1) Asking, “Is this within my control?”

—If yes, ask, “How can I act virtuously in this moment?”
—If not, ask, “How can I act virtuously in this moment?”

Most of life isn’t in our control, but our response is.

2) Sympatheia

—This is the idea that all things are connected and mutually interdependent. 

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, wrote: 

“The universe made rational creatures for the sake of each other, with an eye toward mutual benefit based on true value and never for harm.”

Here is a YouTube video speech given by Carl Sagan to view life from a perspective outside of yourself, thus, growing in the practice of Sympatheia.

3) Amor Fati

—The idea and practice of loving your fate. 
—Things often don’t happen as we’d like them to happen, but we can learn to appreciate all that happens to us by practicing Amor Fati.

Here is a link to an ancient proverb, telling us a story that shows us how when we think something “bad” has happened, it can be good in disguise, and when we think something “good” has happened, it can be bad in disguise. It’s one of my favorite stories and has broadened my way of thinking.

Nietzsche is quoted saying, “my formula for greatness in a human being is Amor Fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it, but love it.”

Epictetus, born a slave, said: “Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.”

4) Memento Mori

—Remember you will die.
—This idea scares some people, but it inspires Stoics.  

“If everything is ephemeral, what does matter? Right now matters. Being a good person and doing the right thing right now, that’s what matters and that’s what was important to the Stoics. Be humble and honest and aware.”
Ryan Holiday

We all know we are going to die one day, but it is a subject rarely talked about. We’d rather ignore the fact of death instead of embrace it, so it ends up scaring the hell out of us. Let’s start discussing the topic of death. Let’s let it inspire us to live life wholly, focusing on what’s important, keeping in mind we won’t live forever, and that’s okay.

Here are some inspiring Memento Mori related quotes:

“Every third thought shall be my grave.”
William Shakespeare

“People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passes from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.”
Marcus Aurelius

“So this is how a thoughtful person should await death: not with indifference, not with impatience, not with disdain, but simply viewing it as one of the things that happens to us. Now you anticipate the child’s emergence from its mother’s womb; that’s how you should await the hour when your soul will emerge from its compartment.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”
Marcus Aurelius

“To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” 
Michel de Montaigne

“Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.”
Buddha

These are just a few Stoic principles you can begin practicing today. I recommend checking out dailystoic.com for more articles on Stoicism, reminders to:

Act virtuously.
Trust the unknown.
Love your fate.
Remember death.

4 Philosophy ideas that can bring you temporary peace

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Disclaimer—This might change your perspective on life. Hopefully for the better. 

The choice is yours.

The 4 philosophy ideas I discuss stem from a philosophy called stoicism.

I wanted to title this post: “Stoicism 101; an old philosophy that can liberate you,” but I’m not sure if many people have heard about stoicism, and I know most people have heard of philosophy.

So what is stoicism? (scroll down to ‘4 Main Points‘ section for just the main points if you’d like).

Stoicism is defined as: “The endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.”

It is being okay with everything that happens & accepting how you feel.  It is focusing on what you can control, and letting go of the rest.  

Stoicism is liberating.

Stoicism can help you: 

  • Become a better person & friend
  • Deal with people & external events appropriately
  • Deal with adversity
  • Maintain a level head through praise & criticism
  • Come to peace with death
  • Overcome destructive emotions, and many more.

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Stoicism is also defined as: “An ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.”

Stoicism helps us accept life as it is.  It helps us get past our labels of “good” & “bad.” Stoicism helps put us in a mindful state of awareness, getting us out of our constantly judging mind, enabling us to experience life fully, non-judgmentally.

In relation to living non-judgmentally, I’ve heard this quote: “What is chaos to the fly is normal to the spider.”

Shakespeare also said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

We know what is good or bad in human terms, but there is a lot more going on in the universe than what we think.

What-the-Big-Bang-explains

Think about the millions of galaxies just like this one. Or even think about 10 more. The Universe is vast.

There is so much happening beyond us.

We know that murder is a bad thing, yet cows, chickens and other animal life are murdered daily in our world.  I eat meat so I am not complaining, I am just trying to get us all to think.

Do you think eating dog is bad?

Multiple countries eat dog today, and other countries think that this is very wrong…Here is an article that came out April 3, 2018 that discusses how over 5 million dogs are eaten in Vietnam every year—Click Here For Article.

Is it wrong to kill animals for food? I don’t have that answer.

Maybe hundreds or thousands of years from now, if the human race is still around, they will wonder how we could have eaten the meat of other animals.

Maybe not though as well.

Look back to a few examples from recent centuries, the 1900’s & beyond, to things we look back on in disgust: Open racism, public hangings & no womens’ rights.

These injustices are still happening today in some places.

So this is what philosophy is; thinking. Thinking, learning & then living out the best life from what we know. Philosophy is about questions & perspectives.

Stoicism is not pessimistic, it is optimistic, you just need to see it in the right light.

Before I get to the main points of stoicism, I would like your feedback via email. I am considering writing a short ebook that will discuss stoicism in more detail.  I have about 70 pages of solid notes on the subject, & have read multiple books regarding stoicism, so if you would be interested in reading a short ebook(condensed to about 20 pages) please let me know!

For now, here is a summary of a few main points that stoicism offers & how we can apply them to our lives.

4 Main Points

1~Amor Fati

Which translates to a love of one’s fate•

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German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a big fan of amor fati. 

He is quoted saying, “my formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it, but love it.”

The stoics also had another way of looking at this. They believed in a universal guiding force of the universe. They thought we are like a dog tied to a moving cart, and we have two options: We can try to dig our hind legs in, struggling to control everything, getting dragged & being challenged. Or we can enjoy the ride & live our best lives.

Last quote on Amor Fati:

“Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.” Epictetus (Philosopher & former slave)

Are you loving your fate?  If not, you can with practice, and it will help you live your best life.

2~Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest

Most of us have heard this quote: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr

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We have heard it, and might think, “yea that’s good, I should do that.” But we often don’t follow through with this quote.

We need to follow through with action. Make a list of things you can control, and a list of things you can’t control.  Then stop wasting any time on things you cannot control.  This takes time & practice, as I am practicing this myself and am not perfect at it.

I love this idea from Philip Ghezelbash that relates to focusing on the things we can control:

“Do you have a problem in your life?

No? ► Then don’t worry.

Yes? ► Can you do something about it?…

Yes? ► Then don’t worry.

No? ► Then don’t worry.”

I have been practicing this lately when I am stuck in traffic.  There is no reason to get upset in uncontrollable traffic, but many people do & I have too at times.  I’ve been reminding myself that I have no control over the traffic, and this reminder has been bringing me peace of mind.

3~Practice poverty & misfortune

This may sound counterproductive but it can actually help a person grow tremendously.

When we intentionally practice poverty & misfortune a few days each month, we will be more prepared and accepting for when it does come.

“We must learn to disappoint ourselves at leisure before the world ever has a chance to slap us by surprise at a time of its own choosing.” Alain de Botton

Alain goes on to say: “One of the goals of civilization is to instruct us in how to be sad rather than angry. Sadness may not sound very appealing. But it carries – in this context – a huge advantage. It is what allows us to detach our emotional energies from fruitless fury around things that (however bad) we cannot change and that are the fault of no-one in particular and – after a period of mourning – to refocus our efforts in places where our few remaining legitimate hopes and expectations have a realistic chance of success.”

Entrepreneur, practicer of stoicism, and author of a New York Times Best Selling Book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss, practices this each month.  See him talk about it by clicking here

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Tim Ferriss

Ferriss talks about how the philosopher Cato, would practice poverty & misfortune:

During Cato’s age, over 2000 years ago, every now and then he would wear clothes that society viewed as humiliating.

Cato did this to train himself to be ashamed of only those things truly worth being ashamed about.

Deep down we know that clothes are nothing to be ashamed of, but many people spend a lot of money to buy brand clothing to impress people they don’t even like.

The philosopher Seneca also practiced this.  In one of his writings he wrote: “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?’”

We undervalue what we have, because most likely we’ve always had it…

“Many of your fears are based on undervaluing the things that are easily obtainable.” Tim Ferriss

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Ferriss also practices this by doing fasts, not eating anything for days, & also doing fasts that include only eating rice, or only drinking water.  (If you plan on doing a fast, research it as much as possible beforehand).

This year I have done two 30 hour fasts, and multiple 16-20 hour fasts.

There has been a lot of research done on fasting, and it has many benefits.  This Harvard study explains how fasting can lead to a longer and healthier life: Click Here for the study.

I’ve been practicing this another way without even knowing it:  When I need clothes, I first go to Goodwill or other thrift stores, where I buy great clothes for a cheap price.  I am very glad my mother took us to thrift shops growing up; they really have some amazing gems.  And when I buy clothes that society might think is “poor,” that doesn’t bother me & I’ll still wear it.

Macklemore agrees here in his song Thrift shop(clean version).

He says, “I’m like, ‘yo, that’s 50 dollars for a t-shirt.’ Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition. 50 dollars for a t-shirt, that’s just some ignorant _____.

I call that getting tricked by the business.”

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Do we care that much about the opinions of others that we will spend enormous amounts of money to impress them?

2000 years ago, former Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius said, “it never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.

Think about what your life would be like without the things you have.  It could happen.  Better to have practiced misfortune so that if it comes to you, you won’t be bothered by it.

Are you practicing poverty & misfortune?  If not, do you think you will?

4~None of what you do lasts

Again, this may sound pessimistic, but it is liberating, and if you are still reading you can sense that practicing stoicism can be liberating.

Marcus Aurelius reminded himself of all the people who have died, whether they had a “great” occupation or a “lowly” one.  He said: “Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.

“No matter how clever or brilliant, none of what we do lasts…It’s good to remember that.” Ryan Holiday

epictetus

“If everything is ephemeral, what does matter?  Right now matters.  Being a good person and doing the right thing right now, thats what matters and that’s what was important to the Stoics. Be humble and honest and aware.” Ryan Holiday

If you want to really live your best life, it is important to frequently think of your own mortality. This will help you appreciate each and every moment, and not have such an intense fear of death that most people refuse to think about.

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Marcus Aurelius

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I hope you enjoyed learning about, or learning more about the wonderful philosophy of stoicism.  There are many more practices involved with stoicism; these were a few key starting points I believe are good to begin with, & they are ones that I am practicing.

If you want to learn more about stoicism, I recommend reading the book “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius.  I recently read it & it is now one of my top 3 all-time favorite books.

And as I said, I have many notes on stoicism and am considering writing a short ebook on the subject to discuss it in more details (the ebook would be around 20 pages). If this is something you’d be interested in reading please let me know 🙂

I look forward to hearing from you, & hope you have gained a new perspective through reading this.

Cheers.

“In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.” Aurelius