6 Modern Day Lessons from the Stoics
How do you approach the world just as it is — no utopian falsifications whatsoever? How do you hold your own, despite ten different things going awry? Amidst all the chaos of modern-day living, how can you develop a blueprint of habits that can help you live a better life? In this blog, I want to take you through 6 modern-day lessons we can learn from the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism.
But first, what is Stoicism?
Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy dating back to 3rd Century BC. Its most notable practitioners were Seneca, a statesman, Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor & Epictetus, a slave. Stoicism, in its simplest essence, is a way of life that helps us overcome negative emotions or thought processes and act on what is within our control. It is a practical rather than didactic philosophy with direct emphasis on real-world application & behavior. At its root are 3 disciplines — perception, action and will.
- By disciplining perception, you decide the way you see things.
“We suffer more often in imagination, than reality.” — Seneca
2. By disciplining action, you seize the day.
“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.”— Epictetus
3. By disciplining will, you build your endurance.
“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.” — Seneca
But, what possible bearing does this long-gone philosophers’ wisdom have on how we lead our lives today? Allow me to encapsulate a few of their most well-accepted principles —
In Latin, ‘Memento Mori’ translates to ‘Remember you will die’. It refers to the Stoic practice of accepting our own mortality. A common visual icon is the skull that philosophers kept at their desks for millennia.
While reminding yourself that you will ultimately leave this world alone and dead is hardly a pleasant thought, it can be used as a tool to develop meaning and purpose for the life you have today.
Our time here is short and should be seen as a gift, that cannot be wasted. Perhaps a Stoic question you can ask yourself today is — “ How can I leave this place better than I found it?”
‘Amor Fati’ in Latin, translates to ‘love of fate’, meaning that at any given point in time, we are willing to accept what we are dealt and make the most out of anything that happens to us.
Each and every moment, no matter how challenging it may seem, is to be celebrated rather than avoided.
Perhaps you are dealing with the loss of a relationship, unemployment or a recent medical diagnosis. Ask yourself — “How can I come to terms with things that are out of my control? How can I face it with strength and unfailing cheerfulness?”
“Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own.” — Marcus Aurelius
“Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.” — Epictetus
Rigor & Routine
While the Stoics drew parallels between everyday living and warfare, this is not necessarily true to our cultural existence today. Seneca once said, “Life without design is erratic.” Some of the practices they promoted were waking up early, reading everyday, staying fit and prioritizing progress over perfection — all of which are still widely held to be useful instruction.
Ask yourself — “How can I treat my body better & with more rigor, so that it obeys my mind? How do I ensure that every job I do, I do it well?”
Within every human, there exists multiple selves — the self they project to the outside world, the self they are with their close ones, the self they are when alone, and the hidden self — that which they are reluctant to admit as being part of themselves.
What is that part of you that you are unable to willfully control, that enslaves you?
Perhaps, it is money, power or fame… Ask yourself — “Am I in control of my senses and deepest urges? How often do I look outside for approval?”
“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.” — James Allen
Tolerant with Others, Strict with Yourself
Marcus Aurelius famously said to ‘be tolerant with others & strict with yourself’. What does this mean for you? Hold yourself to a higher standard than others, don’t project your personal philosophy of Stoicism on others, but let it direct your behavior with them.
Cut out toxic people, yet try to find the good in everyone. Stop complaining, even if it’s just in your own mind. Perhaps, someone just acted like an a** with you, don’t rise & respond in kind.
Stay A Student
When we stop actively learning from our environment and people around us, we are willfully letting a part of us die. The Stoics believed that wisdom is to be developed day by day, not in repeating what we know, but in humbly accepting that there’s so much we don't yet know.
Listen more than you speak. Associate with people who make you better. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find one thing that makes you wiser everyday.
The way of the Stoics shows us a way of life that trains us to be resilient, act from a place of inner strength and develop a moral compass that helps us better navigate life’s challenges. It may not be for everyone, but it sure has influenced both theological doctrine and modern thought.
Stay humble, work hard and prioritize peace over passion. You’ll get where you need to be.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. If you would like to connect with me, drop me a message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.