Sergiy Shibirkin. Series :: p h o s p h e n e ::, synthography :: airbreak ::, 2023 / Facebook, «Sil-Sol»
The world around us is full of suffering, unfairness, cruelty, and unpredictability. And we react to what is happening with dissatisfaction, fear, anger, despair… How to find the strength to live on? How to find the meaning of life and feel happy? If you are asking yourself such questions — you are not alone! One of the best answers to them was given by the philosophy of Stoicism, the relevance of which today can hardly be overestimated.
FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN THE INNER AND THE OUTER
The philosophy of the Stoics, which appeared in ancient Greece in the third century B.C., has been experiencing another renaissance since the 80s of the last century.
Stoicism is not called «the philosophy of hard times» for nothing. It is one of the most practical philosophies that addresses the specific mental needs of a particular person. It is, therefore, not surprising that modern Stoicism is increasingly drifting toward psychology and psychotherapy.
Among the many dozens of Stoic thinkers, three stand out — Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. These philosophers, skillfully tracking and interpreting emotional reactions, recommended that we focus not on remaking the world but on redefining ourselves in the world.
For these ancient sages, it was obvious — if you can’t change the world, you have to change what you can. Namely, one’s attitude to the world. The central theme that occupied the Stoics was the search for balance between the inner and the outer.
«SET» YOURSELF UP FOR A BETTER LIFE
The life goal for the Stoics is eudemonia, that is, a «good life» filled with prosperity and happiness. How do we live such a life? — is the central question of Stoic philosophy! And the Stoics found a remedy: ataraxia — a state of blissful tranquility, serenity, achieved by the wise man.
But what must one do to achieve this blissful state? The Stoics found the answer to this question: one should begin to «live his own life», shielding it from the encroachment of external forces and influences.
The source of the good life and true freedom from circumstances is not outside but inside the person. In order to free oneself and begin to live « from one’s own self», it is necessary to develop the will and awareness. You have to get rid of illusions and self-deception and take an honest look at the content of your life. This is what we will now try to do together with the Stoics.
TRUST FATE AND STOP WORRYING
Fatalism is a great way to keep a calm mind. According to Seneca, it is a great comfort to know that fate is not dragging you alone but together with the entire universe. You are an actor in a universal play whose plot is unknown to you. The only thing left to you is to trust fate and play your role to the best of your ability — this is your zone of freedom.
According to Epictetus, to desire what is not ordained from above is to make yourself miserable. If you are a king, try to be a good ruler for your subjects. If you are a herdsman, shepherd your sheep to the best of your ability. Be content with what you have.
Adjust your desires to reality, not reality to desires. And then you will be peaceful, anxiety and dissatisfaction will cease to eat away at your soul.
The formula for stoic happiness is the courage to remain unconcerned in the face of life’s adversities. Marcus Aurelius urges to become like a cliff against which the wave beats without causing any changes in it.
IMPROVE WHAT YOU CONTROL
To become happy, we need to transform our worldview and emotional life in a certain way. First of all, understand that there are two categories of things in the world. Some things you can control, others you can’t. Stoics recommend focusing on the former and stop wasting time on the latter.
Say, can you change the past? No. So why regret that things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to? The same goes for a future beyond your control. The only thing a person has is a brief moment in the present. That’s all he has, at least partially. But if you’re not happy with the present, you’re wasting your time. It is wiser to concentrate on what you control — goals and values.
For example, honesty, nobility, diligence, and professionalism, so it is worth caring not so much about things external to us but internal! By adequately choosing your goals, you will significantly improve your life and avoid frustrations and disappointments.
ADAPT TO UNCERTAINTY
In relation to external events, to what is beyond our control, Stoicism advises the following stance. Do not dream of the best possible version of your future. Instead, visualize the worst possible scenario that could happen to you.
Negative visualization is a kind of fatalistic adaptation to the uncertainty and impermanence of this world, a psychological readiness to accept any outcome. It is a precaution not only from the suffering that unsatisfied desire can cause but also from underestimating what you already have.
Do you have a good job, but you’re dissatisfied with the pace of your career progression? Imagine being downgraded or fired altogether tomorrow. Wealth, health, beauty — all these things are transient. This is not your merit but a gift of fate, which at any moment can be claimed back.
Your merit can only be in the area you control — in the area of working on yourself.
MODERATION AND SELF-CONTROL
If it seems to you that without something, you will become unhappy, try the «pumped up version» of negative visualization according to Seneca’s advice — give up for a while the habitual things without which it is «impossible to live». Leaving your comfort zone, you will learn a lot about the actual limits of your freedom, willpower, and self-control!
Not every opportunity is worth taking advantage of, not every desire is worth satisfying. By practicing self-control and moderation, a person avoids the danger of becoming a victim of the «outer». Seneca, not by chance, compares the pursuit of pleasure with hunting a beast that can tear the hunter.
It is not only about destructive satiety but also the formation of addiction when a person becomes a slave to his desires and habits. Having restrained himself, he experiences a joy comparable to the joy of victory over the enemy who wants to enslave him.
The strong-willed aspect is crucial to the Stoics, as the development of the will center of the personality increases the chances of a better life. Moderation and self-control have a direct bearing on the question of human freedom — what we can actually control to achieve more significant goals.
REFLECT AS A PARTICIPANT AND OBSERVER
Stoic meditation also serves to regain control of ourselves and our lives, naturally, where such control is possible. It is a regular reflection on reactions to events that occurred during the day. The extent to which these reactions were consistent with stoic principles.
To adequately conduct such an analysis, Epictetus recommended using two mental registers: to be both a participant in the events and an outside observer of them. In this way, you can evaluate both yourself and others intelligently, as if «from the outside».
But you would be wrong if you think that Stoicism suppresses the emotional sphere, opposing it to reason.
The task of stoic practice is not to fight emotions. Its goal is to eliminate the destructive effects of negative emotions on a person. Fear, anger, hatred — these are the things that prevent us from being ourselves, from enjoying the reasonable perfection of the world order.
Stoicism seeks to take anxiety, hopelessness, and absurdity out of our lives and instead give us joy, meaningfulness, and beauty.
BEST BOOKS ON STOIC PRACTICES
- «A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living»
- «How to be a stoic: Ancient philosophy and modern life»
- «The Stoics win: Mental training for overcoming life’s challenges»
- «How to Live. Lessons in Stoicism from Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius»
William B. Irwin
- «The Guide to the Good Life»
- «The Way of the Stoic»
- «Stoicism for Every Day»
- «The Daily Stoic Journal: 366 Days of Writing and Reflection on the Art of Living»
- «How Strong People Solve Problems»
- «How to Think Like a Roman Emperor»