There’s a chance you are having problems lately, or at some point in your life, that you think it was the worst part of your life. It can come in many ways; whether it was a broken heart, betrayals, family problems, financial problems, schools, works, friendships, relationships, or any failures that dragged your mental down. I want to let you know that you are not alone. Just like everybody else that was once had to deal with setbacks, it also came to me.
It was last year; and the fact that I just write this today, is because I DO need that much time to recover. I didn’t heal fast when my longtime friend(s) backstabbed me and I lost everything. Not even when I likely had tried everything, visited many places, and met with new people; there was still part of me that still lost in limbo and couldn’t live the same life after. My life had turned upside down, and I was stuck, not knowing what to do.
Until I found a cure, lessons, that came from an unlikely source –a philosophy of more than 2 millennia old, practiced by them who’s called Stoics. The same philosophy that accompanied Nelson Mandela in his 27 years imprisonment, guiding and comforting him until his eventual victory of fights against racial inequality in South Africa.
This writing is about that lessons.
One of the beauty of this philosophy, is that it doesn’t necessarily negate or against the religion or ideology I’m currently believing in. It even proves that with human efforts to think and contemplating life, it can also find the universal truth that understand life as it is how it is.
1. So, What Is It
If you look up for “stoic” in the dictionary, it will relatively mean someone that’s “determined not to complain or show her/his feelings, especially when something bad happens” (Cambridge Dictionary). It’s not wrong, because it is a colloquial saying derived from the term “stoic”, a person that practices Stoicism, subject of philosophy that I meant before. But Stoicism that’s been practiced and perfected by Stoics for centuries is more than just and attitude to be calm, it has set of worldviews, virtues/values, and spiritual exercises.
On practical level, Stoicism teaches us about self control, social tolerance, and virtue of life. For me (and I hope you as well) I learned that I was just a mind away to be happy.
Let’s put this subject into perspective (example of how this philosophy in action):
It is one of the attitude of a Stoic.
It’s Different. It’s A Practical Philosophy
Unlike most of any other philosophy, Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with intricated debate about the universe and humanity in general. It is focusing on how to help human overcome destructive attitude, emotions, and act; and what can be acted upon. It is quite relevant with our modern life, because it teaches us on how to deal with social dynamics, retaining self control, and improving our life. And I think that is the best part of this philosophy, because it offers practical wisdom, not just thought-provoking subjects that lead us to an endless debate. It’s built for action.
Stoicism is a school of philosophy that flourished in Roman and Greek world from early 3rd century BC until the 3rd century AD. It got its name from Stoa Poikilē (i.e. “the painted porch”), where Zeno of Cyprus taught the philosophy to his students.
Throughout the 6 centuries of its establishment, it has four prominent figures:
As an institution, school of Stoics had faded away, but its influences remain until today.
2. Concept: Worldview & The Virtues
According to Stoics, the universe is material and reasoning substance, known as Nature, which is divided into two classes, the active and the passive. The passive substances are matter, and the active substances is Logos (Universal Reason), Human, an intelligent aether which acts on the passive matter.
Everything is subject to the laws of Fate. And since the right Reason is the foundation of both humanity and the universe, it follows that the goal of life is to live according to Reason, that is, to live a life according to Nature. For me, I understand this as a principal value to live balancely according to the laws of nature.
The universe is a web of cause and effects. We may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things.
Rather than focusing on imagining an ideal society, the Stoics try to deal with the world as it is, while pursuing self improvements. To guide towards that goal, the Stoics have four Cardinal Virtues:
- Sophia (Wisdom), the ability to navigate through complex situations in a logical, informed, and calm manner.
- Andreia (Courage), facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity, not just in extraordinary circumstances.
- Dikaiosyne (Justice), treating others with fairness, even if they’ve done wrong.
- Sophrosyne (Temperance), the exercise of self-restrain and moderation in all aspects of life.
While Stoicism focuses on personal improvements, it’s not a self-centered philosophy, nor encouraging passivity.
- By the initial establishment of Stoicism, Roman laws considered that slaves are property. And Seneca, one of the prominent Stoic, stressed that we all human share the same fundamental humanity, including the slaves, and demanded human treatment for them.
- There’s in an idea that only people who have cultivated virtue and self control in themselves, can bring positive change in others. So, a Stoic can’t be a passive nor self-centered person.
3. Epilog – Spiritual Exercises
Having goals to bring positive social change through self improvements, the Stoics have a set of practices to maintain their strength to face challenges in life. Here are the main three:
- Get Used to Misfortunes
It’s important to note that this isn’t a rhetorical advice, but an exercise. Sometimes it’s good to practice poverty, like take a little food, wear our worst clothes, and get away from our comfort zone.
Comfort zone is the worst, because we’re always afraid that something or someone will take it away. But if we can not just anticipate but really practice misfortunes, when something bad happens to us, the chance of it to disrupt our life will fade because we’re already got used to it.
“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” -Seneca
- Train Perception to Avoid Good and Bad
This exercise is also called “Turning the Obstacle Upside Down”. Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the philosophy of Stoics says that they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or another example: the death of someone close to use is actually a chance for us to show fortitude.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” -Marcus Aurelius.
- Remember, It’s All Ephemeral
It is very important for us to remember that achivements can be ephemeral; and that our possession of them are just an instant. 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.
“Run down the list of those who felt intense ange 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 examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.” -Marcus Aurelius.
- As a matter of discussion, please correct me if I explain something wrong about this subject. I will really appreciate it if you want to help me perfecting this work.
- There is a fraction of Stoicism that I still disagree with, but what I am sharing in this is overall what lessons part that I think worth to share.
- What Is Stoicism – A Definition & 3 Stoics Exercices (com)
- The Philosophy of Stoicism (TED-Ed)
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Fight Mediocrity Channel)
- Stoicism (Wikipedia English)
- Modern Stoicism (Wikipedia English)
- Neostoicism (Wikipedia English)
 And not just Mandela, its values were also shared by kings, presidents, artists, writers, and entrepreneurs that show it as a way of life; on the list are figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill.