Stoic Meditations

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22 Feb 2018 05:03 #316322 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
February 21st
Wish Not, Want Not

"Remember that it's only the desire for wealth and position that debases and subjugates us, but also the desire for peace, leisure, travel, and learning. It doesn't matter what the external thing is, the value we place on it subjugates us to another...where are our heart is set to pine, there our impediment lies."
Epictetus, Discourses, 4,4.1-2; 15

Surely, Epictetus isn't saying that peace, leisure, travel, and learning are bad, is he? Thankfully, no. But ceaseless, ardent desire - if not bad in and of itself - is fraught with potential complications. What we desire makes us vulnerable. Whether it's an opportunity to travel world or to be the president or for five minutes of peace and quiet, when we pine for something, when we hope against hope, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Because fate can always intervene and then we'll likely lose our self-control in response.

As Diogenes, the famous Cynic, once said, "It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little." To want nothing makes one invincible - because nothing of yourself lies outside your control. This doesn't just go for not wanting the easy-to-criticize things like wealth or fame - the kinds of folly that we see illustrated in some of our most classic plays and fables. That green light that Gatsby strove for can represent seemingly good things too, like love or a noble cause. But it can wreck someone all the same.

When it comes to your goals and the things you strive for, ask yourself: Am I in control of them or they in control of me?

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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23 Feb 2018 05:17 #316395 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
February 22nd
What's Better Left Unsaid

"Cato practiced the kind of public speech capable of moving the masses, believing proper political philosophy takes care like any great city to maintain the warlike element. But he was never seen practicing in front of others, and no one ever heard him rehearse a speech. When he was told that people blamed him for his silence, he replied, ' Better they not blame my life. I begin to speak only when I'm certain what I'll say isn't better left unsaid.'"
Plutarch, Cato the Younger, 4

It's easy to act - to just dive in. It's harder to stop, to pause, to think: No, I'm not sure I need to do that yet. I'm not sure I am ready. As Cato entered politics, many expected swift and great things from him - stirring speeches, roaring condemnations, wise analyses. He was aware of this pressure - a pressure that exists on all of us at times - and resisted. It's easy to pander to the mob (and to our ego).

Instead, he waited and prepared. He parsed his own thoughts, made sure he was not reacting emotionally, selfishly, ignorantly, or prematurely. Only then would he speak - when he was confident that his words were worthy of being heard.

To do this requires awareness. It requires us to stop and evaluate ourselves and our message honestly. Can you do that?

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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24 Feb 2018 04:17 #316441 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
February 23rd
Circumstances Have No Care For Our Feelings

"You shouldn't give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don't care at all."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.38

A significant chunk of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations is made up of short quotes and passages from other writers. This is because Marcus wasn't necessarily trying to produce an original work - instead he was practicing, reminding himself here and there of important lessons, and sometimes these lessons were things he had read.

This particular quote is special because it comes from a play by Euripides, which, except for a handful of quoted fragments like this, is lost to us. From what we can gather about the play, Bellerophon, the hero, comes to doubt the existence of the gods. But in this line, he is saying: Why bother getting mad at causes and forces far bigger than us? Why do we take these things personally? After all, external events are not sentient beings - they cannot respond to our shouts and cries - and neither can the mostly indifferent gods.

That's what Marcus was reminding himself of here: circumstances are incapable of considering or caring for your feelings, your anxieties, or your excitement. They don't care about your reaction. They are not people. So stop acting like getting worked up is having an impact on a given situation. Situations won't feel the impact at all.

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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26 Feb 2018 06:29 #316702 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
February 25th
The Real Source Of Harm

"Keep in mind that it isn't the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse. So when someone arouses your anger, know that it's really your own opinion fueling it. Instead, make it your first response not to be carried away by such impressions, for with time and distance self-mastery is more easily achieved."
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 20

The Stoics remind us that there really is no such thing as an objectively good or bad occurrence. When a billionaire loses $1 million in market fluctuation, it's not the same as when you or I lose a million dollars. Criticism from your worst enemy is received differently than negative words from a spouse. If someone sends you an angry email but you never see it, did the anger actually happen? In other words, these situations require our participation, context, and categorization in order to be "bad."

Our reaction is what actually decides whether 'bad' has occurred. If we feel that we've been wronged and get angry, of course that's how it will seem. If we raise our voice because we feel we're being confronted, naturally a confrontation will ensue.

But if we retain control of ourselves, we decide whether to label something good or bad. In fact, if that same event happened to us at different points in our lifetime, we might have very different reactions. So why not choose now to not apply these labels? Why not choose not to react?

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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05 Mar 2018 20:04 #317559 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
March 5th
Cutting Back On The Costly

"So, concerning the things we pursue, and which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration - either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren't useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren't worth that much. But we don't discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly."
Seneca, Moral Letters, 42.6

Of Seneca's many letters, this is probably one of the most important - and one of the least understood. He's making a point that goes unheard in a society of ever-bigger houses and ever more possessions: that there's a hidden cost to accumulation. And that the sooner we are aware of it, the better.

Remember: even what we get for free has a cost, if only in what we pay to store it - in our garages, in our minds, in our hearts. As you walk past the things stored therein, ask yourself: Do I need this? Is it superfluous? What is this actually worth? What is it costing me?

You might be surprised by the answers and how much you've been paying without even knowing it.

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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06 Mar 2018 07:39 #317636 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
March 6th
Where Philosophy Begins

"An important place to begin in philosophy is this: a clear perception of one's own ruling principle."
Epictetus, Discourses, 1.26.15

Philosophy is intimidating. Where does one start? With books? With lectures? With the sale of your worldly possessions?

None of these things. Epictetus is saying that one becomes a philosopher when they begin to exercise their guiding reason and start to question the emotions and beliefs and even language that others take for granted. It is thought that an animal has self-awareness when it is able to fully recognize itself in the mirror. Perhaps we could say that we begin our journey into philosophy when we become aware of the ability to analyze our own minds.

Can you start with that step today? When you do, you may find that from it you really come alive - to paraphrase Socrates - that we can live lives that are actually worth living.

(Socrates's actual quote is, "The unexamined life is not worth living.")

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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06 Mar 2018 07:39 #317637 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
March 6th
Where Philosophy Begins

"An important place to begin in philosophy is this: a clear perception of one's own ruling principle."
Epictetus, Discourses, 1.26.15

Philosophy is intimidating. Where does one start? With books? With lectures? With the sale of your worldly possessions?

None of these things. Epictetus is saying that one becomes a philosopher when they begin to exercise their guiding reason and start to question the emotions and beliefs and even language that others take for granted. It is thought that an animal has self-awareness when it is able to fully recognize itself in the mirror. Perhaps we could say that we begin our journey into philosophy when we become aware of the ability to analyze our own minds.

Can you start with that step today? When you do, you may find that from it you really come alive - to paraphrase Socrates - that we can live lives that are actually worth living.

(Socrates's actual quote is, "The unexamined life is not worth living.")

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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07 Mar 2018 06:04 #317862 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
March 7th
To Each His Own

"Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it. He has his own tendencies, and his own affairs. What I have now is what the common nature has willed, and what I endeavor to accomplish now is what my nature wills.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.25

Abraham Lincoln occasionally got fuming mad with a subordinate, one his generals, even his friends. Rather than taking it out on that person directly, he'd write a long letter, outlining his case why they were wrong and what he wanted them to know. Then Lincoln would fold it up, put the letter in the desk drawer, and never send it. Many of these letters survive only by chance.

He knew, as the former emperor of Rome knew, that it's often easier to fight back. It's tempting to give them a piece of your mind. But you almost always end up with regret. You almost always wish you hadn't sent the letter. Think of the last time you flew off the handle. What was the outcome? What was the ultimate benefit?

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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18 Mar 2018 19:47 #319080 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
March 18th
That Sacred Part Of You

"Hold sacred your capacity for understanding. For in it is all, that our ruling principle won't allow anything to enter that is either inconsistent with nature or with the constitution of a logical creature. It's what demands due diligence, care for others, and obedience to the gods."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.9

The fact that you can think, the fact that you can read this book, the fact that you are able to reason in and out of situations - all of this is what gives you the ability to improve your circumstances and become better. It's important to appreciate this ability, because it is a genuine ability. Not everyone is so lucky.

Take a little time today to remember that you're blessed with the capacity to use logic and reason to navigate situations and circumstances. This gives you great power to alter your circumstances and the circumstances of others. And remember that with power comes responsibility.

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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19 Mar 2018 17:40 #319155 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Stoic Meditations
March 19th
The Beauty Of Choice

"You are not your body and hair-style, your possessions, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be."
Epictetus, Discourses, 3.1.39b-40a

It's that line the movie Fight Club: "You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet." Obviously our friend Epictetus never saw that movie or read the book - but apparently the consumerism of the 1990s existed in ancient Rome too.

It's easy to confuse the image we present to the world for who we actually are, especially when media messaging deliberately blurs that distinction.

You might look beautiful today, but if that was the result of vain obsession in the mirror this morning, the Stoics would ask, are you actually beautiful? A body built from hard work is admirable. A body built only to impress others not nearly so.

That's what the Stoics urge us to consider. Not how things appear, but what effort, activity, and choices they result from.

"The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity."
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