Stoicism: a truly helpful lifestyle
Philosophy is immediately associated with reading long, boring books, rhetoric impossible to understand, endless sermons and games of argument, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like Thoreau once wrote, philosophize about something is not to plunge into thoughts, but to solve mentally and physically problems. Stoicism has been used by men and women for centuries to be able to triumph in their endeavors and solve their problems. As Seneca, one of the most prominent Stoics, said, “Philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak .”
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Stoicism: origins in Greece, popularization in Rome
Stoicism is a Hellenistic philosophy originating in Athens, created by Zeno of Citium, but it was in Rome that stoicism flourished through practitioners such as Epictetus or Seneca.
It states that virtues should be based on behavior rather than words, that is, act according to what you believe and show that you are a person of virtues; and that we do not control and cannot depend on external events, we must depend only on ourselves and our choices.
The practice of Stoicism lies in some central teachings whose purpose is to remind us that the world is unpredictable – everything is OK today, but tomorrow things can change. Stoicism also reminds us of how short our time is and, therefore, we should live it as best as possible; we must be firm, strong and in control of ourselves; we must control our impulses and rely on logic and our ability to reason.
Stoicism is composed of simple teachings to help us overcome destructive emotions and act on what we can act on. Stoicism is action.
And because it’s an applicable philosophy, it was practiced over hundreds of years by the most varied characters. Kings, senators, emperors, slaves, merchants, ordinary people, politicians, your neighbor – there is no line that can separate who can and cannot benefit from stoic practices.
Starting to practice Stoicism
Stoics will always value action over words. How you act shows who you really are. Therefore, it is not surprising that stoicism has practical exercises to achieve eustatheia (tranquility) and euthymia (belief in itself).
To begin the journey of understanding Stoic philosophy, just follow these three exercises you can start doing now.
1. Morning reflection
One of the most widespread practices by the Stoics is the morning reflection. One of the best examples of this exercise is “Meditations”, by Marcus Aurelius, the book had as audience only one person: himself. Marcus Aurelius, as a good stoic, wrote daily to find clarity and live in peace (we just don’t know if he wrote in the morning).
When you wake up, thank yourself that you woke up and have a new day with opportunities ahead. Many people do not have that luxury.
Then, sit down with your journal and think about the day. It’s not time to planning what to do, it’s about thinking about how you’re going to live the day.
How will you deal with your vices and virtues? What philosophical concept will you apply and/or what skill will you practice? Think about how to incorporate them into your day.
Reflect on the possible problems you may encounter and how you will react to them. For example, is it very likely that you will get stuck in a traffic jam, will you get angry and curse or will you accept what happened, keep your head in place and listen to a podcast or audiobook?
Finally, remember that you control only your mind (your thoughts and your choices), everything else is uncontrollable. The only thing you can do is decide how you are going to perceive the events that happen. Isn’t it better to notice them keeping calm and calm than screaming and pulling their hair out?
2. Looking from above
The Stoics constantly remind us that life is ephemeral and that everything has an end. We are small, our problems are only relatively important even though we see them as the most important thing.
This may seem like a very pessimistic thought – who would like to think that it doesn’t matter so much? – but the objective is simple: to remind us that the only thing that matters is now . How to make the best choice now to live a peaceful life, to be the best person we can be now, to do the right thing now.
Marcus Aurelius said that we only need three things: 1. certainty of judgment in the present moment, 2. action for the common good in the present moment and 3. an attitude of gratitude in the present moment in relation to everything that comes our way.
What matters is just what you can do now.
This exercise is very personal, but with some guidelines: imagine yourself above the clouds or in the middle of space and progressively move closer to the earth, where you are now. Compare its size to everything else there is – we are small, our problems are small.
You can also imagine yourself in times that have passed, in the midst of wars, or imagine the freezing weather as you walk the streets. There is no limit to how this exercise can be done.
3. Negative display
Okay, this exercise can also look pessimistic. The idea behind it is not to make you depress, but to make you realize how much you have and how your life is full of things you don’t value because they are taken for granted – this is called hedonic adaptation.
The premise of the exercise is simple: imagine that only bad things happened. What level of catastrophe can you imagine? It will depend on your imagination.
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