From Book One: Introduction
(pg. 2) This work aims to show you what/when/how stoic approaches to life may be useful. I will endeavor to correct what I think are some misunderstandings and caricatures of stoicism which one often encounters. In brief, I write this work as a modern stoic, who lives and breathes. In order to answer the question “What is stoicism?” I can only report from what my eyes, spirit, and experience have told me.
(pg. 2) Stoicism can be a mental exercise or it can be a way of life to be embraced. Those who choose to embrace it live close to their virtue and reason. As Seneca has put it, virtue itself is right reason. A stoic life may offer a beacon of hope in a dark world largely ruled by fears and desires. Yet stoicism is misunderstood and might be any number of other things.
(pg. 6) There are many attributes of a stoic that could be discussed, but the primary point is that stoicism may not be what we may have supposed. It is not an ivory tower into which one disappears to turn away from life. On the contrary, it is embracing life in a manner more fully than one had before. To face the anxieties, pain, and suffering in such a way as to no longer be controlled by them is truly liberating. To engage in eating, sex, exercise, and work in more meaningful and straightforward ways is empowering and removes extraneous psychological clutter from one’s existence. I put it to you that to live a stoic life is to embrace a clear ray of sunshine in what was once a dark pit. This pit was one we created ourselves, fueled by our endless yearnings to appease a fragile ego.
(pg. 8) There is no one correct way to follow such advice, just as there is no one correct way to live a stoic life. The philosophy is flexible and adaptable to any situation because it is not concerned with specifics. In every situation we have the opportunity to, ‘be good’, as Marcus Aurelius suggest. What this means from day to day, from hour to hour, is not measured by one set of rules. There are no commandments to adhere to. What one must learn to adhere to is one’s inner nature, the voice that we are imbued with if we will listen to it. An equally important and powerful part of what he says is that we not play the hypocrite. In this way, Marcus Aurelius reminds us that, while we are to listen to our inner voice, we must not take advantage of it so that we may do ill, claiming all the while that we are following our inner nature. For while we may commit an ill blindly and out of ignorance, to do so willingly and with knowledge would make us hypocrites.
From Book Two: Regarding the body
(pg. 12) Your body is a vessel, yet your intellect and reason must be the guide. To let one’s body rule and guide itself without oversight can lead to its destruction. The body is as a child that needs its parents to establish its habits, rules, and goals before it is able to do so itself. Look around you and it will be easy to see those whose bodies run amok, unguided by reason and sound judgment. You may even see this in yourself if you look closely and without bias.
From Book Three: Regarding the mind
(pg. 19) Like the body, the mind must be exercised and kept fit. You must look at yourself each day and hold yourself to a high standard. As you develop habits in this you will be better able to stay true and keep yourself honest. And yet, again, we all change throughout time. We may not know today what tools we will need tomorrow in order to keep ourselves humble and true. This is why we embrace principles. To develop particular routines only would be a failure. Our principles adapt and can be extrapolated to our changing life circumstances. Through our principles we are able to remain true to ourselves and thus true to the universal in us as well as our fellow man.
(pg. 21) Freedom is available to you at any moment. Your mind is capable of providing a release from what torments you. But be careful that you not use your mind to escape, for there is no freedom in that. Only when we confront our torments and embrace them may we be free of them. It is in the running and avoidance of those things that they catch us and hold us fast. However we squirm, we are caught and going nowhere.
(pg. 24) I submit to you that as your perspective grows, so will your anguish diminish. As you understand others more thoroughly it becomes less easy to hate them and dismiss them as evil. They may do evil deeds, but they are still human. What good will it do you to add to the evil of their deeds by carrying anger and hatred within you? It is your choice. Your mind will be perturbed by such thoughts. Your emotions will remain anxious and fearful.
(pg. 28) The mind is the most flexible and useful tool we have. Adaptable to any situation, any problem, any grief. The greatest quality our mind may have is honesty. To see ourselves clearly, to see others clearly, and to see our reality clearly, these are our goals. It is in seeing ourselves clearly that we become aware of what we are able to achieve, what our faults are, and what our strengths are. To see others clearly is to see them as human beings, including their faults and weaknesses. In doing so we no longer consider them evil, nor do we consider them objects. In this way we may deal with other men fairly. And finally, in seeing our reality clearly we may understand what we may change and what we may not. This awareness is chief in our goals. The clarity of mind which makes this possible is our goal. By daily asking ourselves honest questions and not settling until we find honest answers is the way in which we achieve it. Learning from and then moving past our many failures is our duty.
From Book Four: Regarding the spirit
(pg. 29) Some say that there is little joy in a stoic life. To those I would reply: you may not know what a stoic life is made of. For is not contentment a primary fixture of such a life? The act of appreciating each moment for what it is; the actions of a stoic man undertaken to remain ethical and upright, these are things of joy indeed.
From Book Five: Regarding the living of life
(pg. 31) Today there are many distractions pushing us and pulling us. We focus on tiny screens more than we do our fellow humans. We check our tiny accounts and leave the larger accounts in front of us untended. This is foolish. Our lives are around us and in front of us. They do not, on the whole, exist on these screens yet we often behave as if it were so. Though these devices may serve some purpose to us we should be careful how much energy we put to them. Make effort to rid yourself of the distractions which you do not truly need. Some may benefit you more than others and it is your task to understand which are beneficial and which are not. You may be surprised when you see how hollow a thing is, after truly looking at it.
(pg. 52) Consider that it behooves some to convince you to behave one way rather than another. Yet, is that way in your own best interest? Is it in the best interest of your family, or your country? You must prepare your mind daily to be aware of what is being thrown at you. Like a shield your mind must remain vigilant to guard against unwelcome messages. If you wish to remain chaste, understand that there are many images put in front of you encouraging you to end your chastity. And so on. Hold onto your center and your ideal of what you most value and consider at all moments if you are behaving according to your virtue or according to some conditioning.
These excerpts © 2014 Dmitri Mandaliev. All rights reserved.