Why Stoicism Matters – Free Ebook

Stoicism is a philosophical school that began in ancient Greece and was later dominant in ancient Rome and which continues to have hugely urgent and important things to teach us about calm, resilience and emotional stability Its ideas should be at the heart of any attempt to remain serene in face of turbulent, unpredictable and often mean minded world. Arguably, the greatest and certainly the most prolific stoic philosopher was the Roman author and statesman Seneca who was born in 4 BC in Spain and died in 65 AD in Rome. A lot of Seneca’s thought is known to us from the letters he wrote to his friends giving them counsel at times of trouble. Seneca had a friend called Lucilius, a civil servant working in Sicily. One day, Lucilius learned of a lawsuit against him which threatened end his career and disgrace his good name. He wrote to Seneca in a panic. “You may expect that i’m going to advise you to picture a happy outcome and to rest in the allurements of hope.” Replied the philosopher. “But i’m going to conduct you to peace of mind through another root which culminated in the advise if you wish to put off all worry assumed that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen. This is an essential stoic idea. We must always try to picture the worst that could happen and then remind ourselves that the worst is survivable. The goal is not to imagine that bad things don’t unfold, it’s to see that we are far more capable of enduring them than we currently think. To calm Lucilius down, Seneca advised him to himself entirely at home with the idea of humiliation, poverty and ongoing unemployment. But to learn to see that these were, from the right perspective, not the end of everything. If you lose this case, can anything more severe happen to you than being sent into exile or left to prison? Ask the philosopher, who had himself, survived bankruptcy and eight years of exile in Corsica. Hope for that which is utterly just and prepare yourself for that which is utterly unjust. Seneca gave Lucilius a meditation to maul over in the luxury of his home that he was now in danger of losing. I’m may become a poor man; I shall may then be one among many. I may be exiled; I shall then regard myself as born in a place to which I shall be sent. They may put me in chains; what then? Am i free from bonds now? Behold this clogging burden of a body to which nature has feted me. Seneca tells us that we must grow familiar with and hold before us, at all times, not just the sort of events we like to plan for that are recorded in living memory or are common in our age group and class. But the entire range of possibilities – a longer and inevitably far less agreeable list which finds space for cataclysmic fires, suckings and untimely deaths. He wrote: “Nothing ought to be unexpected by us. Let us place before our eyes in its entirety the nature of man’s lot. Not the kind of evil that often happens but the very greatest evil that can possibly happen We must reflect upon fortune, fully and completely. At one point, a friend of Seneca’s lost a son. And the consoling thoughts run in the similar direction. Marcia, a lady of a senatorial family was devastated by the death of her son Metilius, not yet 25. She fell into a period of mourning that seem to have no end. Three years after the death, her sorrow have not abated one bit. Indeed it was growing stronger everyday So Seneca sent her an essay in which he expressed the hope that given the length of time that elapsed since Metilius’ death, she would forgive him for going beyond the usual condolenses to deliver something darker but perhaps more effective. To lose a son was surely the greatest grief that could befall a mother. But given the vulnerability of the human frame, Metilius’ early death had its place in a merciless natural order which daily offered examples of its handy work. He wrote: “We never anticipate evils before they actually arrive. So many funerals passed our doors, yet we never dwell on death. So many deaths are untimely, yet we make plans for our own infants. How they well done the toga, serve in the army, and succeed to their father property. They might end up doing such things, but how mad to love them without remembering that no one had offered us a guarantee that they would grow to maturity let alone make it to dinner time.” If Metilius’ death had been unexpected for Marcia, it was only on the basis of a wishful assessment of probabilities. You say, I didn’t think it would happen, do you think there is anything that will not happen when you know that it is possible to happen. When you see that it has already happened to many. Seneca imagined meeting Marcia before her birth and inviting her on a tour of the troubled earth so she could weigh off the terms of life then choose whether or not to accept them. On the one hand, Marcia would see a planet of all inspiring beauty and occasional goodness. On the other, a place of intermittent, unspeakable horror. Would Marcia choose to step into such a world? Her existence suggested her answer. Importantly, the stoics Seneca did add that if things were truly unendurable, we have no obligation to continue forever. Here’s another letter from Seneca: “The wise man will live as long as he ought not as long as he can. He always reflects concerning the quality and not the quantity of his life. As soon as there are numerous events in his life, that give him trouble and disturb his peace of mind, he sets himself free. And this privilege is his not only when the crisis is upon him but as soon as fortune seems to be maltreating him. Then he looks about carefully and sees whether he ought or ought not to end his life on that account. He holds that its makes no difference to him whether he’s taking off be natural or self-inflicted. He does not regard it with fear as if it were a great loss for no man can lose very much when but a driblet remains. It’s not a question of dying earlier or later but of dying well or ill and dying well means a escape from the danger of living ill. Seneca was not advocating random or thoughtless exits. He was attempting to give us more courage in the face of anxiety by reminding us that it is always within our remit when we’ve genuinely tried everything and rationally had enough to choose a noble path out of our troubles. When we are furious, paranoid, depleted, or sad the philosophy of stoicism is on hand as it has been for 2000 years to nurse us with its hugely fortifying, distinctive and unusual wisdom and friendship.

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