Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can, and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh. Born to shed healing in the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank, and revere him, —and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Over four years ago, I made a pre-meditated decision to break up with a significant other; leading me down a path of self-discovery. Naturally, as was and has been the case with me; only obvious once out of it, I found that I was too invested in another person. The time, attention, and; most important, thought toward her, allowed me to not directly face what is without a doubt our most pressing task; our own life. It was in the first few weeks, consuming my free time in the confines of my own room or furthering my attachment to smoking myself even deeper away from reality, that I came upon something that would soon provide aid. In binge-watching the series Gotham on Netflix, a name in the scene’s bookcase popped out to me and peaked my curiosity, Marcus Aurelius.
After going through hours of research and furthering my intrigue, I’d commit to the near unthinkable; for someone with the utmost reluctance, to buy three books online. In the months to come, I would continue to ruminate over my decision, and begin to dive into the minds of three Stoic philosophers; the above mentioned Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. Their three books, all written in different format; a series of twelve chapters titled Meditations, a thin manual comprised of quotes and life advice, and a grouping of correspondence between friends, all provided me solace from what I was missing. It became evident; with the increased time and focus on myself, that while I was reeling from an ended relationship, my true haunting trouble was the present state of my life. It was apparent that a form of my unhappiness generated from being only five miles away from my childhood home, and attending a community college that related directly to my biggest failure; a college drop-out.
There was more to it though, as nearing twenty-four years old, I began to recognize the troubling truth that not only did I not know what I wanted to do, but I hadn’t a clue of who I was; was I just some wondering pot-head that cannot accept the reality of his decisions? Yet, now for the first time in my life a side of myself began to appear; one that appeared enamored by the philosophical teachings of three men that lived in far different times. Something within seemed to oddly connect with a Roman emperor, an ex-slave, and an exiled statesman, all existing around the time of Jesus. In reading, studying, and reciting their lines of wisdom over and over again in my head, I began to see how their influence took shape in my normal life. Yes, I was still smoking and immersed within my surroundings but I began to think more about my life, the whole of humanity, and most importantly, myself within.
Occurrences that once would have been so dramatic for me became less important, and while I still was pulled too much by desires and interests around me, I began to fight their influence internally. While, the Greco-Roman philosophical school didn’t take complete control; nor has it to this day, what it did provide me is a moderator and guide. As Seneca suggests, “There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight,” I found it useful to have a daily marker, practicing out instances throughout the day, then to the evening, for more reading.
I learned to throw out the image of a revengeful-action hero, portrayed in the movies, or a fearless military soldier enduring the seemingly unbearable, as I undoubtably will never be either, and what remained was a way toward self-improvement. This is what Stoicism has led me been toward, an avenue to content-ness within, by providing guidance, and a seemingly endless amount of life advice of the topics of life that most concern humanity. If taken properly, and according to one’s individual need, it can provide substantial benefit. If read; however, without the concept of change, as the texts are nearing two millennium old, or without the readiness of depth of mind and content, the gain could potentially wind up not as influential. It is up to the reader then and to each individual’s aim; it has worked for me, in the effort to find myself and grow. There is the beauty of having the diversity of three books that culminate in a collective agreement, while clearly providing three different examples of life, and thus; a powerful process of thought for a variety of life questions, issues, and circumstances.
In becoming acquainted with the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism, I choose to study the works of three heads. These men, living all within a span of 180 years; beginning in the years following Jesus’ death up to 181 AD, would work to spread their philosophical doctrine. Due to their rise of success, either as a direct adviser to the emperor, in Seneca’s case, or in Aurelius’ position, as the sole emperor for a span of two centuries, they seemed to forge a permanent connection between their school and empire. While, Stoicism’s rise began centuries before in Greece; most often accredited to either Pythagoras or Zeno the elder, it nows appears more attached to the later Roman empire.
During the heyday of the Roman empire, much of Europe, part of northern Africa, and even, down to the northern part of the Arabian peninsula, was all loosely united under Roman rule. The birthplaces of our three Roman philosophers; Aurelius-Rome, Epictetus-Turkey, and Seneca-southern Spain, show the vast influence of the Roman Empire, and while they would all come to the heart of their empire; making waves within their surroundings, each began with drastically different upbringings. The influence of the three begins with Seneca, who suffered through decades of delicate and weak condition of health; understood to be Asthma, before becoming an adviser in the magistrate in his thirties. In rising to a position of influence, he would encounter several change-overs in emperors; which eventually led to his fall out from Rome, by way of exile. It is here, in Corsica that Seneca would write arguably his most famed work; professing his Stoic connection, Letters from a Stoic.
The book, written in form of correspondence to a close friend, Lucilius; seemingly younger and in need of council, worked to explain the life advice of a Stoic philosopher. Encountering a drastic change in setting, lifestyle, and position; exile provided the philosopher the ample time to further practice what he preached. His approach on possessions, and advice within his Letters, “Start cultivating a relationship with poverty…I am not, mind you, against your possessing them, but I want to ensure that you possess them without tremors; and this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without them, and by always regarding them a being on the point of vanishing,” offers a uniquely different take on materialism; providing a key concept of Stoicism. Seneca, an extremely wealthy man during his tenures in Rome, speaks on the importance of a healthy perspective toward material items; one which enables one to have, without being disillusioned to their true nature; they will not last.
Although, immersed within a lifestyle of chaos, turmoil and extreme wealth; both before exile and upon a return to power as a tutor to the emperor Nero, Seneca was undeniably equipped with intellect and wisdom. This unique skill-set would have him called back out of exile, and placed him in a dangerous position, standing aside tyrannical rule. His relationship with the emperor would eventually deteriorate; as he was considered to be involved in an attempted plot to dispel Nero from his throne; resulting in his forced suicide. Yet, despite having his grieving wife alongside him; as she attempted her own suicide, Seneca no doubt would seek comfort in his relationship with philosophy. One can imagine him pulling from one of his many lines regarding death; perhaps, “I shall not be afraid when the last hour comes – I’m already prepared, not planning as much as a day ahead,” or to put it more simply, “Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination.”
Putting aside his tumultuous life, consumed by the dramatic rise and falls from power; paired with an unfortunate ending to life, what remains is the beginning of the Roman school of Stoicism, and the wisdom of a man that provided solace to himself, and others. Before moving on from Seneca, let us address the concepts provided from his Letters to Lucilius; which has us contemplate the value and relationship of material items, along with the ultimate attachment one has to life. Here, our famous stoic author combines the topics, inserts the undeniable truth, and then dispels the overeager desire to identify too strongly with either. Quite simply, while one’s life and all possessions that exist within one’s grasps are according to nature, they will end; therefore, it is highly advisable, and a key tenet of Stoicism to keep that in the forefront of one’s mind, never allowing one to get carried away without the ultimate truth; it must naturally come to an end.
We wouldn’t need to wait long, following the end of Seneca, before our next philosopher would come to find his calling in philosophy, just several decades later. By the time of Nero’s death, the Turkish-born Epictetus, born into enslavement, had already found a passion for philosophy. His story, provides a unique connection with stoicism, one of overcoming inherited struggle; best represented by his words, “Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.” It would be considered natural for one born into servitude, to question why at a young age his fate would call for lack of freedom; forever harping of the oppression faced during the development years of life. Yet, Epictetus’ words speak to a supreme understanding, one that calls for the meditation of the reality of life; where we as human beings have no choice of the situation we are born into life.
This free choice, and the understanding of one’s lot; a fundamental recurring concept in Stoicism is perhaps, best emphasized by Epictetus. It should not come as a surprise then, that this is where he begins in his first passage of the Enchiridion, “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” As seen with Seneca, the intricate facets within Stoicism, seem here to align themselves with the philosopher’s life. Understandably, the fundamental role of control within one’s life appears more prevalent to a formerly enslaved individual, over the potential concern for the corruption of possessions on one’s mind.
After breaking free, Epictetus moved to Rome to pursue his career and passion; teaching philosophy for over two decades. Perhaps, what is most astonishing and unique according to his life; distancing himself from both our other two philosophers, is his direct and sole entanglement to Stoicism in life. For, the remainder of his life in modern day Greece, our teacher acted according to his nature, attributing hisself to the study and teaching of Stoicism. Despite, not writing it himself, he would be credited with a manual, the Enchiridion; comprised of his teachings by one of his successors.
Epictetus, would be credited as influencing our next Stoic, Marcus Aurelius; a man who unlike either of his predecessors, would place himself in a truly supreme position within Rome, the emperor between 161-180 AD. It is for this reason, that Aurelius is attributed with the unique title of emperor-philosopher; positions, that undoubtably altered how he behaved and saw himself, in both roles. Readers of his Meditations, can obtain an account of Aurelius in his younger years; assessing life before the rise to power, through the reading of Book One; in which he speaks to his gratitude, “From my brother Severus, to love my kin, and to love truth, and to love justice; and through him I learned to know Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dion, Brutus; and from him I received the idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed; I learned from him also consistency and undeviating steadiness in my regard for philosophy.”
Aurelius’ Meditations, written in his final years, provides the most in-depth detailing of Stoicism. It is difficult to imagine adhering to any type of a philosophical order, in the midst of ruling an empire, and spending vast amounts of time consumed with military campaigns. Yet, perhaps, that is what generated such a tight relationship with Stoicism; one that calls for the consistent contemplation of nature, proper conduct, and death. The final topic, appears as a constant throughout his collection of books; again, we must consider the life at the time, of the emperor-philosopher. No doubt reeling to the death of his wife; alongside being immersed within battle that saw death of the horizon at all moments, Marcus would entail what he encountered within his life to his philosophical work.
It is for this reason that the three heads of Roman Stoicism provide a unique take on a life with philosophy. Extracting the wisdom provided in their three texts, the goal is simply put to determine what are the most important common elements fundamental to Stoicism. As I am unable; not unlike Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, to separate what I desire to seek in the solace of philosophy, it must be stated that this is according to own one nature, in what questions in my life that I seek to be answered. The text is divided, among five categories; each attempting to solve their question.
(1) We begin with what is most prominent, and necessary to understand our three authors and their philosophy, the concept of Unity and Connection(1). This fundamental element; consistently calling upon for the student’s awareness of self and in the world, must be permanently set within the mind. Divided in three mutually inclusive aspects, these connections have a similarity amongst other religions and philosophies. Beginning with our source and highest connection, Stoicism calls for humanity to acknowledge their connection from above. The unity with the creator is most easily expressed in the lines from Book 2, of Meditations; here Aurelius writes,
“It is high time for thee to understand the true nature both of the world, whereof thou art a part; and of that Lord and governor of the world, from whom, as a channel from the spring, thou thyself didst flow.”
This association and connection with the power above, (Creator, Lord, God) is most commonly referenced in relation to the Book of Genesis; “God forming man from dust and breath,” or “Man made in God’s Image.” Here perhaps, Marcus was influenced by the monotheistic religion from the east; originating in at the time Roman-occupied Palestine. Yet, driving past this perspective; which diverts away from the religious practice of the three semitic religions, there comes another factor to the unity with the Creator. It pulls from the understanding of “God’s breath” within us, but, appears similar to that of the philosophy and religion of the far east. Seneca calls for the contemplation of a different thought of our relationship with the higher power; one that draws nearer to men within,
“This is something it is foolish to pray for when you can win it from your own self. There is no need to raise our hands to heaven; there is no need to implore the temple warden to allow us close to the ear of some graven image, as though this increased the chances of being hear. God is near you, is with you, is inside you. Yes, Lucilius, there resides within us a divine spirit, which guards us and watches us in the evil and the good we do.”
No doubt, the rejection of prayer to a higher power, can be viewed as in direct opposition to the religion of the time; Judaism, and the ones to come; Christianity and Islam, yet, perhaps this is not such an absurd statement. If indeed, we do come from God, as is stated in the Semantic faiths, is it not possible that each man is able to govern himself, granted that the human is connected properly with the God above? If this is to be true, then the religious person’s attention just needs to be modified, while the time and intent can remain the same. For, instead of devoting one’s calling for guidance and insight from above, perhaps it is possible to unlock and develop that voice from within. Then, what is called upon is faith, and to be led by what the creator has ornamented within humanity. There is a certain element of uncertainty and fear, certainly, when learning of one’s innate powers; and yet, what might be most instrumental in all this is how we behave.
Similar to devotion, faith, and outlined guidelines of proper conduct according to God, we must understand that our divine own self has to be treated as such. If we accept what could be within ourselves, as coming from the Creator, but then later dismiss our aligned path toward prosperity, in favor of lowly aspects of life, what then? It is justifiable, similar to how we could fall out of favor with God, the Almighty; diminishing our relationship with the supreme power, that if we prevent our direct guidance from within, we could do harm all the same. We then need to focus on our action, as Marcus states,
“Do nothing against thy will, nor contrary to the community…Moreover, let thy God that is in thee to rule over thee, findby thee, that he hath to do with a man.”
It cannot be one without the other, heightened guidance from above and within, requires proper action according to one’s true self. There is comfort naturally, in the belief that prayer and devotion to a greater being; a power far above us, is looking out for our best interests. Yet, there might be equal, or even, possibly more solace in the understanding that the Great Lord looking over us; like a parent, has equipped us within to rule and guide ourselves. If we live as we should; according to the insight from within, then it is our very selves that can provide what is necessary to survive and flourish in our world. If we only tap into that great, divine power inside each of us, it is possible to see the previously unseen, strive for even greater abilities, and be one with God.
Our next two connections have directly to deal with the Creator; for as we apart of the creation, then we must acknowledge our unity with whatever is also created by the divine hand. Naturally, this calls for a unity of humanity; since, we are not the only men created, it is fundamental to recognize the commonality of all people, as being all in relation to the creator and self. An instrumental element of our philosophy here is the relationship between ourself and fellow man, and the importance of a mutually beneficial cohesiveness. This concept, perhaps, is best emphasized from Meditations book eight, calling for the acknowledgement that,
“All men are made one for another; either then teach them better, or bear with them.”
Obviously easier said than done, but it cannot be denied that a spirited effort to improve the lot of humanity, would not also bring about an improvement in one’s life. Whether it be for self-gratification, a form of altruism, or pulling from our past prophet’s; ranging from Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, it appears in the best interest of all people to call for the heightening of mankind. It can be taken as comfort, that if a failure comes about in the attempt to teach our fellow man, what we are left with is; essentially, the same men as before. It is this that we can aim after, in the hope that regardless the effect, we; as Marcus indicates, must live with them.
Unlike Marcus, whom credits much of the knowledge and wisdom he holds during his life to his teachers and fellow man, Seneca provides the insight from the opposite pole. As a renown intellectual and teacher of his time, Seneca skill-set was sought after to the highest degree. This can be evidently noticed in his Letters to Lucilius, which proclaim his level of interest in offering up his wisdom for the betterment of his dear friend; or if provided money and a position of power, to tutor the young future emperor. In this, Seneca sees the value of a mutual relationship and the begetting of wisdom, therefore,
“Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.”
It is natural to an extent, that if we are able to properly acknowledge our connection with the divine; then, more importantly, connect with that divine being within, then the next step would be to bring about that light from others. The immense joy that is gained from the unity of self with one’s highest nature, can only be amplified, when turned toward the aim of providing our fellow man that same opportunity. It is very much a paying-it-forward situation; again, if understood that no one person can come to the light of their true existence without help, then it is one’s duty, to work to improve the chances for others for seek for their true self. Speculating about the improved life one can obtain; no matter the inner bliss and joy experienced for oneself, if it is singular and only individual, then how can we truly live in to its ultimate. If one has, and the vast majority has not; then there will always be a disconnect toward the lot of humanity, and potential fear of ones that have not. Simply stated, by Marcus in Book 6,
“That which is not good for the bee-hive, cannot be good for the bee.”
It is only fitting then, the environment that breeds the healthiest and best possible situation for a continual life of inner prosperity, is one that features prosperity outer as well. Being the lone heightened, healed being in the room, or, on the streets, would then not be a blessing, but one that would lead toward decline of self. We, therefore, ought to strive for our own inner development and mastering, while working to improve those, and that of around us. This brings us to our last connection, which concerns the ‘that’, mentioned in the above sentence. In relation to our creator, and in the commonality with our fellow man, what we share and have inherited from above, nature. While, the common understanding of nature is with the physical; often depicted along the earth, as forests, parks, mountains, or water, what the Stoics aim is not so concrete.
To better explain the importance of the concept in Stoicism, let us picture, nature as related to the individual; as people often describe themselves in regard to their own ‘nature.’ Yet, what is unique, is the universal commonality of man’s nature, requiring one to reflect, inquire, and call to mind, what is innate within. This knowledge of one’s nature, calls for an open mind, and truthfulness to one self, in order to not err away from the truth. As Marcus explains, in Book 4,
“He is a true fugitive, that flies from reason, by which men are sociable. He blind, who cannot see with thee eyes of his understanding. He poor, that stands in need of another, and hath not in himself all things needful for this life. He an aposteme of the world, who by being discontented with those things that happen unto him in the world, doth as it were apostatize, and separate himself from common nature’s rational administration.”
Here, Marcus references several facets that we can understand in relation to our connection with humanity, in what has been discussed, along with, our first connection in striving toward the unity of our divinity. In indicating states of lowliness, hostility, and the feeling of being an outsider, we must consider the importance of necessity with each preventive, and natural measure. Take reason, which draws all of mankind together; by throwing this inherent trait to the wind, the irrational man becomes unhealthy, an outcast, void of the necessary connection of man. Without understanding one is void, on a journey, searching, without an end.
Then, there is poverty, not the type that consists in being in debt, or having a lack of property and funds, but a level that hasn’t to do anything with finance and monetary value. In this case, a person can be said to be poor, even while owning several vehicles, many houses, and having many millions in the bank; this lacking has to do from within. For no matter how much is owned and is accessible outwardly, if there exists not a self-sustaining, and reliance on one’s own nature, then that man will never be content and truly fulfilled. We get to the message here, that Marcus indicates, which is to inquire, search and understand one’s nature, according to what is innate within. This connection with nature, draws back on our unity with the creator and of man, which calls for a constant adherence to what is true to oneself and all man; not to be unreasonable, or unsociable, to search for understanding, while working for self-reliance and content-ness within.
Later, Marcus adds to his comments on the importance of following one’s nature, stating in Book ten,
“As one who is altogether governed by nature, let it be thy care to observe what it is that thy nature in general doth require….And that, whatsoever it be, thou mayest admit of and do it, if thy nature as thou art a reasonable living creature, will not be the worse for it. Now whatsoever is reasonable, is also sociable, Keep thyself to these rules, and trouble not thyself about idle things.”
(2) Our second element fundamental in understanding the nature of Stoicism and our philosophers comes in the matter of how one interacts in life. Simply put, behavior(2), and dealing with how to live properly; according to one’s nature, is essential to having the utmost unity with the divine within. Before beginning, it must be stated, and understood, that proper action is only as useful as a ruling power. We do not simply desire to speculate, judge, or theorize; an often misuse of philosophy, but instead, look to learn what is best, and then to work toward a total adherence. Marcus indicates this guidance in Book 9,
“As virtue and wickedness consist not in passion, but in action; so neither doth the true good or evil of a reasonable charitable man consist in passion, but in operation and action.”
It is then, only so important to know what is right; for if knowing the way, and neglecting, or giving in to easier options, is just as lowly and need of assistance as complete ignorance. The importance of behavior in Stoicism cannot be understated, and here, we will look to divide the massive topic into three groupings; time (2a), material (2b), and attention (2c). Our behavior is attributed to how we act through the course of time; whether it be an hour, a day, year, or lifetime. In these moments, we come to develop and show our character, and begin to understand who we are; i.e., am I lazy or productive. We must begin with time, which our Stoic philosophers seek to explain must be approached with diligence and respect for oneself; as unlike all other elements of life, there is no refund, and only such a limited supply. Their must be a goal in the usage of time, no simply to waste it, waiting away; as Seneca explains,
“Well, I have no respect for any study whatsoever if its end is the making of money…Time should be spent on them only so long as one’s mental abilities are not up to dealing with higher things. They are our apprenticeship, not our real work. Why ‘liberal studies’ are so called is obvious: it is because they are the ones considered worthy of a free man*(A liber=Free). But there is really only one liberal study that deserves the name – because it makes a person free – and that is the pursuit of wisdom.”
The enlightened teacher suggests spending one’s time in a worthwhile pursuit, in his case in the ‘pursuit of wisdom.’ Again, the importance of a goal must be stated, here Seneca values freedom, which can only be obtained with heightened understanding; about oneself, and within the world. One could argue his lack of respect toward making money, and while there is a case to be made for the importance of earning money, in the Stoics perspective, the aim is freedom. Seneca further adds to his point,
“Travel will give you a knowledge of other countries, it will show you mountains whose outlines are quite new to you, stretches of unfamiliar plains, valleys watered by perennial streams; it will allow you to observe the unique features of this or that river…But travel won’t make a better or saner man of you. For this we must spend time in study and in the writings of wise men, to learn the truths that have emerged from their researches, and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered. This is the way to liberate the spirit that stills needs to be rescued from its miserable state of slavery.”
Concepts such as truth, freedom, and liberation; understandably, need to be unpacked here; since the alternative here is an argument against the time in travel and earning money. We must turn ourselves toward the aim, if it is to make mountains of cash, travel the world, living lavishly, and then retire from all the stress of common life; then one would naturally disagree with these suggestions. That life, understandably, while it may sound carefree, is in no relation to the aim of our Stoic philosophers; despite the fact that two (Aurelius and Seneca) attested to lives similarly in relation to wealth, and power. What we aim here to solve is the topic of the utmost importance; one which requires a life’s devotion, oneself. Living a life drawn to the pursuit of one’s truth, facilitated by seeking wisdom for the sake of freedom and liberation, what must go to the back burner is the desire for money and the experiences that one can boast and brag about.
Pulling from the countless public icons, many more famous and rich than we could ever imagine, it becomes evident that a life consumed by wealth, fame, and outer experience, is lacking something. That factor, which appears nearly universal, is the lack of the individual liberated self; one that, heightened by wisdom, and an extreme understanding of within, is contented with life. This desired achievement, striving toward the mountaintop, is not obtained by anything outward, but is unlocked through the strict pursuit of one’s true self; which is driven home by wisdom, from the few that have led lives so unique.
This understanding of the importance of how to properly use our time, toward the pursuit of wisdom, with the goal of achieving one’s inner liberation, leads us to our second aspect of behavior. It is material, which can be seen as the approach toward possessions, and the physical, outer, obtainable world, that often drives individuals away from themselves. We can gain a proper understanding toward a healthy relationship with material from Seneca,
“Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd. Our clothes should not be gaudy, yet they should not be dowdy either. We should not keep silver plate with inlays of solid gold, but at the same time we should not imagine doing without gold and silver is proof we are leading the simple life. Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob.”
What is explained here, seems to be the necessity in finding a balance of moderation; one which does not neglect either side of society. Too often, there is a conception of disregarding all comforts in life; throwing off luxury and diving in the opposite end to a life of the bare essentials. Seneca’s advice, expresses the importance of living an apparent normal life; one that could be viewed from afar as indifferent toward material items. It is crucial to recall the connection of humanity in the common bond; which allows us to better formulate an opinion on possessions. It would be imaginably difficult to convince many people that they must throw off their attachment, desire, and need of material goods, to the extreme; even if some are able.
Nor would it be necessarily beneficial to appeal and teach those very people, while appearing as one that is drastically different in appearance; picture a man in rags preaching to a man in a suit, coming out of an expensive high-end car. Yet, an individual in the middle, on neither end of the spectrum; understanding that both sides exist, of extreme poverty and absurd wealth, is better able to coexist and relate. Here, we can now get to the most important aspect of his advice; one that does not rely on the difference of outward appearance but the internal. Simply put, a philosopher is not made by the surplus of items, nor due to the complete lack of material goods, but recognizes the outer irrelevance; instead, turning the attention inward to aim higher.
This approach on the material, now turns us toward our final element of behavior, in regard to attention. Knowing how to properly use one’s attention is an instrumental aspect to understanding our Stoic philosophers, and their take on proper behavior. Seneca’s advice, regarding how to use time, and how to consider material possessions, indicates, the necessity of one’s behavior in a world that seems to draw one’s attraction always outward. The desire to obtain possessions, experience unforgettable moments to the utmost, and appear together to impress others appears to be a constant aim; yet, what seems to get lost in the whole commotion of life, is oneself. Here, we must never allow ourselves to be lost in the crowd, due to attempting to please everyone else; while letting the most important person to lose focus. We need to instill laser focus on what truly matters, as Marcus suggests, in Book 4,
“Now much time and leisure doth he gain, who is not curious to know what his neighbor hath said, or hath done, or hath attempted, but only what he doth himself, that it may be just and holy? Or to express in it Agathos’ words, Not to look about upon the evil conditions of others, but to run on straight in the line, without any loose and extravagant agitation.”
It seems a shame, but amazingly true, that all too common, the individual diverts attention away from the one, within. The importance of our consideration, as indicated in the quote above, is not about what another is doing; in a world constantly questioning, following, criticizing and comparing others, but solely on ourself. It will be found, once that is accomplished; when the majority of focus goes toward the mind, desire, and aim of what we want within, that it is obtainable. A dream, goal, and plan is not accomplished by spending one’s time in the pursuit of understanding another’s life, but in the unveiling and creation the lone life we are given.
Later on in his Mediations, in Book 8, Marcus adds to the importance of proper attention toward our behavior,
“Take pains therefore to know what it is that thy nature requireth, and let nothing else distract thee. Thou hast already had sufficient experience, that of those many things that hitherto thou hast erred and wandered about, thou couldst not find happiness in any of them…Wherein then is it to be found? In the practice of those things, which the nature of man, as he is a man, doth require…as that there is nothing truly good and beneficial unto man, but that which makes him just, temperate, courageous, liberal; and that there is nothing truly evil and hurtful unto man, but that which casueth the contrary effects.”
Again, the concept of one’s nature is brought up, signifying the importance of our attention to the effect of gaining an understanding about who we are, what we desire, and who we ought to become. The goal in properly understanding good behavior is to act in accordance to our best interests, while always remembering our direct connection with our fellow man; therefore, when we act properly for ourselves, it will also be in align with humanity. In acting and behaving as how man should be, “just, temperate, courageous, and liberal,” there comes to mind a character resembling a hero, who acts with the best interest of all. We tend to consider this type of character to be a role model, and yet, what is simply being accomplished is the pursuing of their best self, while always working toward improvement and keeping up the standard that society lofts up on a pedestal. It can be simply understood, that the behaving in such a way that upholds that high standard, then is the model that displays and resembles that proper behavior; of one that is aligned perfectly with the highest aim of both individual man, and of all man.
(3) With directed attention, a proper consideration of material, and the highest understanding of time, a man can replicate how our Stoic philosophers sought to instill the importance of behavior into improving the one’s around them. Once the behavior is implemented and held according to the highest aim, what comes next is the questioning of where do we look? It is here, that our third element is brought in, focus (3) built off the foundation of a proper behavior, in relation to attention to oneself. As Marcus, in Book 2, indicates, “Every man’s happiness depends from himself.”
If it is true that we are able to control our own happiness, a fact that appears very believable; and yet, often lost among people, what we need to address, is our focus. In particular, how do we utilize and forge a focus that leads toward our desired aim; for it is not believable that the vast majority of people are intentional driving away from the possibility of a more happy, and contented life. If it is focus, that when properly instilled within, can; like a vehicle, be used to drive an individual upward to greater heights and happiness, then we shall heed the advice of our Stoic philosophers.
Being a common theme to what is lacking in man, the element of focus can be divided into halves; breaking down the topic to the external and the internal. We can first address the outer, as we have learned it is not as significant, nor does it require as much time and attention. The external world that appeals to us, often driving away our proper focus, can be seen; per the advice of Marcus Aurelius, in two aspects. We learned of our mutual connection with the whole of humanity in the first element, and it is here that we drawn back to; however, it this suggestion from Book 2,
“Give thyself leisure to learn some good thing, and cease roving and wandering to and fro. Thou must also take heed of another kind of wandering, for they are idle in their actions, who toil and labour in this life, and have no certain scope to which to direct all their motions, and desires.”
We must be aware of the people we surround ourselves with. It is necessary then, once setting oneself along a path toward success, wisdom, self-happiness, and peace, that we recognize, are barriers to our end goal. It is only understanding, as we have at one point existed without the light, of self-pursuit and understanding, that many will continue without; either from lack of desire to drive toward improvement, or the inability to do so. If one’s actions are driven and aimed toward achieving a grand end goal, as the Stoic philosophers sought; separating themselves and placing themselves above the crowd, then it will be absolutely common to reject the potential risk of being pulled down. This does not mean to ignore, and neglect the opportunity to aid, and teach, but when those means of improvement are disregarded, then the only reaction is to continue moving forward. Our next aspect of proper external focus is toward our attention paid to whatever comes across our horizon, as Marcus states it in Book 4,
“And here thou must remember, that thy carriage in every business must be according to the worth and due proportion of it, for so shalt thou not easily be tired out and vexed, if thou shalt not dwell upon small matters longer than is fitting.”
Here, we go beyond our fellow man, and address the activities and items; essentially all matters, that draw our focus and attention. The quote above can be simply understood in terms of steps; first, draw upon the questioning of the worth of the certain matter. Then, once the importance is understood, then put the equal time, thought, concern and attention toward the matter. If it is of a small concern, or if it is something that will come later, or has already occurred then, the question remains, how little amount should this have my focus, since larger matters that will arise, undoubtably are due their proper larger amount of thought and attention. It understood, and properly utilized, one can imagine saving many headaches for the bulk of man’s daily problems. Once the external issues are at hand, not diverting or intervening with the true point of our focus, then we can turn toward the task of the utmost importance; ourselves. The internal matters are what need their proper time, drawing more concern than the outer world, as Marcus in Book 7 indicates,
“Look within; within is the fountain of all good. Such a fountain, where springing waters can never fail, so thou dig still deeper and deeper.”
If is our job to dig within ourselves, which should be considered one’s life work, then what we need to do is empty out all barriers to make way and work on what we are meant to do. Yet, what comes to question, once alone with and with turning attention inward, what should we spend our time doing? It isn’t valuable to remain in solitude away from people, just to then follow the lives of others, or to watch another’s life, as if a fan. We should take care to use our time in solitude to put in work toward the greatest progress; again, pulling from the aim of life’s work, to dive into the deepest well within. Here our attention must go straight to our most powerful source and tool, as Epictetus suggests,
“It is a mark of a mean capacity to spend much time on the things which concern the body, such as much exercise, much eating, much drinking, much easing of the body, much copulation. But these things should be done as subordinate things: and let all your care be directed to the mind.”
Time should be understood as it is, fleeting; therefore, our focus should be drawn to what will guide our necessary growth. It is the mind, that constitutes our greatest attention and focus; above all else, being the temple that each should push toward greater heights. As our philosopher stated, all other action, focused externally, must not come in direct competition for our sole priority, inward focus on our mind. Yet, once it is understood that our focus shall be dedicated to the mind, the question arises, on what? The answer, then, is what is true to oneself, and all that will lead toward the necessary growth. For, when the mind is properly given the time, peace, attention, and focus, it will begin to discern upon what is needed and not; ultimately, leading to insight along the path, leading to the unearthing of one’s true nature, aim, and path to the end-goal. Free of outer distractions, and disturbances, our first step out of necessity is to become more whole; essentially, working toward an improved and stronger self. Here Seneca explains a simple process and truth,
“I shall put myself under observation straight away and undertake a review of my day – a course which is of the utmost benefit. What really ruins our characters is the fact that none of us looks back over his life. We think about what we are going to do, and only rarely of that, and fail to think about what we have done, yet any plans for the future are dependent on the past.”
This observation, or reflection of one’s conduct; action, behavior, and thoughts, leads toward the work of constant progress. It is here, that we find the Stoic philosophers’ focus, first on the mind, but in relation to reflection upon life. When we contemplate about the nature of the world, life, and humanity, we always relate it all back through our own lens; thus, it is only fitting to then, turn our mind’s focus inward to study ourselves. We can become more educated, enlightened, and wiser just through our daily observation, as we begin to see a connection. Once all is reflected upon, acknowledging when one has strayed from the path; always keeping the end aim in mind, then the easy internal conversation can be had; asking why and how to improve? Yet, if we live and lead a life without self-study, neglecting our actions on each given day, then arises questions of greater difficulty; why have I not accomplished what I want, or why I am not the person I desire to be? These latter questions show an undesirable continuation of acts that run in contrast with what occupies one’s true desire and nature. If the reflection is performed each day, not only will the improper actions be laid to rest, leading toward better action, but the will arise an elongated story, connecting our’s life; past, present, and opening to the possibility of a future. This is a path to wisdom, promise, contentment, and improvement; one that takes full account of one’s time, and turns the focus toward our greatest power, the mind.
(4) Our directed focus inward, toward the mind, leads us to the next element fundamental to the Stoic philosophy, contemplation (4). To further state the importance of the mind, our greatest tool, we look to Seneca,
“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”
It should be understood, that to the Stoics the ability to remain content, in peace and engaged, simply in one’s own thoughts, is a virtue; not needing the addition of company, or the distraction of any external activity. With acting and working with what is inherent in all humanity, and being without the desire for what one does not have already, shows the wealth and depth of the usage of the mind. Once, we are able to focus our mind, and are content without the external, nor are pressed with any concern, then the question comes to focus, where does the attention of the mind need to go. Per our Stoic philosophers, it is contemplation, and the act of ruminating about certain integral aspects of life that allows the philosopher to become magnanimous; a virtue that indicates a strength of mind and heart. It is this term, often used by our philosophers, and the process of mental strengthening, that we are able to become more fit and willing to take on such heavy topics that are difficult to grasp or accept.
To emphasis the importance of contemplation, while also detailing with what is most necessary to understand our Stoic philosophy, we can break down the usage of the constant mental exercises to three topics. These subjects of change, death, and nature, are constant themes within both life, and Stoic philosophy; however, the insistence of addressing them should indicate their severity. Not unlike other philosophies, religions, and schools of thought, Stoicism found it necessary to focus their mental exercise toward what most disturbs and confuses mankind. It is here, that we find our philosophers addressing the constants of life, that appear to brutally confront people, ultimately driving them toward the need of assistance and strengthening; thus, philosophy offers the aid necessary to deal with our looming concerns.
First, we come to the theme of change, a constant that is often overlooked, despised, and neglected; and yet, is consistent in each person’s daily life. A fundamental Stoic tenet in the usage of our mental capabilities, is to contemplate the change in life. Change is evident in the world, whether it be in grander scale, with the turning of the weather, day, or season, or unseen minute senses with the incremental lengthening of hair and slow process of water freezing. Wherever we look, all around us change is occurring, and has come to be; allowing all life to come to the present point. Yet, people too often show themselves fearful, resentful, or resistant to it; this is where our philosophers sought to impart their wisdom. The Stoic philosophers would have you consider all the change in one’s life, the good, the bad, and the contemplate all to understand the ever-present constant of change.
Before coming to terms with one’s own individual life changes; although due to being innately personally it is easier to comprehend, we should spend time reflecting upon the world at large. Here Marcus in his book 12, provides some insight into a mind that considers change in the world,
“how vain all things will appear unto thee when, from on high as it were, looking down thou shalt contemplate all things upon earth, and the wonderful mutability, that they are subject unto: considering withal, the infinite both greatness and variety of things aerial and things celestial that are round about it.
Breaking this down, what we read is a man that contemplates change in the grand scale; how time continues and the evidence of a world much larger than oneself and one period. We seem too often to forget about the past, whether it be one’s own, or the history of humanity, and yet, this mistake removes the invaluable insight of wisdom and proper perspective. Take a simple concept, on a massive scale, such as the ending of the world; a theme that has resurfaced throughout time. Fears of global pandemics, international wars, or the Mayan calendar indicating the end of time, all offer us scares that could obliterate mankind; and yet, we are still here. In fact, if one took a perspective from above, contemplating the consistent theme of change throughout time, the history books would provide a more optimistic outlook. Take the calling for the end of the world; a thought that dominant with early Christianity, and has been looming at certain times throughout time. We could also address past wars, large scale diseases, and any other trace that could provide us to believe that something, or event is the first of its kind; yet, in reality, we ought to just see the change, and review the world not in that present moment, but as if we existed from above. Take this perspective as the Stoics advise, and the events in life, that seem devastating or unimaginable, are quite common.
This leads to the concept of people fearing and misunderstanding the fact of change. Per our Stoic philosophers, there isn’t anything more consistent in nature and in the world, then, the appearance in change in life. It would be quite alarming, if all of a sudden life stood still, with people and items did not change. Again, we can find insight into our constant theme Marcus, in book 7,
“Is any man so foolish as to fear change, to which all things that once were not owe their being? And what is it, that is more pleasing and more familiar to the nature of the universe? How couldst thou thyself use thy ordinary hot baths, should not the wood that heateth them first be changed? How couldst thou receive any nourishment from those things that thou hast eaten, if they should not be changed? Can anything else almost (that is useful and profitable) be brought to pass without change? How then dost not thou perceive, that for thee also, by death, to come to change, is a thing of the very same nature, and as necessary for the nature of the universe?”
To not consider the absolute of life, to which is change, is to overlook the world we live in; in fact, one should probably question how we change to being. Are we spontaneously generated in this world, in our present state? No, we are born and birthed, only after innumerable biological happenings occur within the female body. Then, are we then not subject to change, an inexhaustible amount of times throughout our early years, to childhood, eventually; hopefully, making it to adulthood. During all that time, the seasons and the weather will change, people come and go, and each of us will age.
The philosophers sought to keep the ever present fact of change at the forefront of our mind, in order to never become clouded, about one’s disposition or entrenched emotional thought. For in many times, change is exactly what we need; as the day turns to night, we fall asleep, leaving hours to rest before rising again with the sun in the morning. We rely on change, therefore, to fear, resist, or be unprepared for the occurrence of any change is not only ignorant, but is unnatural. Yet, there comes to mind the ultimate, and for all the knowledge we have, the final change; death.
Here, arrives our second element necessary to contemplate about, the natural fact of life, death. An element often synonymous with Stoicism, is the concept of death; in fact, it does seem to be a common theme with our philosophers. In theory, it could be argued that religion, and philosophy arose in direct response to the unanswerable, and often, seemingly untimely end of our lives. What our Stoic philosophers aim to do, with their emphasis of death, is not to provide rosy images of a heavenly home for all believers, or to offer up a plan to ensure of a better life to come for the next around. Their insistence upon death is simple, acknowledge it, brace for it, contemplate on it, and never allow oneself to become clouded, to forget that it is a natural occurrence of life; no different than the breaking of an egg, or the rising of the sun. As Epictetus states,
“Let death and exile and every other thing which appears dreadful be daily before our eyes; but most of all death: and you will never think of anything mean nor will you desire anything extravagantly.”
Understandably, this can be difficult to accept and bring into one’s mental processes; and yet, we must ask ourselves what is the purpose here. Is it to remain in ignorance, to live in disbelief; as if life is a video game and the chance of death is just a quick resetting before starting up again? No, obviously not, the goal for the Stoic philosophers was to pursue wisdom, enlighten themselves, and live according to nature; is death not natural? Yes, it is a natural series of events, that involves the participation of all living beings, no matter the health, age, or condition. As Seneca advises,
“To this I would say, firstly, that death ought to be right there before the eyes of a young man just as an old one – the order in which we each receive our summons is not determined by our precedence in the register – and, secondly, that no one is so very old that it would be quite unnatural for him to hope for one more day…Every day, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives.”
If our goal is to live with a proper understanding, to remove ourselves as much as possible from the strife and trouble of life, and live according to what is designed for all of humanity; then, the answer is simple, live with the ever-presence reality that death is among us. In the same truth that change occurs all around us, death; our ultimate change, will call upon each of us, when the time is right. This is not to say that people are taken from this world too early; with senseless violence, a lack of means that force people to suffer until they succumb, and natural disasters, the sadness of tragedy can be felt and understood, but should never be dissuaded to believe that it isn’t possible at any given moment. Once, this thought of death, seemingly lurking around the corner, we have two options; freeze in terror of the unknown, or become free to enjoy and live a life to the fullest until that inevitable change comes. The decision is to each of us; however, in learning from the Stoics, we choose a life fulfilled in the pursuit of wisdom, where there is no fear of death, but respect.
When we begin to contemplate the constant of change, and the ultimate fact of death, we can better come to terms with ourselves in the world. To view death, not as a singular event; culminating in the end of one’s life, but as a fact of nature that occurs with all living beings throughout time, we can begin to better see how the world works. In this our aim is to come to terms, through contemplation, with the wholeness of our being in the world, without being emotionally push and pulled by the unforeseen. This thinking about the natural succession of things and events, turns us to our last element of Stoic contemplation, on Nature. An instrumental theme touched upon, when looking at the connection (element #1) component of the Stoic philosophy, the concept of nature must be further mulled over, beyond the element of connection, to our daily thinking.
If is suggested by the Stoic philosophers to consider the very nature of everything in the world; much the same as the contemplation of change and the eventually succession of all life. As we have seen from our previous elements, much of the Stoic philosophy, deals with both the internal and external world; how man deals with the surroundings, along with the consistent theme of oneself. This is the same approach we can take when contemplating upon nature. When considering the importance of our own nature, we can refer to a passage from Meditations, Book 12, as Marcus, calls for self-examination,
“It is high time for thee, to understand that there is somewhat in thee, better and more divine than either thy passions, or thy sensual appetites and affections. What is now the object of my mind, is it fear, or suspicion, or lust, or any such thing? To do nothing rashly without some certain end; let that be thy first care. The next, to have no other end than the common good.”
We must not forget the necessity of understanding own’s one nature; entrusted with capabilities that go far beyond simple earthly desires, we are able to pull strength from extraordinary power and reason. Yet, too often, the self-imposed obstacles, or slight hiccups of life, deviate one from the internal source; ultimately, pulling one away from nature within. When these moments occur, the solution is stated above; draw upon one’s connection with the divine power, remember the connection with all mankind, and turn inward to consider what is the proper thought and mode of action in response. When we are able to stop, discern what we encounter, keep ourselves aligned on our path, intact and connected, then we shall not be disturbed by what comes across the eyes. This, as our philosophers aim to instill is the power of finding one’s unity with oneself and the constant tool of using the source of power to stay whole throughout the circumstance.
While the internal nature is undoubtably more important, it is not; however, the only aspect of nature that we shall contemplate upon. We would also do well to consider the nature of all of what we come across. This goes equally for people, item, and event; as Epictetus states,
“In everything which pleases the soul, or supplies a want, or is loved, remember to add this to the (description, notion); what is the nature of each thing, beginning from the smallest? If you love an earthen vessel, say it is an earthen vessel which you love, for when it has been broken, you will not be disturbed. If you are kissing your child or wife, say that it is a human being whom you are kissing, for when the wife or child dies, you will not be disturbed.”
This seems like an obvious and yet, just the mere simplicity of it seems to be lost upon humanity. Again, we come across the concept of change and death, which both must be considered upon their nature. If what is permanently lost in time, not to return, grieves you, one must accept the answer to; what is according to nature? Items will break, living beings will die, and change will occur, all of this is the way of nature; whether we are prepared or not. The Stoic philosophers would have us contemplate upon the nature of all living matter, and the fate of material items; for when calamity arises and we are faced with the near unthinkable, we can pull back to our contemplation of the facts of nature. I cannot affirm on those instances arising, that draw upon utter pain, if adding the natural fact of life to all and keeping that truth in the mind, will remove the trouble. For that moment may not be aided by the philosophical facts; as no amount of truth can erase grief, and yet, if prepared for throughout one’s life, it will be a pain that is natural; not one that appears to be unfair, unjust, or directed to one’s conduct and cause. There is no reason needed, the natural truth is just that; we must contemplate on nature.
(5) This talk of change, death, and nature turns us to our last element of our Stoic philosophers, the topic of philosophy. In particular, what and how; for I believe we have discussed enough about its importance and to why is it integrated into the lives of our three men. Yet, what often gets overlooked is the full scope of what Stoic philosophy is. To our three students and teachers; and then to how we can implement what we desire into our lives, we must address the concept of Stoicism, according to our philosophers. To begin, let us look at a passage from Book 5 of Meditations,
“Be not discontented, be not disheartened, be not out of hope…And remember that philosophy requireth nothing of thee, but what thy nature requrieth, and wouldest thou thyself desire anything that is not according to nature?”
What Marcus Aurelius aims here in this description of philosophy is simple; he desires to take the stress of a heightened belief that is often synonymous with his school of thought. Yet, what our philosophers have sought for any reader to contemplate and understand, is that Stoicism goes beyond the thought; to which philosophy receives it criticism, and turns the focus toward action. This is the key fact to remember with our philosophers, for while it school can appear to adhere to the intellectually inclined; take Seneca for example, its aim is to instruct and guide. See, for Stoic philosophy, if it does nothing else in benefiting one’s conduct and reasoning, is a measure to ensure that man lives according to his true being. While, there are naturally many steps for one to become acquainted, understanding and united with oneself, the end goal is clear, to live according to what we ought to be; not out of the flow of nature, nor against the common good that all mankind partakes in.
Once, we adhere to the aim of Stoicism and are clear with the intent, we can further dive into the facets of philosophy; and how it can be useful it our daily lives. Take an in-depth explanation from Seneca,
“Philosophy is not an occupation of a popular nature, nor is it pursued for the sake of self-advertisement. Its concern is not with words, but with facts. It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure. It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry. Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.”
While we can link the fame and success of our three philosophers to their method, we mustn’t get lost in the clear objective nature of what they gained from Stoicism. Whether an emperor, advisor, or former slave turn professor, the commonality was clear, they each found solace and aid in turning back toward the school of philosophy. The goal is clear, amid a life of sorrow, pain and change, humanity not become clouded in any present moment and become naive enough to not expect or believe the inevitable will occur. This is why our philosophers clung themselves to Stoicism, to prepare their mind for the troubles of life; as Seneca further informs us,
“She does not train men’s hands: she is the instructress of men’s minds…On the contrary, her voice is for peace, calling all mankind to live in harmony…Philosophy, however, takes as her aim the state of happiness. That is the direction in which she opens routes and guides us. She shows us what are real and what are only apparent evils. She strips men’s minds of empty thinking, bestows a greatness that is solid and administers a check to greatness where it is puffed up and all an empty show; she sees that we are left in no doubt about the difference between what is great and what is bloated. And she imparts a knowledge of the whole of nature, as well as herself.”
If we are able to gain a more controlled usage of our mind, strengthening it, and turning it toward the truth; whether it be about oneself or the world around, we move ourselves toward a better life that leads to a more peaceful existence. The goal is not to be troubled; either by the presumed unexpected of life, by mentally calling to all that nature wills, or to stray from the natural order of life, by turning to what we have inherit within. In all this we must recall our reasoning for guidance, then we must allow it to lead; as Marcus states in book 2,
“What is it then that will adhere and follow? Only one thing, philosophy. And philosophy doth consist in this, for a man to preserve that spirit which is within him, from all manner of contumelies and injuries, and above all pains or pleasures; never to do anything either rashly, or feignedly, or hypocritically: wholly to depend from himself and his own proper actions: all things that happen unto him embrace contentedly, as coming from Him from whom he himself also came; and above all things, with all meekness and a calm cheerfulness.”
When the understanding is gained, from the insistence insight of our Stoic philosophers, and our aim turns to the positive affects of the guidance, we lastly turn to how. How are we to break free from societal norms, and turn our attention to a life that is one with philosophy? Above all else it takes desire; first, in the seeking of learning what Stoic has to offer us, and then in the persistence to set oneself on a path toward self-wisdom. When all that comes to pass, and the time comes that we find no other way than to fall upon the assistance that our philosophers offer us, we allow ourselves to seek help. See, once we come to understand and accept our five elements from the Stoic philosophers, the question looms, who are we to be? Are we able, with this knowledge, and belief of a higher being within us, to fall back within the norm; losing ourselves among the crowd, and strayed away by the exteriors? The proposition is simple; thus, the solution is clear, as Epictetus claims,
“You must be one man, either good or bad. You must either cultivate your own ruling faculty, or external things; you must either exercise skill on internal things or on external things; that is you must either maintain the position of a philosopher or that of a common person.”
With all that has been said, and what will be said about a school of thought; and a path in life, the answer comes down to the simple choice between two options. While, the journey of life is no doubt full of strife, troubling outcomes, and moments that throw humanity into turmoil, one single choice could behoove the individual in the dealing with it all. Our Stoic philosophers do not call for a rejection of life, in favor of a heightened world in the afterlife, nor do they expect obstacles in life not to occur. On the contrary, in the face of adversity, the focus turns solely to oneself in this life, and how we can best manage with; with the aim of finding peace and wisdom throughout the process. Despite, coming to existence over two centuries ago, and feeling its peak before the rise of a dominant expansion of a world religion, Stoicism offers the student of life an opportunity; not to throw off cares and all power innate within. The philosophy, instead, provides humanity the chance to become more unified, both with oneself and the world; eventually aiding the mind to accept what naturally occurs in life. As Marcus reminds in Book 9,
“The effect of true philosophy is, unaffected simplicity and modesty. Persuade me not to ostentation and vain glory.”
Through the study of the three Stoic philosophers, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius; and their works, in the effort to grasp their message we are able to better manage the immense task before us. While it is naive, and concerning to expect complete alignment with any single individual, group, and school, what Stoicism provides is a template to better aid our life’s journey. Through the understanding and awakening of our mutual connection; with the divine, humanity, and nature, we begin to see a powerful unity that works together toward a greater whole. With direct attention toward correct behavior; in relation to how we use our time, what we put our attention toward, and how we consider material goods, we are able to better act in accordance to our higher being. When we are able to convert our focus, according to the worth; calling to mind, that the sole focus does not relay to the external world, but inward, we better prepare ourselves for inner-growth and self-enlightenment.
To engage in the daily struggles of life, while also working toward progress, we must bring forth our most powerful tool, the mind; and put emphasis on the act of contemplation. Devoting time and proper attention to the consideration of life; and what occurs in the world, we can begin to better handle the concepts of change, all beings impending death, and the natural relation of all occurrences. Once contemplation is put forth to the utmost, and we are able to discern the troubling events of life, into what must occur due to the natural order, we turn toward the study and life’s work of our philosophers; Stoicism. With the aim of pursuing wisdom, and providing an ailment to the ailments of life, philosophy offers a path to inner self-peace.