Introduction to Stoic Philosophy
I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to introduce you to Stoic Philosophy. It’s Stoic because we talk about the non-physical mind and an ancient set of beliefs that have for most of our pre-enlightenment history been regarded as forgotten truths not commonly shared with everyone…
You see it’s like this. Every problem that we as human beings might encounter has at some time or another happened to others in enough numbers that a few of those people have been mindful enough to record a solution that we can use to help us with our predicaments right now. The reason why these ancient answers are still useful is simple. Human nature has not changed fundamentally within the last couple of thousand years.
Human beings are still greedy, over-ambitious, mean, spiteful, incompetent and domineering whereas others are kind, competent and pleasant, slow to anger and quick to forgive. Most however rarely stop to think how it is that they’ve become like this. No one examines their fundamental being, their own persona. They accept that they are unique and that everyone is different and see their own behaviour as right or noble even when others around them are hurt by their actions or suffer as a result.
It’s all in the mind!
The Stoic position is simple, you just accept the fact that most of life is out of your control, there’s only so much you can do to change your circumstances for the better and most hurt is mental, i.e. it takes place in the mind. Not ‘their mind,’ but ‘our mind.’ We hurt ourselves because we allow it and with the help of a new psychological understanding we can choose simply not to allow these negative states of mind to arise within ourselves. We can deny them assent!
So the next time you step out through your doorway, you should rightly expect people in the street to be rude, impatient and generally unpleasant. If people are rude and try their best to hurt your feelings then all is as expected. No need to be upset! Likewise, if people are nice to you then you can be pleasantly surprised.
There’s more to stoicism than this, as it is a fully developed philosophy worthy of many lifetimes of study in its own right, but it’s wonderfully simplistic, easy to adopt and practice and an ideal pathway to the good life.
Problems cause mental strain, they agitate you, keep you awake at night, they might overtax your body and cause stress, they might be difficult for you to solve on your own. Doesn’t it make sense to find out if someone else has had the same problem and see if their solution can solve it for you?
The generosity of others.
Why spend your time suffering when someone else who has also endured similar circumstances has generously chosen to share their solution? Trying out their recommendations might help, or it might not help at all, but the act of trying has got to be better than doing nothing and prolonging the suffering. Action makes you feel better!
What is true for Stoic philosophy is actually true for all other forms of philosophy, they all represent focused thought on a problem and a rational solution. Whether it’s the problem of love or identity or the problem of evil, or how to be good, philosophers all over the world in all periods of time have worked out, cunning, elegant and often simple solutions that either solve the problem completely or address it in such a way that it is no longer a problem at all.
Whether it’s the wonderful ‘notes to himself,’ of the noble emperor Marcus Aurelius, the letters to Lucilius from Seneca, the recorded sayings of the rustic Musonius Rufus or the sweet and gentle teachings of the slave turned teacher Epictetus and a whole host of others, they all have so much to say to us today that their benevolent teachings cannot be anything other than a positive blessing and a true enhancement to our lives.
Soli Deo Gloria