3 Timeless Lessons Of Stoicism Explained
Stoicism is an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy. The ideal for the Stoic, as with the Buddhist, is to show complete equanimity in the face of adversity.
The four virtues of Stoicism are wisdom, justice, courage and temperance. Temperance is subdivided into self-control, discipline and modesty. Here are three wise lessons from antiquity on living the good life.
1. Remember That You Will Die
The Stoics believed that sleep was a mild relaxation of the soul; death however is total relaxing of the tension in the body where the soup detaches and departs the body.
For some Stoics, death isn’t the end of a person’s existence. For example, Chrysippus held the belief that the souls of the wise would endure.
Cleanthes believed that souls of every man survive until the divine fire of the cosmos totally consumed all matter.
It’s best to live life without a promise for an afterlife. All we have is right now. All we have is our prosoche, our attention to the path of virtue.
“Memento mori” is an ancient Latin phrase which means “remember that you have to die”
The Stoics were particularly prominent in their use of this meditation, and Seneca’s letters are full of injunctions to meditate on death.
Similar to the Epicureans the Stoics taught that we should never fear death. For the Stoics the idea was that if you’re here, and you’re alive, live life to the best of your ability.
Marcus Aurelius wrote:
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
The birds, the bees, the ants, they work, they wake up, they live life and so should we while we’re here.
Live your life and meditate on the reality that it will soon be taken from you.
I think about death a lot and try remind myself that each action I do could be my last. This mindset gives substance to my movement through the cosmos, as well as the quality of my thoughts.
2. Embrace Loneliness
Epictetus argues in the Discourses that friendship is only worth it, or possible when you remove attachment to the external.
Attachment can provoke conflict.
Epictetus argues that if we see animals playing, we think they are friends, right?…
But it’s not always the case that they are playing.
He would say that:
“To see what friendship is, throw a piece of meat among them and you will learn.”
Only people who are striving for wisdom can be true friends in my opinion.
Attitudes, motives, habits are contagious, just like sickly bodies are contagious so our minds.
Sometimes it’s better to be alone, despite friendship being preferred.
They say you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It’s true. As Epictetus said:
“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best”
3. Accept Fate With Open Arms
Cleanthes said, “Lead me, Zeus, and you, Fate, wherever you have assigned me. I shall follow without hesitation; but even if I am disobedient and do not wish to, I shall follow no less surely.”
The Stoics were compatibilists, asserting that fate and free will do not contradict each other.
The outcome of our actions aren’t completely in our power. However our proclivity to act in one specific way or another is in our power.
The Stoic analogy of the archer explains this well.
An archer can fire his arrow and he may fire it well; regardless of how well it is drawn and released, external variables can change the result intended of hitting the target.
A non-Stoic places emphasis on the target being hit and draws value from this results, while a Stoic places value on the arrow being drawn and released to the highest ability of oneself in that moment.