Unlike common belief, stoicism won’t turn you into an emotionless robot, at least for me it doesn’t. It helps me to be more in control of everyday situations through my understanding and personal interpretation of Stoic philosophy. Its aim is to examine the emotions to be able to pause them as they appear. We can then look at the situation more rationally and see how we should best respond. Stoics want to live a peaceful and good life. The problem with life is that it doesn’t help. It throws random things at you all the time.
Know what you control
To reach the best kind of life, the Stoics thought that we should prepare ourselves for all that life has to offer. The first step is to know what is under our control and what is not. Epictetus opens his handbook with:
“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 actions.”Epictetus, Enchiridion
Once we understand what is under our control, we can decide what to do with the rest. Simply put, all that is external, what is not under our control, is neither good nor bad. It is our perception of it that labels them as such. Falling ill, falling in love, losing your job, winning the lottery, and even death are events that happen. It is up to us to deal with them. Stoicism can help us train ourselves to prepare for them.
The final one being death
As these events happen to us, the final one being death. They raise the question of the meaning of life. We are part of nature and in the context of the universe, our lives are infinitesimally small. Compare that to how big our current problem is. It also makes the fact that we are here even more special. The Stoics believe we should make the best of it while we are here.
To do that we should live in accordance with nature and be virtuous. Virtue is seen as the highest goal in Stoicism. It can be broken down into four aspects: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice. In order to achieve this goal, we must master and apply reason and logic. This way of living will provide you with more peace of mind and can give you a better sense of purpose.
After losing all his possessions in a shipwreck, Zeno of Citium had to start all over again in the 3rd century BC. In a foreign country, Greece, he learned from the philosophers around him. Heavily influenced by the Cynics. he developed his own philosophy and taught his disciples in a stoa poikile, a painted porch. Over time, his students were called the Stoics because they gathered in a stoa.
It soon became one of the main philosophies during the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Not a lot of the work of the ancient Stoics has survived but we can read some of the works of famous Stoics, such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, and Cicero. Although the last one wasn’t necessarily a philosopher nor Stoic, he did reference them a lot. Traces of Stoicism can be found in many of our current religions, as these works were heavily referenced by the likes of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. Michel de Montaigne is also a philosopher who was influenced by the Stoics.
Stoicism is a personal journey
In most of the Stoic writings, they refer to a sage. This is the master of all the domains; one who lives the perfect life. We are not sages, but we can try our best. We can achieve this by training and applying these values in our daily life. The handbooks or Enchiridions, of these ancient philosophers, helped them remember their lessons and keep them on the right path.
This digital version of my handbook is under constant development and will follow me. Please feel free to use it yourself and share your ideas and experiences. It is a personal journey and one we develop in accordance with nature, by following Stoicism.