how can stoic principles help you

This week, we have a guest blog from Ed Hines, who will be teaching our upcoming Environment, Identity and Vision – Your Purpose and Planning on a Changing Planet workshop with Robbie. This week he explores stoicism – its roots, what it is, and how it can help you.

Why Bring Stoicism Into This?

We will be sharing Stoic ideas and methods during the Environment, Identity, Vision course in Paris this November, and some may be puzzled or curious about this. 

Some readers may have suspicions that it is so we can tell you to stoically give up all your big and little luxuries for the sake of the environment. To be fair, that is a tiny bit correct, but just a tiny bit. 

I’ll build on that tiny bit so by the end of this article you will have learned some interesting historical facts and also have some ideas that you can apply to experience more joy in your daily life. Because Stoicism is actually more about joy than sacrifice. That’s right, stoicism is about joy.

In the beginning…

Stoicism originated in Greece in the 3rd century BCE. The early stoic texts are incomplete, and much of what we know comes from the Roman Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. In those days, philosophy was not an academic intellectual pursuit. Philosophers were considered doctors of the soul. They were expected to have methods of improving day to day life in a world in which violence, political intrigue and disease played a greater role than they do for most of us today. 

Over the centuries since its founding, Stoicism has been adopted by many notable people who valued its practicality. These include George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and JK Rowling. It is a philosophy that cuts across social status; Epictetus was a slave and Aurelius the emperor of Rome.

“Men are disturbed not by things which happen, but by their opinion about things”

Albert Ellis, the founder of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – NLP’s cousin) references Epictetus as a primary reference in his development of CBT. CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is the therapeutic modality with the greatest amount of peer reviewed evidence to show its effectiveness. The influence of Stoicism on CBT can be summed up in the following quotation from Epictetus.

“Men are disturbed not by things which happen, but by their opinion about things”

Yes, you can remember that next time you see someone offended by something on the internet.

The Stoics built a beautifully logical framework for their philosophy. They recognised that much of life was outside of their control, whether slave or emperor. As such, they thought it irrational to allow their happiness or peace of mind be determined by outside events, or fortune as they called it. 

What IS passion?

The Stoics also recognised that it was absolutely normal to have an emotional reaction to external events, to be disturbed by insults, by loss and more. They called these emotional reactions passions. In contemporary language, passion is usually a positive term. If you are not gushingly passionate about your work, your hobbies or so on you are probably a bit of a failure on instagram.

However, if we look at the roots of the word passion, it comes from the latin passio, to suffer. Hence compassion, to suffer with. To be passionate about something is to be willing to suffer for it.

When the Stoics talked about passions we would do better to translate the word as disturbing emotions. 

How Can We Use Stoic Principles in Our Day to Day?

The remedy for the stoics was to shift the locus of their satisfaction to what they could control, or at least influence consistently: their thoughts and choices and their ability to live a life of virtue. The Stoic virtues are wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. The natural result of living such a life was tranquillity and joy, sometimes described as flourishing unperturbed by changes in fortune.

Rather than think of a Stoic as a cold fish with no emotions, rather consider them as a person capable of remaining cheerful and active when things go wrong.

The Stoic method was to regularly and carefully consider their thoughts, especially those that arose when their emotions were disturbed, and challenge the basis of them logically. For this they built a series of mental exercises to be practised daily, and which became the backbone of CBT.

Many historical and modern Stoics have been engaged in public life. They believed in sympatheia – the mutual interdependence of all things in the universe, a universe that they likened to a living being. This is a view that echoes modern ideas of ecological interdependence. Justice is “the source of all the other virtues”, according to Aurelius. After all, how impressive is courage if it’s only about self-interest? What good is wisdom if not put to use for the whole world?

Whether or not you plan to become active in the movement to face our current environmental crises, or simply want to live a satisfying life, you can probably perceive how the Stoic thinking can be of use to you. If these time tested and eminently practical tools are ones that you want in your mental toolbox come and join us in Paris in November.

To book Environment, Identity and Vision – Your Purpose and Planning on a Changing Planet, just click here.

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