'The Stoic Love of Community' by Matt Van Natta

The Stoic Love of Community

 Matt Van Natta

Did you know that the Stoic view of humanity is one of love, compassion, and concern? It is. However, if you missed this fact, I wouldn’t be surprised. The common conception of the ‘stoic’ individual doesn’t immediately bring to mind an enthusiastic and engaged community member. Even as Stoicism has surged in popularity, much of the conversation has remained focused on the philosophy’s psychological tool kit without going on to address the wider Stoic view of the world. This is unfortunate. Stoic psychology is a powerful system that can build mindfulness and resilience into its practitioners. Such inner strength is helpful for everyone, but it becomes admirable when applied to the real problems of the world. One of my favorite descriptions of Stoicism well-lived comes from Seneca. He writes,

‘No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular’ (On Clemency 3.3).

What a vibrant description! The philosophy to which Seneca had devoted himself did not encourage detachment. The Stoicism he had learned and lived was deeply engaged with world. It was, and continues to be, a philosophy of community. Its goal is to bring the best out of Stoics so they, in turn, can give their best to the people around them. These community-embracing Stoics are not the aloof men and women of popular conception. They are the friends, neighbors, and citizens who take up the hard work of life because they are not concerned with the obstacles in their way.

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Stoic Week 2014 – Everything You Need to Know

Stoic Week 2014: Everything You Need to Know

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Stoic Week 2014 is an online and international event taking place from Monday 24th to Sunday 30th November. This is its third year. Anyone can participate by following the daily instructions in the Stoic Week 2014 Handbook, which will be published online. You will be following the Stoic practices of philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, for seven days, and discussing the experience of adapting them for modern living with other participants in our online forums. The aims of the course are to introduce the philosophy so that you can see how it might be useful in your own life and to measure its potential therapeutic effectiveness. More about the Stoic Week online course below.

In addition to taking part in Stoic Week online, if you live in and around London, you can book your place for the Stoicism Today – Stoic Week Event.

The London Day is Sold Out

Information About the Day

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This is being held at Queen Mary, University of London (Mile End campus) on November 29th. There are 300 places for the event. This is the biggest annual gathering of people interested in Stoicism. The day will feature talks by experts on Stoicism, life stories by those who have practised it and a whole range of workshops to choose from (including on Stoicism, nature and the environment; Cultivating a wise relationship with technology; Stoicism at work; Lives transformed: personal accounts of Stoic healing; Guided Stoic meditation; Stoicism and love; Stoic ethics under pressure). There will also be discussion on how Stoicism is being used in schools, UK prisons, the army and business. In addition to the Stoicism Today team (Chris Gill, John Sellars, Gill Garratt, Tim LeBon, Jules Evans, Patrick Ussher, Gabriele Galluzzo and Donald Robertson – read more about its members here), special guests will include Prof. Angie Hobbs (Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield), Nikki Cameron who runs the philosophy club at Low Moss prison and Mark Hardie, former Marine and resilience coach.

To get an idea of the day, you can see a video of last year’s London event here.

More about Stoic Week 2014 & The Online Course

About Stoicism: Stoicism was first practised in the Graeco-Roman world in around 300 BC. At the core of Stoicism is the idea that virtue, or strength of character, is the most important thing in life. They focussed on ‘following nature’ by perfecting the rational nature of the human being, through cultivating wisdom, courage, temperance and justice, and also on bringing to fruition the social nature of the human being, by aiming to excel in our social roles, whether familial or in society at large. Stoicism, therefore, is simultaneously a philosophy of inner strength and outer excellence.

About the course: The course guides you through all the basic ideas of Stoicism. Each day has its own theme, exercises to practise, reflections from original Stoic texts to consider. It has been written by the Stoicism Today team, an interdisciplinary group of academics and psychotherapists. You are also encouraged to take wellbeing surveys before and after the week, so that we can measure the course’s effectiveness.

You can find audio resources (guided meditations to download) for the course here.

Registration: The course is not held on the Stoicism Today website but on its sister website, modernstoicism.com. Please register for the course on that website, and fill in the pre-week questionnaires the weekend before Stoic Week commences, and again once Stoic Week is over. You can register now by following these two steps:

1. Create an account on modernstoicism.com if you don’t have one already.

2. Visit the main course page for Stoic Week 2014 and click the ‘enrol’ button.

You will receive an automatic email with further instructions, which are also available once you enrol on the modernstoicism website.
The Stoic Week 2014 Handbook is now available on the modernstoicism website.
You can also download it here and follow the week without registering on modernstoicism.com but in order to take part in the experiment, and discuss Stoicism with others following the course, you are encouraged to register on the modernstoicism website.

Please note that due to high levels of traffic the modernstoicism.com site has been experiencing some down-time. If you can’t get through, please try again later. We are working to resolve these technical difficulties.

If you would prefer to take part in the course without registering on the modern stoicism website, you can do so. Follow the instructions here.

 

Want to share your experiences during the week? There will be very active discussion boards during Stoic Week on the course website. You can also post your reflections on the Stoicism Facebook group.

What were the results of last year’s study? Last year, around 2,400 people took part in Stoic Week worldwide. Our findings supported the view that Stoicism is helpful. Participants reported a 14% improvement in life satisfaction, a 9% increase in positive emotions (joy increased the most of all emotions, whilst optimism increased by 18%) and an 11% decrease in negative emotions. The findings also supported the view that Stoicism not only increases well-being but also enhances virtue –  56% of participants gave themselves a mark of 80% or more when asked whether it had made them a better person and made them wiser.

What else can I look forward to during Stoic Week? On the Stoicism Today blog during Stoic Week, there will be personal testimonies of how Stoicism has been useful in people’s lives, as well as articles tackling various stereotypes of Stoicism, and reflections by prominent authors on Stoicism and its uses in the modern world. Get in touch if you would like to share reflections on how Stoicism has been helpful in your life.

Stoicism in Schools:

Are you a teacher? We have developed an easy to use lesson plan for teachers which you can use to introduce Stoicism to your students. 60 schools world-wide have already signed up to take part in Stoic Week.

Stoicism in the Media:

If you would like to run a feature Stoic Week, please get in touch. You can read of the previous media interest in Stoic Week here.

Please share this page with anyone you think might be interested, and post it on Facebook and Twitter.

Stoic Week’s twitter account is @StoicWeek. The Facebook page for Stoic Week 2014 can be found here.

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Hold Your Horses – Driving Lessons From Ancient Rome

Hold Your Horses – Driving Lessons From Ancient Rome

Jen Farren

Albania

I have a modern problem – driving. Albania is a land of aggressive drivers where few traffic signs or rules are obeyed. Drivers jump signals, go clockwise, anticlockwise and straight across at roundabouts and drive the wrong way up motorways. Meanwhile people and livestock run across the road and in the mountains, without warning, roads sometimes end by dropping off a cliff.

With little time to anticipate or react, at times driving is like a dodgem ride full of near-misses, bumps and shocks. For a new driver like me, it may be one of the worst places to drive. I looked for advice from the Stoics and found it in the surprisingly relevant parallel of the Roman charioteer.

In a tradition dating back to Greece, the charioteer also faced aggressive driving, the risk of losing control, accidents and crashes as: “one chariot crashing into another, shattering it to pieces, until the entire field of Crisa became a sea of chariot wrecks. (Electra – Sophocles).The Romans saw the chariot race as a metaphor for life – short, competitive, full of drama and danger. Life and racing are sports of chance and error and both require skill and emotional control over the self:

“Any sensible person will behave like a charioteer applying the reins to his team and will check the vigorous impulses of his affections.” Cicero

Continue reading “Hold Your Horses – Driving Lessons From Ancient Rome”

Stoic Gratitude & Wonder

Stoic Gratitude & Wonder

Mark Garvey

Introduction: Each essay at Mark Garvey’s blog, Old Answers, begins with a brief Q&A, in which an ancient philosopher responds to a query from a (typically vexed) modern-day seeker.

Q: “When I was young, I was interested in everything, and the world was full of wonder. But adulthood has worn me down. With each passing day I feel more like Oscar Wilde’s paradigmatic cynic: ‘A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ This change in attitude happened while I wasn’t looking, and I’m not happy about it. The only people I know who seem unjaded and reasonably content with their lot are religious believers, but the faith of my youth seems to have flown the coop. I’m bone-weary of the snark and cynicism that pass for social intercourse these days, especially on the internet. How can I take a step back, get a fresh view, and rekindle wonder in my life?”

A“Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence, to a humble and grateful mind. Not to instance great things, the mere possibility of producing milk from grass, cheese from milk, and wool from skins–who formed and planned this? No one, say you. O surprising irreverence and dullness!”

-Epictetus, AD c. 55 – 135, Discourses, Bk 1, ch 16

ewe3_tintedEpictetus raises so many currently unfashionable ideas here—God (Providence), humility, reverence—that it’s hard to know where to begin. For secular moderns, his expression of wonder at the seemingly miraculous origins of milk, cheese, and wool can easily provoke a smile of condescension, perhaps even a sneer. The primitive naïveté! What can such a man–bound by the limits of first-century cosmology, ignorant of today’s materialist, scientistic gospel and the “blind” inexorability of natural selection—have to offer that could be of any use to iPhone-Age Man?

We can’t read far in Epictetus without recognizing his belief in God. It’s also impossible to imagine a topic in current culture that has been so thoroughly mangled, misrepresented, and misunderstood. “The God question,” mankind’s inherent itch to grapple with the ultimate mystery of existence, has, in recent years, played out on the internet, and in the publishing world, with all the subtleness and intellectual acuity of a Three Stooges pie fight. In the process, humanity’s most complex, fertile, culture-shaping force—rich in wisdom traditions, creative arts, ethical thought, and psychological insight, and, for many, positively crackling with intimations of the transcendent—has been reduced to a tiresome shouting match, with doctrinaire literalists on one side and scorched-earth anti-theists on the other. To call this state of affairs regrettable doesn’t begin to cover it.

I’m happy with Epictetus’s theistic leanings. But whether or not we believe in God, it’s important to guard against the occasional impulse, when we’re sifting these ancient ideas, to toss out both baby and bathwater. History is replete with philosophies and belief systems that, despite arguable doctrinal details, have provided wisdom and ethical guidance to men and women in every era and culture and at
every point along the IQ bell curve. If you’re one who finds God talk troubling, all you need to muster, in order to benefit from Epictetus’s advice here, is some level of appreciation for finding yourself alive in a cosmos you did not create and in which you are given, along with your share of trouble and strife, bountiful opportunities for wonder and joy. If Epictetus, a crippled former slave who lived under some of Imperial Rome’s most treacherous rulers, found cause for, and wisdom in, adopting a fundamental position of humility and gratitude toward the universe, there is every chance that we, too, can benefit by embracing these attitudes.

Humility is a tricky subject, if only because it’s impossible not to sound laughably pompous when recommending it. Look here, you: Be humble! But that’s not it. We’re not talking about personal humility of the kind that can be so treacherous if pursued head-on, the sort that easily warps into conspicuous, Uriah Heepish self-abasement that’s the opposite of what it pretends to be. No, we’re after a broader, more foundational humility, a mindset that grasps our status as utterly dependent beings and that has absorbed, fully, the fact of our mortality. We want a humility not of groveling self-negation, but a clear-eyed recognition that every moment of our existence, as well as everything we have and are, is a gift. The mortality-humility connection is a natural one, and it is even reflected etymologically: Our word humility derives from the Latin humus, for soil or earth—that ground from which humankind arose, from which we draw our sustenance, and that will ultimately reclaim our bodies. We needn’t take it to morbid lengths, but occasional reflection on life’s contingency and brevity can provide a humbling perspective, one that can be both calming and a spur to greater engagement with life in the time left to us:

sprig_tint3Pass then through this tiny span of time in accordance with Nature, and come to your journey’s end with a good grace, just as an olive falls when it is fully ripe, praising the earth that bore it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.48. C. R. Haines, translator

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.56. Gregory Hays, translator

Through humility then–the acceptance of life as an unearned gift–we arrive at gratitude. One of the simplest and most ready-to-hand balms for a muddled life is the age-old remedy of counting our blessings. Granted, life’s bright spots can sometimes be hard to recognize, obscured as they often are by our day-to-day difficulties, by the usual dire headlines, and by the ongoing challenge of keeping our minds clear and our thinking straight. But when we can manage it, when the clouds part long enough to give us an objective glimpse of all we have to be thankful for, our gratitude can prove a strong antidote to the corrosive effects of cynicism, anger, sadness, and life’s accruing jumble of petty disappointments. And by reminding us of the often-unrecognized abundance in our lives, it can help to temper the grasping acquisitiveness that sometimes seems to drive us, even against our will. Finally, as Epictetus suggests, gratitude can help us regain our lost sense of wonder.

This is not just Epictetus’s idea. Gratitude is a virtue that enjoys high standing among the Stoics generally. Seneca, in On Benefits, says, “He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment on his debt.” The first book of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a poignant and grateful accounting of his indebtedness to family, friends, teachers, and others. Cicero called gratitude the greatest of the virtues, and “the mother of all the others” (Pro Plancio).

If you’re like the rest of us, bringing gratitude to the fore in your life will likely require a conscious effort. If you regularly pray, meditate, or practice some form of reflection focused on self-improvement, an easy step might be to add a minute or two to explicitly acknowledge those things, landscape5people, and events from your day for which you are particularly thankful. It’s not difficult, and once you get started, the number of good things happening in your life, even within the space of a single unremarkable day, may surprise you; they will certainly encourage you. In addition to recalling specific moments–the pleasant encounter with the shop clerk, the encouraging email from a friend, the old car that started and ran smoothly despite the bad weather–you might also remember those broader circumstances of your life that apply:

  • the presence, or the happy memory, of loved ones
  • a rational nature, a mind built for learning
  • the ability, and the will, to rise above challenging circumstances
  • good health
  • meaningful work
  • kindness from unexpected quarters
  • a capacity for doing good
  • nature: its power, beauty, and endless variety
  • …and so on

Regular practice with this exercise can grow on you. If you’re the journaling type, you can keep a written record of your reflections. You might even choose to follow the example of Marcus Aurelius and write about the people in your life to whom you are most grateful for help in shaping your character, providing for your education, and encouraging your spiritual/philosophical growth. Keep these notes and reflections to yourself, though; blasting them out to the world via social networking can be a species of ego-stroking and will only sap their power. Marcus’s Meditations were not written for publication; they were a tool for self-improvement and a form of spiritual exercise.

Once you’re established on the gratitude wavelength, you can begin to notice its impact on your daily life–lengthening your patience, recalling your attention to life’s smaller pleasures, and generally improving your resilience in challenging times. Humility and gratitude may or may not lead us to faith in God, but they can go a long way toward reawakening wonder and hope in even the most jaded adult.

The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade, Part Three

The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter. This excerpt alternates back to ancient times.  Marcus is wrongfully held in a Guantanamo-like prison camp far removed from civilization and prying eyes.  He has been interrogated and tortured and feels like he can’t endure another day.  In this chapter he first meets Sextus Condianus, a fellow prisoner who reminds him of his own grandfather.  Sextus is able to recite The Meditations from memory and by his example he demonstrates to Marcus the real power of Stoicism. 

The Last Stoic: Extract Three

_The Last Stoic - Front Cover

The cage door was opened.  Marcus ducked his head and folded himself in.  He sat on the sparse pile of straw and sawdust and held his head in his hands.  A cockroach scampered over his bare foot and up his calf until he swatted it away and into the debris, where it remained, teetering on the enameled hemisphere of its shell, upside down, the filaments of its half dozen legs cycling frantically.

“Chin up.”

It was a wheezy, anemic voice.  Marcus raised an eye through splayed fingers.  The ancient prisoner with the nimbus of white hair, the one who replaced Sebastianus, was still there.  He looked back from the adjacent cage with a toothless smile.

“Having a hard time of it?”

Marcus buried his head further into his hands.

“Where are you from?”

“Britannia,” Marcus mumbled into his knees.

“A ha!  Which town?”

“Verulamium.”

“A delightful place!”

Marcus lifted his head slightly.  “You know it?”

“I’ve been there several times.  Do they still put on shows at that wonderful theatre?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I remember it well,” said the old man, the equatorial sun glinting off his weepy eyes.  “It’s unique you know, the only theatre in Britannia, perhaps in all of Gaul, with a prominent stage for drama.”

“People come from miles around just for the theatre.”

“And who could blame them.”

            “Where are you from?”

            “Rome.”

            “How long have you been here.”

            “I’m not sure.  Two years, perhaps.”

            Marcus blanched.

“Before that, they had me at a camp in Pannonia.  For five years or so.”

            “Vae!  Five years! How have you survived?”

            “I haven’t sought out death.”

            “Yes, but why haven’t they executed you.  Like the others.”

            “I suppose they think I still have something to offer, some information, some secret that makes them afraid.”

            Marcus took a moment to study the man again, to reappraise.  He sat motionless in the adjacent cage with a gummy, generous smile on his weathered face, thin enough to be translucent.  He looked like he might expire at any moment.  But here he was in one of the cramped cages, cross-legged and calm, stewing as they all were in the relentless heat, amid the filth, the roaches, and the dung.  He appears, Marcus thought, to be happy.

He’s mad.

The man neither drooled nor twitched.  He didn’t jabber.  He wasn’t pitching his own faeces around the cage.  Sebastianus, with all of his rocking and chanting and shrieking could have been reasonably judged to be mad.  But this old man?  He gave the opposite impression.  A light emanated from his clear blue eyes, watery and twinkling under the harsh, white rays of midday, that indicated a concentrated, distilled power.  Marcus looked again.  What if he’s lying?  Maybe he’s working for the magistrate, infiltrating, tricking me into incriminating myself.   Wouldn’t the furtive spy be more plausible than the jolly seven year prisoner? 

            “Who are you really?” Marcus asked, finally.

The old man chuckled amiably.  “I already told you.  Sextus Condianus.”

Marcus shook his head resolutely.

“I’ve heard the story of Sextus Condianus.  He was older than my grandfather.”

“Look at me Marcus.”

“Yes, you’re old enough.  But Sextus has been caught and executed, publicly.”

“Six times.”

Marcus paused.  “If you’re Sextus Condianus, why do they keep you here?  Why aren’t you in Rome, on public display?  Why haven’t they executed you properly?”

“I don’t know the mind of the emperor.”

“How have you survived?  You’re…, with respect, you’re a very old man.  I was ready,” Marcus gestured toward the smoker, “I was prepared to take my own life.  I’ve been here only eleven days.”

“Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.”

Marcus stared.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing happens to anybody which…”

“I heard you!”  Marcus winced at the flash behind his eyes.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Is that supposed to be amusing?  I’ve been beaten, dehydrated, drowned, roasted, starved, and sleep-deprived until I’m suicidal.  A platitude?  That’s not amusing at all.  Clearly you haven’t been here for two years.  Jupiter!” Marcus spat across his cage at the old man, as a way of punctuating his speech.  “Is it a trifle what I’ve endured?  It’s an insult.  It’s absurd.”

“My apologies, young lad.  I meant no offence.”

Marcus turned away.

“I assure you the statement is not empty; there is much power in it.”

Sextus Condianus tilted his head to the side, ready to snooze, drifting almost immediately.  Marcus’ anger soon faded, replaced with ever-present fatigue.  He lay his head against the bars and slept uncomfortably but deeply, dreaming of home.  Sleep was brief.  Soldiers returned to fetch Marcus to the magistrate.  He cast a resentful eye at the dozy old prisoner lounging as though on a mattress of down and crisp linen.

Fool!  It must be some comfort to be mad in a place like this. 

About the author:

Headshot

Morgan Wade’s first novel, The Last Stoic, was edited by award-winning novelist Helen Humphreys (author of best-selling works such as The Reinvention of Love and Coventry).  The Last Stoic made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list.  Morgan’s short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including, The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review. He attended the Humber School of Writing where he worked and studied under novelist Michael Helm.  Morgan lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

The Last Stoic can be ordered online from Amazon: www.amazon.co.uk
More information:  http://laststoic.morganwade.ca

Full Synopsis:

The Last Stoic is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter.

Marcus, a young man from a northern provincial border town, journeys deep into the heart of the empire and witnesses first-hand the excesses that can lead to ruin, both personal and political. His story offers an ancient commentary on the preoccupations of our own turbulent times. Shortly after his arrival, the empire is thrown into a panic by an unprecedented barbarian attack on the capital. Suspicion and paranoia abound. A young Roman/American runaway named Patrick, disillusioned with his own life and the state of his country, becomes convinced that Marcus is a dangerous traitor. Culminating in a public accusation made by Patrick, Marcus is wrongfully imprisoned, exiled and tortured as an enemy of the state. In prison, he confronts the many contradictions he has found in his adopted home, and in himself. 

Throughout the story, in both eras, the writings of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations) insinuate themselves unexpectedly into Marcus’ life. In prison, he is saved by a chance meeting with Sextus Condianus, the “last Stoic” of the title, a cell-mate who is able to fully recite Aurelius’ words and impart their wisdom. Ultimately, it is this unanticipated and unbidden instruction that gives the young man the strength he requires to survive. It becomes evident that the words of the venerable Stoic emperor have as much relevance to our own era as they did to his.

The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade, Part Two

The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter. This second excerpt is taken from a chapter set in modern times.  The protagonist, Marcus, has gone missing from the border town in which he worked.  His family arrive from the North to look for him.  Their search leads to the angry and disillusioned Patrick, a young man who has information about Marcus and who may have been instrumental in his disappearance.

The Last Stoic: Extract Two

_The Last Stoic - Front Cover

“What is that?” Patrick asked, gesturing toward Vincent’s book.

“It is a copy of The Meditations.

Patrick looked back blankly.

“The writings of Marcus Aurelius.  I gave it to my grandson as a goodbye gift, but in his haste he forgot it.  I brought it down with me to give to him when we meet again.  I thought I might lend it to you, his friend, until he gets back.”

Vincent handed him the book.  Patrick chose not to remind the old man again that he and Mark were just acquaintances.

“It’s a book of observances.  Almost two thousand years old.  It has been indispensable to me.  I like to open it at random, let the pages fall where they may, and read the first paragraph I see.  It never disappoints.”

Patrick held the book, appraising it with his hands.

“Go ahead,” Vincent said, “Try it!”

Patrick looked at Vincent for a moment and then let the book fall open.  He read the first sentence of the first paragraph that met his eyes.  In all you do or say or think, recollect that at any time the power of withdrawal from life is in your own hands.

“Let me try again,” he said.

He closed the book and let it fall open again.  Once more he started reading from the paragraph where his gaze landed.

“Read it out loud,” Vincent urged.

Very soon you will be dead,” Patrick said.  He considered closing the book and handing it back immediately, but Vincent looked on with expectation and interest.  He felt compelled to continue.  “But even yet you are not single-minded, nor above disquiet; not yet unapprehensive of harm from without; not yet charitable to all men, nor persuaded that to do justly is the only wisdom.”

“Ah!” Vincent exclaimed.  “Marvellous.  I tell you, that book has a way of summing it all up and wrapping it in a bow.  It’s funny how it always seems so pertinent.”

Patrick closed the book again and sat staring at the old man a few feet away in the confined sitting room of his tiny living space.  Vincent looked frail and weathered, but there was resilience underneath, like heartwood behind the bark.  The man has lost his grandson, who obviously means a good deal to him, and yet he is still able to be friendly and generous to someone he has never met.

“I suppose I should go,” Vincent said suddenly, rising from his chair.  “Please, borrow it until Mark returns.  I think you will find it most useful. ”

“Don’t go,” Patrick said suddenly, surprising both himself and his guest.  Vincent, already halfway to the door, stopped and turned.

“I’m sorry son,” he said, “I need to rejoin my daughter-in-law, she is probably worried by my absence and, given everything, she is already beside herself.  We need to continue the search.  Perhaps we’ll meet again soon.”

Vincent moved toward the door.

“Stop,” Patrick said, this time with more force.  “I know something about Mark’s disappearance.”

Vincent dropped his hand from the door knob.

“Come back in,” Patrick said, “stay a while.  Tell me more about your uncle in New Ravenna.  My great-uncle.  I could make you some lunch.”

“Please Patrick,” he said, “tell me what you know.”

The two men stared hard at each other.

“He was taken away,” Patrick said at last, “by some men.  CIA.”

Vincent’s face darkened.  “Where?”

“From the rally, the president’s public address.  They arrested Mark and one of his friends.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

Vincent was motionless.  He held Patrick’s gaze.

“I think they suspected an assassination attempt,” Patrick continued, “at least that’s what I thought I heard one of them say.  I happened to be nearby.”

Vincent swiveled and strode toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Patrick asked.

“I need to make some phone calls.”

“Stop!”

Vincent looked back to see Patrick standing in the kitchen holding a pistol at his side.

“Stay,” he said, waving the gun.

Vincent smiled.

“He who fears death either fears to lose all sensation,” he said, pleasantly, “or fears new sensations.  In reality, you will either feel nothing at all and therefore nothing evil, or else, if you can feel any new sensations, you will be a new creature, and so will not have ceased to have life.”

There was no hint of anger or exasperation in his face.

“I’d prefer if you didn’t shoot me Patrick.  I have many things to do.  But I’m not afraid and I must leave now.”

Patrick raised the gun.

“Stay,” he said.

Vincent turned the knob and opened the door.

The report from the pistol echoed throughout the dormitory halls of the Super Shepherd Ministries.

 

About the author:

Headshot

Morgan Wade’s first novel, The Last Stoic, was edited by award-winning novelist Helen Humphreys (author of best-selling works such as The Reinvention of Love and Coventry).  The Last Stoic made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list.  Morgan’s short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including, The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review. He attended the Humber School of Writing where he worked and studied under novelist Michael Helm.  Morgan lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

The Last Stoic can be ordered online from Amazon: www.amazon.co.uk
More information:  http://laststoic.morganwade.ca

Full Synopsis:

The Last Stoic is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter.

Marcus, a young man from a northern provincial border town, journeys deep into the heart of the empire and witnesses first-hand the excesses that can lead to ruin, both personal and political. His story offers an ancient commentary on the preoccupations of our own turbulent times. Shortly after his arrival, the empire is thrown into a panic by an unprecedented barbarian attack on the capital. Suspicion and paranoia abound. A young Roman/American runaway named Patrick, disillusioned with his own life and the state of his country, becomes convinced that Marcus is a dangerous traitor. Culminating in a public accusation made by Patrick, Marcus is wrongfully imprisoned, exiled and tortured as an enemy of the state. In prison, he confronts the many contradictions he has found in his adopted home, and in himself. 

Throughout the story, in both eras, the writings of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations) insinuate themselves unexpectedly into Marcus’ life. In prison, he is saved by a chance meeting with Sextus Condianus, the “last Stoic” of the title, a cell-mate who is able to fully recite Aurelius’ words and impart their wisdom. Ultimately, it is this unanticipated and unbidden instruction that gives the young man the strength he requires to survive. It becomes evident that the words of the venerable Stoic emperor have as much relevance to our own era as they did to his.

The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade, Part One

The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter. This first excerpt is taken from the Prologue.  Central to the novel’s theme are the two primary passions identified by the Stoics: appetite and fear.  In the emperor Commodus we find both in abundance.  His gluttony, and his terror, set the stage for what’s to come.  Also, we get a first glimpse of his late father’s famous journal, The Meditations, perhaps the only copy extant at this time.

The Last Stoic: Extract One

_The Last Stoic - Front Cover

Commodus did not notice the dusky figure lingering at the foot of the vast, marble bath, just beyond the candle glow.  He was preoccupied with the parchment that Galen had presented to him earlier that evening; he spooled and unspooled it, glancing idly at the mass of script.  Actually reading his late father’s journal, at this hour and in his condition, would take an effort he had no intention of summoning.  He’d read as far as the second line…

Existimatione et recordatione genitoris mei ad verecundiam et animum viro dignum excitari debeo.

From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character.

…and then was content to toy with it between his meaty fingers.

A scuffing of sandal leather against stone echoed through the caldarium.  Commodus hoisted his body from one side of the pool to the other, scanning the shadows, choking back the familiar reflux.  The cylinder of goatskin buckled under his tightened grip.  Tepid water, viscous with a dozen oils and perfumes, slopped unctuously between his thighs and under his buttocks as he rolled over, exacerbating the churn of his stomach.

Earlier, he had forced down more bloody portions of that very rare roast beef than he was otherwise inclined, prodded by Marcia’s urging.  And then there was the array of smelly cheeses from Belgica, olives from Apulia, the hen, quail, pigeon, peacock, and ostrich eggs, sea urchins from Misenum, mussels and clams from Ostia, potted hare and venison from the forests of Germania, pickled tuna and grilled mullet from the Hispanic coast, trout and pheasant from Britannia, broiled Egyptian flamingo stuffed with figs, roast side of Umbrian boar, sow’s udder, antelope tongue, sheep stomach, calf brains.  The five cups of undiluted Falernian wine that sluiced down dinner were just enough to numb his gouty toes, but they constituted no more than an average evening’s drinking.  Although he had vomited twice since dinner, once more than was typical, there was none of the customary reinvigoration.

            “Who’s that?  Identify yourself!”

The man padded forward.  Candle-light flickered across his features, accentuating the lines of sinew and ridges of muscle.  He gazed toward the emperor, handsome and haughty.

The emperor made a sound like air escaping slowly from a bladder.

“Not tonight Narcissus.”

            The slave did not withdraw.

            “Not tonight!  I’m not well!”

Narcissus moved forward noiselessly and with purpose, like a leopard.  Commodus watched; his burly jaw-hinge slackened.  Narcissus moved behind the emperor and he began to massage his thickly knotted shoulders.  Waves of pleasure rolled up his neck and down his back, tension melting under the forceful manipulations.  For a moment, the warm sensation spreading out from the kneading fingers held at bay the discomfort threatening from his abdomen.  But the nausea swelled again and Commodus was reminded of his slave’s appalling disobedience.

“Narcissus!”

Quick fingers clenched around the emperor’s windpipe, treating him to the second great shock of the evening.

Commodus dropped the roll of parchment to the edge of the bath and clutched at the black, straining fingers pressing into his neck.  He was larger and heavier than his assailant, but in his weakened state he was unable to resist.  This was one wrestling match that the Nubian would not artfully lose.

 The smile on the emperor’s face looked more like a grimace.  At the time, it had seemed peculiar how no-one else had partaken of the roast beef.  Now it was obvious.  Poison.  The extra regurgitation earlier had saved his life, temporarily.  Frustrated, Marcia had sent Narcissus to finish the job.  Commodus ground his teeth imagining her clandestine collaborations with the magnificent athlete, rutting with him like a bitch, by way of concluding the deal.  Again, most inappropriately, he was aroused.

Narcissus, disgusted, poured every ounce of reserved strength into his constricting fingers.  There was a loud pop of cracking vertebrae and tearing ligaments.  As the oxygen dissipated from the emperor’s body, his resistance abated and he began to revert to a foetal position, crunching himself into a ball.  From the emperor’s core a final chasm of fear yawned and caused an utter evacuation of his bowels.  The cooling water of the bath, originally sweet with aromatics, now darkened and muddied into a foul broth.  Through his diminishing consciousness, Commodus could see his father, standing on a distant hill, clad in gold armour, bathed in the warmth of a Mediterranean sun reflected and redoubled in its brilliance.  The emperor began to cry the pure, unrestrained tears of a baby.  In his fading reverie he called out to his father, but the distance was too great, and his words were carried away by the wind.

“Father,” Commodus mouthed, “forgive me.”

Narcissus stood, bent to retrieve the crumpled parchment from the stone floor, and turned to rejoin the shadows.  The mass of the emperor’s body began to sink into the thick water until, with a soft burble, he submerged.

About the author:

Headshot

Morgan Wade’s first novel, The Last Stoic, was edited by award-winning novelist Helen Humphreys (author of best-selling works such as The Reinvention of Love and Coventry).  The Last Stoic made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list.  Morgan’s short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including, The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review. He attended the Humber School of Writing where he worked and studied under novelist Michael Helm.  Morgan lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

The Last Stoic can be ordered online from Amazon: www.amazon.co.uk
More information:  http://laststoic.morganwade.ca

Full Synopsis:

The Last Stoic is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter.

Marcus, a young man from a northern provincial border town, journeys deep into the heart of the empire and witnesses first-hand the excesses that can lead to ruin, both personal and political. His story offers an ancient commentary on the preoccupations of our own turbulent times. Shortly after his arrival, the empire is thrown into a panic by an unprecedented barbarian attack on the capital. Suspicion and paranoia abound. A young Roman/American runaway named Patrick, disillusioned with his own life and the state of his country, becomes convinced that Marcus is a dangerous traitor. Culminating in a public accusation made by Patrick, Marcus is wrongfully imprisoned, exiled and tortured as an enemy of the state. In prison, he confronts the many contradictions he has found in his adopted home, and in himself. 

Throughout the story, in both eras, the writings of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations) insinuate themselves unexpectedly into Marcus’ life. In prison, he is saved by a chance meeting with Sextus Condianus, the “last Stoic” of the title, a cell-mate who is able to fully recite Aurelius’ words and impart their wisdom. Ultimately, it is this unanticipated and unbidden instruction that gives the young man the strength he requires to survive. It becomes evident that the words of the venerable Stoic emperor have as much relevance to our own era as they did to his.

Report on "Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience" eLearning Course

This is a PDF copy of the report compiled on the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) online course.

SMRT_BannerThis is a link to the PDF copy of the report we’ve compiled on the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) course, 2014.

SMRT Report

Summary

This report provides a brief description of the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) online course, which started on 19th May 2014 and ran for four weeks. Just over 500 people took part in the course, which involved reading lessons, listening to audio recordings, practising daily meditation techniques, and online discussion of concepts derived from ancient Stoic literature. Preliminary data are reported without tests of statistical significance, based on comparisons between the means for all participants pre-study and means for completers post-study. Completion rate was 31.%. Improvements were found on the Satisfaction with Life Scale (27%), scale of positive emotions (SPANE_P, 16%), scale of negative emotions (SPANE_N, -22.7%), and Flourishing Scale (17%). These all show improvements over Stoic Week 2012 and 2013, which is probably to be expected as this study was four weeks long, as opposed to one week, and participation was more carefully controlled.

Stoicism Today Book: Table of Contents

Table of Contents of Stoicism Today book

Stoicism Today: Selected Writings

 

Table of Contents

Stoicism Today Cover

  • About Stoicism Today
  • Contributors Foreword – Stephen J. Costello
  • Introduction – Patrick Ussher

Part One: Stoic Theory

  • ‘Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics in Marcus Aurelius’ – Chris Gill
  • ‘The Stoics on the Community of Humankind’ – Patrick Ussher
  • ‘Stoics are not Unemotional!’ – Donald Robertson
  • ‘On the Motivations of a Stoic’ – Michel Daw

Part Two: Adapting Stoicism for the Modern Day

  • ‘Which Stoicism?’ – John Sellars
  • ‘A Simplified Modern Approach to Stoicism’ – Donald Robertson
  • ‘What can the Stoics do for us?’ – Antonia Macaro

Part Three: Stoic Advice

  • ‘On Death Acceptance’ – Corey Anton
  • ‘Gratitude and Wonder’ – Mark Garvey
  • ‘Happiness for Sale – What Would Seneca Say?’ – Laura Inman
  • ‘An Ancient Technique for Modern Consumers’ – Tim Rayner
  • ‘Control Your Emotions’ – Ryan Holiday

Part Four: Life Stories

  • ‘My Experiences of Stoicism’ – Helen Rudd
  • ‘Being a Stoic Lawyer’ – Paul Bryson
  • ‘The Stoic Mayor’ – Jules Evans
  • ‘The Greatest of All Struggles’ – Kevin Kennedy
  • ‘The Stoic Doctor’ – Roberto Sans-Boza
  • ‘Musings of a Stoic Woman’ – Pamela Daw
  • ‘Of Skunks, Sauerkrauts and Stoicism’ – Eric Knutzen & Kelly Coyne

Part Five: Stoicism for Parents & Teachers

  • ‘Stoicism for Coping with Toddlers’ – Chris Lowe
  • ‘Fatherhood & Stoic Acceptance’ – Jan Fredrik-Braseth
  • ‘Praise the Process’ – Matt Van Natta
  • ‘Stoic Teaching & Stoic Control’ – Michel Burton
  • ‘Getting Practical Philosophy into the Classroom’ – Jules Evans

Part Six: Stoicism & Psychotherapy

  • ‘Does Stoicism Work: Stoicism & Positive Psychology’ – Tim LeBon
  • ‘A Sketch of the Stoic Influences on Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy’ – Stephen Costello
  • ‘My return to Mental Health with CBT and Stoicism’ – James Davinport

Part Seven: Stoicism & Buddhism

  • ‘Mindful Virtue: Eastern Meditation for Stoic Ethics’ – Ben Butina
  • ‘Mindfulness and Mindlessness: Epictetus & Buddhism’ – Aditya Nain
  • ‘Was there a Stoic mindfulness?’ – Patrick Ussher

Part Eight: Stoic Literature and Stoicism in Modern Culture

  • ‘The Epictetus Club: Stoicism in Prisons’ – Jeff Traynor
  • ‘The Phoenix Cycle: Stoic Sci-Fi’ – Bob Collopy
  • ‘Socrates Among the Saracens’ – Jules Evans
  • ‘A Conversation with John Lloyd’ – Jules Evans
  • ‘Stoicism & Star Trek: Think like Spock, Act Like Kirk’ – Jen Farren
  • The book is available as both paperback (£6.49/$9.99) and Kindle E-Book (£3.08/$4.99).