So what practical advice do the Stoics give us about building resilience? Well, this is a philosophy that can be studied for a lifetime and more detailed accounts are available. An excellent modern guide to Stoicism already exists in the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by Prof. William Irvine, an academic philosopher in the USA (Irvine, 2009). My own writings, especially my book The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, have focused on describing the relationship between Stoicism and modern psychotherapy (Robertson, 2010; Robertson, 2005).
I’ve been practising aspects of Stoicism for a few years now, although I feel that for a long time I was just scraping the surface and I’m sure that in years to come I’ll look back on my current practice as a pretty “lightweight” effort. I’m a cognitive-behavioural therapist and I feel it’s important for me to try to put into practice as many of the things I use with clients as possible. However, CBT is largely designed for use with people who have specific mental health problems, clinically severe anxiety or depression, etc. It helps people with certain problems but it has no clearly-defined goal for us to pursue in relation to life in general. I felt that I needed a broader philosophical framework, therefore, in order to apply these therapeutic strategies to my own personal development. (I wrote my book on the subject partly to help me reconcile the techniques I liked from modern therapy with the kind of philosophical system I liked: Stoicism.)
I wanted to share some personal reflections, for a change. Hopefully this will encourage other students of Stoicism to talk about their experiences during Stoic Week and beyond. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Stoic way of life but maybe some of these comments will inspire thoughts from others and help fuel a bit of discussion.
Anyone completely new to Stoicism who is going to follow the Stoic Week may want to read some ancient Stoic texts but not know where to begin. For the purposes of this project I would recommend two texts: The Handbook of Epictetus (cited a number of times in the booklet) and Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. Both of these texts are short, accessible, and to the point. Reading them and reflecting on their ideas would itself form a productive exercise during the week. I have made copies of both available online, and they should display reasonably well on mobile devices.