“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.” – Seneca
In the winter of 2008, I slipped into a dark depression. I had just moved to a new city, ended a relationship with my first love, and found it nearly impossible to escape from a nagging sense of loneliness. What’s worse is that I became dreadfully incapable of mustering the courage to build meaningful relationships in my community as had come so easily at other times in my life.
Each day felt as if I was crawling deeper into a prison of my own making with no recollection of where I had come from or how to escape.
This prison ended up being a tiny four-walled room with two windows, a closet, and a door to the outside world that might as well have been barred shut. Most people would have called it a bedroom. But for me, it served as a perpetual reminder of my self-induced isolation.
I recall a time when I noticed a mouse pop its head through a hole near the radiator on the south-facing wall. Almost immediately, a wave of comfort flowed through me as if an old friend had stopped by to visit. For weeks thereafter, I left crumbs near that hole to make sure that my new friend had reason to return. Like I said – it was a rough winter.
On the north-facing wall were fifty square mirrors affixed in a ten-by-five grid, likely used by the tenant before me in an erotic display of narcissism. For me, on the other hand, those mirrors routinely forced me to look at someone I no longer recognized. I hated those mirrors.
On one cold February afternoon, I wandered over to my university’s humanities library to pick up a book. I was studying philosophy and neuroscience at the time, and to make matters worse, was in the midst of a semester on French Existentialism and Organic Chemistry.
Making my way to the checkout counter, I happened upon a recently returned book with the bust of what looked like an ancient philosopher on its cover. Having finished what I thought was a comprehensive course on ancient philosophy, I was surprised to have never come across Seneca. Needless to say, I left the library with an extra book that afternoon, and my life was never the same.
I couldn’t put it down. Each letter brought maxims that I had felt for so long but was utterly incapable of articulating. Over the course of a month, I must have read those letters a half dozen times with almost every other line underlined or annotated in the margin. In fact, I even decided to write my favorite quotes on the mirrors in my room. What had once been a reminder of my fragility now served as my greatest source of strength and inspiration.
Seneca, controversial as he may be, pulled me out of a moment of despair and reinvigorated my zest for life.
Fast forward to the autumn of 2014, and I found myself in another new city after another failed relationship had resulted in many months spent wandering around Europe in an all-too-cliche effort to find purpose. This time, however, I was armed with a few of my closest friends in Seneca, Marcus, and Epictetus.
With my confidence restored, I set out with the intention of joining a community of like-minded Stoics. Having found none, I decided to strike the first match and see if its light could draw in a few others. The community soon became known as the Minnesota Stoics, and that first flicker of light eventually grew into a flame of nearly 400 members.
We meet once a month, and I’ve found that each gathering tends to wash away the dust of my everyday life, often providing an unparalleled clarity and stillness that lasts for days. This experience continues to reinforce the value of Stoicism when actively practiced in a community of people from every conceivable walk of life.
The founding of the Minnesota Stoics isn’t an isolated story. In early 2016, I had the great fortune of meeting James Kostecka of The Redwood Stoa and Greg Lopez of The New York City Stoics, each of whom had established a community well before mine. Their wisdom and guidance helped shape the Minnesota Stoics in its early days and continues to do so today.
What excited the three of us back then, however, was not just maintaining an ongoing dialogue between our Stoas; it was a shared desire to create a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, our city, and our country. What came to follow was a decision to focus our efforts on building the foundation for a Modern Stoa. We’d do so by helping to build, connect, and foster communities of Stoics that meet in real life all over the world. This initiative eventually came to be known as The Stoic Fellowship.
“The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow-feeling with all men.” -Seneca
James, Greg, and I embarked on this journey in 2016. Though deliberately shy in our first year, we’ve had the fortune of building and connecting over a dozen communities worldwide through word-of-mouth alone. We also recently incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit with a formal board of directors and three committees each with a team of ready volunteers.
With this solid footing in place, we’re ready to introduce ourselves to the world and begin assisting anyone who would like to build a community of their own. The Stoic Fellowship welcomes all aspiring and dedicated Stoics. We aim to provide tools and resources for local group development, maintenance and growth. We also support participation, coordination, and collaboration among the member Stoas, and promote the collective work of The Fellowship in collaboration with related individuals, groups and organizations.
Please do not hesitate to contact us, and we’ll do everything we can to help you share in the joy and serenity that comes from living this ancient philosophy with others in your community. For those interested in starting a group, our team is ready to help. From establishing a group and organizing the content for your first few meet-ups to getting the word out to those in your area, we’re here for you.
The Stoic Fellowship’s grand aspiration is that one day all people, regardless of location, identity, or financial means, will have access to a living and vibrant community of Stoics that contributes positively to a peaceful, healthy, and sustainable world. You can help us get there by joining or starting a community today!
Nick Guggenbuehl is one of the founders of The Stoic Fellowship and currently serves as its President and Director of Resources. When not gathering with fellow Stoics, he spends his time running the product team for a small healthcare technology startup and taking advantage of the vast wilderness that surrounds his Minnesota home.