Stoicism – The Key to Modern Living?

Stoicism: The Key to Modern Living?

In this guest article, Bocca di Stella, who followed Stoic Week 2013 offers a powerful and personal reflection on the values of Stoicism for modern life….

During the throes of modern life, it is easy to lose ourselves in our daily chores, occupations and moments of liberty.  The demand for our time as we get older becomes ever more engrossed by what we are expected to do but these expectations are usually projected onto the situation itself.  We fret, we become stressed, we consume excessively to sate this internal turmoil and recover, repeating the cycle time and again to ease any discomfort.  It is understandable why we become upset at times, based on so many factors being out of our control.  Yet to be mindful of this and to manage any possible outcome with detachment is perhaps the key to maintaining a consistent and positive disposition.

Which leads me to my voluntary involvement in Stoic Week 2013, an online event (with offline study and activity) organised by academics and psychotherapists  running for its 2nd year.  The main purpose was to encourage members of the public to engage in Stoic teachings and reflections with the view to explore its potential benefits within modern life.  It was perhaps not the most practical week to abide by Stoic standards due to social occasions as well as work-related gatherings however much like the philosophy itself, that which is out of our control is not something to concern oneself with so I could at least focus on what was within my control and be mindful of my approach instead.

The Stoics central focus in life was simply to be virtuous, of ‘good’ character.  As stated in the gratis handbook I was provided with, it is a vision of maintaining a ‘rational’ persona, ensuring an excellent mental state.  This mental state is the only thing that really matters in order to survive well as a human being and without making a conscious effort to preserve it could mean never being truly happy.  The focus must be inwards rather than outwards. Seems logical, but how truly mindful are we?  We are led into a false belief that by owning material possessions we gain more peer approval and therefore exercise a consumerist attitude stemming from luxury rather than need, directly feeding the media that we daily criticise.  So for 7 days I looked to monitor aspects of my day and ensure I continue to practice a more mindful attitude, exploring a more inward viewpoint prior to application, looking to benefit the community of humankind and increase interconnectedness.

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Making the Most of Life after a Traumatic Injury

Helen Rudd, who has used Stoicism to cope and flourish with the effects of a traumatic brain injury, reflects further on her experience of Stoicism. She had not originally intended for this piece to be published on the blog, but having received messages of support from the blog’s readers yesterday, wanted to share the next stage of her journey today. 

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about stoicism over the Christmas period, largely due to the really encouraging emails I’ve had from Christopher Gill and Patrick Ussher. 

Just before I went down to Somerset with my Dad, I tried to think how a ‘normal’ person could employ stoicism in order to feel happier and to gain a sense of achievement.  I then remembered the feeling I had when singing in a concert with people who have Parkinson’s earlier in 2013.  It was the first concert I’d sung in since my accident, and halfway through I suddenly had an amazing feeling of yes, I love doing this, it’s just where I want to be and I feel so proud to be singing with these really brave and friendly people.

So at the end of the year I found myself remembering this intense feeling, and I thought that the way to employ stoicism is to think of how I COULD have felt.  This could have included why do I now have to sing with unwell people, some of whom were sitting down, why do I have to sing using words only instead of words and music which is what I was used to, nobody in this choir can read music like I can, I used to have Jane the conductor and soloist for singing lessons and I could be doing a much more highbrow concert than this…

When I write these things now I feel horrible for expressing them, but it’s a good example I think of realising that you can feel good about something that otherwise could be terrible.  My plan would then be to notice how you feel about a situation, and then if it’s positive think about how it could otherwise be negative and thereby know that you’re employing stoicism.  Similarly, if you feel negative you could think about a positive way of looking at it and try to feel the way you’ve thought of.

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Coming to Terms with a Traumatic Brain Injury – Using Stoic Philosophy

Helen Rudd suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2006. In this powerful piece she recounts how she developed the internal strength to come to terms with the effects of the accident and to find new meaning in her life. Helen heard about Stoic Week on the BBC 4 Today programme, and found that Stoicism’s focus on developing a resilient attitude to meet whatever the circumstances as best as possible was just what she herself, in drawing on her own internal resources, had done. 

My Experiences of Stoicism

Helen Rudd

I suffered a traumatic brain injury in May 2006.

Before my accident I was on the go all the time.  I’d run in the Hastings Half Marathon 5 times, did aerobics every week, went swimming 3 times a week, sang in an opera group and a light operatic society, acted in plays and volunteered at the local theatre, tried to walk everywhere etc etc.  At the age of 43, I’d been an executive officer in the Inland Revenue for 21 years and one of my jobs had been the manager of the local enquiry centre.

One day in 2006 I’d just been swimming on my way to work when I was hit in the side of the head by a van, probably at 30 mph and rolled under a parked car.  I was in a coma for 3 weeks, and then went to a brain injury rehab centre for a year, of which I remember nothing.  Now my memory of about a year before the accident and back are fine but I remember nothing until about 3 years ago.  I think it took me some time to fully realise what had happened to me.  My Dad had to teach me how to read and write again, of which I remember nothing.  My symptoms now are a slight loss of co-ordination, a loss of memory of about 5 years and a pretty bad loss of mobility.  I don’t use a wheelchair, I can walk outside as long as I have my stick and somebody is with me, and my balance is poor.  I am medically retired from work.

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New Videos: London Opening & Closing Sessions, for 'Stoicism in Everyday Life' Event

Stoicism for Everyday Life: Opening Session

In this video, Chris Gill talks about the background to the Stoicism Today project and about key Stoic ideas, Patrick Ussher about Stoic Week around the world and in the media, Donald Robertson about the relationship between Stoicism and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), and Tim LeBon about developing an evidence base for Stoicism. The session is introduced by John Sellars.

Stoicism for Everyday Life: Closing Session

In this video, participants from the audience share their really interesting ideas about how Stoicism can be helpful today, their own life experiences with Stoic philosophy, key questions which need to be explored in Stoicism, workshop ideas and ideas for Stoic Week, and suggestions about what the Stoicism Today team could do next. There is also an overview of all seven workshops from the day.

New Look Blog

The Stoicism Today blog has been reworked over the last while. In particular, new features include:

  • An Online Magazine which features all articles/guest pieces on the blog to date categorised by theme. (Please get in touch if there is something you would like to write about.)

  • The Stoic Week course is now available as an online course (with new scales) to be taken by anyone at anytime as an introduction to Stoic philosophy as a way of life.

Hope you enjoy the new look/layout of the website.