London Stoics Meeting – September 13th

London Stoics have a talk on September 13th at 7pm in Senate House Library (Room 102) to prepare for Stoic Week, and Donald Robertson from the Modern Stoicism team will be there.  More information is available on the Facebook page for the event.

London Stoics Meeting

Details

We are very lucky to have a special guest at the London Stoics this month: Donald Robertson. Donald is one of the founders of modern Stoicism & Stoic Week and is also a psychotherapist, specialising in CBT. Donald has contributed a great deal to the modern resurgence in Stoic philosophy, with numerous talks at Stoicon, blog posts, online courses and he also runs the main stoicism Facebook page! He has also written several books related to Stoicism and CBT including “Stoicism and the Art of Happiness” and “The Philosophy of CBT”. Donald will be talking to us about modern Stoicism and Stoic Week.

In this session we will discuss the annual Stoic Week, and look forward to this year’s event, which is 1st-7th October. Stoic Week is run by the modern stoicism project, and each year they produce a handbook and series of exercises and activities for participants. Stoic Week is the ideal introduction to the practical aspects of Stoic philosophy. But it’s also a great refresher if you’ve already started down this path.

Learning to Suffer Nobly by Victoria Neilson

Several friends of mine also have children. They are normal, healthy children, seemingly perfect and without any defects. My friends laugh and play with their children every day, posting beautiful photos on social networks, filled with joy and happiness.

There were times that I’d go to bed wishing that tomorrow my child would miraculously be healed by a divine intervention. Wishful thinking such as this only led to that heavy disappointment and dread when I woke up, finding my child still crippled.

I suffered quietly.

Dr. Viktor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” compared suffering to gas in a chamber:

If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

My suffering is nothing compared to what Dr. Frankl had to go through: a long period of living in concentration camps, treated like an animal, suffering through hunger, diseases and emotional abuses. All I must endure is to look after a child with Cerebral Palsy. Still, my suffering fills me up, makes me teary and afraid of the world. Why has such misfortune happened to me?

Discovering Stoicism seemed accidental at the time, but later it became apparent that I was destined to find it. It wasn’t because I believed in destinies, but because I wanted to live. I can still hear the sympathetic voice of my last mental health therapist: “Please don’t hesitate to call me anytime if you need to.” Anytime? I thought bitterly.

It wasn’t like she was of much help during her 9-5 work hours, how on earth could she help at three in the morning, when I needed help the most? I was on the verge of committing suicide; I needed someone, or something, that could help me 24/7. I was breastfeeding; I refused to take antidepressant drugs; I started reading self-help books and listening to Ted talks, then one day I heard this:

This is no misfortune, but to bear it nobly is good fortune. – The Meditations, book 2 – 49.

Sometimes I’d look back at that woman, crying without tears at night while clicking madly on a laptop, looking for the most painless ways to commit suicide. That was the very person I call “my past self”, and it was clear that I was consumed by anger, fear and, eventually, despair.

Fear and Anger

Fear and anger often came together. In the early days, I was constantly tormented by the fear of unknowns: “Why isn’t my child moving as much as her peers? Why doesn’t she crawl yet? Will she ever walk or talk?” These questions bothered me in every waking moment.

The “social” unknowns would surface at the same time: “What would other parents think of me? ‘Oh, that poor woman, stuck with that crippled child. Does her child have a disease? Could her child infect mine? I’d better stay away from them, we belong to different worlds.’”

The fearful thoughts would then lead to waves of anger: “Why has this happened to me?” I would ask, “I’ve been a good person, I never stole nor killed, and I’ve always treated people nicely. Why not those who cheat and scam? Why do they have normally developing children? How unfair! What have I done to have such injuries inflicted upon me? Who on earth would do this to me? God? but I don’t believe in gods! Who and where can I avenge such injustice?”

At that moment, often an emptiness would seize me: no one inflicted any injuries on me. I was trapped in an invisible cage with the only thing I could punch – myself.

“In the third place, the soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure or by pain.” – The Meditations, book 2 – 16.

Marcus Aurelius has been the strict mentor in my life. Whenever I listened to the audiobook copy of The Meditations during countless drives to my child’s therapy visits, I’d feel his stern presence. “Do not act randomly, Victoria” I’d talk to myself in Marcus’ words: “I know you were thinking of suicide again last night, but what would that achieve? Your husband will have to quit his job to look after your child, and your child would have less of a chance to experience life. What happened to your duty as a mother and a wife? Do you still possess the ability to reason? Why then, would you not use it, before you decide to take the easy way out?”

Oftentimes I’d think of Marcus Aurelius’ humble writings: he saw himself as nothing more than frankincense on an altar that’d eventually burn out, his name would be forgotten, and his city would be buried. No, dear philosopher king, your writings survived the grinding gears of history, and is helping many people centuries later. The Meditations was the handbrake on my car of life, working its best while the car was speeding down a steep hill.

However, to work out a proper strategy that’d put my life back on track took much more that The Meditations. To deal with the suicidal thoughts driven by anger and fear, I spent a long time understanding the Stoic judgement and assent.

“It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgement that they form about the things.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion, 5

With help from The Enchiridion and Seneca’s On Anger, I was able to examine the two negative feelings: both fear and anger were manifested passions, therefore not according to nature and should be, and can be, eradicated through good reasoning. However, where did fear and anger come from? In most cases, I believe they are from an impulse, a sense of threat, and that is natural.

Now, to make plain how passions begin or grow or get carried away: there’s the initial involuntary movement—a preparation for the passion, as it were, and a kind of threatening signal; there’s a second movement accompanied by an expression of will not stubbornly resolved, to the effect that “I should be avenged, since I’ve been harmed” or “this man should be punished, since he’ s committed a crime.” The third movement’s already out of control, it desires vengeance not if it’s appropriate but come what may, having overthrown reason. – Seneca, On Anger 2.4.1-2.

I started to pay attention on my feelings: the goal was to stop and think when I felt that initial threat. The type of brain injury my child suffered from was a damage to the white matter in her brain. As a result, she had a noticeable delay in responses. We’d put toys in front of her and had to wait for half a minute to get a response. This often frustrated me. “Why is this so infuriating?” I started to ask myself whenever I felt my blood starting to rush. “Is it not because you were worried that your child would be left to the last to choose a toy in a group? Where would this lead to? If a war happens, she’d never be quick enough to get her share of ration?”

“Draw a circle around what is happening now, stop the pulling of the strings. Take away the thought: ‘I’m hurt!’ and make the most rational decision for this moment.” I’d hear Marcus’ imaginary voice again. It is true that future uncertainties threatened me, but how can I do anything about something that hasn’t yet happened? What can I do now?

These days, we know of brain plasticity, and I know my child will speed up her movements if she does enough of the same thing. The real question is: how can I motivate her to reach faster? Her therapists gave clear instructions: movements requiring hands won’t happen properly if the child’s body isn’t supported. So instead of getting angry with my child for not moving fast enough, I should sit her appropriately, and try to get her to reach out for something that’d interest her. We knew she liked watching children singing and dancing, so we often set her in front of a tablet that played videos of children dancing, then we’d pause the video, she’d protest and reach out to start the video again. Whenever she succeeded, we’d all laugh and cheer together.

How can bringing up a disabled child be a bad thing if it brings such laughter and joy?

When my child was an eighteen-month-old, I decided to take her to a local play group. My child had only just learned to crawl, and her movements were very slow. I put her down on a mat, and a mother beside immediately asked me her age. I answered, the mum stared at me without a word, and my endless social fears immediately surfaced. “Don’t be afraid, Victoria.” I thought to myself. “describe to yourself the impressions here.”

We sat awkwardly in silence for a few minutes, while I thought to myself: “I’m here at a playgroup, there are many parents and children around, it’s rather noisy, and I’m trying to show my child how to interact with others.” So, I started to talk to the mum: “Your daughter’s sweater is beautiful.”

“Oh!” she seemed surprised, “thank you!”

Have courage, I said to myself. “My child’s name is A…” I smiled at her, “she had a brain injury due to lack of oxygen at birth.” I might as well spill the beans. “What’s your child’s name?”

She looked at me again, her eyes softened. “oh, her name is O…” she answered, “I’m sorry about what happened to your child.”

I looked into her brown eyes and saw nothing but a reflection of myself. Why was I afraid that others would judge me? Wasn’t it because I would have also judged if I had been them? To make matters worse, I was still judging poorly. Did I not turn my eyes away from those parents with mentally retarded or autistic children, even months after I had accepted my own child’s disability? Did I not stare at that woman working in the local supermarket, thinking, oh there’s something wrong with her and I’m scared?

All these things (envy, ungratefulness, etc.) happen to them (people) by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me … – The Meditations, Book 2 – 1.

How can I possibly be angry with anyone that is ignorant like myself?

Despair

Despair, to me, was an emotion that often came well after fear and anger. It was a feeling of hopelessness. Hope, being the only thing left in Pandora’s jar, is the driving force of life for many. When I first started to learn and practice Stoicism, I quickly stopped hoping for miracles, but I still often caught myself thinking: “hopefully our efforts won’t be wasted, and hopefully my child will walk and talk someday.”

My child is three years old now. She still can’t walk independently, and her speech is still at the level of “mama” and “dada”. There were times when the feeling of despair would touch me like a cold hand, sending shivers down the spine. “All my efforts are wasted! It doesn’t matter how hard I try, she will never improve!” I was filled with miseries. “What’s the point of continue living like this? My child is doomed to be alone for the rest of her life. She will never be able look after herself, without me, she will die.”

Epictetus’ famous control dichotomy is very well talked about among those who study Stoicism, yet it is the most easily forgotten when it comes to actions. During the day, I must remind myself many times that whether my child learns to walk, or talk, is completely out of my control; what’s within my control is what to do to best help her. However, at times the future simply looks too bleak.

The future? I started questioning again. Has there been a case that the future is definitively doomed?

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus was my answer. I don’t know if Camus was a Stoic, but his essay on Sisyphus sure reminded me of how much the Stoics emphasize “the present”. King Sisyphus was in a situation that can precisely be described as having an eternity of hopeless future. He was condemned by the gods to roll a big rock up a mountain, only to watch it rolling back down, and he had to start the process again. However, Camus concluded that “The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

I realised that while hope has driven many to achieve great things, too much emphasis on it in some situations can only lead me to fear, and then despair. In one of Seneca’s letters, he wrote:

In the writings of our own Hecaton I find it said that limiting one’s desires is beneficial also as a remedy for fear. “You will cease to fear,” he says, “if you cease to hope.” “The two feelings are very different,” you say. “How is it that they occur together?” But so it is, dear Lucilius: although they seem opposed, they are connected. Just as the prisoner and the guard are bound to each other by the same chain, so these two that are so different nonetheless go along together: where hope goes, fear follows. Nor do I find it surprising that it should be so. Both belong to the mind that is in suspense, that is worried by its expectation of what is to come. The principal cause of both is that we do not adapt ourselves to the present but direct our thoughts toward things far in the future. Thus foresight, which is the greatest good belonging to the human condition, has become an evil. Animals in the wild flee the dangers they see and are tranquil once they have escaped; we, though, are tormented both by what is to come and by what has been. Often, our goods do us harm: memory recalls the stab of fear; foresight anticipates it. No one is made wretched merely by the present. – Seneca, Letters 5.7-9

The passage urged us to focus on the present and put less effort in reminding ourselves of the painful past or fearing for the future. After all, the past can’t be changed for me, and the future is yet to be determined. We have but this moment to experience and to make the right judgements. Why hoping so much for the future while I can make myself good right now by practising virtues? Why worrying about if my child would be alone in the future, while I could give her lots of happy company today?

Besides, does lonesomeness always make one unhappy? What happened to “retreating to my inner citadel that is free of violent passions?” (Marcus’ voice again) Yes, my child will die, regardless of me being alive. While I’m alive, it is my duty to look after and care for her. I can influence how much she will be able to look after herself by teaching her, tutoring her, but ultimately, it is up to her how she chooses to live her life after I’m gone. One thing for sure: the way I act will influence her forever, and if I can show her how to be happy in one’s own thoughts, she may be less tormented by being alone when it happens.

No wonder even Sisyphus can be happy, but only if he chooses to enjoy every moment of hard work.

My life is like sailing a boat for the first time in a stormy ocean, constantly getting knocked around by waves. Even though I may be destined to crash in the end, at least I can choose to do my best to turn the rudder while sailing.

What about my suffering, the very thing that connects myself and Dr. Frankl, and every other human that suffered throughout history? Well, it is true I cannot escape it, but I can at least learn to suffer nobly.

 

Victoria Neilson was a full-time professional Mechanical Engineer until her child was found to have a disability. She is now a part-time PhD student in Biomechanics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and a full-time mother to a lovely three-year old.

Drowning in Joy by Anthony Maletich

Leading up to Stoic Week this year – which runs from Monday, October 1 to Sunday, October 7 – we are publishing a series of shorter weekday posts, focused on the theme of “Happiness”.  Are you interested in writing a 300-600 word post, well-informed by Stoicism, on that topic?  Email your draft to me, the editor of Stoicism Today.  And now, Anthony’s post!
If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. For God hath made all men to enjoy felicity and constancy of good. (Epictetus Discourses book 2: Chapter 24).  
It would appear we are both the prisoner and the one holding the keys.
If we are indeed made for happiness, why do we so often miss the mark?
The Stoics tell us that it is because we are aiming at the wrong target.
In Enchiridion 1 we are acquainted with that core theme of Epictetus, that we are to focus on what is “up to us,” to live a life of Virtue by following Nature.
We are told that Virtue is the only Good, but where can we find it?
Everywhere strength, everywhere victory waits your conviction! (Golden Sayings 99)
This is the beauty of Stoic Physics.
The quest for happiness is not an Easter egg hunt and it is even less like finding your lost car keys.
We are literally immersed in Virtue, drowning in Joy.
The Good to a fish is the bait on the hook (that which would ensnare us), whereas the wise fish recognizes the Good in the ocean all around it.
…will you not be elated at knowing that you are the son of God?” (Discourses 1:3)
Our bodies and all things around us, both animate and inanimate, are held together and empowered by the Logos.
Our minds are enlightened by the same Reason which governs the Cosmos.
We are able to observe, study, and learn the ways of Nature, to have communion with the Divine.
Happiness, a life of Virtue, isn’t trying to be something we are not, a stretching out our hand toward the unattainable.
It is something we already have, yet do not perceive, being “blind to the Giver” (Discourses 1:6).
Take hold of this truth. Open your eyes to the beauty of Nature. See the Logos at work and know that wherever you are, there is cause for Joy. An overwhelming and all-encompassing Joy.

 

Anthony Maletich is the moderator of the Stoic Christian Facebook group, which explores the relationship between Stoicism and Christianity (as well as other faith traditions). He works as a guidance counselor and coach and enjoys playing the banjo and spending time outdoors enjoying Nature.<

Stoic Virtue and Happiness by Michael Lines

Leading up to Stoic Week this year – which runs from Monday, October 1 to Sunday, October 7 – we are publishing a series of shorter weekday posts, focused on the theme of “Happiness”.  Are you interested in writing a 300-600 word post, well-informed by Stoicism, on that topic?  Email your draft to me, the editor of Stoicism Today.  And now, Michael’s post!

 

“We have separated this perfect virtue into its several parts. The desires had to be reined in, fear to be suppressed, proper actions to be arranged, debts to be paid; we therefore included self-restraint, bravery, prudence, and justice – assigning to each quality its special function. How then have we formed the conception of virtue? Virtue has been manifested to us by this man’s order, propriety, steadfastness, absolute harmony of action, and a greatness of soul that rises superior to everything. Thence has been derived our conception of the happy life, which flows along with steady course, completely under its own control.” – Seneca, Moral letters to Lucilius

I have learned over my lifetime that true happiness does not come from possessions or temporary conditions, but rather from the satisfaction that follows living a life aligned with my virtues. Virtues are the attributes that I seek to cultivate in myself through habit, both for the betterment of myself and the world I live in, and are the guideposts for my decisions.

Living a life of virtue can be a challenge, while live a life of vice is easy – that alone is a signal to me of what is proper behavior. When I find myself tempted to take the easy path, I need to examine both the path and my motivation to ensure that I am making a virtuous choice.

I seek to live the virtue of self-restraint by reminding myself that my desires will lead me astray if I let them, and by remembering the words of Seneca that vices can masquerade as virtues – especially pride, and to the extent that I do indulge my emotions, to always remember the maxim of “restraint in all things”.

I seek to live the virtue of bravery by acting when action is called for, and restraining myself when it Is not. It is not bravery to take foolish risks, act without thought, take risks for the purpose of reward or recognition, or to do my duty. Bravery comes from overcoming my fear of harm to my physical or emotional self, and to take the actions that I believe are correct regardless of whether anyone is ever aware of them. Also, I remember that what is called bravery today is in latin “fortitudo”, and that true bravery is endurance and fortitude against adversity without complaint.

I seek to live the virtue of prudence by thinking before I act, considering not only the immediate results of my actions but also their derivatives. I remember that wisdom comes from acknowledging that what I don’t know is even more important than what I think I do know, and that all knowledge is at best a poor language for describing reality – it is not reality itself.

I seek to live the virtue of justice by remembering that the core meaning of justice is fairness and the settlement of debts, not a blind adherence to rules or laws. Stoic justice at its heart about fairness and the golden rule, thus I look for just solutions in all my interactions with others.

In the end, I have come to find that my happiness flows from my attempts and successes at  living a virtuous life – not from health, prosperity, fortune or any other external condition. Every moment of my life is an opportunity to decide what is right for me, aligned with the virtues I believe important. When I fail to live up to my ideals, I don’t berate myself but rather strive to learn from my mistakes and do better the next time.

In the end, to paraphrase Walt Disney, I am always attempting to “Keep moving forward, virtuously”
Michael Lines is a student of Stoic philosophy and philosophy in general, living in Colorado. He blogs about his experience in understanding, adapting and living this philosophy in his blog, A Modern Stoic.

Enroll Now for Stoic Week 2018

Stoic Week is a free online course run once per year by Modern Stoicism, which will introduce you to a new aspect of Stoic theory and practice each day.

You can enroll now for Stoic Week 2018, which will officially begin on Monday 1st October this year.

Everyone is welcome to take part and it’s completely free of charge.  Last year seven thousand people enrolled so don’t miss out!

Stoic Week is  a seven day introduction to Stoic theory and practice, applied to modern living.  It’s been designed by Modern Stoicism, a multi-disciplinary team of academic philosophers, classicists, psychologists, and cognitive therapists, including some well-known authors in the field.

Enroll now and you’ll have access to the preliminary materials in preparation for the official start of the course on Monday 1st October, which will be accompanied by a live webinar at 9pm BST.  (You’ll be able to watch a recording if you can’t make it along.)  If you want to attend please follow the link below to set a reminder on YouTube, where you can also subscribe to our channel.

Set Reminder for Stoic Week Webinar

Stoic Week is now in its seventh year.  See our main website for more information on the history of Stoic Week.

Stoic Week Coming Next Month!

At the very start of October – literally one month from now – Stoic Week 2018 begins!  This marks the seventh year for holding an International Stoic Week, and we expect it to draw at least as many participants worldwide as previous years – or perhaps even more (the numbers have grown every year to date).  Whether you’re someone already involved in the modern Stoic community, or just someone interested in Stoicism, Stoic Week affords possibilities to share and further your interest in how this ancient philosophy can be applied within our contemporary lives.

International Stoic Week runs this year from Monday, October 1 to Sunday, October 7.  Each day of the week, participants in the Stoic Week online class get to “live like a Stoic”, engaging in exercises, guided meditations, discussions, and more – all developed and offered for free by the Modern Stoicism team.  The class is not enrolling quite yet, but you can go to the site where it will be offered, watch the promo video, set up a reminder for the free introductory webinar, and get a first look at the curriculum.

Stoic Week will be preceded by our annual Stoicon conference on Saturday, September 29, hosted this year in London and organized by Professor John Sellars, ably assisted by Amy Valladres, and a number of volunteers.  Tickets for Stoicon have already sold out, but if you were eagerly hoping to get in on the talks and workshops, don’t despair!  You can get on a waitlist if any tickets do become available. We will also be recording as many of those sessions as feasible – and as the editor of Stoicism Today, I’ll be dogging all of the speakers to provide us with transcripts or summaries that we will then publish here as blog posts.

During Stoic Week itself – and often before and after it as well – there are usually a host of events all around the world organized and hosted by local Stoic groups, academic institutions, and other organizations.  Some of these are veritable Stoicon-X events (our equivalent of TED-X events).  Others might involve a talk by a featured speaker, a panel discussion, a workshop, or some other individual event.  Many of these organizations, institutions, and groups work through the Stoic Week course together.

If you want to participate locally in Stoic Week, and don’t see an event or organization in our listings below, don’t worry!  This is just the first listing, working off of the people who have already contacted me about their event our meetings.  As organizers get into gear and email me about their Stoicon-X event, Stoic Week event, or Stoic Week class meetups, I’ll be putting together a much longer list that we’ll publish on the Saturday of Stoicon, right before Stoic Week starts!

There’s always the option of organizing your own meetup or event as well – and if you do, make sure to write me about it, so that we can publicize it here in Stoicism Today along with all the rest!  If you’ve already got an event in the works, or if your group, institution, or organization plans to work through the Stoic Week class together, email me with all the details you’ve got so far!

Upcoming Stoicon-X Events Worldwide

Thursday and Friday, October 4 & 5- Bonn, Germany – Stoic Camp Bonn.  Hosted by Dr. Markus Rüther and Ralph Kurz at the University of Bonn.  Come for a set of talks, workshops, and discussions.  Email Dr. Markus Rüther or Ralph Kurz for more information.

There will likely be additional Stoicon-X events in other locations.  We’ll add them to the list as soon as we have full information about them.

Upcoming Stoic Week Events WorldWide

Saturday September 29, 1:30-3:00 PM – Seattle, USA – the Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club has invited Thomas Opryszek to give a talk on Stoicism in Action and Stoic Week 2018.  Location is the  Seattle Public Library, Northgate Branch.


Monday, October 1, 7 PM – Orlando, USA – The Orlando Stoics will be hosting an “Open House Monday” at the Panera Bread Cafe, 296 E. Michigan Street, Orlando FL  32806.  For more information, see their meetup site.

Saturday, October 6, 9PM – Orlando, USA – the Orlando Stoics will be hosting a “Stoics Night Out” at the Universal City Walk, 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819. For more information, see their meetup site.


If you’re planning an event, email me with the details, and we’ll add it to our list and to the next post.

Groups, Institutions, and Organizations Participating In Stoic Week

Stoic Week Discussion Group: London, UK – organized by Bryce Peterson, meeting daily 1-6 October in Bloombury.   A survey is available to determine what times people would like to meet.  Time and location TBD at this point.

The Colorado Springs Stoa, USA – organized by David Emery, meeting several times over the course of Stoic Week at Peak Place, Colorado Springs.  More information available here.

There will doubtless be many more participating groups, institutions, and organizations in the next post.  If yours is doing so, email me, and we’ll add you to the list.