How to Be Epictetus in the Gym by Amitabha Palmer

It’s the New Year and many people have resolved to recommit to their fitness goals. As I made my way to the gym, I wondered what Epictetus would have thought about about physical fitness and the place we ought to accord it in our daily habits. In this short article, I’ll explore answers to the preceding question and, along the way, offer some stoic-friendly fitness advice.

(For interested readers, here is How to be Aristotle in the Gym)

Epictetus and the (Non)Value of Physical Health

Why do you do something rather than nothing? The aim of all action is happiness. People find happiness in a variety of things and this explains why people pursue different things: wealth, fame, reputation, power, pleasure, etc.… But isn’t the part of life that gives us the greatest happiness when we flourish in the face of adversity?

No life is free from misfortune, chance, and adversity. But in facing such occasions we encounter opportunities to exercise and develop the genuine foundations for a stable happiness:  Strength, dignity, equanimity, composure, stability, fortitude, persistence, and courage. None of these virtues are meaningfully developed without facing some adversity. And no person can live a happy life without these traits. So, if it’s a stable enduring happiness you’re after—the Stoics council—develop your virtues.

So, what about physical health? Ought I to pursue it? It seems like it’s also part of a happy life.

No my friend: enjoying health in the right way is good; making bad use of your health is bad.

Discourses 3. 20. 4

The Stoic view on physical health, like anything outside of your will, is that it is neither good nor bad. What matters is whether you make (virtuous) use of it and/or pursue it virtuously. A sound body enables a criminal to commit his crimes just as it enables a good person to do good deeds.

You should not pursue fitness merely for the sake of fitness. This is why the whole bodybuilding/fitness industry would be such a travesty for Epictetus. What do such lives amount to? They devoted 10s of thousands of hours to making their muscles puffy. What kind of life is that?

So, does this mean I should be indifferent about my health? No. A happy life is one in which we develop a beautiful soul. The body is the vessel of the soul and so it’s important to care for the vessel that contains it. Notice, however, that the reasons to pursue health and fitness are purely instrumental, they are not ends in themselves.

There are a few other stoic reasons for caring about your health, most of which are inherited from Socrates/Plato.

First, whatever burdens you must bear, they are more bearable to the healthy person.

And yet what has to be borne by anyone who takes care to keep his body in good condition is far lighter and far pleasanter than those things subjected to the out of shape person.

Plato, The Republic

Also

Why even in the process of thinking and not using our body, it is a matter of common knowledge that grave mistakes may often be traced to bad health. And because the body is in a bad condition loss of memory, depression and discontent often attack the mind so violently as to drive out whatever knowledge it contains.

Xenophon quoting Socrates

In short, in poor health we are more prone to bad decisions and a weakened will in the face of challenges. We are less likely to do the kinds of virtuous actions that beautify our soul. As the saying goes, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” (Quote is attributed to both George Patton and Vince Lombardi). And the unfit are easily fatigued.

Second, physical development is practice for the much more difficult task of intellectual and moral development. It also cultivates our affinity for Beauty. For that ancients, Truth, the Good, and Beauty are inextricably connected and all are required to develop a beautiful soul.  People aren’t always immediately interested in the Good or Truth; but if the three are tied together, an affinity for Beauty can draw them to the other two.

Physical beauty, however, is inferior to beauty of a soul. Having a beautiful soul requires knowing (and acting on) the True and the Good. It follows that cultivating a beautiful soul is much more difficult than developing a beautiful body. That is, is easier to get puffy muscles than it is to discover and act on moral and intellectual truth. Hence, especially for youth, it’s important that they at least have some aspiration for beauty-even if it’s initially of the inferior kind. This is a starting point to “show him the way to more appropriate objects of devotion”

Sherman, Stoic Warriors. p. 31

In Epictetus’s own words (concerning leading a youth to care for having a beautiful soul):

But if he should come to me befouled, dirty, with whiskers down to his knees, what can I say to him, what sort of comparison can I use to draw him on? For what has he ever concerned himself with that bears any resemblance to beauty, such that I can redirect his attention, and say, “Beauty is not there, but here”? Would you have me say to him, “Beauty lies not in being befouled, but in reason”? For does he in fact aspire to beauty? Does he show any sign of it? Go and argue with a pig, that he should not roll in the mud.”

Discourses 3. 23. 27.

Some Simple Advice that Would Improve Most People’s Health and Save them Money

Recall the earlier lesson that the unfit are easily fatigued, that fatigue undermines our will and judgment, which in turn interferes with developing a beautiful soul. In short, a developing a beautiful soul requires we avoid fatigue to the extent that we can.

Think of health and fitness as a three-legged table. Each leg represents one of

  • diet/nutrition, 
  • exercise, and 
  • sleep/recovery. 

If you remove one leg, the table collapses. Also, if the legs aren’t in the correct proportion, the table is unstable.

Different people struggle with different “legs,” however, I think sleep is the most often overlooked. You can do all the right exercises at the right intensity and eat all the right foods in the right amounts but if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your efforts are soon undermined. During deep prolonged sleep, your body releases hormones necessary for recovery and growth. You simply cannot recover physically (or mentally) if these hormones aren’t regularly released into your body. And, without quality sleep, these hormones will not be released into your body.

The fitness industrial complex offers no end of new supplements, magic pills, special diets, exercise plans, and exercise innovation. Some of them are useful, some of them not, most are only moderately so. But rarely do you hear about sleep, and if you do, it’s often as an afterthought.

If sleep’s as important as I claim it is, why don’t we hear about it as much as the other two legs? The answer is simple, Big Fit doesn’t make a profit off of you sleeping. They can’t sell it to you (yet!).

But now I’ve told you what they don’t want you to know. Figure out how much sleep you need and restructure your life such that you get it. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes. It blows my mind how much money people are willing to pay for supplements of questionable efficacy yet unwilling to find a way to get one more hour of sleep a night. I’d be willing to bet anything that an extra hour of sleep will do you more good for your health than all your expensive supplements combined.

“Why are you willing to pay so much for supplements?”

“Because I want to be healthy.”

“I just told you that getting an extra hour of sleep will help you much more than your supplements ever will. So, why don’t you get an extra hour of sleep instead of staying up online or watching Netflix?”

“I know but I don’t want to have to change my life.”

“Fine. Then don’t complain about your health when I’ve just told you how to improve it.” (Epictetus, The Imaginary Discourse)

Injuries and Setbacks

My first genuine interaction with Stoicism was Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. My first reaction to Stoicism was to throw the book across the room.

Why? Well, you know all those annoying self-help-y aphorisms like “Everything happens for a reason” and “Every challenge presents an opportunity”? Well, the Stoics were the OG’s (original gurus) of self-help. They viewed their philosophy as being first and foremost a practical guide to living well and a means of dealing with the inevitable difficulties and misfortunes of life. There is deep wisdom in their teachings. The problem is that, after 2, 000 years of being repeated ad nauseam and out of context, they can seem like just one more vacuous platitude to scroll past in our newsfeed.

How does all this fit with the theme of this article: fitness and injuries? Let me illustrate.

Four years ago, I suffered perhaps the worst injury of my grappling career. I rolled my right ankle and tore a bunch of soft tissue. I was on crutches for 2 months, limping for a year and a half, and only recently completely pain free. I still tape my ankle every judo practice as a preventative measure.

After about 6 months of no judo, I started doing some light technique practice. Because I’d injured my dominant foot, I couldn’t practice throws to my dominant (i.e., strong) side. The only way I was going to be able to train at all is if I practiced to my weak side.

It took a full 2 years before I was able to begin training to my strong side again. By that time, my weak-side throws were better than my strong side throws. After a few months, my strong side caught up. The net result is that now I can do some throws just as well to either side.

Without getting too far into judo technique, I’ll explain why that’s such a huge advantage. To avoid a throw in judo or wrestling, you circle away from the direction of the throw. If you walk into the direction of the throw, you make your opponent’s job very easy since you are walking in the exact direction required for the throw to be successful.

So, what happens when you can throw equally well on both sides? If I attack one direction, you circle away from the throw. But circling away from a throw in one direction is also walking into the throw from the other direction. If I can throw in both directions, your defense to my initial attack actually literally walks you into my attack from the other direction.

What’s the moral of the story? The simple one is that every challenge presents an opportunity. The challenge presented to me was what very easily could have been a career-ending injury. Instead, I chose to use it as an opportunity to develop a part of my game I otherwise wouldn’t have spent as much time on. The net result was to move me another step closer to the ideal martial artist.

Think of your own injuries in the same way (And I promise, you will have injuries, whether you train or not!). Maybe you injure your shoulder or your back. Give your body a chance to heal from the initial injury, but now figure out how to train around your injury and eventually restrengthen it. This forces you to learn new exercises and improve your technique on ones you already know. Doing it imperfectly now has real consequences. The long run effect is to make you improve in ways you otherwise wouldn’t have if circumstance hadn’t forced you to.

Now, he’s where part of me wants to throw the Discourses across the room. Surely, some injuries are so bad and permanent that we will forever be impaired. An extreme example might be paralysis. What kind of asshole tells someone newly paraplegic, “hey, man, you should see this as an opportunity.” Now, just because what the stoics say isn’t true in every case, doesn’t mean it isn’t true in some cases. In my case it was true.

My own view is that, psychologically, we ought to err on the side of stoicism when we are confronted by setbacks. I think there’s much more harm in despair and giving up than there is in a mentality that seeks opportunity and growth in misfortune.

To summarize, here’s the first lesson: Learn What You Would not Have Otherwise Learned

You’re going to have setback in your fitness journey. This is the nature of life. So whachugonna do abouddit? Give up and cry like a little baby or find a way to learn and improve from it?

Moving on…

The more subtle message has to do with value. Initially–well, let’s be honest–not just initially, but for a long time, I was genuinely heart-broken by my injury. I wasn’t hopeful at all. Right before the injury, I was the best I’d ever been. I was on track to test for my black belt. I was looking forward to doing well in tournaments. I was upset because the injury interfered with realizing what I valued: belt promotion, tournaments, winning.

But the stoic is concerned with internal goods: wisdom, perseverance, composure, courage, and so on. These are the goods that make us a complete person and that most reliably contribute to living a good life. These are the fruits we ought to pursue. And I ultimately gain the sweetest fruits of all by refusing to quit and continuing to persevere in the face of misfortune:

What will you make of illness?

I will expose its true nature by outdoing myself in calmness and serenity; I will neither beg the doctor’s help, nor pray for death. What more could you ask? Everything, you see, that you throw at me I will transform into a blessing, a boon–something dignified, even enviable.

Discourse III. 21. 14-15

Or

[Y]ou have inner strengths that enable you to bear up with difficulties of every kind. You have been given fortitude, courage, and patience. Why should I worry what happens if I am armed with the virtue of fortitude? Nothing can trouble or upset me, or even seem annoying. Instead of meeting misfortune with groans and tears, I will call upon the faculty especially provided to deal with it. 

‘But my nose is running!’ What do you have hands for, idiot, if not to wipe it? ‘But how is it right that there be running noses in the first place? Instead of thinking up protests, wouldn’t it be easier just to wipe your nose?

Discourses 1. 6. 28-32.

In other words, it is through the various challenges life inevitably sends our way that we most develop our virtues – the true and reliable foundations for a happy life. And who are you to think of yourself as so weak as not to be able to face such challenges?

Suck it up buttercup. You kan dou eet!

All that energy you spend complaining about your ankle, your back, your neck, etc… isn’t going to heal it. You might as well redirect your efforts toward addressing it. Wipe your nose!

Here’s the second lesson: Focus on What Really Matters

In the long run, in facing injuries and misfortune, you develop the traits that have genuine value: Fortitude, courage, perseverance, wisdom, etc…

Brace yourself: It’s not puffy muscles or being able to lift a certain amount of weight that matters for a good life. It’s the character traits you develop that allow you to manage and overcome, not only your current injuries and health problems, but future ones too.

This is another way of expressing the earlier Socratic point: Physical fitness and sports are a controlled environment for character development. In fitness/sports, more than in any other endeavor, there’s a strong correlation between effort and results. The lessons learned and traits you develop are meant to prepare you for the more difficult domains of intellectual and moral development. Intellectual and moral challenges are infinitely more demanding than any physical ones.

Too many people think puffy muscles or round booties are the final goal and despair when they’re thwarted. Such people never surpass the most basic level of development as human beings. They are incomplete human beings and they never fully achieve complete lasting and reliable foundations for a good life.

I know. It’s all so easy to say. Personal development is extremely difficult and takes time. However,

Nothing important comes into being overnight: even grapes and figs need time to ripen. If you say you want a fig now, I will tell you to be patient. First, you must allow the tree to flower, then put forth fruit; then you have to wait until the fruit is ripe.”

Discourses 1. 17. 7.

Conclusion:

Fact: In pursuing your fitness goals you will get injured. You will also get sick. You will get overwhelmed with work and social obligations. These will set you back. Crying about it won’t change anything. Neither will anger, sadness, nor quitting. So, whatchugonna do?

Adopt that OG (Original Guru) self-help mindset: See an opportunity to learn to train differently and improve your technique. Better yet, see this as an opportunity to develop the virtues. When you face the next inevitable setback, you’ll be better equipped to handle it.

Epictetus often compares the quest for happiness (through the exercise and development of virtuous character) to athletic competition. There are important disanalogies. First, in the contest of life we compete against ourselves, not against others. Second, we compete over and over, through repeated opportunities for achievement. We are defeated only until we decide to get back in the race. Life gives us new opportunities in which happiness may flower:

Even if we fail here and now, no one stops us from competing again, we don’t have to wait another four years for the next Olympics, but as soon as a man picked himself up and renewed his grip on himself and shown the same enthusiasm he is allowed to compete. And if you give in again, you can compete again, and if once you win, you are like someone who never gave in. Only, don’t let sheer habit make you give in readily and end up like a bad athlete going around being beaten in the whole circuit like quails that run away.

(Discourses 3. 1-5)

Jigoro Kano (founder of judo) echos something similar in this wonderful quote:

The man who is at the peak of his success and the man who has just failed are in exactly the same position: Each must decide what to do next.

Now, go work out for the right reasons!

Ami Palmer is a PhD candidate in applied philosophy at Bowling Green State University. His research focuses on political epistemology and civic virtue in an environment of widespread misinformation and political polarization. He blogs at Wrestling with Philosophy and offers a free online critical thinking course at Reasoning for the Digital Age

Web Comic #3: The Fox and the Lion

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is a new book by Donald Robertson about Stoicism.

Donald has also been working on a graphic novel based on some of the stories about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius in How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.

Here’s a sample web comic he created with artist Zé Nuno Fraga. (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Save the Date: Stoicon 2019 in Athens

Stoicism is coming home! We’re delighted to announce that Stoicon 2019 will be taking place in Athens on Saturday 5th October. The main event will be followed by the Stoicon-x Athens mini-conference on Sunday 6th October, for those of you who want an extra day of philosophy.

The venue will be the beautiful and modern Cotsen Hall of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The event organizers are Donald Robertson and Alkistis Agio.

Stoicon is the annual, international conference on modern Stoicism, organized by Modern Stoicism Ltd. This will be its seventh consecutive year. It’s normally attended by 300-400 people from around the world, with a shared interest in applying Stoicism to modern living. Previous speakers include Ryan Holiday, Julia Annas, William Irvine, Margaret Graver, and A. A. Long.

Tickets will go on sale and further details, including the line-up of speakers, will be announced shortly. Please follow @stoicweek on Twitter for updates or register on our eLearning site to receive email notifications. You can also follow our Facebook event page for Stoicon 2019 in Athens.

Online Symposium – Women and Stoicism (part 2)

Last month, we started the publication of contributions to our second online symposium here in Stoicism Today, the topic being “Women and Stoicism”. Today, to the excellent responses provided in that first post, contributed by Anitra Pavlico, Natasha Brown, and Brittany Polat, we are happy to add two new discussions of the topics by Meredith Kunz and Kathryn Koromilas. We hope to have yet more contributions coming in the third installation sometime in either April or May.

The general question proposed for this online symposium was “Is Stoicism something equally useful for men and women?” In my call for contributions, I suggested a set of more specific questions that the authors might consider addressing, which included:

  • Does Stoicism seem to appeal to men more than to women in the present?  If so, why?
  • Are there challenges women face that Stoicism would be particularly apt or helpful with?
  • Does modern Stoicism have a “women problem”, in any sense one would like to give that term?
  • What should we make of the emphasis upon traditional gender roles of some of the Stoic authors (e.g. Epictetus or Seneca)?
  • Can one be equally a feminist and a Stoic?  Are there important tensions that have to be addressed?
  • what should we make of the use of Stoic authors and texts to promote misogynist “red-pill” movements and attitudes (sometimes called “broicism”)?

So again, with no further ado, here are the next two contributions to this new online symposium. Comments are welcome, and a great way of adding to the conversation, but do make sure to give the Comments Policy a read.

Kathyrn Koromilas

2018. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was the year of “angry” women, it was the year of “stoic” women. It was the year of rage, it was the year of reason. It was the season of “trivial whinging” and hysteria, it was the season of “moral outrage” and bravery. It was the winter of abuse and censor, it was the spring of hope, dialogue, and empowerment. We had 19 million women before us, roaring loud and clear: #metoo, me too, me too.

The #Metoo Movement began in 2006 as a relatively quiet campaign to encourage empathy and sharing amongst women, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, who had experienced sexual abuse. Just over a decade later, the movement erupted, when a much broader, louder, and angrier spectrum of women shared stories on social media and beyond. The movement has since produced countless written, spoken, and visual commentaries, plus a handful of full-length books which argue that anger—this dark, disorderly, and dangerous emotion—can be and ought to be harnessed as a political tool, a political emotion, and the super-powerful voice of activism. Women, now, had a moral duty to be angry.

At the same time, however, women were appearing in the public arena dressed not in armour but “wearing a stoic demeanour,” instead. Hillary Clinton was “stoic” watching the Trump inauguration. Alyssa Milano was “stoic” while watching the Brett Kavanaugh testimony. Anita Hill was “stoic” when delivering her own testimony. Uma Thurman was “stoic” when she announced her #metoo story. Olympic champion, Aly Raisman, in her own testimony, “exude[d] a level of composure that […] register[ed] as stoicism.” Australian Edith Cowan has always been a “stoic advocate for women’s rights.” Even Rose McGowan, the “fearless hero and flame-throwing narcissist,” was “stoic” during a hearing.

I don’t know about the private work these women might have done and might continue to do to make a judgement about whether their public look of “stoicism” might not, in fact, be “Stoicism,” but whatever private anger they carry, the public rhetorical force of the #MeToo movement is ordered, regulated, and controlled. More, it is based on the clearly communicated, pure in spirit, and reasonable principles of gender and social equity. Seneca would not call this “anger” at all.

According to Aristotle and Theophrastus, anger first manifests as some sort of complex bodily change that produces, unconsciously almost, a painful sensation or thought or desire. The unconscious response is the result of a feeling that some insult or injustice has occurred. The bodily response—the blood boiling and the altered tone of voice—comes before the judgement that an insult or injustice has occurred. For the untrained mind, this bodily response is almost Darwinian in its helpfulness. I remember now, as a 13-year-old, I had my first of many #MeToo moments and it was my body and senses that raised the red flag before my mind could articulate “injustice.” In my school uniform, on a crowded bus, the person behind me grabbed my bottom. Before I knew it, I’d turned around to face this person and punched him in the belly. Then, I turned back around to face the front of the bus. (Buses, injustice, and activism—there’s a theme!) It was years later, after a solid liberal arts education and after many more similar experiences, that my rational faculties caught up with a cohesive and reasonable view on the matter.

I can appreciate the Stoic’s “zero tolerance” stance on anger. We simply can’t have 13-year-old girls bearing fists on school buses! But when the stakes are so high, when there is systemic and epistemic injustice, abuse, and violence, that needs to be flagged and addressed, and if it is anger that first flags an injustice, oughtn’t we keep it? Is Stoicism then the unethical choice in our times, at least for women and their allies?

Anger is linked to activism. The motivating inception of the #MeToo Movement, for example, was found in the “deepest, darkest place” of founder Tarana Burke’s soul, presumably, the place where her anger dwells. From that same place, however, emerged a clear-headed vision for a principled programme of advocacy and change. Anger might be the enemy of reason, notes Seneca, but both anger and reason dwell in the same place.

Activist Charlene Carruthers, in a conversation with Anxy, talked about helping people use anger to fuel the activist work they do. “Not angst or anger for anger’s sake,” she clarifies, “but how do we transform that energy into something that builds?” Here, Carruthers echoes Aristotle, and Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke of organizing and uniting people “so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” In a study of the psychology of peace activists, “in one autobiography after another we find the same story—the initial action for peace and justice is motivated by anger against injustice.”

This is a familiar story and a familiar approach to anger. It is Aristotle’s. Make good use of your anger; moderate it, and direct it to the right cause, to the right persons, at the right time. Seneca’s approach to anger is also familiar. Don’t go there, resist it, it’s just too difficult to control, and your head can’t work properly if you’re angry.

Aristotle: Your head will work just fine. Just control your anger—use it as a solider not a general.

Seneca: But, if your head can control your anger, are we still even talking about anger?

Seneca thinks not. If we can control and impose limits to our anger, and then transform it to do good, moral, rational work, then it “ceases to be anger,” which Seneca understands to be “unbridled and unmanageable.”

So, maybe we just need a new word for anger. In any case, I think it’s important to keep Aristotle in the conversation here. As civic-minded souls in the contemporary world, the Aristotelian approach to anger is familiar, desirable, and legitimate. I think I am right to say that we all want the political and social freedom to express our moral outrage in a reasonable and sane way, in the right manner, to the right persons, for the right reasons. This is especially important for women right now, because for so long our emotions have been, at best, ridiculed, and at worse, demonized. Reclaiming anger is also, it seems, a way of redressing another injustice—the inequality of legitimate access to our emotional spectrum.

At the same time, we know that access to this emotional spectrum, especially that madness called anger, can be so destructive to our internal tranquility and also to the tranquility of our relationships in our social circles. Seneca makes a good point that while other vices can be “concealed and cherished in secret,” anger shows itself openly and just makes one look and sound disgusting. And there’s no shade of lipstick that goes with that. Thus, we want and must manage our anger, and of course, where it is of no use at all or where there are no rational grounds for it, banish it.

In my reading on anger, activism, and #MeToo, I was struck by the potential of a statement, made by Harvard scholar Moira Weigel, on finding anger most productive in private life. “Really private,” she said, “as an individual processing emotions. And in activist settings with feminist friends.”

This reminded me of Marcus Aurelius and all the private work he did processing his own emotions in his “notes to himself.” Over and over again, he continually writes about the same problems, anger being one of them. In the privacy of his own journal, he is able to address and re-address his Stoic convictions and control, moderate, or even banish his anger.I wonder, then, whether private Stoic practice, Stoic journal writing, or practice in small mutually supportive groups might be where the Aristotelian work of anger moderation and transformation (or, yes, even banishment) might take place. And what about activism without rage? There is a suggestion, in the article in which Weigel is quoted, that private anger, or anger expressed in small mutually supportive groups, is what is driving political change.

Meredith A. Kunz

Today, women are seeking to reverse centuries of being excluded or held back from leadership roles. From a Stoic point of view, we know we cannot snap our fingers and change externals. But we can and should acknowledge the wider context for women’s actions and choices in society.

Others’ judgments—the evaluations by hiring managers, bosses, voters, etc., that determine whether women advance—are unequally tough on women. On the one hand, we may be seen as too accommodating and nice, and therefore not leadership material. On the other hand, we may be perceived as too demanding, “bossy,” and difficult to work with.

On top of that, working women also juggle responsibilities that are not always equally shared by spouses and partners. Women shoulder much of the caretaking and the “emotional labor” of ensuring that our kids, spouses, and elders have the support and help that they need. This kind of work is exhausting in and of itself. And if we have young kids, we can find ourselves placed on the “mommy track” in professional roles, where advancement isn’t an option.

But the picture for women at work is not completely dark. We are living in an era where opportunities for women to lead have started to increase at many levels—as an employee, executive, politician, parent, volunteer, and citizen.

Stoic life philosophy teaches us that know we can’t control how others respond to our efforts to contribute to society, but we can focus on our strategies for engaging productively and living by our principles.

Growing women’s leadership co-equally involves men as they help advance women’s roles. For women to become leaders and role models at work and in government, both women and men can adopt Stoic-inspired strategies to help shape a more just future.

Here are a few Stoic-inspired ideas for empowering women in the workplace, the community, and everyday life. These are the approaches that have helped me as a professional woman:

Grow mental fortitude in dealing with criticism. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Reject your sense of injury and the injury disappears.” Stoicism teaches its followers to ignore insults, since others’ opinions are externals that should be indifferent to us. In ancient times, philosophers subjected themselves to ridicule to cure themselves of being bothered by it. 

This is much easier said than done. Criticism often feels very personal and evokes a deep fear: “I’m not good enough.” Instead of spiraling into negative thoughts, we can recall our core principles when critiques rain down. If we know we’re making good judgments based on the virtues (wisdom, justice, courage, self-control)—if we know we are using our inborn spark of reason—we can tap into a renewed confidence.

This too is easier said than done. In a previous job, I worked on a project for an internal client. In a meeting, the client got very upset, calling the half-finished work “the worst website I’ve ever seen,” and ranting about lost time and effort. Though my blood pressure rose under the assault, I did my best to patiently discuss the limitations surrounding the project that resulted in the curtailed product. I distanced myself from a sense of injury.

Looking back, I am still amazed at that extreme reaction, and I’m glad I didn’t return the emotion in kind. The workplace is filled with many passions, and we owe it to ourselves to reject our impressions of hurt and pain.

Persevere. Stoicism teaches a discipline of “bear and forebear.” Feminists have adopted the motto, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” This doesn’t mean ignoring bad behavior, but pushing forward with just principles.

Business research has indicated that women business leaders must try multiple methods to reach their goals compared with male counterparts, and many goals still prove elusive. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and continuing to develop allies along the way.

Follow your ruling center. Be unafraid to share your ideas. Another way to say this is “be yourself, even at work.” For a long time, I tried to be someone that I thought others would respect or value. I’d worry about every word and gesture, trying to guess how others were judging me and criticizing me in their heads.

After adopting my current life philosophy, things changed. Now when I’m asked for my opinion, I make a concerted effort to share honest thoughts. I can’t control how my coworkers react, but I know that from my perspective, I’m pursuing a reasonable course. Stoic thinkers emphasized expressing and living by what is just and right, even if others disagree. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”

Use reason and our sense of justice to expose and combat bias against women (and other discrimination). Justice is one of Stoicism’s core virtues. We can all keep that in mind as we look for ways to diminish unfair work practices and bias.

Some bias can be hard to spot. For example, studies have shown that bias creeps in when certain resumes have female names at the top, and others appear to be males. As soon as names are removed, judgment of the candidates becomes more fair.

I challenge everyone to notice how you treat both men and women in meetings and in interactions online. Are you listening to people of different genders and backgrounds in the same way? Are you responding in equal ways? Would you say the same comment to a man?

Another approach here is to work to elevate the women colleagues we respect into role models, inviting them to speak in front of groups, lead committees or initiatives, and become managers.

Question self-doubt, self-sabotage, and the “imposter syndrome.” Women in our culture are taught from a young age that they should be perfect, kind, and sweet beings who focus on pleasing others. Speaking up and engaging in work conflict can seem foreign and wrong. And with fewer role models and a habit of turning to others as authorities, women fear that they don’t deserve the position they are in, and that somehow people will find out that they aren’t qualified.

From a Stoic point of view, this is clearly a mistaken emphasis. But it’s hard to defeat this kind of thinking, and it affects people of all levels. It saps confidence and drive.

Stoic philosophy can be a good antidote. Stoic-inspired concepts reveal what we can and can’t control, which helps to realign our thinking, especially when coupled with cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. We can question self-doubt, perfectionism, and “imposter” thoughts, and employ more rational means to understand our strengths and skills.

Support more and better provisions for childcare. One of the most tangible ways that women’s leadership is held back is by women’s need—and their desire—to take time to give birth and raise young families. Workplaces and communities that support maternity and paternity leave, childcare benefits, and new ways to organize work for parents are desperately needed to propel women’s success in the wider world.

There’s an element of justice and fairness here too that’s not just for women, but for socio-economic reasons. Right now, only affluent families have access to the highest-quality childcare, and many parents struggle to find any kind of acceptable arrangement, even part-time. (A related note: Ideally, we should also raise the value of caring for our children by paying childcare workers better. This kind of work calls out for more funding from foundations, nonprofits, and governments.)

Many of these are systemic issues in our society. But one of the best things about Stoicism is its potential to scale. Marcus wrote, “Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.” There will always be some nay-sayers. But if one person adopts these points of view, and then another, and another, a critical mass could start to shift. Reason- and justice-oriented concepts could lead to a broader group of people ready to do the right thing, and to reap the benefit of working with and advancing the millions of talented women in our world.

Kathryn Koromilasis a writer who leads the Stoic Writing Scene and The Stoic Writer, and participated in Stoic Week 2018. You can read her stories and find out more about her work at her website.

Meredith Kunz is a Northern California writer who works in communications in the tech industry. She is the author of The Stoic Mom blog. Follow her on Twitter at @thestoicwoman.

Web Comic #2: The Boar and the Fox

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is a new book by Donald Robertson about Stoicism.

Donald has also been working on a graphic novel based on some of the stories about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius in How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.

Here’s a sample web comic he created with artist Zé Nuno Fraga. (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Web Comic #1: The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is a new book by Donald Robertson about Stoicism.

Donald has also been working on a graphic novel based on some of the stories about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius in How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.

Here’s a sample web comic he created with artist Zé Nuno Fraga. (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Valuable Stoic Insights About Death

The Modern Stoicism organization does quite a bit of work to promote understanding and application of Stoic practices and philosophy worldwide. In addition to the very blog you’re reading, Stoicism Today, we host International Stoic Week (including the free course and handbook), organize the annual Stoicon, support Stoicon-Xs, carry out and report on research on Stoicism, and a number of other things.

Initiatives of this sort inevitably require some expenses and outlay, so the Modern Stoicism team (who are all volunteers) has started engaging in some fundraising and crowdfunding to support the ongoing work we do. This includes a relatively new Patreon page, on which we have started hosting some exclusive content for monthly supporters.

Each month, we plan to publish a set of answers from a panel of experts on Stoicism to a given question, and we’re starting this month with responses to this one: “What’s the most valuable thing Stoicism teaches us about death?” Answers came in from Massimo Pigliucci, Donald Robertson, Tim LeBon, Piotr Stankiewicz, Gregory Lopez, and Chuck Chakrapani.

Here’s Massimo’s response to that first question:

“One of the things that has always struck me as interesting about the Stoic take on death is that it is essentially identical to the Epicurean one. Despite the manifest incompatibility of the two philosophies in other respects, Seneca here sounds very much like Epicurus:

Reflect that the dead suffer no evils, that all those stories which make us dread the nether world are mere fables, that he who dies need fear no darkness, no prison, no blazing streams of fire, no river of Lethe, no judgment seat before which he must appear, and that Death is such utter freedom that he need fear no more despots. All that is a phantasy of the poets, who have terrified us without a cause. (To Marcia, On Consolation, XIX)

Or, as the famous Epicurean epitaph goes:

I was not;
I have been;
I am not;
I do not mind.

While Seneca rightly says that death is the ultimate test of our character, he is also correct that in a sense we “die every day.” The question, then, is how to best live our life during this ongoing process. The Stoic answer is clear:

Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all – the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet. (Letters LXXVIII.14)”

You can see all of the experts’ responses to this question, and those coming up every month going forward, by becoming a Patreon supporter at the “Seneca the Younger” Level. It’s a great cause – so consider making a contribution!

Self-Control and Optimizing Environment by Greg Sadler


In the Facebook Stoic Philosophy Group, Natasha Brown recently brought up an interesting issue that goes to the heart of matters central to Stoic philosophy and practice. Her post spurred some excellent and far-ranging discussion, and led me to set down some initial thoughts on the matter in an earlier post in my own main blog. Here’s what she wrote:

The Stoic virtue of self-control has been the one I’ve found consistently most difficult. Whether it’s continuing long-term exercise, eating healthily and so on.

I’m reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. He argues self-control isn’t sustainable, and rather we should seek to modify our environment to make it easier/more difficult to perform certain tasks. He says “make the cues of your good habits easier & the cues of your bad habits invisible,” thus, stimulating the desired behaviour. Thoughts?


I promised to discuss the issues involved in greater depth and detail in another post. Making use of my prerogative (and sometimes obligation) to regularly publish pieces here in Stoicism Today, that is what I intend to do in this post.

Natasha’s post also included a brief excerpt from Clear’s book:

Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one. You may be able to resist temptation once or twice, but it’s unlikely you can muster the will-power to master your desires every time. Instead of mustering a new dose of will-power whenever you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment. This is the secret to self-control.

Upon a first read, I imagine that at least for some, there are aspects or assumptions to Clear’s view that seem problematic. After all, are the challenges that we face either ones that we have to address once or twice, or those we would have to deal with endlessly, with nothing in between? Can’t we call to mind many examples where we may successfully choose over and over again to maintain a commitment, to resist a temptation, or to keep a potential frustration from upsetting us? Every time I work out at the gym, I exercise what Clear calls “will-power” far more than just twice! Most times I drive somewhere, that’s the case as well. Perhaps he’s just framing matters that way for rhetorical effect, though. Maybe he wants to stress our inability to muscle our way through every situation on sheer resoluteness of decision, or “will-power” alone.

One might also ask – and this gets us closer to why a Stoic might find his advice troubling – is it really such a stark choice we have to make between those two options? Either summon up a “new dose of will-power” each time, or instead “optimiz[e] your environment”?

What prevents us from doing both of these? There is no inherent contradiction between them. In fact, optimizing one’s environment itself requires that one exercise some “will-power”, or at least choose and act, so as to systematically change one’s surroundings.

Or perhaps there is a third option available as well? After all, when we act in accordance with a habit we have at least halfway established – a virtue, say – we have a kind of metaphorical inertia carrying us forwards. We don’t have to make a massive effort of willpower every single time, as if we were starting from the proverbial square one.

Is Environmental Optimizing Problematic?

There are a number of reasons why focusing upon improving one’s environment could seem problematic from a modern Stoic perspective.

A natural first place to focus would be on a distinction referenced in earlier Stoic (and other virtue ethics) thinkers, but which is made explicitly central by Epictetus. This is the famous “dichotomy of control,” which sets the things in our control or power, or “up to us” (ep’hemin) on one side, and the things not in our control or power (ouk ep’hemin). This is sometimes reinterpreted as a “trichotomy” by contemporary Stoics (and if you’d like to learn more about these distinctions, you might read this), but the same basic issue would arise from both distinctions.

Epictetus tells us in Enchiridion 1:

. . . in our power are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and in a word, those things that are our own doing. Those that are not under our control are the body, property or possessions, reputation, positions of authority, and in a word, such things that are not our own doing.

He tells us at multiple points that the things not in our control are externals (ta ekta) and indifferents (adiaphora). An intentional, disciplined, Stoic life requires withdrawing our desires and aversions from these matters. We ought to see that these things don’t – or at least shouldn’t – make any contribution to our happiness or misery, or any difference between an overall good moral condition or bad moral condition.

Attempting to modify one’s environment then seems like an unhealthy and ultimately unproductive preoccupation with things that shouldn’t really matter, with matters that are outside of our control. Instead of looking within ourselves, and fixing what is misoriented, damaged, or off-base there, we focus our attention on things without. And in doing so we reaffirm the mistaken perspective that those external things matter, that they determine how we think and feel. And so, we risk undoing whatever progress we are making along the Stoic path.

One could object, of course, that Epictetus didn’t tell us at all that we should totally withdraw from the world, or even our immediate surroundings, or treat external things with indifference. Instead, he wants us to place all things into their proper perspective. He tells us very explicitly that while external things might be indifferents, the ways in which we “use” or “deal with” (khresthai) those things is not indifferent, and actually matters a great deal. He also cautions against thinking that we are further along in our development than we are. So might it not be a good idea to minimize at least some of the temptations and frustrations that we might encounter?

Here is where the Stoic might shift to a different set of worries. Let’s say that one does thoughtfully examine and then make changes in one’s environment. Getting rid of desire-drawing snacks, candy, or other junk food when one has a track-record of abandoning resolves not to indulge – that might actually work. Minimizing encounters with people liable to be irritating, and eventually infuriating, so that one has fewer occasions for anger – that could help as well. Tidying up one’s domicile and decluttering so as to have a more comfortable place to live, eat, relax, and perhaps even work – that might prove calming to the passions.

But then, isn’t one taking the easy way? Isn’t there a risk of this strategy working too well? Instead of working on oneself, one invests the time, energy, and thought in altering as many other things around one as one can. Perhaps if one has money or other resources, one can actually engage others as substitutes to do that work for one. Insulating oneself away from things, persons, places, or processes likely to present challenges or obstacles seems like a kind of “cop-out”, doesn’t it?

Epictetus himself tends to speak less about the virtues and much more about the need to bring and maintain one’s “faculty of choice” (or “moral purpose”, or “will,” prohairesis) in accordance with nature (for more on that, you might read this). That faculty, which he views not only as self-determining and free, but as being at the core of who a person is (at one point he states “you are prohairesis“) is something in our control. In fact, it is how we exercise that very power.

We are supposed to be exercising it, strengthening it, reorienting it, so that we could get to the point where externals don’t upset us and don’t tempt us – or at least, if they do, we have and exercise the strength to not respond to their promptings. If we make our environment more amenable to ourselves, won’t that deprive us of occasions to develop our own capacities?

Other Stoics would frame this explicitly in terms of the virtues. Let’s clarify what is meant by “self-control”, when we are signifying a virtue by that word That’s a decent modern English translation of the Greek sophrosune, or the latin temperentia. You could also use the old-fashioned term “temperance,” or even more antiquated “continence”, or the term ” moderation” but they all name the same thing, a disposition towards controlling one’s desires, and towards feeling those desires in more measured and moderate manners.

How do we develop the virtues, and wean ourselves away from their opposites, the vices? Through the decisions we make, the actions we take, the practices and exercises we choose and commit to, the models and thought-processes we adopt. We acquire virtues by breaking habits and building new ones in their place. By shifting the focus towards our environment, and making matters easier on ourselves, we could prevent the development of the virtues.

Why develop self-control and deploy it against the temptation to indulge in late-night snacks (one of my own weaknesses, I’ll admit!), when you can simply get all of the possible snacks out of the house? Or at least make it tougher on yourself to get to them? Or whatever other environment-modifying tactic one adopts to reduce or resist the possible temptation? It seems then that this suggestion would be deeply at odds with the approach Stoics should take and apply.

Why A Stoic Should Consider Optimizing

I regularly read discussions in Stoicism-oriented social media, and I see a number of commonly recurring misunderstandings arising with great regularity. One broad class of these involves taking some Stoic doctrine or maxim, and pushing it to the point of generating confusions, precisely because the person doing so doesn’t set it within the larger context of Stoic philosophy. Seneca cautions against this:

you must give up hope that you will ever be able to take just a quick sampling from the works of the greatest men. You must read them as wholes, come to grips with them as wholes. The subject matter is treated along the lines that are proper to it, and an intellectual product is devised from which nothing can be removed.

Letter 33

While a person certainly can parse out little catch-phrases and sound-bites of Stoic philosophy, what they end up with is not Stoicism as the coherent system it is, but just fragments, liable to mislead. Or more correctly, liable to be used by the dabbler to mislead him or herself. So that’s one commonly arising issue.

Another one stems from the assumption that Stoicism is something that one turns on or off like a light-switch. You’re either entirely Stoic, or you’re not Stoic at all. Quite a few people claiming to speak for Stoicism criticize others for not being Stoic enough, or not being real Stoics (I’ve seen poorly informed posters do this even with Donald Robertson in the very Facebook group Natasha’s post is in!)

Stoicism is not just for the legendary “sage” or ideally wise and virtuous person. It is for the prokopton, the person who is “making progress” – something that typically does not follow a nice, neat linear progression, but as Epictetus tells us, involves getting back up after we have been thrown down. Just reading around in the available classic Stoic literature, you’ll find plenty of advice and discussions about how to recover and learn from failure, to follow through on that difficult-to-sustain commitment to improve oneself, to steer oneself back into the right track.

Until we are sages, we will always have to struggle. In fact, there is a certain sort of foolishness – the opposite of prudence or practical wisdom (phronesis) involved in overestimating one’s own present capacities to live, think, and act like a Stoic. The same sort of foolishness underlies giving other people advice that takes no stock of the limited capacities they have for following the lines set out by Stoic philosophy.

It’s quite true to say, along with Epictetus, that “Socrates didn’t give in to X”, and to then draw a conclusions that I don’t have to either. We often labor under mistaken assumptions that we have to respond to things in certain ways, that they make us feel, think, choose, or act what we do. It is a powerful and liberatory insight to realize that by choosing – and then by making that choice repeatedly until it becomes a habit – we can do otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean that, in every single case, we really can in that moment not respond to externals in ways that are counterproductive. Don’t we experience a failure to follow through on our good intentions at some times? Don’t we manage to resist, to endure, to persevere, up to a point, and then you find ourselves with our reserves exhausted? Of course we do, and that’s precisely because we’re not entirely – perhaps not even half-way – where we ought to be. Recognizing that, rather than pretending it is not the case, is integral to making further progress!

So what do we do with that recognition? Here is where the would-be Stoic, the Stoic in-development, has the opportunity to further practice and develop prudence. When you join a gym, intending to get back into shape, and start lifting weights, it would be foolish to try to lift the same amount of weight as the people who have been lifting for years. You take stock of the body you have, you look at its weak points and any injuries, and you start out with the lighter weights. And then you keep at it. Eventually you can start to up the amount, of weight, of reps, or of sets. You can add new exercises. You can lengthen your workouts.

We should look at Stoic practice, at facing temptations, frustrations, and challenges, and at development of the virtues in a similar way. For the time being, for some of us, changing our environment in ways that allow us to start making fairly continual progress makes good sense. We have to start with the faculty of choice we actually possess – and it’s quite likely weaker and in worse condition than we’d like to admit – and use that very faculty to improve itself.

There is much more that could be said about this topic, but I’m going to bring this to a close with one final thought. For most of us, even if we do manage to minimize some of the aspects of our environment that make it more difficult for us to make the right choices and to follow through on commitments, it’s unlikely that we will have thereby deprived ourselves from opportunities to encounter difficulties and to deal with them using Stoic practices and insights. Precisely because the environment does remain outside our control, no attempts to fix it are going to permanently banish problems.

And if you find yourself actually yearning for more troubles to face down, more temptations to resist, more discomforts, more irritations – if you’ve made enough progress to feel like you can take on more figurative weight – then you can certainly choose to engage with them more. You won’t have far to go!

Gregory Sadler is the Editor of the Stoicism Today blog.  He is also the president and founder of ReasonIO, a company established to put philosophy into practice, providing tutorial, coaching, and philosophical counseling services, and producing educational resources.  He has created over 100 videos on Stoic philosophy, regularly speaks and provides workshops on Stoicism, and is currently working on several book projects

The Stoic and the Chess Player by Doug Bruns

Keep your philosophy ready.

Marcus Aurelius

My granddaughter, aged 8, is keen on chess. Maybe obsessed is a better word. She has beat her father a couple of times, and challenges me to better focus when we play. Recently, we were playing and she said, pointing, “I wish my queen was here rather than there.” I start each day with a stoic aphorism. It’s something I reflect on throughout the course of my day. When Margot said this, I reflexively paraphrased that day’s adage, “It’s better to wish for what is, than hope for what is not.” Her father turned, sporting a sly grin, and said, “The old philosopher has spoken!” My granddaughter screwed up her face and gave me one of those looks. I’m sure you can picture it.

I mention this because my response to her surprised many in the room, me most of all. I was, of course, paraphrasing Epictetus:

Don’t ask for things to happen as you would like them to, but wish them to happen as they actually do, and you will be all right.

How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life, Epictetus, Translated by A.A. Long (Princeton University Press, 2018) p. 17.

We have been working our way through the Enchiridion at our local stoa here in Baltimore and had recently discussed this teaching. Aside from being profound advice, the passage resonated with me for it’s literary brevity and poetic symmetry. I always respond with attention when ideas and words align in beautiful ways. But more to the point, my reflexive response to Margot suggested that my stoic studies were taking root, that the ideas had unpacked their bags and begun setting up house. They were becoming residents of my being–my philosophy was becoming a way of life.

When I was practicing Zen Buddhism our teacher exhorted us to consider enlightenment with all seriousness. The wisdom of enlightenment was possible, he taught. We studied the lives and teachings of the ancient masters with a keen eye to the path. I bring that attitude to my stoic practice, and although I acknowledge that sagehood is an aspiration only, I’m nonetheless on the lookout for indicators that I’m moving in the right direction. Granted, perhaps spewing philosophical aphorisms points more to an annoying trait of character than wisdom taking hold; but I wish to believe that a subtle shift has occurred.

Further, it is not lost on me that my position on this speaks to the passage cited directly: Am I asking for a semblance of stoic wisdom because I would like it so, or am I wishing for the thing as it actually is? Regardless of that (somewhat) rhetorical question, I find encouragement in the writing of Pierre Hadot:

The goal is to reactualize, rekindle, and ceaselessly reawaken an inner state which is in constant danger of being numbed or extinguished. The task – ever renewed – is to bring back to order an inner discourse which becomes dispersed and diluted in the futility of routine.

The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Pierre Hadot, translated by Michael Chase (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press) p. 51.

I am aware that Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations were personal exhortations to “reawaken an inner state.” My advice over the chess board to my granddaughter suggested that at that precise and present moment my inner state was awake. My personal capacity for “meditation” was functioning and seeking an opportunity be to exercised. I know this is a minor thing in the grand scheme, but I find it encouraging, nonetheless. A natural response without cogitation is a degree of flow, as it were, a state of being – or in stoic terms, a natural accordance with nature. I’m on the lookout for such little things. As Marcus wrote:

…reflect on the fact that what results from this tiny thing is no tiny thing at all!

Meditations, 9.29

My path to this place is, in my experience, somewhat unique. On my eighth birthday, while walking across backyards to my best friend’s house, a curious thought struck me: If I die tomorrow will my life have been well lived or will it have been wasted? I have shared this story with many over the ensuing years, and more than a few have suggested that I was a curiously morbid little bugger. Such a thought at eight years old! Perhaps I was, but I don’t really think so.

Regardless, I’ve wondered many times over the years where that question –If I die tomorrow will my life have been well lived or will it have been wasted? – came from? There was no trauma in my life, no death in the family. As best I can piece together, it was seeing images from Vietnam on the evening news. Young men at war. It was a frightening prospect, an existential awakening. Ever mindful of the tragic events of that period I am, nonetheless, forever grateful for what unwittingly I learned then. Life is not simple and possibly short, be mindful of it, pay attention to it. My eight year-old self had stumbled upon a theme that was to steer the course of my life. It was my childhood premeditatio malorum moment.

College found me pursuing philosophy, but to the best of my recollection I took no classes that introduced me directly to the stoics. Aside from the necessary introductory requirements my interest lay largely in American philosophy, the transcendentalists and the pragmatists specifically. Stoicism came up on my radar many years later and I have Montaigne to thank for the introduction. Montaigne to Epictetus is a circuitous path, aside from the great philosopher’s quote the French master had inscribed above his writing desk, “That which worries men are not things but that which they think about them.” Montaigne is forever more the skeptic than the stoic, but still the influence is there and it caught my attention.

Yet, it wasn’t until Stoic Week 2016 that I made a conscious effort to learn more. As I page through my journal for that week, I smile at the now familiar themes: What is within our power? Self-discipline and Stoic simplicity; The Stoic Reserve Clause; Stoic Mindfulness; Stoic Philanthropy; The View From Above, and so on. These were fresh and new approaches just two years ago, but now the concepts seem like old friends. They have become, as I noted above, a part of my core being, a way of life.

My eight year-old self was challenged: If I die tomorrow will my life have been well lived, or will it have been wasted? More than five decades later I would read a response in Marcus Aurelius (quoting Plato):

A real man should forget about living a certain number of years…and turn his attention to how he can best live the life before him.

Meditations 7.45

I am fortunate that the kid back then didn’t wait around for an answer but went looking for it. My definition of how best to live took many forms over the ensuing years. However, I innately sensed that the answer was not to be found “out there.” My most important and insightful attempts to answer the question have always been internal. My youthful goal of a life of philosophical scholarship was derailed. Life and family obligations shifted my focus while simultaneously affording me other opportunities for reflection and growth. Regardless of the path, however,  I chose to live as a philosopher, albeit unwittingly so most of the time. To quote Hadot again:

a philosopher in antiquity was not someone who wrote philosophical books, but someone who led a philosophical life.”

The Inner Citadel,p.61

To which I reply, this modern philosopher is happy to wish for what is, and is indifferent to all the rest, regardless of the path taken to this place.

Postscript: My granddaughter did not win the game I mention above. But she did put me in check before I gave her no escape, upon which she again, screwed up her face and gave this old philosopher the stink eye. Check mate.

Doug Bruns is a reader, writer, thinker, traveler, recluse, gadfly & cook. He confesses to: having problems with details; needing more quiet time than most; missing the summer lakes of his youth, and loving the smell of a pine grove. He flosses every night. You can find more of his writing on Medium. His blog, “the house I live in” can be read here.