Day 6 of Living the Stoic Life!

Day six of Stoic Week: What done amiss? What done? What duty left undone?

Six Days into the Study!

Chrysippus
Chrysippus

We’re reaching the end of the study.  Keep up the good Stoic work, though! Some facts and figures…  We set up a new Twitter account for @Stoicweek where we’ve been posting regular snippets and links.  From zero followers at the start of the week, it now has nearly 150.  You can also see a lot of chat using the Twitter hashtag #Stoicweek. The poll we set up “Who is your favourite Stoic?” has actually had the largest response with nearly 370 people having voted so far.How goes it, though?  What have you learned about yourself?  What problems have you encountered?  What faculties or virtues has nature provided you with to deal with its demands over the week?

What done amiss?  What done?  What duty left undone?

Continue reading “Day 6 of Living the Stoic Life!”

Is there a revival of Stoicism, and where could it go?

We’re coming to the end of Stoic Week. People all over the world have been practicing Stoic exercises and reflecting on Stoic ideas this week, thanks to this wonderful initiative, launched by a young post-grad at Exeter University called Patrick Ussher. Some of Patrick’s students have been sharing their thoughts on the exercises via YouTube. This is what studying philosophy at university should be like – experimenting, practicing, reflecting, sharing.

Of course, hardcore Stoics might say we shouldn’t share the fruits of our practice – we should ‘tell no one’, as Epictetus puts it. But I actually think it’s good to share your practice with other Stoics, as long as you’re not showing off.My own rather humble practice this week has been to knock off the booze for a week. Small steps, I know – but I’ve stuck to it out of the thought that it’s not just me practicing – there are lots of us out there, committing to this week. We’re stronger when bounded together.

It’s also been a good opportunity for people to say how they’ve been helped by Stoic writings in their life. People like Dorothea from Vancouver, Continue reading “Is there a revival of Stoicism, and where could it go?”

A Crash Course in Stoicism: Stop, Look, Listen…

Abbreviated version of an earlier post on a three-step Stoic procedure described by Epictetus.

A Crash Course in Stoicism

Copyright (c) Donald Robertson, 2012.  All rights reserved.  This is an abbreviated version of an earlier blog article.

In his discourse entitled “we ought not to yearn for things that are not under our control” (Discourses, 3.24), the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, described three steps used to cope with apparent misfortunes. He intended that these should be rigorously rehearsed until they become habitual…

Have thoughts like these ready at hand by night and by day; write them, read them, make your conversation about them, communing with yourself, or saying to another, “Can you give me some help in this matter?”

Later he says:

If you have these thoughts always at hand and go over them again and again in your own mind, and keep them in readiness, you will never need another person to console you, or strengthen you.

Speaking to a group of aspiring Stoic students, he outlines the recommended steps to be memorised and rehearsed as follows. Continue reading “A Crash Course in Stoicism: Stop, Look, Listen…”

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

The poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

[James Stockdale, who used Stoicism to cope with captivity during the Vietnam War, says that this poem helped him get through the ordeals he faced.]

The Old Stoic by Emily Brontë

The short poem “The Old Stoic” by Emily Brontë.

The Old Stoic

Riches I hold in light esteem,
And love I laugh to scorn,
And lust of fame was but a dream
That vanished with the morn.

And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me Is,
“Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!”

Yes, as my swift days near their goal,
‘Tis all that I implore –
In life and death, a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.

From Poems of Solitude by Emily Brontë

The Essence of Stoic Philosophy: Excerpt from Build your Resilience (2012)

An excerpt from Build your Resilience (2012) that paraphrases the Handbook of Epictetus to provide a summary of the basic principles of Stoicism.

The Essence of Stoicism

Excerpt from Build your Resilience (2012) by Donald Robertson.

So what practical advice do the Stoics give us about building resilience? Well, this is a philosophy that can be studied for a lifetime and more detailed accounts are available. An excellent modern guide to Stoicism already exists in the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by Prof. William Irvine, an academic philosopher in the USA (Irvine, 2009). My own writings, especially my book The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, have focused on describing the relationship between Stoicism and modern psychotherapy (Robertson, 2010; Robertson, 2005).

However, although, Stoicism is a vast subject, it was based upon a handful of simple principles. Epictetus summed up the essence Continue reading “The Essence of Stoic Philosophy: Excerpt from Build your Resilience (2012)”

The Evening Meditation: Some Reflections

Some personal reflections on the evening meditation exercise for #Stoicweek

The Evening Meditation: Some Reflections

Donald Robertson

Follow @Stoicweek on Twitter #Stoicweek for daily updates and, er, light-hearted Stoic chit-chat.

I’ve been practising aspects of Stoicism for a few years now, although I feel that for a long time I was just scraping the surface and I’m sure that in years to come I’ll look back on my current practice as a pretty “lightweight” effort.  I’m a cognitive-behavioural  therapist and I feel it’s important for me to try to put into practice as many of the things I use with clients as possible.  However, CBT is largely designed for use with people who have specific mental health problems, clinically severe anxiety or depression, etc.  It helps people with certain problems but it has no clearly-defined goal for us to pursue in relation to life in general.  I felt that I needed a broader philosophical framework, therefore, in order to apply these therapeutic strategies to my own personal development.  (I wrote my book on the subject partly to help me reconcile the techniques I liked from modern therapy with the kind of philosophical system I liked: Stoicism.)

I wanted to share some personal reflections, for a change.  Hopefully this will encourage other students of Stoicism to talk about their experiences during Stoic Week and beyond.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Stoic way of life but maybe some of these comments will inspire thoughts from others and help fuel a bit of discussion.

Continue reading “The Evening Meditation: Some Reflections”

Stoicism Podcasts

Want some listening material for Stoic week? I would strongly recommend Peter Adamson’s podcasts from his series ‘History of Philosophy Without any Gaps‘. In particular:

That list of six recommendations gives you one a day, each 20 minutes or so, ideal for listening to while on the bus, train, or walking. Available via iTunes.