We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON 2020, with a mid-week post (we’ve got a lot of speakers, so we’ll be publishing these on both Saturdays and Wednesdays for a bit!), this one with Chuck Chakrapani
How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?
You can approach Stoicism from many perspectives: as a scholar whose aim it is to understand and explain the nuances of the philosophy, an academic whose aim it is to teach others, as a professional helper such as a therapist whose aim it is to find what would help others, or as a dabbler with no special interest in Stoicism.
I come to Stoicism with the question, “What is this for?” It’s a eudemonic philosophy, and its aim to achieve happiness, the good life. So, the parts I am truly interested in are those that will help me and others to live a more effective life.
How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?
My work at the moment is bringing applied aspects of Stoicism to anyone who can benefit from it. For this purpose, I edit and publish a monthly digital magazine, THE STOIC, which is entirely free. Because many of the ancient Stoic works are translated in terse prose, it is difficult for modern readers to follow. So, I have been re-expressing ancient Stoic classics in modern and plain English. I have written a dozen of such books and more to come. Most of it can be read for free on my website thestoicgym.com. I have also been writing books such as Unshakable Freedom and How to be a Stoic When You Don’t Know How to. The aim of these books is to make Stoicism relevant to the times we live in with modern examples and applications. All my current work has one purpose: to make ancient Stoicism accessible to anyone who can potentially benefit from them
When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?
I accidentally came upon To Himself (more widely known now as Meditations) by Marcus Aurelius when I was still in my teens and became interested in his philosophy. It was much later that I realized that it was a philosophy called Stoicism.
What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?
The most important aspect of Stoicism is breathtakingly simple. Some things in life are under our control, and others are not. We can achieve the good life by simply working on what’s under our control. Nothing can stop us. It is not some nonsensical motivational stuff, but a profound meditation on why we are unhappy and troubled.
In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?
Practically all primary sources of Stoicism are of the Roman era – in particular, the first the first 150 years, CE. This period saw cruel and blood-thirsty emperors like Caligula, Nero, Tiberius, and Domitian. Arbitrary exiles and executions were common. Although Stoicism is a philosophy of happiness, the main concern at that time was how to cope with what was happening and still thrive.
We have a comparable situation today. The pandemic, the rise of dictatorial regimes around the world, extremes of opinions supported by endless conspiracy theories – taken together, our times are as unsettling as the first two centuries.
The Stoic philosophy showed a way out then. It does now as well.
How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?
Stoicism illumines my path when I lose it. “Some things are up to us, and others are not” is the North Star that guides me in times of trouble.
What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations, and why?
“Some things are up to, and others are not.” Why? You can scour one hundred volumes on philosophy without ever coming across a more profound and life-changing idea than that.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?
Read Epictetus’ Manual (Enchiridion). It will take less than two hours. If you like it, read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. If you are not profoundly affected by either of them, then forget about Stoicism. It is not your way.
Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?
Yes. Remember what Seneca said: “Above all, learn to feel the joy.”
I love the Seneca quote. Do you recommend a version of Meditations that has been made modern?
I plan to read the Manual and Meditations as you recommend.