I came to the stark realization – I’m insignificant. I may not matter to this world, this world may not matter to me as well, I thought, just passing through in my long cosmic journey. I wanted to feel different, make this life count, make every day count, love more, all who I care for, and those who care for me. How can I make a difference, what tools do I need, what thinking mindset do I need to cultivate, how do I make this earthly sojourn matter, but most importantly “Who or what do I need to matter to the most?”
Thus, these and other questions started swirling in my head the starting around 2012. I was on a furious quest to understand this and a myriad of other loops, puzzles, conundrums, enigmas going through my mind. As I looked up into the skies, I realized this earth, we call home is smaller than a speck of sand, in the cosmic realm, of questionable significance, and so was I.
My quest led me to many great spiritual masters, scientists, philosophers of the past, that did their best to explain their theories of living, life and living well meant. I was not satisfied, I needed to create a “Eudemonia”, of me, by me and for me. I didn’t know what I was looking for, or in what shape, or form this magic would manifest itself, but I was determined to find my meaning, my truths. As searchers, our first portal for clarity, these days, is to the App store on our devices. There must be an App for this stuff, I remember thinking.
The summer of 2016 led me to a chance encounter with the Meditations at my local city library. I had heard of the word “Stoic”, never heard of Marcus Aurelius. I read it in a couple of days. The silence I heard inside me was deafening, I got turned upside-down and inside-out. I did not understand what had just hit me. I still don’t understand the why. All my loops, fears, anxieties simply melted away. Through the curtains of space and time I felt Marcus Aurelius’ hand on my shoulder saying “We’ve got this!”. My journey for purpose and meaning came to an abrupt halt. I had found something significant. I now needed to unpack this thing! these ideas and learn how to apply it.
“But Who Do I Need it to Matter To?”
I now had the answer to this question. I needed to matter to myself, first, and now with Stoic Philosophy I had the tools and the mechanism to achieve this. I realized this imperfect world was pulling me in all different directions, I was everywhere, in my mind, and hence, also nowhere. With the lens of Stoicism now on me, I realized this world of hyper social connectedness was causing me angst, making me distracted, losing focus in living a true and meaningful life. The beauty of Stoic Philosophy was that it met me where I was, how I was, and told me “you’re OK, we’ve got this!”. I didn’t need to walk on a bed of hot coals to realize any magical transformation, it was all in me.
Along the time I encountered Stoicism, I discovered mindfulness, through a book by Christophe Andre, Looking at Mindfulness. While Stoic Philosophy made me discover myself within, mindfulness or awareness performed the Vulcan mind meld with me and the world without. I became cognizant of an energy system that propelled me with ease, throughout the day. Einstein predicted time would slow down when traveling at high speeds through interstellar space. I would often experience this phenomenon as I practiced Stoicism and mindfulness techniques raking leaves in my backyard.
Life is the gift of the immortal Gods, living well is the gift of PhilosophySeneca
With Stoicism and Mindfulness in my toolkit, I launched the Fremont, CA chapter of the Stoic Fellowship. James Kostecka, a founding member of the Stoic Fellowship joined me, and together we have been leading our local Stoa. From meeting weekend mornings at a local coffee shop, we migrated to a beautiful outdoors park setting, at Lake Elizabeth, in Fremont CA.
Our meetups would start with wisdom sharing for about 30 minutes where members would bring to the mornings discussion whatever mattered to them, from wisdom sharing to our personal struggles, we all contributed to the group and the common good.
Our mornings would continue further with a stoic walk around the 2-mile perimeter of the lake. We’d continue our discussions, take in the delicate morning scenery, with birds, sun, and wind all wanting to sneak in, on our wisdom wisps. We would end with a reading from Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic.
I didn’t have the luxury of moving to a cave and living out my life there. I was stuck where I was (or so I thought), but with Stoic Philosophy, I gave up on the idea of a hermit like existence. Awake, aware and free! My search for purpose and meaning was happening daily, in real-time, each day a new adventure in virtue, wisdom, temperance and courage. I was making the best of where I was, with what I was and what I had. With Stoicism and Mindfulness, this was a Winnie Pooh like adventure.
Place the mask over your mouth and nose, like this. Pull the strap to tighten it. If you are traveling with children, make sure that your own mask is on first before helping your children.Aircraft Safety Announcement
Stoicism put me first. Only then can I fix this world. Learning to take care of “me” is key. this is the first step that must happen in an awareness makeover that Stoicism demands of us. Anything less, is selling ourselves short. We live the aircraft safety announcement, daily, with the wretch that life throws at us, and the nonsense, we get sucked into. I realize that I need to be together, daily. With a family that depends on me for stability, advice, comfort, kind words, love, wisdom and virtue, I have to have it together, every day, no exception. Stoicism puts me first, only then could I be of service to the community around me.
Purpose and Meaning
The ancient Stoics got the business of life very well. Stoic thinking availed them of the simple pleasures of the day, warts and all. They gave the best from where they were, with what they had, at that moment. We often imagine the outcome before we’ve even started the race, and lose ourselves to the illusion of that mirage. Living fully to this day, this moment, this conversation, this task, is what matters more. Learning this very simple concept, has had lasting impact. Our imperfect world teaches us just the opposite, we’re constantly being pedaled to, social bombardment, instant gratification, magic pills, we’ve lost what it means to live fully and completely, learning to incorporate the obstacles in our way. We’re lost in our own mirage.
Stoicism, like bowling alley guardrails, are our mental guardrails, it keeps us moving along the straight and narrow, whilst maintaining composure, calm, balance, coherence and a sense of purpose. This built in protection is priceless. Always up, always on guard, our inner sentinel that never sleeps. Like a vaccine, we’ve been inoculated, it is in us forever. It’s my inner activist too, parading, shouting, screaming, waving banners – when I’ve regressed. I’ve learned to pay attention.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.Rumi
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself
What you seek is seeking you
As you start to walk on the way, the way appears
My Stoic journey had started a while ago. I just didn’t know it. Meditations gave me so many precious gifts, the most important was courage to trust the Stoic path I was on. Courage to realize all that I had was just me, my thoughts, my truth, my light to shine. My light to shine was not for others, it was for myself. I also needed my own set of truth to fall back on, but first I had to know what my truths were.
Meditations forced me to pause, reflect, detach from worldly based thinking, to one based on courage, virtue, wisdom and temperance. I now recognized my false, ego based thinking. My inner light was slowly but surely pointing out. The greatest gift of Meditations is to us. It’s very personal. This deep, permanent transformation is ours to savor and enjoy. What we discover about ourselves is intangible, unspeakable, but we know it is there.
Stoicism: Of You, By You, For You
The Stoics focused on doing right – moral good, regardless of how insignificant it seemed to others. To them small wins were big celebrations. They deliberately focused on moral good, virtue and wisdom, as that is the secret to a life well lived! They girded themselves against obstacles, brushed them aside mostly. The toxicity they encountered in their daily lives didn’t bother them, they simply learned to ignore it.
Strive for mental balance – daily. Do you notice what/who yanks your mental chain every day, what verbal toxic pollution is being dumped into you on a daily basis? Is it cable news, talk radio, right-wing, left-wing, extremist websites, conspiracy theorists, radical ideology, political commentary, political personalities that have many years of training in knowing how to yank us one way or the other, and keep us coming back for more. Stay away from this toxicity, strive for mental balance – always! It’s more important than you think.
What is not good for the beehive, cannot be good for the beesMarcus Aurelius
The gift of Stoic thinking is to ourselves and the communities where we live. We are only as strong the community we live in. We are the community and the community is us. Unperturbed, we stand, while we attempting to re-configure this imperfect world, it desperately needs to be-realigned around the Stoic virtues of, wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations was Stoicism’s clarion call for me. It met me where I was, on my terms, and reclaimed myself for me. Loosely coupled, highly aligned, we’re all part of this adventure. Stoic Philosophy has exceeded my expectations. I’m hoping so for you too!
Through Stoicism we have power to reclaim ourselves. Keeping the noise out, while maintaining harmony within. We learn to accept the things we have no control over, and therein lies the magic that has the power to radically and calmly bring peace and serenity. We accept instead of expect, we begin to let go and let God. Infinity lies before and after us. Our time here on earth is insignificant. But we can make the most of our stay here through a practice of mindfulness and awareness on this present moment.
The past is gone, the future doesn’t exist, all we have is the now, the possibilities are limitless, if only we take a moment to enjoy her beauty. When we focus on the here and now, we can bring the world to run on our clock, instead of being pushed and pulled by her whims.
Gerry Castellino is the facilitator of the Fremont (CA) Stoa. Gerry has reclaimed himself with Stoic virtues and now lives the good life !