Post here any reflections on the Stoic life today! How is it, now five days in?
‘Whenever, as the sun rises, you feel like you cannot be bothered to get up, have this thought ready to hand:
“I rise to do the work of a human being”
Why feel any resentment, when I am rising to do that for which I was born, for which I was brought into the world? Or was I made instead just to lie under these bedclothes, all warm and comfortable? “Well it is pleasurable to do so!” But were you born just for pleasure? Look at it this way: were you born for passivity or to be a man of action? Can you not see that even the shrubs, sparrows, ants, spiders and bees all do their bit, their part in making up the smooth functioning of the universe? So why don’t you do your bit too, and perform the role of a human being?’
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.
Use this thread to post anything related to the Stoic life today. If you are blogging on the Stoic week or doing a Youtube diary, feel free to link to those from here.
And, if you have the time, do you have any reflections on the Stoic week as a whole to date?
‘There is one type of person who, whenever he has done a good deed to another, expects and calculates to have the favour repaid. There is a second type of person who does not calculate in such a way but who, nevertheless, deep within himself regards the other person as someone who owes him something and he remembers that he has done the other a good deed.
But there is a third type of person who, in some sense, does not even remember the good deed he has done but who, instead, is like a vine producing its grape, seeking nothing more than having brought forth its own fruit, just like a horse when it has run, a dog when it has followed its scent and a bee when it has made honey. This man, having done one good deed well, does not shout it about but simply turns his attention to the next good deed, just like the vine turns once again to produce its grape in the right season.’
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).
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.