Recently I've been reading a lot about Stoicism. It has been a very practical philosophy that I've been using in my day to day life.
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
Epictetus - Enchiridion
The word stoic often connotes emotionless-ness, a cold and hardened heart, or strength. But this connotation would seem inaccurate to the original stoics. Stoics are people who practice stoicism which is a philosophy that is thought to have been developed in the times of ancient Greece. Stoics basically believe that everything is rooted in the natural order of the universe and that to live a good life one must understand the rules of the natural order and align their beliefs, thoughts, and actions with it.
In Stoicism, it is recognized that all humans have a tendency to have destructive emotions. They believe that it is in the way that we think and how self-disciplined we are with our thinking that we can overcome destructive emotions and develop a character and mind that is unbiased and calm – or what Buddhist might consider as enlightened. The Stoics understand that the world is chaotic and that the people that inhabit the world can be extremely destructive. Despite whatever negative circumstances surround us however, it is our thoughts that dictate our state. A well-known stoic Marcus Aurelius, who is considered to be one of the last great emperors of Rome, describes that, “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” Our destiny, in other words, is not fixed. It is up to how we think about our circumstances that will determine it. Another Stoic, Epictetus who was born into slavery and eventually banished from his home in Rome said, "sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.” Whatever outside events happen, we can remain stable handed and at peace if we learn to self-discipline our thoughts and reactions to outside events.
As in some key eastern philosophies, the Stoics stressed that clear judgment and spiritual freedom come from an absence of suffering. Epictetus states that, “The essence of the philosophy is that we should live so that our happiness depends on as little as possible on external causes.” To end suffering in Stoicism, one must have a balanced emotional response in the face of life’s highs and lows. Part of this means expecting that life is going to throw curve balls at you. That people will betray you. That you will face challenges that test your will. With the understanding that nature is an ever changing, chaotic, and wild phenomenon one can take their first steps in finding a level headedness during those wild rides the natural order of things puts us on. The Stoics would say that it’s ok, in fact it’s natural that unexpected events happens. It is neither good nor evil, just natural and it allows us a chance to practice self-discipline in our thoughts and reactions.
Stoicism is not just a belief system, but it is a way of life, a daily ritual. It involves constant growth in theory, practice, and reflection. It also involves a practice of mindfulness similar to eastern philosophies. The Stoics stress training in our ability to keep our attention on the present moment. However, there are no strict doctrines that the Stoics follow, but instead, underlying principles that can be adapted to meet each individual’s needs. One practice that Marcus Aurelius defines in one of his journal entries is, “Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of the ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together...” Aurelius prepares himself for his day by expecting the unexpected to happen, by expecting that he will encounter evil men, by expecting that challenges will occur, and by promising that none of those events can cause him harm.
Stoicism is a very powerful and pragmatic philosophy that can be used to guide ones spirit in tough times.