BY MAGNUS DAVIES
STOICISM AND THE 21ST CENTURY
In the past few years, Stoicism as a philosophy has left the dusty shelves of academics’ and has made its way into the mainstream. Stoicism has become prominent for several reasons.
A key reason is because the works of Stoic philosophers remain applicable to the modern day.
Although, society has developed significantly since the time of Stoic Philosophers, the advice remains freakishly relevant.
They offer answers to questions we still ponder: how do we live a happy life? How do we deal with adversity? How should we treat other people? How do we deal with the fear of dying? How do we develop better habits?
Although Stoics like Seneca and Epictetus didn’t have iPads or fibre optic broadband, humans’ problems haven’t change that much.
In fact, many of the mental exercises the Stoic’s practiced are attitudes that you may adopt without even knowing it.
The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus said:
“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy”.
This is not too dissimilar to the belief “everything happens for a reason”.
Amor Fati simply translates from Latin to English “love fate”, (lover of one’s fate).
Amor Fati is a mindset where you treat each and every moment- no matter how challenging- as something to be embraced. To not only be okay with it, but to love it.
We’ve all experienced something that felt terrible at the time, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise. You might have gone through a challenging break up, to go onto find the love of your life.
That is why the Stoic’s refuse to identify anything as good or bad. Because good things can lead to bad things and the same with the inverse.
Just accepting everything that happens in your life as ‘necessary’ is a great way of remaining resilient and not getting upset at setbacks.
DICHOTOMY OF CONTROL
Epictetus: “The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have”
In my opinion, this Stoic exercise is the most effective and at the same time, the easiest Stoic exercise to practice.
To do this exercise, you simply outline what you’re worrying about and if it is in your control.
It’s so easy to get worked up over things we can’t control. You can’t go to work because of 80mph winds? That’s not in your control, let go of it.
You have fallen ill and you can’t train for that marathon? Let go.
Your colleague from work doesn’t like your personality? That’s not in your control, let go.
As Epictetus said, the more we focus on the things we can’t control the less control we have. This in turn only heightens our anxiety because it causes us to fixate on the lack of agency we have in a situation.
When we discern what we can truly control and let go of ‘externals’ (things outside our control) as the Stoics called them, we can focus all our energy on the things we can affect. The more we invest our time into things we can truly affect, the less anxiety we feel.
You can carry out this exercise in a journal by simply writing down what you’re worrying about. Once you write down what you’re worrying about, make two columns.
One column is for the things you’re worrying about that you can control and the other column is the things you can’t control.
Once you’ve done this you can make a plan of action to resolve the things you can control and let go of the worries that lie outside your control.
A VIEW FROM ABOVE
Marcus Aurelius: “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and were buried in the same place”
Every time I go on a plane and look out the window, it makes me think ‘wow nothing really matters’. All the international political disputes, all the celebrity scandals and all your own problems don’t really mean much when you’re 50,000 feet in the sky.
Marcus Aurelius (Stoic Philosopher) would try to take a step back from his life and look at it from a higher vantage point. He would contemplate the universe and how we are a tiny dot in a world that is even a tinier dot (in the scale of the universe).
Sometimes it’s easy for us to become overwhelmed with work obligations or household duties. But, when we take a step back and look at our lives from a higher, more objective point of view it’s easier to put our problems into perspective.
You don’t need to board a plane to get this perspective, all you need is the power of your imagination. Hopefully observing yourself as a small cog in a small world will stop you sweating the small stuff and allow you to enjoy the present moment.