April 5, 2017
Posts for the Outwork Book Club will be continuous; I will post updates as I work through each book. Eventually I will encourage readers to follow along with me and add any insight or pose questions about the central themes of the book. This is what we call this a living document; mostly because it doesn’t immediately die as soon as it becomes published like everything else. It is something that is continuously updated and changed overtime to reflect the newest information.
How do you live a good life? Or even, how do you live?
These are the kind of questions that philosophers have been pondering for more than 20,000 years. It,s crazy to look back into history, quelling the different philosophies of how a man should spend is mortal life. Sometimes, it is already decided, and you would grow up to become whatever fate has handed you. Whether as a slave, a Soldier, or a craftsman forged to become what you must.
But how do you live when you have the choice to be whatever you want? How do you live when you have the choice of pain or ease, of hardship or sloth?
Today’s teachers are ego driven. They are fat and they are weak, products of a soft society on the verge of global meltdown.
However, they are older teachers that practiced what they preached. Their names transcend history because their words ring true to our most deepest of instincts. In order to live a good life, we must also live one full of strife because nothing good comes from ease and comfort.
Enter Stoic philosophy. (Stoic Summer Reading List (2017)
June 01, 2017
What is a Stoic?
A Stoic is a person that embraces Stoicism as a Philosophy of Life.
This is an important question to answer in that it introduces the concept of a philosophy of life. Why would a person need one to begin with? Isn’t the purpose of life the constant pursuit of happiness? To chase money and luxury to the finest and highest degree?
The answer is no. That is not the purpose of life and one can discover this through traditional means, by pursuing these false pretenses of a good life only to falter in its pursuit or in its achievement or through a more preferred form of enlightenment.
Stoicism, which is one of the many ancient philosophies that aim to create a purposeful existence, was created so that a person would be able to find tranquility within themselves. Irvine is more precise, “Stoic tranquility was a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.”
It is a remarkably simple concept on living. But why don’t more humans partake in its guiding words?
It dawns on me, the nature of humans, emotions and feelings, is never a simple ocean to navigate, for it is littered with the monsters of one’s own internal dilemmas. It is fueled by misguided interpretations of the world and influenced by preconceived notions generated by sources of pleasure and ease.
A perfect example would be my own self; a character that is constantly shifting with the tides of emotional balance. If anything, I teeter on the edge of what appears to be ambition and what can be only construed as misguided. I am a human being, just like everyone else, but I struggle to control my ambitions to do something greater and my tendencies to sit around enjoying my life comfort. I did earn these little pleasures after all.
The answer to my life struggles must be answered by a 2,000 year old philosophy. More so than all of the modern psychological and philosophical techniques, developed at the epicenter of man’s most prominent stages of intellectual being, the answer lies in man’s more prominent history.
Modern individuals are in dire need of a more effective operating system. Irvine notes that they “rarely see the need to adopt a philosophy of life. They instead tend to spend their days working hard to be able to afford the latest consumer gadget, in the resolute belief that if only they buy enough stuff, they will have a life that is both meaningful and maximally fulfilling.”
It seems that we were chasing all of the wrong things, all along.
June 15, 2017
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness- all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” – Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome
The power of the Stoics came from their ability to shape the world to one that enabled tranquility within themselves. Before the time of literary codification, they created a system for dealing with the problems that tend to disturb the essence of a man- things that were almost always created by other men- also meaning that they were external to a person.
At the time of the above quote, Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome, as close to divinity as man could get, the most powerful in the world. Yet, he reminds us that every day, you will deal with others that will pick and claw at your consciousness, testing your inner fortitude, measuring your ability to maintain composure. These people are ignorant and it takes an inner ability to deal with their misgivings.
As you begin each day, you will mentally bring forward the armor to guard against external influences that will work to strip away the tranquility that lies within you. The most powerful man in the world knew this. Everyday people must learn to know this.
June 30, 2017
Stoic Psychological Techniques
The stoics knew that inner harmony would be a pipe dream without a systematic approach to achieve this state of being. In Ancient Rome, one would only have to visit a Stoic School of Philosophy for access to these tools, but today’s brick and mortar institutions offer no such systems. Today’s philosophy classes are a mockery of what the ancients practiced, almost unrecognizable as two forms of the same theoretical basis.
Thankfully the techniques preached by the ancients survived the passing of centuries. Thankfully they were not kept in storage at the Library of Alexandria in Baghdad when the Mongols decided to conquer the world. Thankfully we can look upon their words today in a feeble attempt to correct the course of our own lives.
1. Negative Visualization– is perhaps one of the more powerful tools because it gives us the ability to “rob things of their power.” We simply have to imagine bad things. We have to think about things we love and cherish and then imagine not having them. For loved ones, it is a sobering practice but you will most assuredly look at that person with a kind of longing that may not have existed otherwise. For things, we see that it may hurt us to not have them anymore, but we can also see that we can live without them. And when something negative does come to bear (as it does to all of us humans), we will be better prepared to deal with them.
This is also a way for us to better appreciate the things that we do have. We can avoid the hedonistic toils of life if we simply learn to gain happiness from the things we already have. Needless to say, this tool mirrors the practice of gratitude quite nicely, except it is more succinct in its execution and it is more encompassing in what it can deliver as a daily practice.
We should live every moment as it is our very last for good fortune for anyone is “on loan” and can be taken away at a moments notice. Our existence and good fortune is partly luck and our ability to continuously survive is also partly luck, so we must learn to be grateful for what we have and what we are able to do.
Negative visualization can also help to give us perspective of the comfortable and generally safe lives we live. When I read biographies and stories of others who were able to overcome insurmountable odds, I pause to reflect on how much easier my life is in comparison. I have been through my share of misfortune but is it as bad as Victor Herman (post), or Kyle Maynard, or Louis Zamperini, or Victor Frankl, or Anne Frank. No, in comparison, my life is a Gangsta’s Paradise (Reference: Coolio).
Maintain your peace of mind at all times. Contemplate the loss of the things you have now and instead of a hedonistic pursuit for the next thing, be grateful for what you do have. Heed the sage advice of a former world ruler (literally), “beware lest delight in them (possessions) leads you to cherish them so dearly their loss would destroy your peace of mind.” – Marcus Aurelius
2. The Dichotomy of Control– is simple, as stated by Epictetus, a man will look “for all benefit and harm to come from himself.”
This is something we talk about a lot here on this site because it is one of the most important lessons a person can learn, regardless of goals, ambitions, life circumstances, profession, education level, annual income, race, sex, and religion.
Read More: Mindset: The Pursuit of Excellence
Understand that some things are within in your control. Master those things. It is your attitude, your beliefs, and how you respond to things that enables the outcomes that you seek. However, there are also some things that you cannot control. Do not focus on these things. Accept them, learn from them, and move on while in total control of your emotions and your behaviors.
When aiming to win the title of best tennis player in the world, you cannot control the outcomes of the events leading up to the attainment of that goal.
BUT you can control how much you practice, how much effort you put into each practice, how well you dial in your nutrition, how much you plan and study, how much time you spend strategizing and preparing, how you react to a losing game, how you react to winning a game, and every other part of the process. BUT you cannot control the outcome entirely, so don’t focus on the end goal as an ultimatum. It is outside of your dichotomy of control.
3. Self-denial- is a practice of poverty, denying ourselves things that we could have and things that we want, sometimes things that we want very much so.
There is another modern day word for this practice: discipline.
And discipline builds character. So, at its essence, this practice of Stoicism ask us to build our character, while cultivating a casual sense of discipline in all things. I use the word casual very deliberately because it cannot be dreaded so much that we lose our sense of tranquility in an attempt to become more disciplined.
We must learn to embrace the struggle. Embrace the suck. Cherish the process.
The best way to go about doing this is to deny yourself some of the things that you like. It could even be as simple as deciding to forgo some of your favorite foods. Or it can be as sinister as the complete espousing of internet pornography or a decision to go completely sober. It has to be hard and you cannot simply give up something that is of no interest to yourself.
Embrace the toils, not the spoils.
I am choosing to end my review of this book with those three easy to institute practices of Stoic Psychology. BUT there is so much more to Stoic Philosophy that I actually dedicated an entire summer to learning all I can, first with my Stoic Summer Reading List, and then through a deeper dive into some of today’s most notable authorities, like Massimo.
In Pursuit of Excellence
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