What can this ancient form of wisdom teach contemporary people about their place in their world and all the modern ordeals we inevitably encounter?
The great Stoic Philosophers regarded man as a part of a larger whole. To reach true enlightenment people must surrender themselves to the same natural law which governs plants and animals. Whereas animals are compelled to action by instinct alone, human beings are unique in that they can utilise their faculties of reason and judgement.
True happiness is found in the art of acceptance, accepting all that is beyond our ability to change (such as race, gender, height and other bodily endowments); however it was widely accepted that there are aspects of our lives which we can readily change–our social circle, our general lifestyle habits etc.
To the noble Stoic there is no better time than the here and now, the present is everything; all else that lies outside its ephemeral confines is not to be concerned with or ruminated upon. The past is gone, the future is yet to arrive, why concern yourself with what has been, or will be?
Is that to say that you must not plan for anything? It is precisely this aspect of Stoic Philosophy that causes the most confusion, and often stark bewilderment.
My humble interpretation is that the Stoics were alluding to worrying excessively about dire future events, or thinking too deeply about tragic past events.
How many sleepless nights have you endured conjuring up awful images of all the things that could possibly go wrong? Tossing and turning in bed whilst your mind churns with thoughts of unpaid bills, marital concerns, that looming deadline. What the Stoics ask is how much is actually in our immediate control to change? If you forgot to pay a bill and remember at 3am, is denying yourself sleep going to help in any way. On the other hand if you’re about to embark on an exciting trip, or are getting ready for a hot date, is it ok to feel excited? Sure it is!
Certainly the puritan ideals of any kind of Philosophy must always been taken with a pinch of salt. Stoicism is not by any means the pinnacle of human reasoning. Yet what I like about it is its insistence on immersing yourself in the now.
Sometimes we allow our fears to dominate us and shape our lives in a very negative way. We buckle in the face of adversity, because of our unfounded trepidations of all the horrible things that could possibly go wrong. It prevents us from asking for that raise, even though we know we deserve it. We are debilitated instantly when we see an attractive person and never approach them because of what they may say or do.
If we get turned down for that raise or even that date, “so what!” The great Stoics voice echoes through the tumults of posterity. Brace yourself and foster on. Accept that what is and can’t ever be changed. Beyond the morass of hardship lie the verdant fields of success.
‘Physical hardships are not intolerable by nature.’ Epictetus
About the author– Taz is a budding entrepreneur. He has just started his own eCommerce site selling Subliminal Video Programmes– http://www.dynamicsubliminal.com