Stoic Week 2015: Day 1: Life

Today is the first official day of Stoic Week 2015. The theme for the day is:

Life as a Project and Role Models

I kicked the day off with the morning reflection:

 From Maximus, I have learned the importance of these things:
  • to be master of oneself and not carried this way and that;
  • to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness;
  • a character with a harmonious blend of gentleness and dignity;
  • readiness to tackle the task at hand without complaint;
  • the confidence everyone had that whatever Maximus said, he meant, and whatever he did was not done with bad intent;
  • never to be astonished or panic-stricken, and never to be hurried or to hang back or be at a loss or downcast or cringing or on the other hand angry or suspicious;
  • to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful;
  • to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright rather than having undergone correction;
  • the fact that no one could have thought that Maximus looked down on him, or could have presumed to suppose that he was better than Maximus;
  • and to have great personal charm.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 1.15)

Here’s a recap of my favorites:

  • to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness
    • Wow, wow, wow. Speak to me, Marcus. At the tender age of 25, I am already riddled with chronic ailments that, as fate would have it, have no cure. When one ailment has subsided for a minute, another increases. This has been going on for years, and it truly tests my patience. My friend has advised that they think my ailments are largely related to my mindset–that somehow, through mind/body connection, I can wish myself more good for my body than the doctor could ever bestow. I try, but it’s hard to remain optimistic. Stay cheerful, Kirsten. Who said pain must equal a sour mood? 🙂
  • readiness to tackle the task at hand without complaint
    • I personally deal with a lot of anxiety. Maybe Marcus was trying to get at the “without complaint,” part. But honestly, I just want to be ready to tackle the task at hand.
  • the confidence everyone had that whatever Maximus said, he meant, and whatever he did was not done with bad intent;
    • enough said.
  • never to be astonished or panic-stricken…
    • This made me question: what are two things that are most likely to leave me panic-stricken, or to produce intense anxiety in me? 1) Angry and demanding clients who begin yelling at me; 2) If my partner were to leave me. Of course, the first one is minuscule compared to the second. But identifying these two made me question, what do I value? In what do I entrust my happiness? Entrusting my peace of mind to clients at work seems ridiculous. And placing my happiness in the hands of my partner? Less ridiculous, but seeing as it has the possibility to all turn sour in an instant, well, that’s my answer right there. I’ve got to think of Stilpo, who emerged from the desolation saying, “I have all my goods with me!”
  • to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful;
    • Forgive. That’s an interesting one. Marcus wrote an awesome bit about Stoic Forgiveness.
  • to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright
    • Orate, I mean, preach Marcus.

I also attempted the Morning Meditation Audio, but ended up dozing on and off… Onward!

Lunchtime: Writing your own Meditations

The Stoic Week Handbook says that there are two Stoic themes early on in the Meditations.

  1. The idea that our whole life is an ongoing project or journey of ethical self-development towards the best possible human condition: wisdom.
  2. On this journey, we can progress our own development by reflecting on the good qualities and way of life of the people who are most important to us.

Apparently the Maximus whom Marcus wrote about in the morning meditation was a family friend, a leading politician with deep philosophical interests. Marcus looks to what he admires about Maximus that are all valued qualities shared in Stoicism.

In the first theme, the journey of life theme, there are two levels: the individual level, and the social level. On the individual level, we learn to rise above our instinctive desires for things like self-preservation, health, and property, towards wanting to live in the best possible way–that is, to live according to the Virtues. (Stoic cardinal Virtues are wisdom, justice, self-control, and courage). Our goal is to engrain in ourselves the fundamental belief that Virtue is the only thing with intrinsic value, and thus is the only real basis for happiness (why would you entrust your happiness to anything else if it could be wiped away in the blink of an eye? Why not link your happiness to Virtue, which is entirely within your control? Ok, I digress.)

The second level on this journey of life theme is the social level. Stoics believe it’s human nature (and most animals’ nature) to want to care for others of our kind. Think of how highly humans value children and strive to protect them and provide optimum environments for growth and success. Stoics go a step further and say that a human being who has developed will extend this instinct of care even beyond children and immediate family–the Stoic seeks all of humankind as part of his or her immediate family, because we are all rational creatures capable of ethical development. (Forgive me, Modern Stoicism, for drawing strongly from your Handbook. But I only seek to increase understanding of it, not to draw away from it.)

The Stoics believed that that these two levels of human development went together, and basically that every single human being is capable of developing both the individual and the social levels, regardless of their genetic disposition or social background. But the process is not automatic, and it requires diligence. Marcus’ Meditations are a tribute to his diligence along his own life journey toward the pinnacle of …humanness.

  • What qualities do you personally value?
  • Have your values changed over the course of your life? Have your ideas deepened over time?
  • Think of people whom you admire: consider their qualities that you have come to value.

Right away, I identified that I value honesty and “standing up for what is right,” which could also be considered as justice and courage. Have my values changed over my life? Probably. No, I was never money-hungry, nothing like that. The biggest difference is probably that I was never so solid in my values. If you asked 15-year-old me what I valued, I’d probably respond, “My dog. Friends. Education.” That’s all fine and dandy, but perhaps time has taught me that as much as I love my dog, death is a reality. As much as I enjoy my friends, people change and chase after their own ideals. Education is great, but it won’t solve as much as you thought it would. My values have deepened over time.

I can think of a few people that I admire. I admire my co-worker’s honesty. My boss’ kindness. My partner’s self-control. It’s kind of nice when you feel that you admire a person, and then you’re actually able to pinpoint exactly why you’ve had that feeling: we have some values in common.

Evening Reflection

Let us go to sleep with joy and gladness; let us say, “I have lived! The course which Fortune set for me is finished.” And if God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts. That person is happiest and secure in his own possession of himself, who can anticipate tomorrow without apprehension. When a man has said: “I have lived!”, why, every single morning that he arises, he receives a bonus.

(Seneca, Letters from a Stoic “On Old Age”)

Good grief, I just love Seneca.

One response to “Stoic Week 2015: Day 1: Life

  1. jbonnicerenoreg November 2, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Good work. Looks like you’re going to get a lot out of this week. Shame that we can’t have a group session with each sharing their reflections. Marcus’ remarks made me think “Who should I give credit for my interest in philosophy?” It turns out that I had never met a philosopher and my interest just grew from a love of reading.

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