Stoic Week 2015: Day 7: Nature

Here we are; the final day of Stoic Week 2015. Have you learned something? Are you inspired? Are you curious and hungry for more?

Having studied Stoicism for about a year, I’d say that the content of Stoic Week is intended as an introduction to Stoicism. There wasn’t much material that was new to me. That being said, Stoic Week is still very important because 1) it gives thousands of others an opportunity to be introduced to Stoicism and try it out for a week, and 2) it’s a reason for those of us who are more familiar with the philosophy to get back in the game. I think it’s high time to resume the Stoic Serenity course and finish that book so we can move onto other things. I haven’t even touched Musonius Rufus; and I think I might be interested in taking that course with the College of Stoic Philosophers. I have a dozen quotes I’d like to hang in my office at work, and I have half a dozen Stoic practice I’d like to incorporate again into my daily routine. I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me, eh? Let’s get into this final lesson from Stoic Week.

Nature and the View from Above

Morning Reflection

The works of [God] are full of Providence. Even chance is not separate from nature, from the interweaving and intertwining of things governed by Providence. Everything flows from there. And then there’s necessity and the needs of the whole world, of which you are a part. Whatever the nature of the whole does, and whatever serves to maintain it, is good for every part of nature. Just as the changes in the elements maintain the universe, so too do the changes in the compounds.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.3)

If you’ve read Marcus’ Meditations, you’ll be sure to notice that Marcus often wrote about himself as being part of a larger cosmic whole. He would also urge himself at times to look at his life from a cosmic perspective. Why did Marcus do this? One reason is it’s an effective way to give ourselves a reality check and get rid of our narrow-minded, habitual thinking over trivial matters. Angry that your caught in traffic? Or can’t seem to get that watch that you saw at the store out of your mind? Try looking at everything from a cosmic perspective, and suddenly your problems will seem silly. We become less upset about things when we take on a larger perspective and see our problems as occurring in a tiny corner of the cosmos. We are a grain of sand in cosmic space, the blink of an eye in cosmic time. What seems like a big deal at the moment is actually a very small part of the universe, and our own lives are very, very, temporary.

Beyond this, the Stoics believed that the universe could actually show us how to lead a good life, and that the universe could lead by example. The Stoics attributed to the universe qualities of order, structure, and rationality, as well as Providential care. Where did they get these qualities from?

Order, structure, and rationality were exhibited in nature’s patterns, such as the cycle of seasons, birth and death of living things, and the intricately calculated movements of the planetary system. Providential care was observed by the mere fact that each species as a natural capacity to maintain their own existence and to care for their own kind. Therefore, Stoics thought it was helpful to reflect on these qualities of nature and to consider your place in it all in order to achieve ethical development.

Is the ancient Stoic view of the universe still relevant today? The Stoic Week Handbook says that we actually have even more reasoning to see ourselves as part of the cosmic whole. We can certainly still see nature as ordered and providential (we can calculate the date and time that planetary bodies might cross paths), we can predict the weather with considerable accuracy, etc. But in addition, we are now aware that our human activities have done an enormous amount of damage to earth’s environment, and we have endangered many animal and plants species, all related to our very human activities. We can see clearly that our own actions affect our entire planet, which in turn is part of the cosmos.

Plato was right: If you want to talk about people, you should look down on earth from above and see the herds, armies, farms, weddings, divorces, births and deaths, noisy courtrooms, desert places, foreign people, holidays, days of mourning, markets… this mixture of everything; a harmony made of opposites.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.48)

You can find the Stoic Week guided visualization/meditation for the “View from Above” here.

I just completed it, and it’s a pretty nice meditation. I particularly liked that it had me thinking about what and who will come after me. My own life is very temporary. It is certain that I will die and others will be born after me. Civilizations also rise and fall. The United States will likely have run its course. Other nations will rise with new languages and new ways of doing things…

Evening Reflection

I travel along nature’s path until I fall down and take my rest, breathing out my last into the air, the air from which I draw my daily breath, and falling down to that earth from which my father drew his seed, my mother her blood, and my nurse her milk, and from which for so many years I have taken my daily food and drink, the earth which carries my footsteps and which I have used to the full in so many ways.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.4)

So What’s Next?

Stoic Week 2015 is complete. Where will you go from here? The Stoic Week Handbook gives some great reading plan/tips for covering the three main Stoic texts:

  1. Every day – read at least 1 of Marcus’ Meditations each and every day.
  2. Each weekend – read 2 chapters from The Discourses of Epictetus.
  3. Each weekend (after Epictetus) – read 2 of Seneca’s Letters.
    • Seneca’s Letters are my favorite of the three main Stoic texts. There’s some debate as to his authenticity/credibility/integrity, and he tends to be very wordy. But I love when Seneca makes a point: he writes about it until there’s nothing more to write, and he drives his point home. BAM! 🙂

My birthday is coming this month, and I’m highly considering treating myself to the new version of Letters from a Stoic by Chicago University Press. I’ve been anticipating its release for about a year now. 🙂

Wherever your Stoic reading and adventures lead you, I hope you’ve gained some valuable tools and insight from Stoic Week 2015, and I hope you’ll join us in the following days as we continue our journey through Stoic Serenity.

Live well.

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