I’ve recently been following a guided meditation with a focus on stoicism. There have been many times I’ve continued to ponder the messages with understanding, ideation, and uncertainty. Stoicism is the view that the practice of virtue is both necessary and sufficient to achieve the state of wellbeing. While living in wellbeing sounds great and may be ideal, it can also be a challenge. I’m writing about the stoic philosophy because I think there are many points worth further pondering.
Stoicism is about living the best life possible, a fulfilling life with the belief of doing it right. Unfortunately most do not question or reflect on life so deeply that they know intrinsic peace but instead work to maximize pleasure and accomplishments. The stoics were a group that studied the human condition and reflected on the quality of life for the quality of mind as it guides your life. The stoics believed that training the mind was of more importance than training the body. It’s the mind that directs the quality of life through careful thoughts. Their belief was to know one’s self because they trained their mind to know how to develop more resilience in order to be in reasonable control of your mind to affect the quality of your life. The quality of your life is therefore a mindset and practice for living life with thoughtful intention.
Though the Stoics developed their practice of developing a strong mind over two millennia ago, the human psychology is still relevant today to avoid psychological traps. You can decide for yourself how relevant each is to creating a stronger mindset for greater quality of life through a more resilient mind. Some of these thoughts I understand and find still relevant, but that’s not true for all of them. You decide how relevant each is for yourself.
During the meditation many of the quotes had significant value to me, while others generated more thought and not always complete agreement from myself. I am offering to you the opportunity to ponder some of the quotes and, at times, my thoughts.
“How many men train their bodies? And how few train their minds?” – Seneca, a Stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome
– My thought: we really do push more physical fitness as important than developing our mind. And today with video games so popular, this quote seems very significant. It’s not that video games are bad, but I do see more focus on this entertainment than personal growth. For societal growth, I think mind development is essential.
“If any external thing causes you distress, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your judgement about it. This you have the power to eliminate now.” – Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius
– My thought: this is generally true. It’s the importance, emphasis, and judgement on things that forms our reaction. My take, however, is no matter how true this is, upbringing also impacts our reaction. Sometimes our reactions to things are inherited from others: parents, teachers, religion, and so on. It may be these inherited beliefs that are the most illusive to realize, understand, and release their impact on our reaction to things. Therefore when something causes you distress, without a recognizable foundation, it may just be inherited thinking and when realized can be set free.
“There is only one road to happiness, let this rule be at hand morning, noon, and night. Stay detached from things that are not up to you.” – Epictetus
– My thought: valuable thinking. I don’t believe this quote says we are to live without desires. Rather, have the things you desire, be what you truly desire. It may also be suggesting to have your desires reflect your essence and not just the latest thing to own. If your desires are important to you morning, noon, and night, then they are an important part of your life. Another view to this quote addresses when we may become upset by things, politicians, and people that creates rules or laws or say things that do not align with our personal wish, desire, or belief. When staying stuck we tend to feed our emotions. Being upset is legitimate but its the staying stuck that consumes our attention, which controls and hinders our energy, keeping us from living intentionally in a state of mindful thought.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus
– My thoughts: the minimalists I know will agree with this thinking. This quote may be suggesting we keep our needs and want in balance. Figure out what is needed to live comfortably, more than striving for owning more and more things that quickly become inconsequential in your life. However, there is another side to this quote. People who have lived with significant lack, especially during their formative years, tend to gather more things when not in the state of severe lack. For example, people who suffered from not having basic needs met during the Great Depression as a child, would, as an adult, buy several items that were extras or hold on to items, “just in case” it may ever be needed. The importance in giving this attention is to remember that sometimes life experiences influence us in many ways. A person may or may not be aware how especially early experiences influence later life practices.
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” – Epictetus
– My thoughts: this means to be willing to risk because it may be through this risk you accomplish your goal. Too many times we worry more about what others think more than being willing to take a risk. Free or progressive thinkers need to stand out or they are just mainstream and going with the flow. There is another more modern quote that supports this, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” These quotes are suggesting we be freer thinkers who worry less about fitting in with what others think. The downside isthat whatever we say or do has the potential to be etched in foreverland through social media, so what we say or do can hold us back for fear of those words and deeds threatening our future basic needs. It’s a hard balance. Do we hold back so we can live in our social structure or stand out and risk? Each of us has to decide for ourself. As well, remember it’s personal choice, not to be judged by others.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca, a Stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome
– My thoughts: so true. Overthinking and worrying about what might come can be all-consuming. It can be more helpful to just allow things to happen rather than think about whatever might happened. How often is more thought and energy put into what could happen than what actually does happen? Or fearing there will be a certain outcome, only to draw to you that outcome though self-fulfilling prophecy? And, most important to me is why do we imagine the worst rather than the best? If you are going to draw a conclusion to you, through self-fulfilling prophecy, make it a happier outcome. That can also happen.
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
– Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius
– My thoughts: I like this quote. It reminds me to start each day with positivity and, for me, gratitude. My morning ritual is to do various breathing exercises with my husband, and our pups get involved also. This practice gives us a connection while drawing energy from different sources to help bring positivity and balance into my day. And most days I write in my gratitude journal to both remind me of my blessings—both significant and small—and to reflect back on in times that are stressful. (Sometimes I am simply grateful I am breathing, or the sun came up, other reflections are about more significant and joyous things. I believe it’s more important to remember to be grateful than to only think gratitude comes from reaching for significant things.)
These quotes all hold forward thinking even though they are centuries old. They provide a time to exercise the mind and our relationship with our immediate world. Stretch yourself.
As well, I’ve added comments because, honestly, I think the Stoic teachings are great value while realizing that there is another side. These men were nobility and lived in privilege, so they may have never known a life with daily struggle and lack. Instead they had time to philosophize. Even so, their thoughts are worth pondering and for those who find value, take what value you find and as much as you choose to set your mind and practice living life with thoughtful intention.