This week, I will be posting the following blog about Stoicism on behalf of my friend and guest writer “Aspirana.”
When I look back at the person I had been for the entirety of my ‘early’ twenties, I am alarmed by what I find. Might I offer a metaphor at the expense of my readers? …I think I shall:
The director’s cut of the epic saga of ‘me’ should have been left on the cutting room floor.
There, I said it; I am not the epitome of badassness. I have led an unremarkable life and all of my youthful aspirations have fallen by the wayside. I am no one’s hero and will not be anytime soon. (Mmm… humble pie tastes a lot like accountability). Accepting this truth has forced me to examine my life with more vigor than I was ever moved to do before. So, I have excavated belief systems of my youth and innocence, restructured my personal ethos with more mature insights, and set forth a plan of action to re-route this train.
Step one: Know Your Enemy.
Why did all that time pass in a sedentary way of life with little focus on nurturing me?
I stumbled upon the answer while kicking around ideas with Soahki. See, we often find ourselves wondering why life isn’t panning out to be the mega awesome adventure we hoped it would be. Contemplating this, we examined what I feel is a common enemy to many people… apathy.
I compulsively wiki’ed apathy and turned up the following standard definition: Apathy (also called impassivity or perfunctoriness) is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest or concern to emotional, social, or physical life. They may also exhibit an insensibility or sluggishness.
To some degree, I feel everyone is in the same enduring struggle against apathy; the quicksand in which dreams get lost. Losing the struggle can lead to a choice to ‘color inside the lines’ (as Po said in Crayons, Existentialism, and our Dystopia) and to a most unremarkable life. When unwittingly falling victim to apathy, I became a zombified shell of a person that was completely unaware of my affliction. I had a laundry list of excuses for why it was ok to fall in line with the doldrums of the American mainstream lifestyle. I side-stepped responsibility and consigned blame for my failures on anyone/anything but myself (which I imagine is a fairly universal and ego-preserving reaction). I don’t want to beat myself up for it too badly, but I do want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Step two: Vanquish Foe
Interestingly, within the same article on apathy, I was surprised to find a quote from Stoic Philosophy that said apathy was “the extinction of the passions by the ascendency of reason.” Upon delving further, I found that many words in ancient Greece had different meanings than they do today and the quote really says: Peace of mind is achieved when anguish, suffering, and immorality are extinguished through reason. (The original meaning of passions was anguish, suffering, and immorality, and the definition of apathy, as the Greeks originally intended it, was the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.) I pondered this very introspectively and decided it was time to find out more about this whole Stoicism thing.
Even though the word stoic has come to mean unemotional or indifferent to pain, Stoicism’s true aim was freedom from pain through understanding. They championed common reason, the essential value of all people, understanding the processes of nature, and examining their own judgments and behaviors so that peace of mind could be achieved. More importantly, they believed that those at peace would be able to see limitations as obstacles to overcome, rather than restraints to bend to.
Now that I am choosing to be more accountable, I have to accept that my lackluster existence was fostered by my own inclination to be ruled by limitations, as perceived both internally and externally. Knowing this, I have set out to laugh in the face of danger (i.e. quit being a twat waffle) and figure this whole success thing out. I feel that to overcome apathy as it is defined today, that the Stoics had some very powerful notions. It influences its followers to take full responsibility for themselves as works in progress and to accept the same to be true of others. It also encourages each man to be unmoved from their own path by perceptions of the outside world and to remain steadfast in the search for reason. Stoics felt that being unmovable in this way, while also being careful to value all people, could ensure success and right action in any endeavor.
I also found their method of practice ideal for my own way of thinking. For a Stoic, philosophy was not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it was a way of life. It involved constant practice and training. Stoic philosophical and spiritual practices included logic, self-dialogue, contemplation of death, training attention to remain in the present moment, daily reflection on everyday problems and possible solutions, keeping notebooks on important subjects (like an intellectual blog, if you will), and so on. This allows philosophy for a Stoic to become an active process of constant practice and self-reminder. This was best illustrated to me by the following:
Make for yourself a definition or description of the thing which is presented to you, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing it is in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and tell yourself its proper name, and the names of the things of which it has been compounded, and into which it will be resolved. For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to you in life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the whole.
I am moved by the little knowledge I have of Stoicism and relate most to the notion that if I am unhappy, I must determine where I have diverged from reason and that conquering ignorance enables a person to develop clear judgment, good ethics, and inner calm. Ultimately, I see it as a significant method for tipping the scales towards success for anyone.
For those of you reading this who are lucky enough to be philosophy students/aficionados, I would really appreciate your insight and any necessary corrections to the information/interpretations in this blog. I do hope this sparks some interesting discussion, and even though I admit concluding this post with another person’s words is a literal crime, these quotes inspired hours of contemplation for me and I hope they can do the same for someone else.
On the Nature of Man:
Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together…( Book II, part 1).
“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.”
“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”
“For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.”
“Outward things cannot touch the soul, not in the least degree; nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn or move the soul; but the soul turns and moves itself alone.”
“If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone.”
Aspirana is a guest writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog.