“Connectedness is of the essence of all things of all types. It is of the essence of types, that they be connected. Abstraction from connectedness involves the omission of an essential factor in the fact considered. No fact is merely itself. The penetration of literature and art at their height arises from our dumb sense that we have passed beyond mythology; namely, beyond the myth of isolation.”
— Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought
I’ve been trying to make use of some additional time to restart my Stoic practice. I’ve been away for too long, and I’m find it difficult. Epictetus is correct regarding the relaxing of attention. Additionally, I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading philosophy. I’ve been spending some time with Whitehead, who while not a Stoic, touches on some topics which I find useful.
I’m still working through Modes of Thought, but thus far my takeaway has been a new perspective of my philosophical work. There is a danger, Whitehead admonishes, in the need to systematize. If we systematize before making enough observations, we’ll leave something out, and “[p]hilosophy can exclude nothing.”
In this early section, he also discusses “importance” and “interest” in a way which has caused me to pause and reflect in a way which I think will be fruitful. It’s a bit early for me to report back, but I wanted to share this with others in case you also wanted to read and discuss this work.
My university will mail books out, so I’m using a dead-tree version (I’m the second person to check out since 1958), but if its’ difficult to source for you, there is an html-version here.
I have generally not paid too much attention to modern philosophy, since much of it sets asides the ancients. But like Seneca’s spy, I shall dip into the other camp to see how things are done. I will report back.
I have my issues with The Daily Stoic, but this crossed my transom, and I think it is a useful help regarding our perspective. I myself have been experiencing some anxiety over COVID-19, but more so due to the second and third tier consequences of it.
There’s a trend going around social media, that so far I’ve seen restricted only to Christian posters, that seemed like a fun divergence. The premise of the meme is to post pictures of four theologians who have shaped your worldview. I thought I’d try my hand at it. Stoicism is at its core, like most ancient philosophies a religious philosophy. It is not possible in my opinion to discuss it properly if you’ve excised that component. That doesn’t mean that you must adopt the view of the ancients wholesale, but if you do, you will be missing an integral piece.
That being said, I tried to narrow down which of the classical Stoics and modern philosophers most informed my outlook. I did not include Musonius, for his bent (or what we have of it) is more practical. He does touch of some cosmological points, but not to the extent of his student, Epictetus, who decidedly made my list.
Heraclitus is the foundation of Stoic theology in my opinion. The Fragments of his work speak to me in a less analytical and more emotional way that is a needed component for me. The Weeping Philosopher then, also makes my list.
Skipping ahead a few thousand years, I’ve included Pierre Hadot, who more than any other modern writer reframed ancient philosophy for me, and made it much less foreign to my way of thinking. I also included Thomas Merton, whose quiet, devotional work dovetails nicely with my own inclination of philosophical practice, even if outside my immediate belief system.
If I had another spot in this meme, I’d include Alfred North Whitehead. I’m more and more inclined to the ideas of panpsychism which I think is an excellent way of parsing the axiom that “the cosmos is both rational and providential.”
Please share your list of four theologians who have shaped your worldview, and why. I’m interested in seeing what sorts of things help build this big tent of ours.
In these times exigent circumstances, where all sorts of unprecedented, “temporary” powers and authority are implemented: this.
Source: Margaret Graver, “Stoicism and Emotion,” p.49.
“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened!
How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?
You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so, look forward meanwhile to better things.”
— Seneca, Letter 13
I’ve been holding off writing about this topic, but today I decided it was time to set fingers to keyboard. Not because I have some revelation to share with you, but because I need to work through this linguistically. I need to think about it, rationally. I need to frame it appropriately to my nature, and I need the therapeutics which philosophy brings. Like many folks, I’ve been experiencing some anxiety due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. I have ameliorated that somewhat, and I’ll tell you how.
I realized I was checking in on the stats almost hourly. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it was at least a handful of times per day. I’m an analytical sort, and I like and work with data. So at first, I didn’t notice anything wrong with this behavior. However, in retrospect, I see it was a sort of compulsive behavior that wasn’t very helpful to me.
So the first thing that I did was reduce my information intake to once daily or less. I also restricted the amount of public official video I was watching: all of them for my country and state, to reading a short review of each of one to be generally apprised. I also (maybe unfairly) outsourced some of my information consumption to others who were not so affected: I asked them to give me short summaries when something interesting crossed their transom.
I noticed an immediate reduction in stress.
That being said, the situation is materially quite severe. While I myself am not in the highest-risk demographic, many others are. I’ve reframed my “social distancing” and “stay at home” behaviors as a function of my social roles, and also a way of extending Hierocles’ circles of affinity. I have also set plans to re-start my meditation practice, with some limited success, but I’m working on it.
Epictetus is very right when he says:
“When you relax your attention for a little, do not imagine that you will recover it wherever you wish, but bear this well in mind, that your error of to-day must of necessity put you in a worse position for other occasions.”
— Epictetus, Discourses 4:12.
Re-starting a philosophical practice of any sort is difficult. It is comforting, even if we’ve drifted away from our progress, to remember that the promises of philosophy are always there, and it is never too late to take up the old cloak and bag.
I tend to “fall off the wagon” during Stoic Week some time around Wednesday. I think in part that’s because I forget to print of a monitoring sheet, and it’s a bit of a pain to carry around. I’m doing some Stoic Week practices at the moment to reacquaint myself with our the practical aspects of our School that I have let slip. I still hate carrying around those sheets.
For another project a year ago, I started using a Google Form to keep track of hours spent on business venture. I made the form, organized it, ran it through several drafts, and them placed an icon-shortlink for it on my phone’s main screen. This made it easy to keep track of what I was doing, and easy to use it. I set it up for several people to use, to collect emails, and more.
I decided to do a similar thing for the Stoic Week monitoring sheet, and I’ve run this through several revisions, as well as added a few things. The version shown here is identical to the one I’m using, although this one is just an example so you can recreate it if you want. Feel free to take a look: Here’s the Example Stoic Week Monitoring Form.
I’m going to close this to results sometime soon, so I don’t get inundated with people testing, but I’ll leave it live for a short time if you want to duplicate it. If you decide to duplicate it, please let me know in the comments, as well if it’s helpful to you.
“The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s,in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets which are sudden and unexpected.”
— Marcus, Meditations, Book VII
This weekend I am headed to Philadelphia to compete in the US Amateur Nationals Competition in Japanese Sumo Wrestling. I have been training in Sumo for a short six months, and competed in two regional competitions so far. Sumo is a bit more complicated than the American stereotype: there are 82 different winning moves, and more than a handful of moves which cause you to immediately lose. It is the successor to a Shintō ritual, a cosmological archetype of law vs chaos. The Way of Salt, is quite a thing to become familiar with.
Many ancient philosophers participated in or used as reference combat sports. Plato was a boxer, the Cynics and Antisthenes literally began at a gym. Such activities are far from the academic philosophy of college departments the world over.
But there is a type of character which is forged under the iron of the weight room. A focus and intentionality that the boxer and wrestler must have in order to succeed.
I was listening to an audiobook of Seneca’s De Ira yesterday, and in part he writes that a judge or magistrate exercises punishment not for its own sake, but like a doctor used knives and blooding to bring about the best for a patient.
He discusses generals and soldiers in war, and how rightly they too should exercise their duties without the maddening component of anger. He even talks of the common man, who would avenge a familial killing not in rage, but because it is his duty.
The west has mostly lost the old “honor culture” aspects that readily accede to the former in most places, and these may seem to us be conflicting. But they are not.
In a recent Sumo training camp, I had an opponent who was quite a bit younger and fitter than I am. He favored a style which is currently in Vogue amongst the fans of Abi in Japan’s Pro Sumo. Repeated tsupari strikes, often to the chest, neck, and face. This is permitted in Sumo with some restrictions.
However, this mad, crazed style, while a bit shocking and startling, fails when the opponent, in this case me, realizes that it’s not the worst thing be slapped in the face a few times.
Once I got over the initial physical shock or being struck a few times in the face and chest, I was able to formulate and execute a plan to move my opponent, and toss him from the ring.
This opponent actually gave me a great gift. He taught me an important lesson, in the dohyo and by extension (should I learn it), in life.
It’s not that bad to be hitnin the face a few times. But after that, get to work.
I may post a bit more from Sumo Nationals this weekend, and more than other combat sports, Sumo lends itself it such introspection.
When discussing Stoic practice, we often are at point of reconstruction. We have several words for these types of actions (meletáō) meaning contemplation or meditation, ἀσκέω (askeō) meaning practice or training, and more. We have lists from Philo of Alexandria and others as to the types of training, and they are expounded upon by Musonius and Epictetus. Hadot and Buzaré have written in some depth about these, and I have also contributed some work on new-old practices as well:
- Lectio Divina Stoica
- Socratic Meditation
- The Rule of Musonius
- Philosophical Eating
- you know, the majority of posts on this blog….
In that vein, I’ve been working on another tool to aid to the Stoic Toolkit:
I’ve had experience using several prayer/meditation aids in the past from several traditions, some I’ve studied as an adult and one was a core practice of my religious upbringing. It is interesting how it seems we often circle back to core parts of our early indoctrination, even if other core parts are set aside. I’ve had the opportunity to sit as a neutral observer in related services and religious functions, and I’m always struck by how far away my path has taken me from some of those concepts and beliefs, and how close others still are.
To that point, a few years ago I repurposed japa prayer beads as counters for a Stoic meditation of keeping certain precepts and phrases πρόχειρον (procheiron or ready to hand).
If you’re not familiar with japa beads or mala, they are a string of typically 108 beads traditionally made of rudraksha seeds or other materials and used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Shintō as a meditation or prayer aid. I kept mine in a pouch into which I inserted my hand, and used it as a counter as I repeated certain phrases, like my personal Stoic Μνήμη (memory exercise or mnḗmē).
Regarding earthly things:
Nothing unexpected has happened,
Nothing evil has occurred, and
Nothing eternal has been lost.
However, even though the intent was similar, it felt a little strange to use a tool that’s decidedly formalized like this from another tradition wholesale. It felt a little disrespectful, and just “not quite right.” For instance, I don’t think I would have used a rosary this way.
At some point, after a month or two, I stopped using them, and as a result stopped using this practice.
It did seem helpful to me, however; and I have recently taken it back up. I previously came up with a counting method using the knuckles of my fingers. I would use my thumb of my right hand, and begin at the large middle knuckle for “1,” move to the small end knuckle for “2,” and the end of the finger for “3.” Once I had completed all of the knuckles of my fingers of my right hand in this fashion, being a count of 12, I would mark one knuckle of my left hand in the same fashion.
In this way, I would have a count of 144 with one full “round” of both hands, each knuckle of the left hand being a 12-count. This was good when I didn’t have a counter or a tool, and since it was a motor-function, and not a cognitive one per se, I could do it without thinking and focus on my meditation practice. It is nice to be able to do this with a tool, and you can do it practically anywhere and almost totally incognito.
However, I liked having the tool, as well.
Recently, I discovered a tool used to pass the time in Greece and Cyprus called κομπολόι (kompoloi). These are used in a “quiet” and “loud” fashion as a sort of “fidget-device” and are really devoid of any current meditative or religious practice.
Being a cultural practice of the inheritor of the culture from which our School originated, it feels “closer to home” as it were. I’ve been doing some reading, and it’s likely that japa and κομπολόι actually have a common ancestor tradition, which is interesting.
So, I have ordered a κομπολόι, with the intent of restarting my repetitive Stoic mantra or μνήμη practice. I am not quite sure if I will make use of either method, as it’s not quite conducive to the “counting” function that I’m doing. I may use them more like the japa beads above. I thought I would share this, as I haven’t seen many other using a similar meditation or spiritual exercise.
Neither 144, 108, or any of the variant numbers of κομπολόι have any particular meaning for Stoics that I can think of, and I do have a mind towards symbolism. So, I wish that we could devise a meaning full number-symbol for this use. If you have a similar practice, or use a similar set of tools, I’d be interested in learning about it. Feel free to discuss in the comments. If you have a suggestion for a number-symbol for the beads for a Stoic meditation practice, I am 100% open to hearing it.
Some time ago, I pre-ordered a reprinting of Musonius’ lectures and sayings, which is now available. The Cora Lutz translation is one of my favorites, and the versions available online are bi-lingual in Koine and English. I assumed that would be the case with this reprint, but I was quite disheartened to find it is English-language only. Lutz was a monster of 19th century translation work, and all modern Stoics are indebted to her.
I am pleased to have this translation in print. The hardcover format is nice, as I tend to be a bit rough on books. They go many places, get tossed in bags, etc. My Loeb copy of Meditations has been in four countries, had flowers and leaves pressed between its pages, and been banged around quite a bit.
I suspect that Musonius will get a similar treatment.
The price has already been reduced from its pre-order and new-sale price, coming in at just under $20 USD. I would recommend this to you for no other reason than a physical version of Lutz’s work is nice to have, with the caveat that is English-only.