A box of my favorite things, with “STOICISM” scrawled on the side

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Stoic_Box_Favorite_ThingsInside:

– My political beliefs
– My ideas of family
– My nationalism
– My support for a state
– My theism or atheism (sometimes anti-theism)
– My support for popular causes
– My dislike of certain “indifferent things”
– My like of other “indifferent things”


 

How many of us have a box of our favorite things which we’ve haphazardly scrawled “STOICISM” across the side?  Inside this box of decades’, generations’ worth of baggage, is there much room leftover for the ideas of Epictetus?

How about Marcus’s reminders to himself?

The lectures of Musonius, do those have a home in this box of my favorite things?

Maybe, this thing I’m calling Stoicism, is simply a label for a new demagoguery, that reinforces all my biases by applying a systematic slant to them.  “See!”  I can say, “there’s a good reason that I should prefer this to that, treat this as indifferent, and lobby for my favorite politician of choice!”  Fate forbid, call it a vice, it’s indifferent!

“Watch your own conduct thus and you will discover to what school you belong. You will find that most of you are Epicureans and some few Peripatetics, but with all the fibre gone from you. Where have you shown that you really hold virtue to be equal to all else, or even superior?

Show me a Stoic if you can! Where or how is he to be found? You can show me men who use the fine phrases of the Stoics, in any number, for the same men who do this can recite Epicurean phrases just as well and can repeat those of the Peripatetics just as perfectly; is it not so?

Who then is a Stoic?

Show me a man moulded to the pattern of the judgements that he utters, in the same way as we call a statue Phidian that is moulded according to the art of Phidias. Show me one who is sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show him me. By the gods I would fain see a Stoic. Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path. Do me this kindness, do not grudge an old man like me a sight I never saw till now.”

— Epictetus, Discourses II.19

Am I studying Stoicism, am I trying to be a Stoic?  Or am I taking refuge in a label?  Am I being a Stoic, or am I just saying I’m a Stoic?  Do I really try to inculcate virtue as the sole good, or am I an undercover Epicurean?  Can I show it, in my every day life?  Can I see the skill with which I weigh impressions and assent or deny them?  Can the others in my life say, “There’s something good going on there,” ?

Not here.

“Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path.”

Stoic Week 2015

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Today begins the third the iteration of Stoic Week.  Stoic Week has become a feature in most modern Stoics’ practice from what I’ve seen.

Stoic Week 2015 Handbook, PDF.
Online Questionnaires.
Audio Recordings and Guides.

If you’ve leafed through a few pages of Marcus and Epictetus, and then thought, “Okay, now what?”  Stoic Week can provide one interpretation for getting your burgeoning theory into practice.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the week.
There will also be an unofficial Google Hangout with some other Stoic bloggers and Podcasters on Thursday, which I’ll update as we get closer to it.


Monday (Life):

Morning:  Today, I have a few tasks at work which are not my favorite.  Despite my car accident this weekend, and the periodic pain I’m in, I intend to set to those tasks cheerfully, and work diligently, Fate permitting.  The context of the work isn’t “up to me,” but the motivation, desire, and intent surely is.

Evening:  Well,  got the diligent and focused done today, if not the cheerful.


Tuesday (Control):

Morning:  I actually find the admonition that one has “the work of a human being to be about” to be a helpful impetus.  The other creatures do their appointed works in their appointed times.  Sometimes it’s fervent and intense, other times laid back and easy.  Yet each one rises to do its appointed tasks.  I am not different than these.  Up and at ’em!

Lunch:  I was thinking yesterday about virtue as the only good in Stoicism, and all the rest being indifferent.  First things first, our happiness should be something which is “up to us.”  It would be a silly premise to require something which is not within your sphere of control to be happy, something which all philosophers of the period were in agreement with as being the goal, eudaimonia.  Virtue, as an internal intention, is 100% up to us.  The contexts, environments, other agents, results, etc. are all necessarily external to us, outside of our realm of control.  Virtue being the only good is an Axiom of Stoic thought, but when you sit down and think about the reasons for that axiom, it does fall into line.

Evening:


Wednesday (Mindfulness):

Morning:  Today’s passage calls us back to Marcus’ “Inner Citadel” that retreat from the world which we carry with us everywhere.  We do not need to retire to the mountains or the seaside in search of solitude and peace.  In our own Inner Citadel, we carry that retreat with is everywhere.  In the original Koine, the word which is most commonly translated by “mindfulness” or “attention” is προσοχή (prosoche).  We have lots of Koine words that mean training, meditation, and mindfulness in the Stoic Lexicon, however the specifics have not all come down to us.  It’s a great shame that we have to recreate or borrow so much from other traditions.  What specific spiritual exercises were the students of the Stoa using to hone their πνεῦμα ψυχικόν (pneuma psychikon)?

Lunch:  

Evening:


thursday (Virtue):

Morning:  Virtue being the only good in Stoicism is an axiom.  You can’t prove it.  You either believe it (or choose to use it as rule and guide) or not.  It’s a sticky point, because it’s either there or not.  Marcus says, if you find something better, then go after it with a full heart, which is a pretty serious endorsement.   It seems he groks something there that I don’t.

Lunch:  The Handbook focuses on values, but that’s more of a CBT thing, than a traditional, Stoic thing.  Traditionally, we break down virtue into four sub-virtues:

  • Practical Wisdom (φρόνησις, phronēsis),
  • Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē),
  • Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē) and
  • Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia)

However, if you read the classical sources (and other modern works like this one), you’ll come to see that this is not  closed-class system.  This ability to divide into sub-virtues is a descriptive one only.  Virtue is a single, unitary whole.  There is no constituent part.  When we label something as wisdom, justice, self-control, or courage; we’re applying a general principle (Virtue) to a specific circumstance (sub-virtue).  While the Four Cardinal Virtues are probably a good model for identifying virtue when you see it, it shouldn’t be seen as the end-all, be-all.

Evening:


 

Friday (Relationships):

Morning:

Lunch:  

Evening: