What I learned from a year without Stoicism.

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As I set pen to paper (as it were), it happens that it has been almost a year to the day since I wrote this. A few weeks after that posted however, not explicitly but functionally, I left the practice of philosophy as a way of life. The cosmos has a sense of humor, it seems, and sometimes it’s a little twisted

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I fell away from philosophy for a variety of reasons, but all of them circled around one issue. I was frustrated with what seemed like a lack of progress. I looked back on earlier periods of my life when I was less occupied with the workings of the mind and soul, and with rose colored glasses, I lamented the loss of happier times. I remember fondly pleasures and simpler days.looked at the Stoic communities on the internet that had stagnated, some which had become toxic and pandering to the narcissistic. Others had withered or lost their way. I saw a slew of newcomers swayed by (to my mind) wrong interpretations, some intention biases, and people capitalizing not on providing accurate useful content but clicks, memes, bumpersticker philosophy, and branding.

I did not identify it at the time, but I had had a crisis of philosophy (of faith?). So I stopped, and I went another way.

Suffice it to say, the crops borne of these seeds of questioning have yielded a bitter harvest. Without focusing too much on the particulars, let us just say that the error of my thinking is now been made clear. A Facebook notification that my friend Yannos had made a post took to me a comment he wrote, and helped to cue me back towards our practices.

This got me thinking of why I unconsciously left philosophy, it was for this very reason. I didn’t win, or get the prize at the end. However, upon inspection, I had changed greatly, and for the better. The greater change, though, was a negative one; and it had occurred when I left. A slow but constantly slide downward. After a year, I am so far away from where I was, I feel like a different person, living a different life.

When I was a Stoic, or at least one who wishes to be a Stoic, I took responsibility for myself. I worked on things I could control. I was compassionate towards towards others. I had a mission of sorts, even if imperfectly formed.


When you have remitted your attention for a short time, do not imagine this, that you will recover it when you choose; but let this thought be present to you, that in consequence of the fault committed to-day your affairs must be in a worse condition for all that follows.

— Epictetus, Discourses IV.12


Boy, isn’t this the truth.

The biggest challenge is undoing the habits I’ve formed. I’ve lost the perception of that space where judgments are made between perception and emotion. I have to forcefully remind myself to keep our practices in mind and actually do them.

So, all that being said, here is the bullet point list of things I learned with a year away from philosophy:

  • Whether or not the Stoic position of emotions being judgments or the result of judgments is true, it’s useful. This is especially noted in the absence of the practice.
  • A rich inner life of questioning impressions provides a valuable strategy for managing those impressions. Failure to manage them puts you at their mercy, of which they seem to have none. For me, the Dichotomy of Control is the best model I have yet experienced for personal well being.
  • A focus on externals puts your well being in the hands of things external, not your own. This is begging for trouble.
  • Focusing on externals may not bring you the achievement of externals, but focusing on the προαίρεσις will bring about its proper function.
  • A προαίρεσις will keep doing its job without explicit instructions, but you might not like the result.
  • Whether or not you take the position that virtue is the only good as an axiom, as an existential choice, or an article of faith, it’s now clear to me that a focus on externals begs for unhappiness.

It may not be much, and the cost was high. But there is the product of my year as a Stoic Apostate. Now, we will see if I can regain what I lost. Hope to see you on the way there. I do not want to make any big pronouncements, or state grand goals. I want merely to set my feet back on the path.


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


μετάνοια.

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Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…”


μετάνοια is often translated as “conversion” in the wake of the Christianization of the West.  Marcus uses this word to describe his coming to Philosophy.  It is more than mere “change of mind,” but also a turning inward, a soul-change as well.

It has been my experience that there are many ‘conversions’ for one on the philosophical path, a constant turning inward and reorienting.

Lately, I’ve gotten awful wrapped up in externals.  Things which are rightly by our school things indifferent.  And my progress has suffered for it.  A philosophical backsliding that is staggering.  Today, when I needed it the most, from an unlikely source (for me), I received the reminder that “we are what we eat.” This is true physically as it is spiritually, or philosophically, of you’d rather.

I sat and listened while someone noted that we can monitor our speech, and by watching what comes out in words, actions, deeds, we can get a clue to what’s been going in.

For me, these past several seasons, it has not been a dialogue of virtue, of justice, of fittingness, of wisdom, and of courage.  My words have been that of the complainer, the bitter one, the ingrate.  Precisely the person that Marcus warns himself, and us, to be prepared to meet every day:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

This has been me for months.  This hasn’t become a premeditatiobut a description of myself.  At work, at home, with friends.  If it is correct that the soul is colored by the thoughts we entertain, I’ve been working on the quite the dye-job.

 


At every impression, every judgment lies the opportunity to change.    Today, however, I choose to not be the asshole.That call to μετάνοια is present.  This ability to change, to make a decision contrary to our urges, instincts, habits, and lifestyle is the core ability for Stoics.

That is my intent today; to turn inward, rededicate myself to my practice and progress.

Website updates

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You will still be able to view Mountain Stoic at the old https://mountainstoic.wordpress.com, but you can also view it (the same site) at https://mountainstoic.com .  This change is for a couple reasons, but the main one is while reading another philosopher’s site, I noticed an add for a politician that I would bet the author is diametrically opposed to at the bottom.

I have no idea what ads were previously being displayed on this site, a fact I find a touch disconcerting.  This site is in no way a money-making venture for me, but I do not like the idea of my readers being exposed to ads I cannot control, and thereby think I might be endorsing their content.

So, I’ve paid to have them removed from the site.

Thank you for your readership, interaction, and for walking this path with me for the past two and a half years.  I look forward to many more (now without annoying billboards).

— K.L. Patrick, the Mountain Stoic.

Summer Solistice, 2016

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Today, is either the summer or winter solstice, depending on your hemisphere of choice.  For us in the northern one, it’s the summer solstice.  You might ask, “Uh… so what?  That sounds like some hippie-dippie stuff.”

With a firm lack of general times and markers for practicing Stoics (we ain’t got holidays), the Society of Epictetus has chosen the solstices as times to set aside and for special note.  For the theists among us (for whom SoE might be of interest), it’s a time to ponder nature, God, the cosmos, and our place in it.

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Click picture for link to SOE Facebook page.

It also so happens that this year’s Summer Solstice also coincides with a full moon. Something that hasn’t happened since 1948, or so the internet tells me.  Just an interesting aside.

So, as a practicing Stoic:  how do you (if you do) plan to make use of this new tradition of ours?  Time spent out of doors with family?  Let me know in the comments.

Dolly Sods, WV.

CrashCourse: How does this happen?

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If you’ve watched any of the Crash Course (Philosophy) videos, they’re generally pretty good.  Except when they’re clearly not.  Either you have people basically ignorant of the subject matter writing for it, or people ignorant of the subject matter editing it, or both.  How else does this happen?

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“Ancient Stoic philosopher Epicurus…”

First someone should have said, “Wait… isn’t Epicurus the founder of Epicureanism?”  Then they should have read two Wikipedia articles.  /:

Stoicism.  Epicureanism.

Epicurus was not a Stoic, he was the founder of the Garden… of Epicureanism.  You can tell, you know, because of the spelling.

The physics and theology of the Stoics and Epicureans were diametrically opposed. The disjunction from Marcus Aurelius, “Providence or atoms,” distills it.

They are philosophical rivals:  virtue or pleasure, Providence or atoms, Heraclitus’ monistic physics versus Democritus’s atoms.  At nearly every point (except for relatively austere living) the Stoics and Epicureans are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

If I put out a video that said, “Ancient Confucian philosopher Siddhārtha Gautama…”  I’d probably catch some flak for it, wouldn’t you think?

Come on guys, basic investigation, basic fact-checking, and basic editing.

On emotions and habits

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Chrysippus is quoted by Galen and Cicero in making the following determination about fear.  The issue with fear is not that a present thing is evil but rather that an evil thing is present.

This is a very important distinction.  We may find ourselves amidst an emotion or passion, and try to coach ourselves that a present thing is indifferent.  But, and I think most of our experiences bear this out, often this kind of self-talk fails to ameliorate the impassioned state.

We are not likely to fix every passion in the moment this way.  This make sense when we look at the distinction presented above.  Since we are dealing with the impression that an evil thing is present we are dealing with old assents. 

These previous assents of which items or classes of items are good, evil, or indifferent have been built up and reinforced by us for decades.

What we are doing with the self-talk is very slowly building up new assents.  We’re changing our storeroom of classifies objects and classes.  We do this unit by unit, time after time.  It’s a slow and laborious process.

This is why the regimens of Musonius, Epictetus, and Marcus are firmly grounded in habit forming behaviors.  They knew that the change was not immediate.

We cannot (yet?) remember at every junction to reevaluate our goods, but we can build habits in the interim.

Non-optional Stoic Practice

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For the last week or so, I’ve had the opportunity to practice poverty.  My bank, unbeknownst to me, issued me a new debit card, and sent it to my permanent address which is about 1300 miles away from where I’m working.  I learned this when my card was declined at a restaurant.

So, for the last week, I’ve been waiting to get that card mailed to me.  In the interim, I’m pretty limited for funds and expenditures.  There’s enough food in the apartment, and enough cash for gas, I’m not ‘needy’ for anything currently. But this particular exercise is non-optional, and that’s changed things.

Even though ‘I have money,’  I can’t get to it from 1300 miles away.

And I’m learning something different than when I “chose” such exercises in the past.  Mainly, my concern about the state is greater.  I’ve noticed I’m quicker to anger over financial matters, and I’m worried about the state of things.

I injured my ankle, and the thought that I’d need to be seen by the doctor caused me some anxiety.  More so than I’m used to having about such things.

It’s clear to me that my progress on some of these issues is less than I would have speculated at a few weeks ago.  Part of the stress, I’m sure, is obligations I’ve chosen, others count on my support.  My ability to fulfill those obligations, however, is limited now by this situation.

It’s a good opportunity to re-evaluate my ‘goods’ and ‘evils.’  It’s an opportunity to separate the rhetoric from the reality.  So, despite the fact that I’ve been distressed, I’m trying to turn the situation into a useful philosophical exercise.

Moral of the story:  not all “practical exercises” are equal.