Updating a Stoic Week exercise for 2020

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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.

Philosophy and combat sports

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“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.

Reading: On Socratic Meditation (EDITED)

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socratesLongtime readers will remember that I’ve written about Socratic Meditation in the past.  I recently came across this paper, and am in the process of reading it.  I can’t speak to its conclusions or methods (as I haven’t read them yet) but I thought I would share it with you in case you’re also interested in this avenue of exploration.

Here’s the paper: “Socratic Meditation And Emotional Self-Regulation: A Model For Human Dignity In The Technological Age,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 24 (2013): 1-29. (with Paul Carron).  This link may require registration to download, but should be readable without logging in.

I would like to devote more time in the coming weeks to developing a meditation practice.  While I wrote about it previously, I haven’t done much of it of this sort.  I’ve been reading a bit about different meditation types, and this hint about Socrates’ practice keeps nagging at me, and really merits some further investigation.

If any readers of the blog have a formal meditation practice, I’m interested in your findings experiences, and thoughts in this regard.  Please let me know in the comments or privately as you choose.

* * *

After reading the paper, this isn’t too much here as far as non-technical information that I didn’t cover in my first description.  It was nice to see some of my conclusions and inferences supported.  I don’t have the technical background to speak to the section on research and brain states, but it was interesting.

My overall conclusions remain the same:  that this is a practice which merits further exploration.

Cora Lutz’s translation of Musonius to be reprinted

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If you are interested in a pre-order, the Cora Lutz translation of Musonius Rufus’ Lectures and Sayings is going to be back in print for the first time in a long time.  This edition will be bilingual, with Koine Greek and English.

For US-folks, it should be available in mid-February, and my understanding is that it will be available in April in Europe and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there is no cover art available yet.

If you are interested, you can use this link, and I may get a small commission.  I’ve already pre-ordered it, as I’ve wanted a physical, bilingual version for some time.  The US version is $22, which seems like a deal to me.  When I was searching for print versions of 1947 translations, the cost was significantly higher.

Here’s the link:

That One Should Disdain Hardships: The Teachings of a Roman Stoic

Channeling Seneca, ameliorated by Epictetus

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There is pain in the foot, and a tingling sensation in the joints; but we still hide the complaint and announce that we have sprained a joint, or else are tired from over-exercise. Then the ailment, uncertain at first, must be given a name; and when it begins to swell the ankles also, and has made both our feet “right” feet, we are bound to confess that we have the gout.”

— Seneca, Moral Letters 53


Today a bit of Stoic remedy helped me. It was nice to find that after an absence, when I reached out philosophy was still there. I’ve been dealing with hyperuricemia (commonly called gout) for the past four years. It’s a kidney problem in which those organs are unable to adequately filter the blood, leading to high levels of uric acid. This form crystals which lodge in the joints, cutting into the tissues there and causing swelling. As the tissues swell, they cut more and more, recursively. Eventually, the swelling becomes so severe that the affected joint begins to dislocate.

About 60% of this problem is genetic, the remainder from lifestyle choices. Foods high in purines metabolize creating uric acid, so dietary control is a key factor. Triggers are highly idiosyncratic.

Gout is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. It recalibrated my “1-10” scale. It is difficult to describe, or relay the pain. In a bad flare-up, there is no comfortable position, even the weight of a bedsheet is unbearable. The pain is so intense, I cannot read or watch TV. I can only experience the pain. It shuts everything else out.

When I first got diagnosed, I undertook some experiments to find the triggers. Common ones include meat, red meat, shell fish, lentils, cauliflower, alcohol. I ate a vegetarian diet for two months, then introduced meat excepting red for two months. I abstained from cruciferous vegetables for two months. I avoided alcohol for two months.

After about half a year, I determined that hops (like in India Pale Ales) were problematic, as was high fructose corn syrup.

Avoiding these two things has helped, but not entirely reduced the attacks. Soemtimes I’ll months without a flare-up, other times I’ll have three in two weeks.

During a flare-up, I cannot usually walk. The joints of the feet, my ankles, and occasionally knee are affected.

So, why a discussion about a medical issue? I’m having a flare-up today, and while I was waiting for a ride home to get emergency meds, a miscommunication occured and I thought briefly I was going to be left behind.

A creeping sense of panic began to set in, and I found a sliver of space to recognize this anxiety as an impression, and not the thing itself.

I remember the words of Epictetus:

Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

Enchiridion 9.

I repeated them several times, and wiggled into that mental distance between the impression of anxiety, and the reality of the situation.

I was borrowing trouble from the future, but what I needed to do was exercise my normal will in the here and now.

So I stood a moment in the stairwell, looked at the pain, and felt calm. I had the tools to handle this situation.

I reached out, and found philosophy there to lend her hand.

Seneca mentioned gout, as well as another other classical philosophers. So it’s an interesting situation that we, separated by so much time and space, often find ourselves handling many of the same issues.