WHAT STOICISM IS AND IS NOT
The term Stoic today has become synonymous with that of an unemotional being. The definition currently reads “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.”
But more often than not, people believe that this means one must suppress their emotions, hide their feelings and just learn to deal with life and their circumstances.
This is not Stoicism. Stoicism is not pushing down your feelings and emotions and just continuing on with the adversities of life.
Stoicism is the philosophical practice of coming to terms with your emotions, understanding where they reside, how they come about, and how we utilize them. It is the deconstruction of the mind and soul, examining one’s behaviors and the judgments one makes, and understanding where their place is in the “universal reason of Nature.” It is learning self-control. It is about understanding destructive emotions and overcoming them. It is about becoming clearheaded through constant practice and reflection.
The Stoics strove to remove the emotional connections from external sources and instead, worked to understand the elements that were within their control. By understanding the difference between what is within one’s control and what is not, the Stoics were able to create an even tempered mindset about their lives and the roles they played within Nature. Stoics focused on being in accord with Nature, not fighting against it, understanding that ultimately, we have no direct control over these universal circumstances.
THE BEGINNING OF STOICISM
Stoicism was founded around 301 BC by Zeno of of Citium. The word Stoic comes from the word Stoa Poikile meaning “painted porch.” The term Stoicism came about because Zeno used to teach from a porch, purposely choosing to teach in the open and having his students be able to see Athens.
THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES OF STOICISM
There are four virtues of Stoicism, often referred to as the four cardinal virtues: Wisdom (Sophia), Courage (Andreia), Justice (Dikaiosyne), and Temperance (Sophrosyne). They’re also seen as Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude.
Much of Stoicism has been lost to history. It is estimated that only 1% of the philosophy and its writings survive to this day. Today, many scholars and historians view Stoicism within three phases: Early Stoa (that of Zeno’s teachings), Middle Stoa, and Late Stoa (found in the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus).
THE THREE MAIN STOICS
The Stoics most often quoted today are Marcus Aurelius, Seneca the Younger, and Epictetus.
Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome between 161 and 180 AD. He was known as a Philosopher King due to his love and knowledge of philosophy, his wise wisdom, and his even-keeled nature. His writings, known as The Meditations or Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, are his personal journals of the time. There is no concrete knowledge as to exactly what years they were written. His Meditations is a collection of 12 “books” which detail his most personal thoughts and understandings of the world. Some have even viewed these books as a mental training journal, providing guidance and exercise for situations he encountered.
Seneca the Younger was a philosopher and dramatist who would eventually become the tutor to Nero. His work focused mostly on ethics. A majority of his writings, known as Letters, Moral Letters, or Letters from a Stoic, can be found for free online in PDF form. Tim Ferriss, often known for his love of Seneca, has been gracious enough to produce the PDFs and links to them can be found here. Seneca was unfortunately forced to commit suicide after he was accused of being a part of a conspiracy to kill Nero.
Epictetus was born a slave. The writings that have withstood time are not his actual writings, but rather, those of one of his students who began to document the teachings of Epictetus. His works are Discourses, The Enchiridion, and Fragments, and are available for free online.
WHY STOICISM MATTERS TODAY
With the vastly changing landscapes of today with the rise of technology and social media, it is extremely important that individuals know of, and understand, the philosophy of Stoicism.
By being able to understand our emotions and the roles they play in our actions, we can better conquer the world and ourselves. We do not want our emotions destroying us, causing us to have violent outbursts or unnecessary fights with others.
The study and practice of Stoicism will help to ground one in the simple premise of understanding what is within their control and what is not. By understanding how small we are in the nature of the universe, we are better able to release the daily tensions and anxieties for which we find ourselves at conflict with.