Stoic Lesson: The Importance of Journaling

Our current age is so fast-paced and there is so much information out there that it feels like you are just jumping from one thought to another without completely digesting the message. We get all this information which we never unpack and see if it’s useful or not.

For Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic philosopher, this unpacking of information was done through his writing. He kept a journal that we now know as his book ‘Meditations‘. The book is essentially comprised of personal notes, each one reminding him of something that he considered to be important, some principle to remember and live-by. Rather than adding information, Marcus Aurelius refined what he knew and tried to live by it.

Which is the point of philosophy. Philosophy isn’t simply to contemplate whether we exist or not or what logic means but rather, philosophy is about how one lives and for Aurelius, he was able to embody his philosophy by constantly reminding himself of what was important.

From the point of view of the imminence of death, one thing counts, and one alone: to strive always to have the essential rules of life present in one’s mind, and to keep placing oneself in the fundamental disposition of the philosopher, which consists essentially in controlling one’s inner discourse, in doing only that which is of benefit to the human community, and in accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of the All. (Pierre Hadot)

The essential reason why Aurelius wrote was to control his inner discourse. By that, it is meant his thoughts. If you allow your mind to be completely free, it is likely to fill your head with anxiety and fears or, it’ll distract you from the right action by leading you towards some immediate gratification. But by repeatedly reading and writing the principles that you want to live by, you bring those ideals to the forefront of your mind and then your action follows.

It is not enough to reread what has already been written. Written pages are already dead, and the Meditations were not made to be reread. What counts is the reformulation: the act of writing or talking to oneself, right now, in the very moment when one needs to write. (Pierre Hadot)

This is an important thing to understand. If one reads the ‘Meditations’ what they will find is that Marcus Aurelius is basically repeating the same handful of principles over and over again. The reason for this is that the book was never meant for public eyes. Rather it was his personal journal. But what we can understand from this action is that we need reminders. We need to remember to stay on the right path. This is done through daily practice. Every day you have to hammer it into your mind what you want to be, how you want to act, how you want to represent yourself. Writing is one way to do this. Because the act of writing alone causes you to concentrate on the thoughts which are formulating into the words in front of you.

Marcus writes only in order to have the dogmas and rules of life always present to his mind. He is thus following the advice of Epictetus, who, after having set forth the distinction between what does and does not depend on us —- the fundamental dogma of Stocisim —- adds:

It is about this that philosophers ought to meditate; this is what they should write down every day, and it should be the subject of their exercises (I, I, 25).

You must have these principles at hand both night and day; you must write them down; you must read them (III, 24, 103). (Pierre Hadot).

These principles depend on the individual. For the Stoics, the main principles were to understand how little control we have in life, how we do have control over our reason and attitude, how death can approach at any moment and how we must align ourselves with the universal purpose.

This may not be how you wish to live. But whatever you consider to be important, whatever principles you wish to follow require constant attention. You just have to remember to reinforce these principles on a consistent basis.

The practical nature of stoicism is one of the reasons why this philosophy is still relevant. It acknowledges how easy it is to be overwhelmed or to stray off the path but it also provides a solution in the form of journaling. Simply by writing for ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and maybe even in the afternoon, it can act as a reminder and help you to carry yourself with grace, to think of the right things and to act in the correct manner. The repetition of such can then slowly transform your character to the point that you begin to embody the philosophy by the way you live as it did for Marcus Aurelius.

Book referenced: The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot


Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Stoic Lesson: How To Keep Yourself Accountable

Stoic Lesson: The Right Mindset For A Happy Life

Stoic Lesson: Concentrate On What You Can Control

Stoic Lesson: You Have To Acknowledge Your Sickness Before You Can Be Cured

Stoic Lesson: Epictetus On Progress

Stoic Lesson: An Exercise In Being Grateful


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Poem: The Old Rebel

Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

Short Story: The Bus

 

Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

It seems that it is, rather, the property of Man’s wit to act readily and quickly, while the property of the judgment is to be slow and poised. But there is the same measure of oddness in the man who is struck dumb if he has no time to prepare his speech and the man who cannot take advantage and speak better when he does have time. (Montaigne)

These are the two spectrums of thinking. On one side is a person who is quick on their feet and can improvise. On the other end is a person who requires time to think and organize their thoughts before acting. There are benefits to both sides as certain circumstances require quick wit and others poised judgment. But this can only be achieved if you have the ability to act both ways. People often handicap themselves by only practicing one way of thinking. They either think themselves quick-witted or not. Or they only reap the rewards of one approach and not the other.

Montaigne urges people to be both a preacher and a barrister. Someone who is well thought out but is also able to improvise on the spot. For myself, I know I lean heavily towards the organization side of the spectrum. Ad-libbing isn’t something I’m comfortable with. Perhaps overthinking is the reason for the lack of wit.

In addition, a soul worrying about doing well, straining and tensely drawn towards its purpose, is held at bay — like water which cannot find its way through the narrow neck of an open gutter because of the violent pressure of its overflowing abundance.

The desire to perform well, to not fail, to not embarrass ourselves can lead us away from exercising our wit. It can stop us from exploring this other side of ourselves, the more unconscious, unstructured and free-flowing aspect of our personality.

The occasion, the company, the very act of using my voice, draw from my mind more than what I can find there when I exercise it and try it out all by myself.

Montaigne exercised this part of himself through speech. By just talking and letting the words come out and then following this spontaneous line of thought and seeing where it takes him. He also exercised his wit through writing. Often going with the flow of his thoughts without forcing judgment on what he’s writing.

Where I seek myself I cannot find myself: I discover myself more by accident than by inquiring into my judgment.

This did lead to writing that didn’t make sense. But it also lead to unpacking what he truly believed in, what he thought to be important and what he cared about. Because the actions committed without judgment speak volumes of your true form. In this way, embracing the flow aspect of your thoughts can shine a light on what you really want to say. Once that is out there, on paper or in a conversation, then you can add organization and structure to the argument and present it as a complete package.

You don’t want to be limited by your own perceptions. Montaigne suggests that we can be both, quick-witted and have good judgment. He also suggests that this needs to be practiced. The practice may involve sitting down and writing an essay on a topic just to exercise your judgment. It may also involve a stream of consciousness type journaling where you’re not bogged down by the desire to present a concise argument. By practicing both sides we move towards the middle of the spectrum where we can then pick and choose how to act and be ready depending on external situations.


Montaigne On The Displacement Of Anger

Montaigne on The Importance of Emotional Moderation

Montaigne On How To Judge Someone’s Actions

Bad Memory Has Its Benefits

Reflections: Get Out Of Your Head


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Poem: Electric Self-Help

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

The Importance Of Belief

In the book, The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz goes over several practical actions and behaviors that can help a person achieve their goals. One such action is the importance of belief and a positive mind.

The power belief is a very cliche thing to say because it’s often misused or perhaps overused. The difference is that most people simply daydream and hope that someday their dreams come true. However, with true belief, it’s a more concrete approach to life. You don’t believe that someday it’ll happen but rather in the next 2 months or 6 months or 2 years or 10 years you’ll achieve your goals. And thus, with deadlines comes action. You have to act in order for the belief to be fulfilled. But at the very beginning, the initial action, the foundational step is belief.

Belief works this way. Belief, the “I’m-positive-I-can” attitude, generates the power, skill and energy needed to do. When you believe I-can-do-it, the how-to-do-it develops.

When you believe that you can be successful then you see that end goal and with it, you see the certain attributes and skills which are required. If you wish to run your own business but lack the ability to lead, then that’s a clear attribute that you need to work on. You may need to take classes, read books and be more conscious of your behaviors and the words you use. You can then objectively see the person you are presently and view the tools that you are missing, the skills that you need to acquire and create a plausible plan that can slowly get you towards your goals.

Believing they will succeed–and that it’s not impossible–these folks study and observe the behavior of senior executives. They learn how successful people approach problems and make decisions. They observe the attitudes of successful people.

The how-to-do-it always comes to the person who believes he can do it.

But if the belief isn’t there, then the goal isn’t there and without that, you can’t see the missing parts of yourself.

Belief is what starts the chain reaction of growth. It’s like visualization. If you don’t visualize where you are going, where you want to end up and what you want to be, then you’re blindly walking around. Similarly, if you don’t believe that you are capable of achieving your goals, then you’re simply shortchanging yourself. Limiting your own potential.

Belief in great results is the driving force, the power behind all great books, plays, scientific discoveries.

On the other hand, disbelief is an obstacle that can obstruct your momentum before it can even build.

Disbelief is negative power. When the mind disbelieves or doubts, the mind attracts “reasons” to support the disbelief. Doubt, disbelief, the subconscious will to fail, the not really wanting to succeed, is responsible for most failures.

It is always easier to come up with a list of things that can potentially go wrong. Reasons why you should stay safe and comfortable rather than take a risk. Failure and humiliation are real and many believers have experienced them. But the point, at least to me, isn’t about a 100% success rate. Rather it’s to act with a belief that you can get from A to Z and even if you fail in that belief and perhaps land somewhere around M, you can then plan once more and take action which allows you to inch your way towards your goals.

But someone with disbelief sees that potential failure as crippling and stays safe which also limits the experience and potentialities of life.

Look at it this way. Belief is the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life. Study the fellow who is shuffling down there in mediocrity. He believes he is worth little, so he receives little. He believes he can’t do big things, and he doesn’t. He believes he is unimportant, so everything he does has an unimportant mark. As time goes by, lack of belief in himself shows through in the way the fellow talks, walks, acts. Unless he readjusts his thermostat forward, he shrinks, grows smaller and smaller in his own estimation. And, since others see in us what we see in ourselves, he grows smaller in the estimation of the people around him.

The three ways to develop the power of belief are:

  1. Think success, don’t think failure. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions which bring you closer to your goal. Negative thoughts lead to negative actions which make the goal seem impossible.
  2. Remind yourself regularly that you are better than you think you are. It’s only by believing that you are capable of doing great things that you can achieve them.
  3. Believe Big. The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. It’s extremely rare that people stumble into great success. Rather, it’s a calculated and measured approach that builds one towards that success.

Once more, it’s hard to separate cliche from a statement like ‘the power of belief’. There are aspects of life that are unknown or out of your control. So, there is always a degree of uncertainty that accompanies each action. Belief is there in order to overcome this uncertainty and allow you to act. In some ways, it’s similar to faith but faith which is backed by action because you believe that your goals are real and that you have the capability to attain them. Without belief, you stall out before you even get started in the race.

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right. (Henry Ford)


Youtube: Learned Living

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Poem: Electric Self-Help

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

Albert Einstein On The Ideals Of Life

My grandfather happens to be a great admirer of Albert Einstein, as many people are, and I had a conversation with him about Einstein and I learned many things about the man, Einstein and not just the scientist. I was surprised to hear about how much Einstein wrote on subject matter like tolerance, kindness and the importance of art.

This got me curious to learn about this important figure in human history. I wished to learn more about Einstein the man, what his thoughts were, what did he like, what did he believe in, his dislikes and worldviews.

And to my great pleasure, I came upon a book that was conveniently called Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein. The book is a compilation of his essays, letters, and speeches which range from topics of politics, science, religion, the meaning of life, education, friends and many more. The contextual thought that I found interesting was that many of these letters, essays and speeches were written between post World War I and post World War II. I am sure the experience of that horrific time period played a role in what I wish to quote in this post. The section in the book is called “The World As I See It” in which Albert Einstein discusses the ideals of his life.

To inquire after the meaning or object of one’s own existence or that of all creatures has always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yet everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgements. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — this ethical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed to me empty. The trite objects of human efforts – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed to me contemptible.

These three ideals seem to be lacking in the public at the moment. Constantly we see how volatile social media can be, how easy it is to spread hate and leave hateful comments. Truth itself is a virtue that isn’t respected much. People fake their own images and lives in order to garner some type of following or blatantly spread lies in order to push their own agenda. Beauty, on the other hand, seems to go unnoticed as in the arts, whatever makes money is pushed forth rather than true beauty and in life, people rarely acknowledge or attempt to see the beauty that surrounds us.

One reason why such ideals developed in the mind of a young Einstein was due to a quote from Schopenhauer.

Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. Schopenhauer’s saying “A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants,” has been a very real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life’s hardships, my own and others’, and an unfailing well-spring of tolerance. This realization mercifully mitigates the easily paralyzing sense of responsibility and prevents us from taking ourselves and other people all too seriously; it is conducive to a view of life which, in particular, gives humor its due.

Free to do what we want but not free to want what we want. That’s a conundrum. So, I suppose one should be tolerant towards others because there is a certain restriction in people’s movements and decisions. Recognize the limitations of man and be patient. See the humor in the ridiculousness of life and try to achieve more than just immediate satisfaction. That seem to be three practical ways to behave. It does not seem too absurd to live by ideals of kindness, beauty, and truth. It seems definitely better than the alternative.


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Poem: The Many Yous

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out