Stoic Lesson On Growing Old

Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending.

It is quite telling that Seneca dedicated an entire letter to aging. It shows how little we, as people, have changed or evolved from our ancestors. For the most part, the same daily concerns that circulated in the minds of Romans are the same ones that trouble us now. One of these concerns being the natural aspect of life: Aging.

In our current age perhaps this concern is more prevalent than before or at least it seems that way with social media. There are so many different surgeries that attempt to give you a youthful appearance, so many companies that sell products to keep you young and beautiful, or so they claim, and so many people who actively seek remedies to aging.

However, the Stoic advice on this matter is similar to their advice on many topics: Acceptance, emotional/attitudinal control and a change of perspective.

Aging is a natural part of life so by accepting it, it can change your perspective from viewing aging as negative to view it as positive. Another Stoic principle is to control one’s attitude. We always have a choice in how we react. Our attitude is one of the few things we control in this life. Once more it is a matter of perspective. We can either see aging as something terrible and sad or we can view it is a new experience, a chance to see the world from a different manner, a chance to transition into a different phase of our life and even live differently. With this perspective change, you can then see the benefits of aging.

As Seneca says:

In my opinion, even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own.

Not only is there a need to accept the natural aging process but also to accept our lack of control over it. It’s easy to see the self harm some people cause through plastic surgeries as they attempt to stop what is natural. Aging can be used to practice a virtue like grace. To age gracefully instead of fighting and manipulating yourself to cling on to what is long past.

Of course, the biggest concern associated with aging is death. The fear of death whether consciously or unconsciously is at the root of a lot of people’s attitudes and actions. However, the Stoics don’t see death as something terrible. Just as with aging, death is also natural.

If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

The Stoics almost recommend a daily reminder of death in order to lessen its impact if it does appear. The reminder is also there in order for you to live the present moment to its fullest extent. In this way, as one ages and death becomes more of a concern, the Stoics could see that as a blessing. By confronting that possibility we can then prepare our attitude and action towards it and in the meantime, enjoy the time we have left for when you truly acknowledge death, then each moment becomes more precious. We soon come to see what matters, what we truly desire, what makes us happy and fulfilled and on what things and with whom we would like to spend our time. So, aging can be viewed as a blessing to clear away all that doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.

For the Stoics, any hardship is an opportunity to exercise our wisdom and the strength of our character. For some, aging is a hardship and so, for those people, aging can be viewed as an opportunity to practice the right attitude, practice our control over our attitude and to practice the right mindset.

Book Referenced: Letters From A Stoic By Seneca

 

 

 

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


Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

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

Short Story: The Bus

 

Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

A change of character, not a change of air, is what you need […] whatever your destination you will be followed by your own failings.

In life, we often look for some external change which we hope will bring us fulfillment. If only I got that promotion or if only I can lose another five pounds or if only that girl had said yes or if only I can travel more I’ll be happy and so on. Always looking for something other than ourself. However, it’s also true that when those external things we wished for do come true, we only find temporary relief, if that, before we begin to crave something else.

Seneca would say the reason for this repetitive living is that you’re not aiming to improve your character so no matter the circumstances, you are still stuck with yourself, with your own thoughts and feelings.

And if you want to know why all this running away cannot help you, the answer is simply this: you are running away in your own company. You have to lay aside the load of your spirit. Until you do that, nowhere will satisfy you. 

I believe that a lot of us know that we are capable of doing more but lack the work ethic and discipline. So you’re left with this itch that keeps reminding you of what you can become while you distract yourself with external concerns and in this day and age, distraction through social media.

I know I’m one of these people. It’s hard to find happiness and joy in life when you’re internally unbalanced.

Recognition of this is just the first step. The passive understanding will not do. Action has to follow this understanding.

A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation.

For myself, there are two things that have helped bridge the gap between who I am and who I wish to be and that’s self-reflection and voluntary hardship.

Often self-reflection and meditation go hand in hand but I’m yet to find benefits of meditation. However, another form of self-reflection is writing. Through journaling, I’m able to remind myself to stay on the path as cliche as that sounds. The reminders are necessary. Also through writing, I’m able to work through all the noise that’s in my life, all the different things grabbing my attention, in order to concentrate on what I want to do with my time. Working out what I want to do and who I want to be has certainly helped bring more stability to the internal me which has taken focus away from the external cravings.

Voluntary hardship is another way to “lay aside the load of your spirit” as Seneca said. The idea is that you consciously move towards something that makes you uncomfortable, something that pushes you into the zone of proximal development where you will have to grow in order to overcome some challenge. This doesn’t have to be a great struggle. If you can only run a mile, going to a mile and a half is an accomplishment. If you can’t run at all then just walking half a mile is something that can help you grow. The little steps of discomfort strengthen your internal resolve and make you internally proud. In this way, you don’t have to seek external validation to feel good.

Once you have rid yourself of the affliction there, though, every change of scene will become a pleasure. You may be banished to the ends of the earth, and yet in whatever outlandish corner of the world you may find yourself stationed, you will find that place, whatever it may be like, a hospitable home.

When the inner state is in balance then you see the brilliance of life in everything. The mundane, everyday life seems unique.

So–to the best of your ability—demonstrate your own guilt, conduct inquiries pf your own into all the evidence against yourself. Play the part first of prosecutor, then of a judge and finally of pleader in mitigation. Be harsh with yourself at times.

By holding yourself accountable, by holding yourself up to an inner standard you experience true growth. External standards and cravings come and go. They change like the weather and your left thinking whether you have actually grown which brings feelings of disappointment and shame. But when you consistently meet the internal standards then you can compare the previous you to the present you, you see your development. In this manner, we get closer to internal peace and with it true fulfillment and happiness.


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


Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

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