Saturday, December 26, 2015

On Choosing Your Poison

So it's five days until the New Year and I realized something about myself.

I'm terrible at planning.

See, I've been working on the Mad Stoic's Stoic Year of Living for a few months now and I've come up with very little. Oh, I've got things we can do, but I couldn't figure out how to structure it. Was there a logical way to do things? And what gave me the right ideas about how to structure?

And what was the best way to get people involved with the project? I wanted people to give feedback so we could make sure the project helped out as many people as possible.

I racked my brain and I think I've come up with something.

You guys are going to choose the first challenge.

Here's how it's going to work: I'm going to present two tasks. One will be Mental tasks and one will be Physical tasks. Mental tasks will concern themselves with things that don't require much of your body, visualizations and journaling. Physical tasks will challenge your body, like cold showers.

The task you guys pick will be your first task that week. The other option will become next week's.

And while I have many ideas, I want you guys to give me input. I'd rather do what you guys would rather focus on than just my thoughts.

Enough yammering out of me, though. Here are your options:

Negative visualizations. Everyone starts the New Year thinking of all the good things that will come to them. Not us. We'll spend the first week tackling all the things all that could go wrong. (Mental)


Cold showers. It's been a warm winter this year. Let's cool things off. (Physical)

The poll is located on the side and closes 12/31/15 at noon.

Looking forward to spending the New Year will all of you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On the Paris Attacks

A few nights ago, my sister-in-law mentioned in passing that Paris was under attack. To her, it was no big deal. However, the journalist in me couldn't let it pass. I logged onto Reddit and thought that it couldn't be any worse than the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Time proved me wrong.

At the time of this writing, 132 were dead and at least 89 were in critical condition, so it's quite possible this number can jump much higher. It's a great loss of life that shocked even my normally Stoic self.

Over on r/Stoicism, someone asked how a Stoic would cope with something like this. Stoicism, like Socrates, teaches that no one willingly does evil. Rather, they do things in a misguided attempt to do good. The terrorists in this case did not think they were doing evil, but justice for things happening in Syria. Even in cases where we can perceive that others may think we are doing wrong, we still justify that we are doing right in some way.

When these terrorists got ready for their attack, they must have known that the world wouldn't agree with their reasons. Yet they went on with their attack, because at the end of the day, they felt they were doing more good than wrong.

Yet that doesn't feel right, does it? When it comes to minor actions, it's very easy to say, “It seemed so to them.” Someone steals your lamp, well, it seemed like a good idea to them. A group massacres and hurts hundreds of people and saying “It seemed so to them” just doesn't seem to fit.

The problem is that this is exactly what Stoicism calls for. We as Stoics, as hard as it is, must accept that the terrorists meant to do good. Does that mean what they did was good? Of course not. By saying the terrorists wanted to do good, we're aren't saying that they did good. What they did was further create a chasm between non-Muslims and Muslims. In essence, they created more of the suspicion they accuse non-Muslims of by (most likely) hiding within the refugees' ranks.

There's another way of saying this: Everyone thinks themselves the hero of their own story. Of course, this mean that someone has to be a villain as well. People often talk of the whole world bearing down on them. Well, to these terrorists, the world really is and so they think they're doing an even greater good, because the whole world is an evil to fight. Perhaps that's why they don't see the damage they do -- or why anyone who does wrong doesn't see their wrongness. Even the most innocent babe is just a spawn of pure evil.

This doesn't mean that Stoics are just going to roll over. Marcus lead a Roman army for many years, wielding its power not in rage, but as it was needed. Of course, most Stoics these days can't rouse up an army. But we can still do good, like give money, donate blood, or fight for better foreign policies.

As for however we're feeling, well, none of us are sages. Even the staunchest Stoic flinches. The point isn't to be perfect and unfeeling. That's a part of being human. To paraphrase Seneca, our initial anger or sadness are a result of emotional scars. It's how fast we can get back on track that counts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Calling All Stoics! Invitation to a Stoic Year!

So as we begin to near the final quarter of the year, I thought maybe an update on my Stoic living guide that I planned on making for next year should be in order.

Just it recap, the Stoic living guide is supposed to be a yearlong habit-building exercise for Stoicism like the Happiness Project was for happiness. The idea is simple enough. Figure out practical ways to reinforce the theoretical. It's all well and good to know what's not in our control, but if we don't take the time to remind ourselves of these things on a daily basis, it does us little good.

However, it's been a few months of since I've started this project and I found that I'm not that great at it. As it turns out, it's hard to find practical ways to apply theory to Stoicism. Outside of the things most Stoics know, such as the View from Above exercise, negative visualization, and Seneca's nightly review, there's also others that we know about, but don't apply to everyone or involve major life changes. Such as not shaving your beard. Or becoming a vegetarian.

It did get me thinking, however. Stoicism, back in it's heyday, really liked the community. It's like they were cosmopolitans or something. It made me realize that any Stoic project that I undertook by myself kind of missed a part of Stoicism. Stoicism was to be practiced alone and with others. Alone, because it's up to us to follow through with our practice. Together, because we become stronger with others.

So, I propose this: starting in January, I invite anyone who is willing to a yearlong Stoic practice. Instead of a lot of little things, we'll focus on one big thing a month. Think Stoic Week, just longer and slower paced. Once every two weeks, we'll catch up with each other and talk about how we're doing, both on the blog and Google Chat. Do videos, start your own blog, paint your porch and start inviting others to share in your wisdom. Whatever you want to track your progress and share it.

I started this blog because I wanted to be a part of the community. But I realized that if I wanted to be part of it, I have to be willing to take time to make contributions to it. I fail most of the time because I always viewed this blog as somehow apart from the Stoic community. This, the cosmopolitanism, was what I was missing from my Stoic practice. Even my able to control my emotions is way stronger than my ability to get involved.


What do you guys think? Would you be on board for a yearlong practice with others?

Friday, August 7, 2015

On Gratefulness

"Are these the only works of Providence within us? What words suffice to praise or set them forth? Had we but understanding, should we ever cease hymning and blessing the Divine Power, both openly and in secret, and telling of His gracious gifts? Whether digging or ploughing or eating, should we not sing the hymn to God:—

Great is God, for that He hath given us such instruments to till the ground withal: Great is God, for that He hath given us hands and the power of swallowing and digesting; of unconsciously growing and breathing while we sleep!

Thus should we ever have sung; yea and this, the grandest and divinest hymn of all:— Great is God, for that He hath given us a mind to apprehend these things, and duly to use them!

What then! seeing that most of you are blinded, should there not be some one to fill this place, and sing the hymn to God on behalf of all men? What else can I that am old and lame do but sing to God? Were I a nightingale, I should do after the manner of a nightingale. Were I a swan, I should do after the manner of a swan. But now, since I am a reasonable being, I must sing to God: that is my work: I do it, nor will I desert this my post, as long as it is granted me to hold it; and upon you too I call to join in this self-same hymn." -Epictetus

While some may cringe at the overtly religious tone, it would be wrong to dismiss this passage. Epictetus is inviting us to live with gratefulness.

The way I've understood it, singing hymns to the divine is a religious person's way to giving thanks to said divine. And Epictetus, despite being lamed in one leg and exiled, still thinks there's reasons to be thankful. To him, it's amazing we have hands to work the earth, that our bodies can consume food, and that even while we sleep, our bodies keep working.

But what he finds most amazing is that we have these minds that can understand these things and know how to use them. Our reasoning mind is the greatest thing we have.

Yet for most of us, we forget just how great our lives are. We get a backache and curse the world that the aspirin isn't instant and that we have backs to hurt. We get upset by traffic jams but forget that it's still a heck of a lot faster than horseback or walking. For every little inconvenience in our lives, we ignore just much a few generations behind us would have loved to have them.

It's hard – perhaps even impossible – to live a forever grateful life. To try to live every instant with the idea that we should be grateful would take a lot of effort. However, as Epictetus seems to point out, most of us live blind to these things, not even trying to find reasons for gratefulness. I know people who complain of lack of money, not because they can afford the things they need with ease, but because they can't afford the things they want with ease. With these kinds of people in the world, even those that take just a little time reflect on the good in their lives is in a better position than most.

Of course, maybe the reason Epictetus seems so adamant in his praise is because he's been in the lowest points of life during his time. As most Stoics know, he was a slave. A highly regarded one, perhaps, but a slave's a slave. He's able to look back onto his life, back to his low points, and rejoice in his current position in life. And he knows that should he ever lose that position, he could survive because he did it before. But that should drive home the point home: hardship isn't something that makes your life miserable. Stoics taught that we're the ones that make ourselves miserable. And we probably do get ourselves to a point where we see the good in the everything. It's just convincing ourselves that it's true.

Of course, this isn't the same as being happy over every little thing that happens to us. Grateful as he may have been, Epictetus would probably have liked the use of both of his legs. But on the things he knew he didn't have control over, well, he just didn't focus on that. Perhaps if he was pushed on the subject, he would have said something like this:

Yes, having the use of both of my legs would have been nice. But I could have just as easily have lost the use of both of them, or even more than just that. But that isn't the fate God gave me. The fate I did get, however, is greater than the loss of my leg. I get to live my life in awe of the world around me. I get to teach others how to live theirs the same. And I'm proof that just because we are lamed, doesn't mean we can't have good lives.

It's all about the perspective. We can all find the bad in everything. It stands to reason we can find the good in everything as well.

Edit; Changed a word. Thanks to Jorden Godbey for pointing it out.

Monday, August 3, 2015

On Indifferents

I.
The aim of this essay is to prove the importance of the concept of Stoic indifference. However, to give you the TL;DR of it up front and save those who'd rather spend their time elsewhere: things aren't as important as you think.

II.
Let me start by defining what Stoic indifference is.

A long time ago, a bearded dude by the name of Socrates quizzed a guy about good and evil. It went a little something like this (own translation):

Socrates: Hey, would you consider things like money, skills and talent, and a not shitty environment good things?
Guy: Yeah, I would. Very good things, actually.
Socrates: Okay, but would you say you could still be a good person even if you didn't have these things?
Guy: I suppose so.
Socrates: And if you did have this stuff, you still could be a bad person, right?
Guy: Yeah, of course.
Socrates: So, really, all those things like money and shit itself isn't good or bad, wouldn't you say?
Guy: When you put it that way, I guess so.
Socrates: Hear that? That's the sound of your mind being blown.

What Socrates is saying is that a lot of things, because they don't make us good or bad people, are not themselves good or bad. Take money, for example. Some people claim that it's the root of all evil, as it can afford extravagance. Others would say that money is good, as it can afford more charity. Socrates – and many other philosophers after him – would disagree with both of these views. Money was neither good or bad. It was up to the person who had it.

Guy: I don't get it. If money isn't good, then why do I feel better having it than not?
Socrates: Just because something doesn't make a person good or bad, doesn't mean it isn't nice to have. A house is nicer than not having one, but having one doesn't make you a saint.
Guy: So what makes you good?

III.
Virtue. Now that's a word we don't often talk about today. In fact, come to think of it, having spent the last few years studying Stoicism, I still can't say for sure what virtue is.

We could launch into a long diatribe about what virtues means and explore the roots of the word, all that fun stuff. Or we could use the word “character” and go from there. The two are a little different in meaning, but close enough that I think we could get away with it.

So, back to what makes us good. As Socrates showed, things by themselves don't make us good. There's more to the discussion above, but to save time, he says what makes us good is the cultivation of our inner selves, our characters.

Of course, we can debate nonstop about what we consider good character traits. Do we start with the Seven Heavenly Virtues? Do we make our own list? Is it okay to come up short in others, so long as we also stronger than others? Does vice make us bad or just human? So many questions. But that's philosophy for you.

IV.
What's that? You're still not convinced things don't make us good or bad? Okay, fair enough.

Let's say there's this person who has all the best tools to fix any car. This person has the skills, too. But they're lazy, just sitting around doing nothing. They could fix any car, but, fuck, that's hard work. Does having the best skills and tools make this person a good mechanic? No, because without character, all this person has is heavy paperweights.

Now consider someone in the opposite position. They don't have many tools and they aren't the best. They don't have great skill, but a willingness to learn. And this person makes it a goal to fix at least a few cars a day and take notes about what they're doing right and wrong.

Who's the better mechanic?

Yes, having things and having skills can help out in your live. In fact, they can make life a lot easier to handle. But these things are meaningless if you don't use them right. Things are just things. They have to be used to be of any use. Same thing with skills. It's fine and dandy that something doesn't take much effort for you, but you still have to use your skills to get anything out of it.

V.
But if things are indifferent, why bothering striving for anything? Why work for money or a house if neither one is needed?

Good question. And if this was about Cynicism, I'd tell you that they weren't and go live on the street. Maybe find a good barrel somewhere.

But this is Stoicism.

Thankfully, the Stoics understood human nature. It's clear that a house makes (most) people feel better than a barrel. Having money makes (most) peoples' lives easier. For the Stoics, having things was okay. The problem is when we think we need things to be happy. A Stoic would say that, yes, the house is nice, but if it was lost, they still could live a good life.

Remember our talk about virtue? Yeah, see, for Stoics, virtue (or character) was the only thing needed to make a happy and good life. Like the poor mechanic that worked hard, the Stoics felt that virtue could turn any life into one of happiness. Granted, it would take some hardcore philosophy to feel happiness if you lived in, say, a used septic tank. But the Stoics wouldn't recommend that.

Wait a minute! If the Stoics wouldn't recommend that we live in used septic tanks but say that only our virtue makes us happy, doesn't this mean Stoic philosophy is inconsistent?

Chill. Alright? I'm getting to this.

The Stoics used different analogies to better explain their position, but perhaps the easiest one to get is that of the athlete. An athlete that plans on competing will of course do what is needed to improve themselves, but at the end of the day, what matters most is that they competed well, not if they won. So, too, with life. It's fine to improve your life, to get things you think might make your life better. But like the athlete that mistakes winning for everything and so may cheat or just quit, people who mistake things for everything may end up doing the same thing.

VII.
Let's recap: things, while nice, aren't needed to make life good. Virtue, or character, is the only thing we need to make our lives happy. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Providence or Atom? Doesn't Matter!

Having just finished ChrisFisher's and Donald Robertson's essays on Providence or atoms, I've decided to throw my hat into the ring and provide a third choice. Namely, that it doesn't matter.

Let's start with the facts. Yes, the Greek and Roman Stoics believed in Providence. Even if we allowed that some may have been agnostic, like Donald says, it's clear they would have been agnostic theists. Maybe Providence didn't exist, but the Stoics were willing to bet there was one. This alone doesn't clear a path towards atheism. It does, however, provide an opening. If early Stoics were willing to think that maybe there wasn't a god, it stands to reason Stoicism wouldn't be damaged if god wasn't in the picture.

I'll also allow that Stoicism is easier to take if we did believe in Providence, like Chris claims. Why? Because it's easier to think all the suffering of the world happens because it plays a role in the greater good. To paraphrase Seneca, the gods test us to make us better. If we believe that, hardship is easier to endure. However, this doesn't mean we have to believe in Providence.

So what am I getting at? Should the modern Stoic choose atoms or Providence?

Well, like the title suggests, it doesn't matter.

I'll start with a section from Donald's essay:
Panaetius, the last “scholarch” or head of the Athenian school of Stoicism, who introduced it to Rome, is reported to have stated that discussion of the gods is “nugatory” or of negligible importance in relation to the Stoic way of life (q.v., Algra, ‘Stoic Theology’, in The Cambridge Companion to The Stoics, 2003, p. 154).

Nugatory? What the hell is “nugatory”? Well, it means of little to no consequence. If that is true, that ideas about the gods is of little to no consequence, it provides us with a new picture. What it shows is that Providence, and our ideas of it, matter little to the overall philosophy. That one line makes me think this discussion of “Providence or atoms” has been a problem within Stoicism for some time.

If we go a little further, to say that Stoicism is dependent on Providence is to say Stoicism is pretty weak. If my lack of belief in Providence invalidates the rest of Stoicism, that would suggest Stoicism didn't have a coherent belief system to begin with. But as Chris willingly points out, we can have a coherent Stoicism without Providence: CBT is proof of that. To me, what this means is that Providence isn't a foundation of Stoicism, but a component. One that we don't need to be Stoic. If anything, what it shows is one can believe in a god and be a Stoic. But that doesn't mean one has to believe in a god to be a Stoic.

But there is something to Providence that does make Stoicism stronger. Stoics were compatibilists, believing that we had a little bit of free will, but for the most part, fate controlled most everything. I may only be speaking for myself on this, but I do accept this, yet find it hard to justify without thinking that something got the ball rolling. Providence, perhaps? Maybe.

There's also something to be said about Providence testing us with hardship. It's one thing to say that hardship makes us stronger. It's quite another to say the gods are making us stronger. It could explain why the early Stoics seemed so ambitious. If you think your every move, every reaction, is being evaluated by the gods, there's good odds you make different choices than someone who doesn't think that way. Even as an agnostic, the times I said to myself, “Maybe there is a god testing me,” has changed how I reacted. And, I'll be honest, I've felt better thinking I was possibly being tested. And no, I didn't accept I was being tested. Only that I allowed for the possibility.

At the end of the day, I think it's this that matters the most: possibility. Logically speaking, no one can be absolutely sure of their position simply because we can't know everything. Is this an agnostic position? Yes. But this isn't an agnostic atheist or agnostic theist choice. Because I feel Stoicism doesn't make a practitioner choice one or the other. That's up to the individual. But like Panaetius, I feel that, overall, it doesn't matter. Stoicism works regardless.

Edit: Forgot to link to the essays. Should be fixed now.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Four Hour Stoic

From guru to charlatan, much has been said of Tim Ferriss. And it's little wonder. His Four Hour books are best-sellers. He interviews some of the top minds of any given field (Arnold Schwarzenegger is a master of psychological warfare). And he does things to himself that most would count as crazy. To top it off, he claims we can do it, too, if we want.

Of course, this leads to a few questions. Can we? And, more important, should we?

Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of Tim is that not everyone can have a Four Hour life. In the Four Hour Workweek, Tim suggests outsourcing paperwork to others, meaning someone is doing grunt work. Four Hour Body says a combination of working out and drugs (the legal kind) can produce the best body you've ever had, provided you can afford the drugs. And in The Four Hour Chef, he shows you how to learn anything in record time using the 80/20 method, provided you can somehow figure out the 20% you need to learn.

There's another layer as well that I think presents a problem. Tim is influenced by the Stoics. Seneca, too, was a rich Stoic, and his wealth and actions draw Stoics criticism. Could Tim, with his money and books, be painting a bad picture of Stoicism?

Let's address this second question first. Is Tim giving Stoics a bad rap?

No, not at all. In fact, if it wasn't for Tim, I wouldn't have found my interest in Stoicism myself. I read some parts of The Four Hour Body and found Seneca quotes here and there. This led to me to looking him up, which led me to Stoicism, Keith Seddon, and the rest of it.

And what about the money Tim makes? To be fair, I don't know how much the man makes. He claims in the Four Hour Workweek to make 40000 a month, which is a lot of money. He suffers what I call the Seneca problem: people try to use things outside of his character to judge his way of life. Seneca was a Stoic, one who admitted he struggled on the path. He knew the dangers of money because he not only saw it, there are good odds he gave into it every so often. And so it is with Tim. He writes aboutStoicism on his blog and gives some insight into his own life, which is less than perfect. Does that make him less of a Stoic? Anymore than it would make any of us less of one.

But what about these books he wrote? What about them? Of course they aren't perfect. But in essence, each one tackles something from the Stoic readings. The Four Hour Workweek? Seneca writes many of us waste our lives giving our time to people that will never be thankful for it, so why do we do it? The Four Hour Body is an attempt to make our bodies better, something any philosopher in Greece or Rome would tell us to do. And the Four Hour Chef? Marcus said, "Throw your books away and find a mentor." Well, Tim isn't telling us to throw our books away, but he tells us to find a mentor, because they beat books hands-down.

But what about the other criticisms? To be fair, outsourcing paperwork and taking drugs are only suggestions, not commandments. Tim writes how to do these things, but you don't have to do it that way. And if you want to 80/20 anything these days before jumping into it, the internet is a good place to help with that. And if the topics seem unrelated to Stoicism, think about some of Chrysippus's works: On How to Read Poetry and Against the Touching Up of Paintings, for example. Stoics weren't confined to just Stoicism. They saw everything and anything as a way to practice what they thought.

This, I think, is exactly what Tim is doing and is, in a way, the modern treatise. They have their holes, their naysayers. But that doesn't make him wrong, any more than disagreeing with On Anger would make Seneca wrong.


For full disclosure, no, I wasn't paid for this. I just admire the man, even though I'm jelly of his life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Memento Mori

Memento mori. As Stoics, how many times are we reminded to remember our mortality? A lot, if you consider all the readings. Perhaps too much.

See, there's this issue I've had with reminding myself of my own death. No, I'm not a depressed neurotic (at least, I hope not). It's that I've never actually took the time to actually do it. Hearing that we'll die — reading about it, hearing the phrase, saying to ourselves "I'm gonna die" — all this is meaningless without context.

What do I mean?

My step-father-in-law is dying. Right now. He's got tubes sticking out of him, pumping things both in and out. He's a shadow of what he once was. It's been a long while since I've seen this picture of death. The slow draw. My grandfather was the first death I saw like his, except his wasn't slow. The tubes weren't pumping anything. He was dead before my mom, sister, and I got to the hospital.

But this is different. I've watched this man waste away from cancer. I've seen the hopes given, the hopes denied. I've never seen death like this before. Keeping him alive to ponder everything he'll miss. We all suffer from this terminal illness, this slow draw of death. But his smacked him the face with an end date. What his mind must be thinking. If it can even process this information. And, though the doctors say it will be soon, he's still got time on his hands, and unable to do much with it.

As I was in there, it was the first time I actually understood memento mori. As he was in bed, I knew that one day, I could be there. Tubes running in and out of me, replacing my veins and organs because they just can't do it anymore. Unable to feel anything but pain. Watching a world around me carry on.

I could be him one day. Or I could be like my grandfather. Sitting in my favorite chair, calling out for help as something I don't understand happens to my body. Life fading from my body, not giving me any chance to even regret. Or worse, not get over my regrets.

It dawned on me that I didn't understand at all that I was going to die one day until I saw him today. Seneca says that most of us don't know that we are dying every day, that our past belongs to death. I'm dying. My wife. My son. You. We may not be in a bed, gasping for breath, having our waste pulled out of us. But that doesn't matter.

Memento mori, my friends.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Quick Update

Alright, I was going to do a video update, but that's being a pain in the butt because I've never done one before, so I guess for the time being, I'm going to have to write all that I want to tell you guys.

The Mad Stoics Plan for Living a Stoic Life

I know I've written a couple of posts on this, but now it's going into research mode. I might tell you bits and pieces about it, but I'm taking my time with this one. I'm aiming for a Stoic version of the Happiness Project, what with tracking charts for the actions and rules I want to live by. But now I've a lot of reading.

The Library

Speaking of books, I also want to branch into book reviews. I also want to keep track of what books I think you'd guys like. I'm also always looking for good book recommendations, so feel free to tell.

Posting

Yeah, sorry about that. I know I post for a little bit then take a long break, as it were. I'll admit my weakness: I get discouraged too fast. Very un-Stoic. But I hope to come up with new content at least once every week or so.


And there you go. An update.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Mad Stoic's Plan to a Stoic Life Part 2: Broad Goals

As a means of defining my mircogoals, I need to define my marcogoals. Why? Because without a big picture, all the little stuff would be aimless and more akin to my already messy life than a more Stoic one.

With that in mind, I have three broad goals in which to figure out all the small ones.

Mental

Perhaps the most obvious of the three, the mental aspect of life is very important. I personally feel that we all have a baseline mental state that, with it's own quirks, would make it impossible to fully gain the tranquility of the Stoic sage. That being said, we could all use more stability in our lives and, for me, Stoicism can help with that goal.

Spiritual

If the writings are trustworthy, all the Stoics believed in some sort of god or another. Now, I'm not saying I'm trying to find a god. I'm more an agnostic at this point. Some days I think there's a god. Other days, no. However, I still find life has qualities worthy of reverence. This is something I would like to cultivate.

Physical


I've come to the conclusion that – outside of medical conditions – a Stoic shouldn't be fat. I know. That sounds a bit, I dunno, unrelated? Whatever. But I have good reasons to feel this way and it's because of the other two reasons. Think about it: if I revere life, then maybe I should question eating those hamburgers, which can have a whole herd of cattle in one patty. And a wide girth doesn't reflect a calm mind, it reflects my uncontrolled desires for fattening foods. All around, I agree with Socrates: “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” To that extension of the quote, the body is the physical of the mind.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Mad Stoic's Plan to a Stoic Life

Part 1: The Setup

It is a Saturday morning right now and I realize just how un-Stoic I am. I rage too much at the world. I'm not a very social creature. I'm an emotional eater. I don't work the mind too hard, nor the body. In short, I'm much like a lot of people these days, if you believe what you hear about Americans.

And this cycle of un-Stoic behavior just feeds into more un-Stoic living. No, scratch that: the way I am now is un-philosophical, period. I'm just un-ing all over the place.

This morning, as I woke up, it stuck me that I need to get life back down the path of following Stoic Nature. And because I've been reading a lot of experimental journalism – the act of living a certain way for however long because people like reading about other people doing things – I've decided I needed a yearlong Stoic reset.

Stoic reset? What's that even mean?

What I mean is I'm going to spend some time rereading some of the more accessible Stoic works, try to break them down into bite-size action items (maxims, for a more philosophical bent or rules for a more practical one), then do my best for a year to live by these items.

If you've read The Happiness Project, then this might sound familiar. Gretchen Rubin, in her quest to find more happiness in her life, read philosophy, studies, and novels to find action items of happiness. Then, she pulled a Ben Franklin: she made a chart of these items and marked which one's she did. She started out with a few items per month, then added more until she December, which was her ultimate test of happiness, living every day by her items.

From what I remember reading, it worked as well as it could. She didn't become perfectly happy, but happier. And so it is for my goals. I'm not looking to be a sage, but sageier. Shut up, I know that's not a word.

Of course, as it was with philosophers of old, so it will be for me: I'm going to steal – er – be inspired by other people's ideas as well. For example, Gretchen has a wonderful chapter about having more energy. Her reasoning is also on point: having the energy will make everything else that much easier. The Art of Manliness blog has a post about a tech Sabbath, which sounds like a great idea for getting in touch with Nature.

As this is only about the setup, I'm not too sure how I'm going about this yet. I've more research to do and I only have a basic idea of what I want to do. I also have three areas I want to work on: mental, psychical, and spiritual. However, I'm wondering if I can make those more specific. I don't know. But I hope to come up with something for you people soon.

Side-note

I just want to say at the end of this that I'm grateful to the Stoic community. I'm sort of like a leech. I hang off the body of Stoa groups and suck out the wonderful philosophical blood, enriching myself while doing nothing for others. Something like that. But I don't want to do that anymore, so I'm going to try my best to post here more, adding to the efforts rather than feeding off them. Thank you, every last one of you, who're doing what they can to keep Stoa alive.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I Guess I Really Am a Mad Stoic

It seems to me Cato and myself have something in common. I don't have a drinking problem. I never stubbornly defended my country to the point that I brought it's downfall. And I certainly never found myself thrusting a sword into myself.

Yet, anyway.

No, the problem is that, like Cato, I'm quick to anger.

It's hard to explain, but anger and it's cousin, annoyance, spring up in me at the littlest of things. Wife doesn't get out of bed in the morning? Annoyed. Son refuses to sit in a chair because he just has to sit on top of me like I'm a living sofa? Really? Goddamn it.

This is why I have a hard time calling myself a Stoic, despite thinking everything they say makes sense (well, maybe not everything). And I can read On Anger only so many times before I get mad at myself for once again NOT LETTING GO OF THIS F*#&ING ANGER WHY AM I SO ALWAYS PISSED AT ALL THE THINGS!?

*cough*

It seems to me that maybe the problem is I took the Stoic teachings all wrong. See, for awhile, I was trying to use anger like Aristotle would: as a tool. Anger in excess is bad, trying to get rid of it would only cause more anger, blah blah blah. Something like that. The Stoics, on the other hand, saw it as something dangerous, as something we should never use, yet didn't deny it existed. Hell, they even said we should fake it at times.

But what if, when anger came along, I faked not being angry?

I've done it before and it drains will power like nobody's business. But it does help. One or two times, anyway.

But now I've been trying something else: letting people know that I'm angry in a nice way. It goes like this:

Before nice anger: Mostly a lot of stuttering, swearing, and if I could write anything here, it be in all caps.
Now, with nice anger: "I'm mad right now because reasons."

It's odd, but it being nice about being angry is somehow the most Stoic thing I've done for my emotions. I'm not repressing the feeling -- Stoics don't advocate this, anyway -- but I'm not Hulk-smashing my feelings into my family, either. It's an odd win-win that doesn't kill my anger, but also doesn't kill my relationship.

Sure, I still do blow my top every now and then. Some days are just worse than others. But so long as there are more better days than not, I can live with that.

So, my fellow Stoic peeps, do you have an emotion that's hard to control and what have you done to keep it in check?

On (Short and Most Likely Wrong) Thoughts About the Modern Stoic Schools

Recently, I’ve been working on not only gaining a deeper understanding of Stoicism, but also how to use in modern life, as well as attempti...