Sunday, October 7, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Sunday

Morning Reflection
The works of the gods are full of providence, and the works of fortune are not separate from nature or the interweaving and intertwining of the things governed by providence. Everything flows from there. Further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. What is brought by the nature of the whole and what maintains that nature is good for each part of nature. Just as the changes in the elements maintain the universe so too do the changes in the compounds.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.3

Mid-day Reflection
Take longer (20-30 minutes) to sit quietly and contemplate the View from Above, using the audio recording provided.

Evening Reflection
I travel along nature’s way until I fall down and take my rest, breathing out my last into the air, from which I draw my daily breath, and falling down to that earth from which my father drew his seed, my mother her blood and my nurse her milk, and from which for so many years I have taken my daily food and drink, the earth which carries my footsteps and which I have used to the full in so many ways.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.4

Read today’s evening text, and base your evening meditation on thinking about yourself as an integral part of nature. Think about how you could improve that relationship, for instance by thinking more about the effect of your actions on the natural environment.

I am part of the whole.  Marcus' graphic description of a severed hand or foot, reminds me of the fortunate position I am in as a human being.  A severed hand or foot cannot easily re-join the body.  but humans, who cut themselves off from society, can rejoin her.  I am part of the whole.

Here is Marcus' complete passage:

If you have ever seen a severed hand or foot, or a head cut off 34 and lying some way away from the rest of the body - analogous is what someone does to himself, as far as he can, when he will not accept his lot and severs himself from society or does some unsocial act. Suppose you have made yourself an outcast from the unity of nature - you were born a part of it, but now you have cut yourself off. Yet here lies the paradox - that it is open to you to rejoin that unity. No other part has this privilege from god, to come together again once it has been separated and cut away. Just consider the grace of god's favour to man. He has put it in man's power not to be broken off from the Whole in the first place, and also, if he has broken off, to return and grow back again, resuming his role as a member. (Book 8.34)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Saturday

Morning Reflection
Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’ This kind of event could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have borne it without getting upset.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49

Mid-day Reflection
Take time to listen to the Premeditation of Adversity recording and rehearse facing some events that feel emotionally challenging or difficult.

Alternatively, search premeditatio malorum and learn how to regularly practice it.

Evening Reflection
Glad and cheerful, let us say, as we go to our rest: ‘I have finished living; I have run the course that fortune set for me’. If God gives us another day, let us receive it with joy. The happiest person, who owns himself more fully, is the one who waits for the next day without anxiety. Anyone who can say, ‘I have had my life’ rises with a bonus, receiving one more day.
– Seneca, Letters, 12.9.

Reflect on what it means to be grateful for each day as if it were your last and to make the most of the opportunities life presents you with.

I have not read all the works of Seneca yet.  The above quote is the first time I have read it.  The part that really stands out to me is "the happiest person ... is the one who waits for the next day without anxiety."  There was a time, when Sunday night came with excessive dread.  I had to start another week at work!  Another week of commuting, meetings, email and dealing with problems.  But I have realized, quite recently, that I no longer have that dread.  I love each moment.  I have experienced contentedness on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  There is nothing to fear or have anxiety about those days.  I can be happy now.  This is life.  Through repeated efforts and reflection, I now know I can find rays of sunshine no matter the place, time or circumstance.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Friday

Morning Reflection
It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them. Death, for instance, is nothing terrible, or else it would have seemed so to Socrates too; no, it is in the judgement that death is terrible that the terror lies. Accordingly, whenever we are impeded, disturbed or distressed, we should never blame anyone else but only ourselves, that is, our judgements. It is an act of a poorly educated person to blame others when things are going badly for him; one who has taken the first step towards being properly educated blames himself, while one who is fully educated blames neither anyone else nor himself.
– Epictetus, Handbook, 5

Mid-day Reflection
Take 5-10 minutes and sit quietly, thinking of occasions in the recent past when you reacted in a ‘passionate’ way (attaching value to things like fame and prosperity), and also on occasions when you reacted with a ‘good emotion’, remembering that what matters most is acting virtuously.

Perhaps for about 15 years after graduating from college and engaging in the "rat race" of "climbing to the top" at work, I focused a lot on chasing happiness by pursuing things that were largely out of my control.  I bought into the concept that rank, power, status, authority would bring me happiness.  I was able to achieve a lot of those things, but many times I failed to attain them.  Consequently, my mental health and inner disposition would rise and fall and turn like a roller coaster.

Eventually, I came to learn these things don't matter or matter much less than I placed value in them.  I learned that I could be content in any situation and this was largely due to the writings of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.

I used to be upset when unexpected events occurred and when I had to do something I didn't want to.  Now I roll with the flow and focus on my ability to choose how I view events.

A similar thought is encapsulated with a Charles Swindoll quote:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.
Evening Reflection
So reflect on this: the result of wisdom is stability of joy. The wise person’s mind is like the superlunary heaven: always peaceful. So you have this reason to want to be wise, if wisdom is always accompanied by joy. This joy has only one source: an awareness of the virtues. A person is not capable of joy unless he is brave, unless he is just, unless he has self-control.
– Seneca, Letters, 59.16

Did your emotions today express an attempt to respond virtuously and what could you do to make this happen tomorrow and to experience the ‘joy’ that Seneca describes?

Detached observation - that is the most succinct way I can describe how to control my attitude and emotions.  I don't always succeed, but the more I practice it, the more slow I am to react to things (events, peoples' words and emotions).

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Thursday

Morning Reflection
It is important to understand that nature creates in parents affection for their children; and parental affection is the source from which we trace the shared community of the human race … As it is obvious that it is natural to us to shrink from pain, so it is clear that we derive from nature itself the motive to love those to whom we have given birth. From this motive is developed the mutual concern which unites human beings as such. The fact of their common humanity means that one person should feel another to be his relative.
– Cicero, On Ends, 3.62-3

Mid-day Reflection
Take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly and practise the Circle of Hierocles exercise given here. Think of yourself as gradually expanding the circle of those you are concerned with till you reach the circle of human beings in general.

The following visualisation or meditation technique is loosely based on Hierocles’ comments:
  1. Close your eyes and take a few moments to relax and focus your attention on the things you’re about to visualise.
  2. Picture a circle of light surrounding your body and take a few moments to imagine that it symbolises a growing sense of affection toward your own true nature as a rational animal, capable of wisdom (virtue), the chief good in life.
  3. Now imagine that circle is expanding to encompass members of your family or others who are very close to you, towards whom you now project an attitude of family affection as if they were somehow parts of your own body.
  4. Imagine that circle expanding to encompass people you encounter in daily life, perhaps colleagues you work alongside, and project natural affection toward them as if they were members of your own family.
  5. Let the circle expand further to include everyone in the country where you live, imagining that your affection is spreading out toward them also, insofar as they are rational animals akin to you.
  6. Imagine the circle now growing to envelop the entire world and the whole human race as one, allowing this philosophical and philanthropic affection to encompass every other member of the human race.
Also see what Albert Einstein said: see this link.

Evening Reflection

Let us embrace in our minds the fact that there are two communities – the one which is great and truly common, including gods and human beings, in which we look neither to this corner or to that, but measure the boundaries of our state by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth.
– Seneca, On Leisure, 4.1

What benefits each of us is what is in line with our constitution and nature; my nature is rational and political. As Antoninus, my city and fatherland is Rome, as a human being it is the universe. It is only what benefits these cities which is good for me.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.44.5-6

How far did you succeed in fulfilling your local roles and responsibilities while also bearing in mind the broader values shared by humanity in general – or the needs of those human beings currently without a home or country of their own?

This morning, at 4:30am, while on a walk with my dear wife, I commented that every year leading up to Stoic Week, I get excited and tell myself that I am going to really work at it.  Inevitably, however, my busiest week at work coincides with Stoic Week!  But instead of being frustrated this week, I've been quietly focused, content and happy!  I am busy helping others at work and at home and in the neighborhood.  And the more I'm engaged at work and at home, the more compassion I have for others.

As I write this at 8pm tonight, I reflect on what I have done today.  I was able to spend a couple of hours with my wife, as we went on a walk this morning and enjoyed a warm beverage for breakfast.  Then I quickly got ready and drove to my work's campus, where I ran a two-hour meeting for our leadership team.  I was able to stay focused, calm and engaged.  After that meeting, I drove to our satellite office where my team was in a "dojo" learning the principals of agile.  Then, by mid-afternoon, I needed to get home to meet the contractors who fixed up our home.  While they were here, I answered many questions for my manager and handled a few work requests.  By six o'clock, my oldest son and my youngest daughter and I met a neighbor 7th grader at the school basketball court to help him get ready for school basketball try-outs.  Then we headed home, cleaned up, ate dinner as a family.  Virtually everything I did today was in support of others - and I felt content for having done it!  This is what being human is all about; this is our nature.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Wednesday

Morning Reflection
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognised the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1

Mid-day Reflection
Take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly and reflect on your relationships and how you could potentially view things differently. What would be the consequences of doing so?

I am an easy-going person.  For the longest time (since I was a 16 year-old), I have kept a phrase constantly at hand and ready to use: give others the benefit of the doubt.

Little did I know that this is a very Stoic idea.  I will encounter grump, ornery, unsocial, cranky, mean, revengeful people.  I see them on the road, at work, playing basketball, on-line, at the store.  Having had many bad days myself, I quickly come up with reasons as to why other people act the way they do.  If I have the opportunity, I will try to understand why people act they way they do.  I've found that many times, they are simply having a bad day or are hungry.  Other times, they just "need a moment."

Almost always, the reasons for the bad behavior is temporary - this isn't really who they are.  Fundamentally, they are good people.  And by recognizing this, I've learned to have compassion for all, including myself.

Evening Reflection
Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, think of the good qualities of those who live with you: such as the energy of one, the decency of another, the generosity of another, and some other quality in someone else. There is nothing so cheering as the images of the virtues displayed in the characters of those who live with you, and grouped together as far as possible. So you should keep them ready at hand.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.48

Read today’s evening text. Reflect on the good qualities you might be able to perceive in other people and consider what you can learn from them.


Hard work and diligence.

Happiness / a positive attitude.

Reason and logic.

Camaraderie and friendship.

These are all qualities I admire in the people I associate with in my home and at work and in my neighborhood.  In all these interactions with them, I reflect on the good behavior and try to think of them when I need to exercise these qualities.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Tuesday

Morning Reflection
If you can find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage […] turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found […] but if you find all other things to be trivial and valueless in comparison with virtue, give no room to anything else, since, once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to what is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good anything alien to its nature, such as the praise of the many, or positions of power, wealth, or enjoyment of pleasures.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6

Mid-day Reflection
Take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly and list what you think are the most valuable qualities in a human life comparing this with the Stoic list of virtues. Think about occasions when you did aim, or could aim, at acting virtuously rather than trying to get external things (‘preferred indifferents’).

I probably don't focus as intently as I ought to on improving virtues within myself.  But I do think about them when confronted with difficulties.  Most often, it seems I'm wrestling with the virtues of temperance (moderation, self-discipline) and courage.

For guidance, in instilling myself with virtue, I prefer the Jim Lanctot paradigm.  You can google "Jim Lanctot virtues" to see his framework.

Once you understand and are convinced that "virtue is the sole good", you can easily find ways and examples of working in instilling these within yourself.  The harder part comes in trying not to focus your happiness on "indifferents" and instead, trying to attain happiness through virtue.

For me, I learned the first half of the equation last year when my home flooded.  During the nine months it took to restore things around our home, I learned that I could be happy in the most meager and humble circumstances.  During most of those nine months, I slept in a smaller bed, in a smaller room, eating less food, less dinners and in an environment of constant construction.  My wife and kids were strewn across town living with various friends.  And despite all of these difficulties, I found contentment.  I learned that happiness can be found in dire and difficult circumstances.

These days, with life returned to 'normal' I have more time to reflect on building virtue.  This too is not so easy or simple.  But I do try to find opportunities to practice being willing and cheerful and submit to fates's desire for me.  And by so doing, looking my the 'deck of cards' as it were, for the proper virtue to play in a given circumstance.

Evening Reflection
From what did we gain an understanding of virtue? From someone’s orderly character, his sense of what is appropriate and consistency, the harmony between all his actions, and his greatness of spirit in coping with everything. In this way, we came to understand the happy life, that flows on smoothly and is completely under its own control.
– Seneca, Letters, 120.11

Read today’s evening text and think about the picture given there of the virtuous and happy life, and bear that in mind in your evening meditation. How far did your actions and thoughts today match the virtues and qualities you regard as most important? Could you do things differently tomorrow?

For me, opportunities to exercise virtues come sometimes during the course of a day.  I work with highly skilled and intelligent people.  None of them are bad people.  I can't recall the last time I dealt with "drama."  I do, however, deal with political maneuvering among managers and others who are "trying to get ahead."  For the most part, I try to focus on being wise and just with others at work.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Stoic Week 2018: Monday

Morning Reflection
The wise person does nothing that he could regret, nothing against his will, but does everything honourably, consistently, seriously, and rightly; he anticipates nothing as if it is bound to happen, but is shocked by nothing when it does happen …. and refers everything to his own judgement, and stands by his own decisions. I can conceive of nothing which is happier that this.
– Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.81

Mid-day Reflection
Sit quietly and take 5-10 minutes writing down the things which you think are most valuable in your life and comparing these with the Stoic view of happiness, noting the key Stoic themes (virtue, order, care for self and others).

Four years ago, while seeing a therapist, she advised I take a values test to help me identify what is truly important to me.

My dominate Social values were: Community, Family & Friends

My dominate Realistic values were: Hard work & diligence

My dominate Traditional value was: Stability

My dominate Theoretical value was: Intellectualism

My dominate Political value was: Power & Influence

My dominate Aesthetic value was: Appreciation of beauty

All of these values ring true for me.  Almost all that I do in my life is for the benefit of my family, followed by the benefit of my community.  I think these values are aligned with Stoicism.  Stoicism has taught me to focus on things that are in my control and to furthermore, acknowledge that practicing virtue is entirely in my control and that by so-doing, I can attain happiness or at least be content with the life I live.

So much of my "former life" (life before Stoicism) was lived like a roller coaster.  I would have peaks of happiness and elation followed by long stretches of nothingness and then a somewhat frequent dip into the valley of anxiety, fear and despair.  I longed to be even keeled all the time.  Enter Stoicism.

Now, I constantly observe events and quickly categorize things into "under my control" and "not under my control."  I've realized that despite the long list of events that I have no control over, I can still find contentment and acceptance.  My wild bouts of elation seem to have passed too.

Interestingly enough, by living a more Stoic-like life, I've found peace through stability - which is one of the values important to me.

Evening Reflection
Will there come a day, my soul, when you are good and simple and unified […] some day will you have a taste of a loving and affectionate disposition? Some day will you be satisfied and want for nothing […] Or will you be contented instead with your present circumstances and delighted with everything around you and convince yourself that all you have comes from the gods, and that all that is pleasing for them is well for you? Will there come a day when you are so much a member of the community of gods and humans as neither to bring any complaint against them nor to incur their indignation? – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.1

One of the biggest benefits of Stoicism, in my opinion, is the quieting of the mind and the desires that stir within us.  As these things become more quiet, we become more content and 'at peace' with events that happen in life.

I'm reminded of a quote I came across a while back; it is by Crates (link):

practice being in need of only a few things, for this is the closest thing to god. for the gods need nothing. but, so that you may learn more exactly what is involved in having few needs ... reflect that children have more needs than adults, women than men, invalids than the healthy, and, in general, the inferior everywhere has more needs than the superior. therefore the gods have need of nothing and those nearest to them have the fewest needs.