As we enter the stressful holiday season I hope that many of you have had a chance to check out the the Stoic Week 2013 materials put together by the psychology and philosophy departments at Exeter University. If you haven’t, take a few minutes to read their excellent Stoic Week Handbook, which provides an introduction to stoicism as well as some practical exercises.
The handbook has just about the best summary of Stoicism I’ve read:
The best way to approach life, the Stoics suggest, is to think of oneself as an archer who does his or her best to fire the arrow well but accepts that once it has flown it may be blown off course and miss the target. In this analogy, our intentions are like preparing to fire the arrow, but the outcome of our actions, like hitting the target, is beyond our control and partly the result of external events.
And debunks one of the common myths:
In the popular imagination a Stoic is someone who denies or represses their emotions in a potentially unhealthy way. This is largely just a widespread misconception, though. The real Stoic position is different from this in a number of ways. The central claim the Stoics make is that our emotions are ultimately the product of judgements we make. If we feel fear it is because we have judged that something terrible might be about to happen to us. If we feel anger it is because we have judged that something bad is happening to us right now.
The Stoics do not suggest that we should repress or deny these – instead they want to show us how we can uproot these sorts of unpleasant emotions altogether. This is something we can do, the Stoics say, because these emotions are the product of our judgements about what is good and bad in life. Change the judgements and you will change the emotions. Our emotions are typically within our control, even if it might not feel like it some of the time.
The Stoics were systems thinkers,
The cosmos is like a single living being. Like all other living beings it is in a continual process of change. So, when facing the world we ought to see ourselves as part of it. We are but one small component or element within a much larger entity. We are not the centre of the world and it is not all about us. The larger process of change, growth, and decay that take place in Nature are inevitable and ultimately out of our control. There is nothing to be gained from trying to resist these larger processes and resisting them produces frustration, anger, and disappointment. Instead, we ought to embrace Nature on its own terms and accept our place within it as limited, finite beings, with limited power and a limited lifespan – but also as parts of something much greater than us.
The Handbook concludes with some short daily exercises.
It’s been a hectic week here at the Root Simple compound and the Stoic Week Handbook arrived just in time.