I knew something had to change. My attitude. My mindset. My surroundings. My routines. Something. And so far those things have - and I’m working on a few others. They’ve changed because I’m solely focused on areas of my life in which I know I have the power to improve. Here is my journey with stoicism and why I felt chasing the idea of becoming a stoic was my next move.
If you were to ask me, say, 3 years ago what a stoic was, I would have given you a terrible answer. A rock? An old sculpture? Maybe the latin phrase for a certain butterfly strain - I would have had no idea. I was younger. Ignorant. Unsure of myself and everything I did. And uneducated. It wasn’t until I picked up the book The Obstacle is the Way that a big chunk of my world outlook - and my approach to life - changed.
It stressed the idea that yeah, things are going to get hard. They’re going to get so hard that you’ll want to quit and retrace your steps to the easy route. It opened my eyes to the idea that nothing important is built without tension. Superheroes aren’t heroes without adversity. Iron sharpens iron. Diamonds are created from pressure. Once you embrace the idea of the obstacle being the way, the sooner you’ll realize the hard path is the right path.
Most importantly - in my mind - the author, Ryan Holiday, introduced me to the idea of the latin phrase Memento Mori.
Memento Mori translates in English to “Remember you must die” - which is a heavy statement. I’ve talked to my friends about this idea and a lot of them are spooked by the thought of death. The unease about what comes next. The impending doom we all face. But what better way than the obstacle being the way than to embrace this idea of our fate.
Amor Fati, or “love fate”, is another stoic idea/teaching that to conquer or get over this shroud of darkness and uncertainty - is to embrace the uncertainty. Live in it. Dance with it. Show it you’re not afraid of it - you welcome these ideas. You welcome the idea that your life will end eventually, so you’re going to give it all you’ve got. In this moment - right now. You love the idea of fate - whatever it may be. You drop your keys down the sewer grate. Your dog gets into the trash. You blow out a tire on the freeway.
Sure, all minor inconveniences - or major at the time- in the grand scheme of things but you survived and you’re thriving! Bring it on!
Embracing stoicism is no new idea. Countless thought-leaders and billionaires have adopted various ideas the ancient stoics taught, which is great. I may have hangups about stoicism maybe catching on and it weirdly becoming some new fad, but those are just hang-ups. If anything, more people embrace it and we grow from it as a society. But that’s something I can’t control. I shouldn’t get lost in conjecture or my own imagination when it comes to that.
So why am I so fascinated with the stoics right now? Their teachings and how timeless they are. Most aspects or writings, specifically by Marcus Aurelius, of the stoics are applicable today, especially in our fast-paced society. What they have to say are essential for anyone - young or old - to read and understand to get the most out of life.
A few of my favorite lines from Meditations - and my personal interpretation - can be seen below:
Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.
This is a pretty important line to me. Selfish impulses have ran my life for the better part of 30 years. I attribute it to the time and places in which I grew up. The influences of my parents childhood also added to selfish and materialistic impulses. All that said, I wouldn’t trade those selfish impulses for the world - because they’re such important lessons. When you feel those impulses come on, immediately change your surroundings or what you’re doing so you don’t fall victim to these impulses. “to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future”, to me, means to falling victim to these impulses diverts your attention to what is important and ultimately throws you off track of what you’re meant to do.
There is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.
Again, this speaks to “selfish impulses” in a way. These impulses - social media, online shopping, television - all take us away from the time we’re allotted. What Aureilis is saying here is we have all the time in the world if we use it wisely. This is a great reminder to not only stay present, but to stay focused throughout your days in order to lead you on the path you’re meant to go down.
Nothing is more pathetic than people who run around in circles, “delving into the things that lie beneath” and conducting investigations into the souls of the people around them, never realizing that all you have to do is to be attentive to the power inside you and worship it sincerely.
Oh the perils of gossip and social media. I love this line because, again, it’s a great reminder of how we should properly live life. Social media is great, don’t get me wrong, but Aureilis says here points to so many things wrong with our culture. We don’t need to be wrapped up in what people around us are doing. True happiness comes from within and what we’re doing. There are countless studies out about how social media is making people depressed. If only they were more “attentive to the power inside you”, those studies may have lower numbers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone. However this message is always good to remember.
Practice even what seems impossible. The left hand is useless at almost everything, for lack of practice. But it guides the reins better than the right. From practice.
This is an important lesson in that your skills can always be practiced. If you’re already great at the piano, what other songs can you learn? If you’re already great at basketball, learn to shoot with your left hand. Kobe Bryant did it mostly because he was bored. The more you can strengthen a muscle that isn’t normally firing, the more “all-around” you’ll be when it comes to, well, everything.
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us—or a wise human being, even—and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions—instead of our own.
This statement could partially be read as, “stay in your lane and you won’t be judged” or “don’t let your unsavory thoughts about anyone/anything be known and you won’t be judged”. The point here - though somewhat confusing - is that it shouldn’t matter what other people think of us. We shouldn’t put others opinion of ourselves higher than our own. They don’t think about you or what you think about them, why should you give them the pleasure of thinking about them - or being concerned how they might look at you?
These five snippets are just a taste of the lessons I’ve learned so far - and continue to ponder. Stoicism is a life long journey, and I’m excited to continue to explore it. I’m excited for the kind of person it is going to make me. And I’m excited for what it’ll bring to my life.