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16 February 2009

Stoic philosophy makes me want to cry. I've been going through this course on my commute, and looking through The Golden Sayings Of Epictetus.[More:]

I'm just so pathetic. All these stoics are calmly walking off to execution after making their last chess move, or strolling off into exile without a qualm, or tearing open their bandaged wounds to seek an honourable death... and I can't even cope with this noisy, overcrowded, smelly office, or being messed around by my ISP over the cable modem.

It's not that I don't try. I can manage stoicism for a few hours or a few days or a few hundred repetitions of a wacky novelty ringtone but sooner or later it gets to me and I just start to freak out at the sheer overwhelming constancy of all these petty irritations. I'm useless.

Here's some Epictetus.

It is the critical moment that shows the man. So when the crisis is upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough and stalwart antagonist. "To what end?" you ask. That you may prove the victor at the Great Games. Yet without toil and sweat this may not be!

You journey to Olympia to see the work of Phidias; and each of you holds it a misfortune not to have beheld these things before you die. Whereas when there is no need even to take a journey, but you are on the spot, with the works before you, have you no care to contemplate and study these?

Will you not then perceive either who you are or unto what end you were born: or for what purpose the power of contemplation has been bestowed on you?

"Well, but in life there are some things disagreeable and hard to bear."

And are there none at Olympia? Are you not scorched by the heat? Are you not cramped for room? Have you not to bathe with discomfort? Are you not drenched when it rains? Have you not to endure the clamor and shouting and such annoyances as these? Well, I suppose you set all this over against the splendour of the spectacle and bear it patiently. What then? have you not received greatness of heart, received courage, received fortitude? What care I, if I am great of heart, for aught that can come to pass? What shall cast me down or disturb me? What shall seem painful? Shall I not use the power to the end for which I received it, instead of moaning and wailing over what comes to pass?

Sounds a little like Hagakure.
posted by Hugh Janus 16 February | 08:59
Yes, it does seem to me that these Greco-Roman Moralists are more like Eastern philosophers than most... they're more concerned with what attitude you should have to life than logic-chopping and grand theories and so on.
posted by TheophileEscargot 16 February | 09:16
I'd make a poor Stoic. I don't find it helpful to characterize anything in life as one's "foe" to be "conquered." I find this mentality often adds more stress - IT'S A BATTLE TO BE WON!!! - rather than the opposite, which is to practice acceptance and openness to experience and to the moment before you.

I was able to cure myself of panic attacks using this rationale. Once I was able to observe them as they were happening, being mindful of the notion that my brain is not my enemy and that it was simply teaching me a new way to relate to my body, they stopped happening altogether.

I think making friends with everything in the world that you formerly saw as an irritant - using your whole life as a teaching moment - may be the greatest skill you can acquire. It also adds the benefit of perspective, because if you can master this with more significant life events, then a ringing cell phone becomes completely irrelevant.
posted by mykescipark 16 February | 09:24
Hugh Janus-san, that link was fantastic:

"Negligence is an extreme thing."

"Having only wisdom and talent is the lowest tier of usefulness."

"People think that they can clear up profound matters if they consider them deeply, but they exercise perverse thoughts and come to no good because they do their reflecting with only self-interest at the center."

posted by Lipstick Thespian 16 February | 11:10
Stoicism is fine if you are facing death or exile. After all, what other option do you have? You either go out nobly, or are remembered for posterity as the one who dissolved into a pile of quivering blubber ....
But we are programmed with the fight or flight instinct. Personally, I prefer the fight option. There are days when I just want to take a Bat'leth to work. And use it. But I have to remember that I have dependents.
posted by Susurration 16 February | 18:56
Is the Hagakure the book Forest Whitaker's character reads in Ghost Dog? That's probably my favourite Jarmusch film.
posted by GeckoDundee 17 February | 05:18
Yep, that's right. Hagakure liteerally translates to "Hidden Leaves." Also of note is Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings.
posted by Hugh Janus 17 February | 08:57
Now Christian Bale is mad at Peter Griffin || Happy Birthday, Terrapin!