Many people are talking about Stoicism and many even claim to be modern Stoics. What’s the deal? It’s a trend. It’s a thing. It’s an ancient wisdom tradition that is enjoying a world-wide revival. But why? What does a more than 2000-year old Greco-Roman philosophy have that might help us moderns face the vicissitudes of life in the 2020s? Just because something is old, doesn’t necessarily make it true, right?
Got tranquility? All said and done, that’s the “payoff” of Stoic practice. When you think about it, isn’t that what we ultimately desire? I’m not talking about the mushy soft brain we get after a glass or two of wine that makes us feel relaxed, checked out, or disinhibited after a long amped-up day.
The Stoic notion of tranquility called eudaimonia is an enduring, alert, grateful acceptance of and appreciation for life as it is, disentangled from our irrepressibly conjured reactive labels of good and bad, comfortable versus uncomfortable, I like it/I don’t like it. Eudaimonia is instead a settled, curious, unencumbered mind that can thereby see life squarely without paranoid distortions or out-of-control craving. Just life: plain and simple, unadorned yet majestic.
Eudaimonia, also known as a flourishing life, is such a welcome relief to the low level current of anxiety that dogs so many of us as we attempt to forge meaningful relationships, build successful business ventures, and find our confident place in a chaotic and often indifferent world. What a relief to not feel yanked around by all the stuff we can’t control: other people’s opinions, the circumstances into which we were born, the financial climate, the political environment in which we find ourselves.
Stoicism is a vast and intricate philosophy spanning many centuries, teachers, and exemplars. It embraces cosmology, epistemology, and ethics, and is well worth studying for the insight it gives into how we moderns have come to view the world. But, the main attraction of Stoicism for most of us is its down-to-earth practicality. The beauty of Stoicism is that it is not inert words on a page or mental masturbation. It offers a perspective and set of practices that immediately make us feel more free inside, less frightened, less defensive, less angry and resentful.
A daily practice of Stoic principles offers us a series of micro-adjustments to our character and to how we relate to other people that aggregate over time, ultimately reshaping us as wiser, dignified citizens of the world whose actions and choices elevate, however quietly, the social and spiritual ecology.
Copyright © by Sharon Lebell 2020