What we mean by the term “stoic” today is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. And that has its origins in Stoicism, or Stoic philosophy, that began in Ancient Greece around 301 BC and continued to flourish in the Greek and Roman world until the 3rd century AD.
According to Stoic philosophy, everything in life is interconnected, operating in a web of cause and effect, with “Logos” being the “rational” structure of the universe. Although we don’t have control over all the things/events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things. Hence, the Stoics accept and deal with the world as it is, rather than imagining an ideal society, and they focused on pursuing self-development and improvement though four Cardinal Virtues:
1) Practical Wisdom; The ability to navigate complex situation is a logical, informed, calm manner.
2) Temperance; The exercise of self-control and moderation in all aspects of life.
3) Justice; Treating others with fairness, even when they are wrong.
4) Courage; Not only when extraordinary circumstances called for it, but facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity.
“Sometimes even to live is an act of Courage” – Seneca
While Stoicism focuses on personal improvement, it is not a self-centered philosophy, nor does it encourage passivity. The idea is that only those who have cultivated virtue and self-restraint in themselves, can bring positive change in the world and in others.
There are many common elements between Stoicism and Buddhism, Yoga and other ancient cultures. For example, one of the desired outcomes in Stoicism, “Ataraxia”, which means tranquility of mind, is the same with Nirvana in Buddhism, or Samadhi in Yoga.
In regards to the modern world, Stoicism continues to inspire and be the foundation of many things that we use in this day and age. Christian Theologians and Mystics built upon the Cardinal Virtues of Stoicism and continue to exist and be practiced today. Also, many therapy styles in psychology, such as REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy) and Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy, are based on Stoic philosophy. They, too, focus on harnessing our willpower to fill our lives with meaning, even in the bleakest situations, changing the self-defeating attitudes we form about our lives’ circumstances. And not to forget the modern prevalent self-help movement with books, podcasts, quotes, all stemming from the same ideas and practices originating in Stoicism.
“We suffer not from the events in our lives,
But from our judgements about them”. – Epictetus
So how can you benefit from Stoicism? Through meditation. By practicing meditating in the ways the Stoics did in the past, we can train our mind, and self, to become more happy, calm and resilient towards the challenges that will arise in our lives. Contrary to popular perception, philosophy wasn’t just pondering about life and being all theoretical. Many philosophic genres had daily practices, such as meditations, as was the case with Stoicism, with meditations in the beginning and the end of the day, as well as during the day.
The meditation techniques were many and very different to each other. There were meditations that helped one stay within their path of self-development, with practical ways of feeding the mind with the virtues and values, leading to one’s best self. The basic yet really strong Stoic Attitudes meditation really encourages self-transformation and helps one appreciate what they already have. A simple way to practice this at home is to keep the 4 Stoic Cardinal Virtues in mind (see above), assess your character’s strengths and weaknesses and contemplate on how they can be applied on your character and life. Then sit in meditation, visualizing how it would feel like to really live in accord with them; how would your life change for the better? You can also bring into your mind people, famous virtuous, wise people, or people you admire that you have in your life and imagine how they would perform in a challenging situation in your place.
Apart from the “practical” meditations, there were others that were directed more towards achieving the highest nature of man, recommended for those interested in the spiritual path. The most spiritual Stoic meditation was that of “Henosis”. Its elements were: Métis – Stillness of mind and body as one, Hesychía – Silence; withdrawal of focus from the external world and focusing on inward, on the divine, and finally Henósis- Union; Héna is the Greek word for “one”. Henosis is a practice of “one-pointed awareness” or single minded focus, leading up to what it literally meant, “unitary consciousness”, the equivalent of “Moksha” in Yoga.
Following the Stoic mindset can ultimately lead to liberation, becoming your highest, best self and freeing your mind, staying in tranquility and bliss. On that note, I am proud to announce I am now launching the Ancient Greek Meditation series, starting with the Stoic Attitudes Meditation described earlier. If you think you align with this mindset and can be benefitted from an ancient authentic technique, I’d love to host you (for more info, please visit my class schedule here).