In this last blog post on the philosophy of Stoicism I want to explore 3 practical Stoic techniques that I have found particularly useful for attaining confidence and tranquility of the mind.
- Meditate on the Vastness of Time and the Universe
If you take a step back and look at your life from a cosmic perspective you will realize how small and insignificant you are compared to the enormity of the universe. Consider this – the universe is 13.8 billion years old. It is estimated that the human species evolved about 200,000 years ago. In the television series Cosmos, Carl Sagan condenses time in a calendar year to put human history into perspective. The Cosmic Calendar reveals that January 1 would represent the Big Bang and each minute accounts for 30,000 years. Humans only come into the picture on 10:30 pm on December 31st.
The Stoics taught that we should look at our lives from a cosmic viewpoint. Modern Stoics called this exercise ‘The View from Above.’ Taking this approach will allow us to escape our internal biases and assess things from an objective standpoint.
How often do we ruminate on petty and trivial problems? Why do concern ourselves with externals that will soon perish shortly after we are gone? From this vantage point, our efforts for immortality through fame, wealth and social status are surely misguided.
Carl Sagan reflects on this sentiment in his work on Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space,
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Looking our lives from this is allows us to put events in perspective. Furthermore, it is not supposed to lead to nihilism but rather the contrary. We can add meaning and purpose to our lives explicitly because we are only here for a short time.
2. Look at Challenges as Opportunities
On the occasion of every accident (event) that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use…… If labor (pain) be presented to you, you will find that it is endurance. If it be abusive words, you will find it to be patience. And if you have been thus formed to the (proper) habit, the appearances will not carry you along with them.
In my last blog post I spoke about how we always have the opportunity to reframe events – even in the most dreadful circumstances. In many cases we fail to learn the lessons we need to if we live a life of ease and comfort. Failure humbles us. It shows us our blind spots. It provides us with opportunities to evolve, grow and expand our thinking.
This Stoic lesson will allow us to view every challenge we endure as an opportunity. For instance, if you get fired from your job, you can redevelop yourself and learn new skills. This situation will enable you to develop resilience and perseverance, two skills which are essential in a rapidly changing world. Every difficult situation we are placed enables us to overcome challenges and strengthen our will.
3. Memento Mori
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think
The Stoics taught that we should always be self-aware of our own mortality. Life is unpredictable, and death lurks around the corner. Reflecting on this fact is not meant to put us in a state of dread, but rather humble us. We may not know what the future holds so let us ensure that we leave nothing behind – live life with abandon.
If you follow the 24/7 news cycle and are an avid consumer of current events, it is easy to be filled with a sense of fear and despair. Rising political polarization. Populism. Climate change. Brexit. Donald Trump. Identity politics, extremism and the culture wars. The list goes on and on.
What Stoicism can do is help us detach from external events, and help us focus on cultivating our inner lives. We can not control what happens around us but we always the choice to change our beliefs and our viewpoint. Regardless of all the noise, tranquillity is available to us, and Stoicism can help to get us there.
Hope you enjoyed this post on Stoicism. The next few posts will be dedicated towards mindfulness.
Till next time,