Stoicism: Thanksgiving Every Day (and then some)
Commenté aux États-Unis le 8 mars 2018
The Stoics sought tranquility and a consequent joy in, and thankfulness for, the lives we have as core parts of an answer to the venerable ancient question, "How should I live my life?" In 2018 America, tranquility and joy sound like a good deal...if you can get it. I'm a retired intelligence analyst. I spent my entire professional life looking at the potential downside for American interests in the behaviors of foreign leaders and states and in regional developments that affect allied interests--and thus US alliances and interests. There's not a lot of tranquility in the national security business. It's filled with anxiety and fears and worrisome days and weeks. You get used to it. You cope.
You know, though, in the quiet recesses of your mind, that "stress kills." You hear it from the Doc every12 months. "Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I hear you, I exercise and I've got my blood pressure down, I'm making making a point of trying to reduce the amount of friction in my life, if not the numbers of stressful situations." And in retirement, you can carve out more time to think about distractions from things that get you riled up, or sadden you, or fill you with fear or anxiety when you face the encroaching reality that "all things human are short-lived and perishable," including you.
Stoicism doesn't rescue you so much as train you to manage unproductive emotions and thoughts, beginning by bundling up, or triaging, your concerns according to a fundamental trichotomy--expanded by author William Irvine from a classical dichotomy posed by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (Some things are up to us, other things are not)--of "things I have no control over, things I have absolute control over, and things I have some measure of control over." We can exert control over our goals, values, what we formulate as our life philosophy. We have no control over the sunrise, or of the past--what's happened has happened--or, as a federal annuitant, over trade or immigration policy or other acts of people in high office over whom we have no means of influence. We have some control over our professional lives but cannot guarantee success in every endeavor, only that we'll do our very best, our utmost to fulfill the mission.
Hence there's a broad category of things beyond my control that I'd be foolish to spend much time fretting over. As the great Stoic and Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius observed, "Nothing is worth doing pointlessly." It's more productive to spend my time on cultivating my own garden of tranquility and on worrying the things I can affect. This is very like Niebuhr's serenity prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
Author Irvine is a pleasant cicerone on our journey into Stocism, focusing on the four Roman Stoics whose writings seem to him most relevant to us today: Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus. He divides his book into four broad parts. In part one, he discusses the birth of philosophy and, in greater detail, the rise of Stoicism. In part two, he inventories and lays out psychological techniques devised by the Stoics for developing and maintaining tranquility, perhaps the most important of which is "negative visualization," the art of reasoning through our fears or anger--"what's the worst than can happen"--or through the sources of our happiness or unhappiness, the latter of which is (as research suggests) often rooted in the insatiable character of life in a mass-consumer society. Part three discusses "Stoic advice" across a broad array of concerns: social relations, insults, grief, anger, luxurious living, the desire for fame and fortune, aging, death. The entertaining concluding part is Irvine's often humorous reflections on how he's walked the Stoic walk.
I flatter myself to think that reading, and thinking through, and beginning the practice of "the ancient art of Stoic joy" over the past two weeks has begun to soften me and mute my anger (along with canceling the papers and most magazines). I'd like to be kinder. A better citizen. Calm. Tranquil. Thankful for all I have: family, friends, interests, a decent place to live in a nice city. I'll give this a shot, as Irvine recommends, as a "stealth Stoic" (although I've already outed myself. No matter: no one reads a thing I've posted here...) But I'm withholding a star, and will probably update these remarks at some point, as I progress, or don't, in Stoicism.
And I'm wishing myself luck on this.
I think I'm into something good.
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