Stoic philosophy is a very practical philosophy. Many stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus had spoken of some of the ultimate truths of life. They were not gods. They were common people like us with responsibilities at home and workplace. They had families to look after. They had jobs to do to. They had adversities and challenges to face. In the middle of all this they did not stop being philosophers. They did not stop working on themselves. It was only when they were striving for mental clarity, peace and self improvement did they reveal some beautiful words which still survive today- more than 2,000 years later.
1. “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”– Seneca
Stoic philosophers believed events are objective. They are ‘what they are’. If someone has ridiculed us on social media then it is an objective reality: it is what it is. We cannot go back in time and change it. But how we choose to look at those events will eventually decide how we are going to feel about them. In other words, our subjectivity or perception is going to determine how we feel about that particular event. How we are going to react to that ridiculous comment someone has made against us on social media is either going to make our day or break our day. A lot of times things are not that bad. Our judgement make them. Therefore it is of great importance that we work on improving our perspective. A lot is at stake when we do not have a favorable perception.
2. “Why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice?”- Marcus Aurelius
Every time I read this, I feel a little different. We are not always angry at ourselves. Majority of the times we are angry at the world; at people- for not being kind enough, for not being honest enough with their jobs, for not being understanding enough, for not being like us. It is a big mistake to expect the world to work as per our preferences. People are not going to be like us: they do not care much if they are being greedy or not, they do not care if they are efficient at their jobs or not, they do not care about your expectations. They are just carrying on with their lives just the way you are. Then what is the point in punishing yourself for someone else’s mistakes. Why are you angry? Why you? Do you think they care? Do you think they are noticing your anger? Do you believe they are going to come console you? NO. NO and NO. We can influence people. We can make a difference in this world. But we cannot do it for everyone.
3. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
We all dread mornings because we have to go to work, we have to do household chores; we have to think of innumerable tasks on to-do list. In the middle of all the responsibilities we forget what a privilege it is to be able to breathe; to be alive. We forget it is a new day to correct our past mistakes. We forget it is a new day to make our plans again. We forget we have another day to care deeply about the people we love. This is what Marcus Aurelius said. He wanted us to make time for gratitude. If we are focused too much upon what we don’t have, we will never be able to enjoy what we already have. This is what gratitude teaches us. Strive for better but also enjoy what’s already there.
4. “You have to assemble your life yourself – action by action.”- Marcus Aurelius
Life is never build instantly. There is no magic formula to build our lives quickly. Everything is done brick by brick. In other words, one step at a time. Human beings are very impatient. We expect instant results with little time and hard work. We do our work on a daily basis and feel like we are not getting anywhere, like we are stuck. I am most certain it happens with everybody. Every day progress doesn’t seem to matter a lot because we don’t get to see any changes. But in reality, we get better. We make progress. Like Marcus Aurelius said we have to assemble our lives action by action. Act once. Then act again. Act once more. Keep doing your work. You will definitely get there.