Half Man Half Noodle

Conversations with a stoic

Me: Marcus, I can’t believe she did it again. I am a fool.
Aurelius: That cucumber is bitter, so toss it out!
Me: What? I’m talking about Fiona not a vine plant.
Aurelius: There are thorns on the path, then keep away!
Me: Ummm, are you saying that I should accept peoples behaviour for what it is and continue living with my own life? That I should avoid situations that I can see are dangerous? Stop being so emotionally invested that I stop using my eyes, ears and brain? Stop being annoyed at things that are outside of my control?
Aurelius: Enough said. Why ponder the existence of nuisance?

It would be frustrating talking with a Stoic philosopher today. Endless parables, out-dated phrasing and examples not to mention the oversimplification of our complicated problems! Despite the work needed to understand what’s being said, the Stoics can act as tremendous teachers for how we approach situations in our lives, even today.

Seth Godin has this idea about “hustle culture” and how they focus on having mentors. A mentor being a knowledgable person in a particular field who can give advice and feedback. Godin raises the point that this isn’t a scalable model. For every truly influential person, there are 2000 who want a slice of their time. We should focus on having heroes instead and think “What would Seth Godin do?” and use that as our guiding light. In this case I’m going to imagine, “What would 3 of the most influential stoic philosophers do?”

For the time we spend wanting more.

Me: I’m really feeling like my life isn’t enough. I don’t have enough money and I crave having more guitars.
Seneca: It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor
Me: This is frustrating, how is this going to help me get more money? I think I’m missing the point.

When all we desire is the future.

Me: I am miserable at work man, I can’t wait to go on holidays, finally!
Epictetus: It is quite impossible to unite happiness with a yearning for what we don’t have.
Me: Are you saying it’s not surprising that I’m miserable because I’m just living for Bali?
Epictetus: Happiness has all that it wants
Me: Hmm, be grateful for what I have and don’t expect something to bring me happiness. I get it.

For when we overestimate our ability

Me: I’m going to write a book a book some day, I know it’ll be hard but I’ll do it.
Seneca: It is necessary for a person to have a true self-estimate
Me: Are you implying that I’m not going to do it? J K Rowling didn’t get published until she was much older and she was a single unemployed Mum!
Seneca: We commonly think we can do more than we really can.
Me: Well, realistically I probably will never write a book at the rate I’m going now but I could start writing short poems and send them to my friends.

For the times when we blame time.

Me: COVID-19 has ruined my entire year.
Aurelius: No one ever loses a life other than the one they are living.
Me: But I haven’t been able to go on holidays, go to the pub with my mates, enjoy the summer, advance my career.
Aurelius: No one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing.
Me: You think I could have done more to make the most of my time?

For the times we struggle to understand what we can’t control.

Me: This has been a rough few months, everything has been going wrong. Why doesn’t anything good happen to me?
Epictetus: There is nothing good or bad outside my own reasoned choice
Me: What do you mean? People have been super selfish and done nothing to help me. I’m on my own here.
Epictetus: We shouldn’t try to lead events but to follow them. Me: So I’m choosing to view these situations as good or bad? Instead, I shouldn’t be trying to force things that are outside of my control?

For the times we get consumed by news.

Me: Have you seen what has happened in Jordan? And the riots in LA? And what Donald Trump has said? And the Kardashians new baby?
Aurelius: Drama, combat, terror, numbness, and subservience.
Me: Yeah! It’s awful. I don’t know what I can do to help apart from put it on my story.
Aurelius: Every day these things wipe out your sacred principles, whenever your mind entertains them uncritically or lets them slip in.
Me: You mean I should be more conscious of what I’m consuming? Maybe back off on the click bait trash and focus on doing something that will actually help if I say I care?

For the times we don’t associate with our ruling notion.

Me: I’m having a mid-life crisis, it’s as if I’ve achieved nothing.
Epictetus: First, tell yourself what kind of person you want to be.
Me: I want to be someone who eats well, moves a bit and isn’t so selfish with my emotions.
Epictetus: Then do what you have to do.

For the times we don’t have enough self-belief.

Me: I love the Beatles. It must be amazing to have that level of influence and write such beautiful songs.
Seneca: Let us also produce some bold act of our own
Me: I could never create something with such value!
Seneca: Join the ranks of the most emulated.
Me: I guess I’ll not get anywhere near if I don’t even start and put my work out into the world.

For the times we fail to take action for what we can control.

Me: I am sick of working these hours in this job. Don’t you?
Epictetus: We cry to God Almighty, how can we escape this agony? Fool, don’t you have hands?
Me: It’s not that easy.
Epictetus: Or could it be God forgot to give you a pair?
Me: No, I have a pair of hands. I just wish I didn’t have to work so much to pay for this life Dave wants.
Epictetus: Sit and pray your nose doesn’t run! Or, rather just wipe your nose and stop seeking a scapegoat.
Me: You’re right, I need to stop making up excuses and take action, or stop whining.

Two of my heroes are Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss, both are huge proponents of Stoic philosophy. Holiday has written “The Daily Stoic”, “Lives Of The Stoics” and runs the website The Daily Stoic. Ferriss is an author, podcaster, life-hacker and is responsible for compiling the “Tao of Seneca”. Stoicism has received a recent boost of popularity thanks to these gentlemen.

If this has piqued your interest, some vital further readings are “Meditations: A New Translation” by Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays), “Tao of Seneca” by Seneca (Tim Ferriss), “A Guide to the Good life” by William B. Irvine, “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and his website The Daily Stoic.

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