To stay tucked up in bed reading and listening to the wind whistle through the trees or get up and get the day started, that was the question. The answer?
I got up and jumped straight into the day. I did have a lovely cup of tea in bed first while reading a chapter or two of Donald Robertson’s book Stoicism and the Art of Happiness.
What is Stoicism? A philosophical tradition founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium around 301 BC according to Robertson. Stoicism endured as an active philosophical movement for almost 500 years and is still of interest today. Just like all ancient western philosophies, Stoicism considers the goal in life to be Happiness. The ancient Stoics believed this to be ‘self -love and an attitude of friendship towards others’ (Robertson, Preface).
For Robertson Stoicism is the forerunner in ‘self-help’, its ideas and techniques informing and inspiring many of the modern approaches to personal development and psychological therapy that exist today. Most resembling Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) (Robertson, Preface).
So I suppose we’re looking at a practice that helps us remain in the moment, attached to what’s real and in our control while letting go of all the excess baggage that clouds our better judgement and prevents us from fulfilling our true potential.
From what I have read so far practicing stoicism means loving humanity wholeheartedly, taking delight in doing acts of kindness for others with no expectation of reward or personal gain. The act of doing selflessly for others being reward in itself.
What I really love about Robertson’s book are the signposts he places throughout the chapters prompting you to think a little deeper about the act and art of stoicism and how it can fit into the modern world. He includes self assessments, key ideas and exercises for you try which ensure you, the reader, aren’t reading passively but are actively working your way through the book, forming opinions and questions as you go.
The goal of life for Stoics was living in accord with virtue or human excellence. For them, we are each born with the potential and even more importantly the responsibility to excel and thereby bring our own nature to perfection (Robertson, Chap.1).
Stoics believe that the fundamental virtues are found in practical skills and forms of knowledge which pivot on having a solid understanding of what is good and bad in different situations. They are very interested in what is within our control, power or grasp, what is ‘up to us’.
So my first step into Stoicism was acceptance……..accepting that some things are in my control and some things are not. Simple huh? In theory yes. Acting according to this truth in the moment is a little more difficult.
You know that moment when you’re looking out the window at your lovely husband cutting the grass when he said he’d wash the dishes in time for everyone to sit down together to watch a DVD……… your class for tomorrow is unfinished and you completely forgot that you had stripped the youngest’s bed this morning…….then the serenity and calm that enveloped you in the initial stages of letting go of those things that are outside of your control crashes and the irrational thought patterns and behaviours that were waiting patiently for your new-found serenity to slip come bouncing back!
However! All was not lost……. the old me would have wallowed in irrationalness and succumbed to a moodiness that would have lasted into the evening the new me managed to gather together the irrational thoughts and behaviours and bundle out the door very quickly.
Maybe this isn’t the type of acceptance the Stoics meant. I may be misunderstanding the application of their beautiful philosophy, further reading will iron out these misunderstandings I’m sure. For now, accepting that I am in control of me and my actions and knowing that I am not responsible for the actions and behaviours of others is helping me live a more peaceful life. We’ll see how this progresses.
My next step involves eating like a Stoic. Robertson suggest eating a healthy diet for a week. It is not about losing weight, getting fit or looking good! It’s about self-discipline and control. Having a plan and sticking to it. This is something that I could really do with mastering. So rather than imitating the ancient Stoics who ate vegetarian food that was nourishing and easily prepared I’m going to eat what I consider to be a healthy diet. More fruit and veg, less crisps and chocolate and I may just cut down on tea and coffee. I’m terrible for picking at sweet treats throughout the day so I’ll be cutting those out. Fingers crossed I last the week, self-discipline has never been my strongest virtue.
After starting the day with a bowl of porridge topped with blueberries I’m off to compile a shopping list that will incorporate fresh tasty healthy options.
I hope you have a beautiful day where ever you may be,
Slán agus beannacht.
For anyone interested in the art of stoicism check out Donald Roberson’s blog here.
The book I’ve quoted from is Stoicism And The Art Of Happiness by Donald Robertson mine is a Kindle version as I just couldn’t wait for a hard copy to arrive in the post, probably not very stoic of me!