Isn’t it a wonder that the more we progress technologically and scientifically, the more we fall back on ancient wisdom to give us peace of mind?
The various forms of meditation originated centuries ago. What is taught in the yoga studios in your city today were practiced by Eastern sages and mystics thousands of years back. Zen Buddhism that is a rage across the world today dates back to the time of the Buddha. Such is the wisdom ingrained in these ancient philosophies that they remain relevant and continue to provide spiritual guidance even today.
Although little known, Stoicism too is one such ancient philosophy that continues to hold true to this day. Stoicism originated in ancient Greece during the 3rd century B.C. The tenets of Stoicism are simple but profound, and they propagate a way of living and thinking that will keep away stress from your life and make you calmer and more productive.
1. All emotions come from inside of us. They can be tamed.
What happen to us are just events. We tend to describe these as “good” or “bad” and consequently feel elated or depressed.
There is nothing wrong with the job you are at now; it is you who thinks you are not made for it and hence get the Monday morning blues. The mortgage payments are not inherently stressful; your anxieties over price rise, whether you can hold on to your job, and how the economy will behave in the coming months are stressing you out. The breakup is not bad; you are sad because you now pity yourself as someone lonely and broken-hearted.
The Stoics were wise and insightful people. They realized that our chatterbox minds, fond of drama, talk us into believing that things, people, and situations are pleasant or painful. Our minds churn up emotions and we are swayed by them. So the Stoics stifled any emotion that arose within them and went about doing their duties mindfully. They were at peace with themselves and the world around them because they didn’t let their minds order them around.
2. We cannot control everything. Don’t waste time or energy trying to change the uncontrollable.
We plan our lives years in advance. We have our career paths chalked out in our minds’ eyes. We also want to control the people in our lives. Our woes mostly arise because we are control freaks, and we are stressed when things don’t go the way we had planned. Unfortunately, we can’t control the economy, people’s attitudes, the weather, or the future. Nor can we undo the past. So there is always something to complain about, events from the past to rue, and (imagined) incidents in the future to lose sleep over.
The Stoics knew they couldn’t control everything. So they didn’t try. They only concentrated on what they could control—their attitudes, impulses, emotions, behavior, and performance. The Stoics knew they couldn’t change everything that happened around them, so they altered their attitudes, accepted and forgave, and were at peace. They didn’t try to relive the past. Nor did they try to fast forward to the future. They lived in the present.
3. Create value by living a life centered on principles.
How do you choose to live your life? Do you want to spend your days tethered to to-do lists? Do you want to spend your life aiming for success, wealth, and fame whose definitions are always changing? Then you will forever slog away and be stressed-out without being satisfied.
The Stoics knew better. They lived their lives centered on the principles of courage, wisdom, justice, and personal restraint or moderation. These are good enough for a life of endless peace and contentment, but you can choose your own principles to live by. Let these become your internal compass and be guided by them in whatever you do.
The wise man knows success, wealth, and fame are transient. The society’s definition of success is constantly in a flux. The rich can remain wealthy only till the next recession. You are famous till the next “successful” man comes around. Success, wealth, and fame are shaky foundations to build your life on. Principles are more enduring. Besides, they enrich you spiritually.
Whether you have to survive in the rough-and-tumble world of Wall Street or are trying to bring up your kids, Stoicism has ample lessons for you. In fact, the Stoic principles are now more relevant than ever before because we live in tough times.