David B. Bohl is a relinquishee and adoptee, a professional independent addiction and recovery consultant, and a former consumer of substance use disorder and mental health services. He’s also the author of Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, a memoir that chronicles the intersection of adoption and addiction in his life.
In this overwhelming world there’s ONE school of thinking that promises a healthy mind that is free of anger, envy, or jealousy. Learn how to lean into fear, stop self-harm, and love those around you better as I tell you what the ancient philosophers taught me. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. You don’t want to miss this!
Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise, it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.
~ Epictetus, Discourses 1.15.2, Robin Hard revised translation
I start this with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers. The beauty of being alive now is that we have so many sources to draw our own philosophies from – we are no longer confined to libraries or institutions to find interesting ideas that can help us shape our beliefs. I love how my own curiosity takes me on knowledge journeys as I investigate concepts and philosophies that strike me as interesting and useful.
We’re born free and we have a choice to pick and chose what works for us as we try to navigate our way through the ups and downs that life throws at us. One piece of advice I have for those struggling is to try to develop and grow a philosophy for living. What’s been working for me lately was reading and trying to incorporate Stoic thinking, and I would like to share some of its tenets with you.
Stoicism is a school of the ancient philosophy of life founded around 300BC by a man called Zeno of Citium. The philosophy is one of practicality and focuses on the question: How can we find a path to happiness (which the Stoics called eudaimonia)? Stoicism advocates for the kind of life that is honest, not based on fear and that allows for you to live and let live. It is based on four virtues – wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation – and on three core principles:
- The ability to view ourselves, the world, and its people objectively and accept their nature as it is.
- The discipline to prevent ourselves from being controlled by the desire for pleasure or the fear of pain and suffering.
- Making the distinction between what is within our power to influence and what is not. Using this information we act on what can be acted upon, and we dismiss what can’t.
Stoic spiritual practices are exercises in learning how to live the philosophical life and apply that to our every day. Ancient Stoic philosophers adopted a range of metaphysical and theological views concerning the nature of creation, providence and fate, the source of our rationality, and Deity.
Overall, the Stoics emphasized ethics as the most important of all principles, and they believed that everyone is born equal and has the same rights. I particularly like their teachings because they advocate self-control and praise a healthy mind that is free of anger, envy, or jealousy. Overcoming destructive emotions and developing the strength to do it is one of the practices of stoicism.
This is similar to the philosophy of detachment where we don’t let what others do and the negative forces around us mess with our equilibrium. Being aware of fear is natural, but giving into it is not – understanding that danger exists is a normal, human reaction but letting the emotion around danger control our lives is not.
How can you apply this now? The biggest challenge for many of us is coping with the news that we’re getting bombarded with whether we turn on television, radio or our phones. There’s so much information and so much of it is troubling! And we spend many more hours at home, no longer able to distract our routines with work or friends as we go from one lockdown into another and stay in the state of uncertainty all the time. Even those of us who try to keep on top of all the news feel overwhelming fatigue and frustration. You might be on this page because you’re looking for some spiritual solutions – this is also the period when people are trying to balance what’s coming at them with things that can bring them peace and some calm. One of the things that worked for me, was turning that energy and anxiety over what’s going on in the world, into something that I could actually practice to counteract the negativity – hence surfing the Internet like never before, except this time, to find some philosophy rather than order more hand disinfectant.
I’ve shared a few of my favorite ways of arriving at calm and spiritual-like experiences, and I know that ultimately what works for you is not necessarily what works for me. But for today, the philosophy of stoicism seems healthy and pertinent. A person who responds to the world by letting what’s happening around her affect her negatively – whether via obsessive thinking or engaging in self-harming behaviors to cope – is a victim to her circumstances; a person who stands back and doesn’t let the external affect their internal life too much, to the point of discomfort and unhappiness, can cope with what comes at them. Material possessions are not important, but “using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly” is, and the joy and happiness comes from not letting things get to you. I know it’s harder said than done but if you take a step back and practice acceptance, you will find it a lot easier to lean into life instead of allowing it to bump into you and hurt you unnecessarily.
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