“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
― Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics
Think about a philosopher, what comes to mind?
When you think about Seneca or Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus? About Plato or Thoreau?
Books! Knowledge! Education! Wisdom!
And of course. A person that embarks himself on the journey of an examined life is naturally prone to grab the writings of the great masters that came before him and wonder in amazement of their mighty, courageous and truly worthy lives. Not one person that reads a few passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson or Seneca can pass inadvertently the tremendously cunning remarks about life and humanity they so accurately write. As such:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca
When one thinks of philosophy and philosophers, there is a common misconception that needs to be addressed.
The misconception is thinking that Seneca or Emerson “possessed” knowledge and therefore, due to this “possessing”, they were considered philosophers. So, then, a philosopher is the bearer of knowledge, you could say?
Knowledge is one part of the equation, but not everything, and certainly not the most important part. What is the most important part then? What makes a philosopher, a philosopher?
To begin, Marcus and Seneca not only possessed knowledge, they practiced it. Philosophy is not a possession, it is a practice, a constant, unending, practice. An endless strive for a never fully attainable perfection.
Like playing a musical instrument.
Philosophy is not a nice table or a beautiful painting you can hang among the corridors of your conscience. Philosophy is the instrument with which you live your life, it is the strum of your fingers in the guitar strings. And just so, you can play either beautifully or horribly.
First, you read, then, you reflect and then, more importantly, you live and put to the test your reflections, only to reflect again and continue the cycle. Simple, but not easy of course.
To be a Stoic is to be a practitioner. A person who lives philosophy.
It gets harder before it gets easier
Like all great things, a life well lived is hard to come by, it gets harder before it gets easier. The great filter, the “Worthy Filter” you could call it.
Learning to play the violin, master the mind as a Yogi does, learning the trades of a business consultant or mastering the financial markets require great amounts of time, attention, energy, and will. Anyone can do it, but not everyone will do it, just so with an examined life.
In this context, wondering if it’s worth it to live a life of philosophy is blatantly out of question. There is no point of comparison between and examined life and a life of quiet desperation as Thoreau would describe.A life of philosophy is a life of true amazement and deep appreciation, a life of meaning.
When you begin to do anything, you will suck at it or at least, supposing you have unnatural talent for whatever it is you are doing, you will not be great at it at least. You need to practice.
Eventually, things get easier, a musician, when practiced, does not have to worry about simple chords anymore. He develops his mastery to a point in which he thinks instead about emotions and the meaning he intends to portray instead of basic, beginner, music theory.
An examined life, a life of philosophy, is just the same.
This is the same reason why Marcus Aurelius wrote daily in his diary that we now read with amazement and appraisal. He did not thought the same of himself though, he writes often in his meditations about how he had not yet was accomplished in becoming a full man of philosophy.
Perfection, as I’m sure you know, will always be around the corner. Marcus Aurelius was not perfect, but you cannot deny that he was great. And this is what we want, not perfection, but betterment, constant betterment (you cannot keep playing a game if you end it!).
Unknowingly, little by little, you to can become as great in your own life and make it easier after a while.
Little acts matter, practice matter. Suddenly, living a life led by stoic values will feel like walking, you’ll just do it, but you have to read, reflect and most importantly, live.
A great complement to this read: START
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