Month: September 2019

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Self-Conquest, In Search For Meaning


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“This world is for those who are born to conquer it, Not for those who dream that are able to conquer it, even if they’re right.”
Fernando Pessoa

Everyone wants to have an awesome life, that’s not something hard or special, everybody wants the best the world can offer but not everyone is willing to pay the price for greatness and depth of experience. Everything has a price, and a great life is expensive in many ways, there is no other way but to put the work in, and not precisely in the way I’m sure you’re thinking right now.

When you think about a great life, about the life of your dreams, what do you imagine, what crosses your mind? 

The most common idea is “ the script” you are constantly sold. It usually involves a lot of money, a super hot girlfriend/boyfriend, a meaningful career that somehow allows you to be perfectly free to travel whenever you want and while doing so, take pictures of your food and the places you visit while thousands and thousands of people cheer you and speak about how great you are. 

That’s easy, how many people do you guess want this? Almost everyone. 

But how many people are actually living it? Not many. 

People might think they want that great life they dream of, but the reality is that they are satisfied with the mere thought of getting it. Because actually getting it is scarier than the normal life they lead. 

But remember…

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Meaning 

One of the hardest and most necessary things you’ll ever do is to find meaning in your life and live it. 

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
Viktor E. Frankl

If you are brave enough, if you are bold enough, to embark on the journey you were born to take, to actually (in the words of Seneca) live. You’ll find that life is the most rewarding gift, the most amazing and meaningful adventure you’ll ever live, ironically. 

You have to make and find your own way. 

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” Dante Alighieri

The journey of life began with your birth, and the most important life began when you realized that you only had one. 

Most of us, like Dante, find ourselves lost. Lost in corporate jobs with no time to do anything else, or lost in poverty, too busy thinking what you are going to feed your kids tomorrow. An awesome life is hard to find because there is no ultimate definition for what an awesome life is, it’s different for everyone. 

The path to greatness, to really live, is individual, only you know the answer and there is no “running away”. No running away in the way of following a script written by someone else so you don’t have to think about your own journey. In the end, running away is running away from yourself, and this is virtually impossible. 

In the end, there is just one way. Like Dante, you have to go to the center of hell and find out what your life is all about. 

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”― Marcus Aurelius

But hey, you are not alone… 

The Journey

Going through life will not be easy, in fact, you don’t want it to be. 

One day, Hercules found himself on a fork in the road. He didn’t know where to go so he sat down to think about it. While he was sitting down, two women approached him. The first one, Kakia, beautiful and alluring, tried to convince him one of the paths, she assured him that that path was the best one as it was the easiest one, he would enjoy all the riches and pleasures he could imagine, he would also never have to work as people would do the work for him. 

The second woman, Arete, beautiful in a simple way, spoke the blunt truth. He told him that in her path, he would have to work hard, he would have to wear rags and live a difficult life. “Nothing that is really good and admirable, is granted by the gods to men without some effort and application.”

He chose the difficult path. 

“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar — and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?

Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.

And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?”― Epictetus, The Discourses

Beautiful. The journey, now that you think about it, does it really feel like a struggle? Do you really feel you need to arrive somewhere to enjoy it? Or do you rather enjoy every tiny bit of it? 

It’s not about getting to the top of the mountain as fast as you can, it’s about hiking the mountain. 

Now you are ready. 

Back to real life. You don’t have Nemean lions to kill, but, howdy, you have to find something useful and meaningful in a world that’s losing its meaning. 

You have to find something great and worthy. 

But life is tiring and deceptive. You might want to live the best life we are talking about. But how do you do it with so much distraction? With so many things pulling your attention? You want to work on the weekend to get that project going and your friends invite you for some drinks? 

How can you keep momentum? How can you keep up when you are tired and done after the office?

Stoic Mindfulness

Dante was not alone in hell. Virgil was his guide. 

You need guides as well. This is where Stoic mindfulness comes into play. The exercise is simple. Imagine that the person you admire the most is watching you all the time. 

How would you act if you knew that Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius or Seneca were watching you? 

This exercise will get you to be mindful of your actions. To distance yourself from the immediate pleasures you might take for granted at the end of the day. 

Ask yourself, what would Hercules do, what would the person you admire the most do? What would my mentor do in this situation? 

Like Dante, you too can have a Virgil that illuminates your way.

Don’t waste the awesome people living here. 

Get busy living. 

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”
Seneca

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I’m always open to suggestions and am happy to answer any questions. stoicanswers@gmail.com

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Great Responsibility = Great Power


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“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Epictetus

The difference between owning your life and life owning you relies on the degree of responsibility you choose to take.

Imagine you went for a walk to the park at night and suddenly you realize that a big, bad, scary-looking guy is shamelessly robbing a mother and her kid, he also has a gun. You are the only person around and the robber hasn’t noticed you yet. 

There are several options. 

You could run straight to the robber, tackle him down, take the gun from him and save the day like the hero you are. But it could also happen that the robber notices you before you’re able to tackle him and shoots you, you die as a hero, nevertheless, you die. 

Personally, I’d let the robbery happen, let the thief steal the phone and the purse, no big deal there. Then offer help to the lady and take her to the police station. A phone and a purse are nothing compared to their lives. 

You could also say that what happened was not your responsibility, but the police’s or the government’s or even the lady for not knowing better, but in saying this, you would be dead wrong. 

Because you see, it’s ALWAYS your responsibility. 

Conscious and unconscious responisbility

No, you don’t have to throw yourself to the train rails to save a screaming princess every time that happens. That’s not the point I’m trying to make. 

The point is that you are always choosing. 

You can choose not to do anything, but nevertheless, you are still choosing, you are always choosing. In choosing not to do anything, because you were scared or because you thought it was someone else’s responsibility, you still had to decide if the situation was important enough to you to do something about it and deal with the consequences of your actions.

You are not guilty or exempt from the randomness of life, but you are always responsible. You are always responsible in the sense that you exist and your actions will directly impact the development of reality itself. It doesn’t matter if you decide to do or not to do anything, you are still making a choice.

You are not exempt from having to make a decision.

The logical question then is, are you making conscious or unconscious decisions? 

Bear in mind that if you are looking to own your life you have to make conscious decisions. You have to choose -to choose-. 

If you don’t realize and claim your responsibility (your literal power), you are still going to be making choices, only that in this case, they are going to be unconscious, and you are not going to be the one making them, life is going to happen, whether you are active on it or not.

Choosing to not respond to the events in our lives is still a response to the events in our lives. 

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”
Epictetus

Remember the lady from the robbery? If you decided that you weren’t going to do anything because it was the police’s responsibility, you still let your decision be made mainly by fear, the decision unconscious. But If you instead waited and offered the lady help after the robbery was over, now, this sounds much more like a conscious decision. A decision where you stopped and thought, and then decided what was the best option given the possibilities. 

This is what being responsible means. 

It means that you realize that you are not exempt from the randomness of life, but also that you aren’t exempt either from making decisions and responding to your circumstances. 

True power relies in exercising your responsibility, in choosing to deal with your problems actively, consciously and voluntarily. Do this for an hour and you’ll notice the difference, do it for a year and you’ll hardly recognize the person you’ve become. 

Subscribe and receive the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism.

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I’m always open to suggestions and am happy to answer any questions. stoicanswers@gmail.com