The Hard Part of Stoicism

Hi, I’m back. 

So, you think you’re a Stoic, huh? 

You read the philosophy, one time two times, a thousand times. Ryan Holiday is no longer enough for you. You crave more, there has to be more! You read the academics, Margaret Graver, Lawrence C. Becker. You know the drill. You read cognitive behavioral therapy and find its relationship with Stoicism. You go deep into Stoicism. You become enlightened Stoic. Sure. I’m enlightened, I’m enlightened. 

Until you realize you’re just full of bullshit. 

Read all you want, it won’t do shit for you. Stoicism is practiced in life, not in books. 

I’ve been struggling with a lady lately. She works with me. I have to deal with her daily. She’s been a true daily stoic test for the last couple of months. Read this first. 

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Easy to read, fucking hard to apply. Marcus, I get it. She’s ignorant, hell, I know I’m ignorant as well! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be vexed every time she crosses me over. 

But what if my trying to not get angry is getting in my way? What if my trying to suppress my anger impedes me from taking appropriate action? 

What if I’m just using Stoicism as a pretext to not take action against stuff in my life that is clearly wrong? 

Told you haha, sometimes you think you get something when in reality you don’t.

Lesson #1 Don’t use philosophy to hide in it. 

What can I do about my anger? What is the best way to act? 

Philosophy can only take you so far. Stoicism, for example, will tell you to concentrate on what is under your control, which is your judgment. OK, let’s suppose that you take care of that. You realize, that in the grand scheme of things, the problems you have are petty. Awesome, you’ve set your mind straight and you feel better and at peace now, right?

The thing is, the problem will still be there when you open your eyes. And my brother, if you are angry, annoyed, and vexed, on top of the problem still being there, you’ll now have two problems. The problem itself, and the internal problem caused by your incapacity to control your judgments, your incapacity to own yourself. 

This, right here, is the famous crux of Stoicism. 

Stoicism and rock climbing, a guide 

In rock climbing, there’s this thing called ‘the crux’. The crux is the hardest part of the climb. It is that impossible movement you have to make while you’re standing on a minuscule piece of rock that can break at any moment because your entire body weight is placed on it. 

You’re sweating, it’s the 12th time you go for it, for that trip, because it’s not your first time there. That bloody crux of the climb beats you every time. Again and again, you arrive at the crux, and again it sends you flying and swearing, hitting your body against the rock wall. 

Sometimes I feel just the same with Stoicism. 

I’m enlightened, I’m enlightened. No, you’re not. Again and again, I arrive at my same internal spots, I get furious, I swear, I get mad because I get mad and I cannot control myself from getting mad. I try again, and again I get to the crux only to fall again. 

In climbing, you get down, you go back to the gym, you get strong, you try again. You go back, you fall. You go back to the gym, you get stronger, you calm yourself, and you get back. The climb changes, or is it you the one that changes? It’s you of course. You pass the crux, and you finish the damn climb. 

Then you go and find another climb, which will give you another, surely, harder crux. 

What about life? 

It’s just the same. You get to your cruxes and you try them, again and again. 

Humility. That’s a good thing. There’ll never be a point in your life when you’re done. Never a point where you know everything there is to know. Never a point in your life where you’re out of cruxes.

Don’t believe me? Just live. You’ll arrive at a crux eventually. 

I fucking hate cruxes. But now that I’m writing this, and now that I’m thinking about the hard parts of life in terms of cruxes, I can see that Marcus is right. 

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

The crux is the point that leaves you perplexed. Not really knowing how to proceed. It’s the point you feel lost and not so sure of yourself anymore. It’s the point you wonder how the hell you got up there without knowing how hard it was going to get. It’s the point that teaches you the hardest lessons in life. 

The crux is also the way out of the crux. 

The hard part of Stoicism

Read all you want, subscribe to Stoic Answers, The Daily Stoic, or listen to Donald Robertson and Massimo Pigliucci until your ears bleed, there are things, that only life can teach.

Remember, the crux is waiting for you. 

I don’t want to leave you scared with the terrible crux, with the terrible problems, with the Coronavirus, the massive unemployment, and your thousand cruxes. 

Yes, the cruxes are real. But so is your capacity to give a finger to them and focus on your responses. That is the hard part of Stoicism. The degree with which you can hold your ground and stick with your responses towards life cruxes. 

You can feel the crux in your stomach, whenever you’re doing something important that you don’t want to fuck up. That’s a crux. How much can you concentrate on giving your best and disregard the result as indifferent to you? 

You are capable of that hard decision. It will tire you, it will test your will, but it is a fact that you can push through whatever obstacle no matter what. If you do, you’ll achieve freedom.

That’s the hard part of Stoicism, actually being Stoic. 

2021 is a huge crux. And let me tell you something, your very freedom is in danger. Freedom lies in your capacity to face the cruxes, to become stronger. And ultimately, enjoy those fucking cruxes. 

Climbing is fun as hell. And life, when lived voluntarily, is as well. 

Welcome to a new year of Stoic Answers. Big hugs to you my friend. 

Ricardo Guaderrama

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7 Comments

  1. I just left a long and thoughtful comment – scratch that – I TRIED to leave it. It was rejected with a simple WordPress error as useless as your co-worker. I’ve been cruxed again.

  2. Ricardo, I’m new to Stoicism. I wish I had come across it earlier. My first big lesson was to understand that it is not easy. Did any of the writers say that? But one thing Stoicism is – is simple. The Obstacle is the Way. The Challenge is the Opportunity. What else do you need to know? You must see your crux as a test of your patience and consider the person you will be when you have overcome your difficulties with the co-worker. What aspect of your self will be better and improved, more resilient? That’s it!

    1. Hey Andrew, on point man.
      It’s exactly that. My crux, more precisely, was to figure out that I needed to grow in terms of assertiveness as well, and realize that you have to assert yourself in some situations over trying to be nice to not rock the boat. Yeah, the obstacle is the way, and it teaches you lessons that you didn’t even knew you had to learn! haha

      But that’s it, keep at it, learn the lessons that need to be learned, and on to the next crux.

  3. Absolutely, I’m always wrestling with on the one hand telling myself that I can’t control other people’s actions, but on the other hand I don’t like being a pushover by just accepting bad behavior. You are right it is about measured assertiveness without getting angry. It would make a great article if you can explain how you overcome this crux.

    1. Hey Andrew, correct mate, I think I like where you’re going because that’s precisely the problem. The assertiveness on the one hand and not getting angry on the other.

      I’m working on the article now, and on myself more accurately haha.

      Cheers mate,

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