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Stoic Paradigms


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“Those who never change their minds, never change anything.”― Winston S. Churchill

paradigm.- a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by a community or a person.

Knowledge and understanding are always evolving, just like everything else.

Today I want to talk about your understanding of stoicism. Stoicism helps anyone in the sense that it functions as a pair of glasses through which you can see reality more accurately.

“I was blind and now I see.”

That’s exactly how I felt the first time I read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and I have to say that I got hooked like a drug addict. I had never thought about myself or reality in the way the stoics narrated in their different teachings.

It completely changed and replaced my paradigm, my way of thinking, from blaming outside circumstances to working on the only thing I could work really on myself. I thought that my understanding of stoicism was going to be complete after reading Seneca’s and Epictetus’s work. I was blatantly wrong. Obviously.

Stoic, beginning

Maybe you will relate to this. When I first started practicing stoicism, I felt I had to take a serious posture and attitude towards life, soldierly-like. Life was serious and I had to be “realistic” about it, no time for jokes. Hard to think about joking with concepts like:

  • Memento Mori: realize that you are going to die and live each day with that thought in your head.
  • Premeditatio Malorum: Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.”— Seneca

Stoicism can feel pretty negative and terrible when you first start studying it. But, to be honest, I think most of us arrive into stoicism knowing that life is not all roses, it feels very real and it makes absolute sense. Life is not all colors, during life, we are going to suffer a lot.

So, in this sense, stoicism seems to be a kind of painful acceptance to the facts of reality, a kind of surrender to our situation.

But was that all? A serious life without jokes? Certainly not.

Understanding paradigms

Stephen Covey narrates in his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people” with tremendous accuracy how our understanding of stoicism works.

It’s impossible to know reality completely. Understanding the immense complexity of the university is simply impossible. There are many things you don’t know and there are far more other things that you don’t know you don’t know. Therefore, it’s pretty conceited to think that what you know at any given point in your life is how things really are, they are certainly not. Our paradigms are the maps we use to navigate through reality and they are almost always wrong. We can only hope to be less and less wrong with time but know this, perfection is unattainable, and that is good. In fact your maps, your paradigms can be tremendously wrong, to the point of not being able to take you where you want to go.

The same is true with your understanding of Stoicism. There are many ways, paradigms, maps with which you can understand stoicism. Funny hey?

Stoicism, moving forward.

If you keep reading and practicing stoicism, you will stumble into a new and a better understanding of it. This evolving understanding will never stop, just like the quest for perfection never will either. You can only come closer and closer to better truths.

Stoicism can be related to a disgustingly tasting spoonful of medicine. It certainly tastes horrible, but you will feel better afterward, medicine is what the sick need.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” ― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

You see life, to be fully lived, needs to be seen through better and better glasses. Life will require you to update your views constantly.

Stoicism can feel heavy at first, too much “real, oh too real” information to deal with. But once you accept your reality and situation, you are free again, free to move in the more accurate version of reality you now possess in your hands, without wishful thinking.

Free to love as much as you can, free to laugh as much as you can and adding to all that, prepared for any future adversity you will encounter.

You will meet it with a light heart and a light mind. Look at the eagle, makes it look easy right? That’s the paradigm you want.

“He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.” ― Epictetus

Want to read some more: Liberty or death

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The Reaper


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“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

If, I’d ask you, what would you rather be, wise or stupid? poor or rich? healthy or unhealthy? Easy-going or an asshole? What would you say?

I believe it is pretty straight-forward that we all prefer a good life to a lamenting one, and yet, what keeps us from doing it? Why aren’t we all just doing it?

Ignorance is deadly, it is willful stupidity.

With time, it seems that we are the most ignorant. You cannot grab time, touch it, you cannot put it in your wallet either and I think that’s exactly how we act with it, as if it were free and abundant. It isn’t, time is your single most important resource.

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.

Seneca

The thought of not having time can make you frantic. Memento Mori, can certainly make you feel manic. It’s like a person yelling: You fool! There is no time! You are going to die! Don’t you bloody care?! Ah! The end is near!.

I know, it feels like that. But it is not. Memento Mori is a stoic mind puzzle you have to go through and understand. When the stoics say that there is not time, they are not claiming something false or unimportant, all the opposite, they are disturbingly right.

But there is no time to be preoccupied about not having time either, there isn’t time even for that. That is the puzzle, and that is the stoic wisdom as well. How to enjoy something that’s not precisely enjoyable? ah, but that choice, remains in our control my friend, wonderfully so.

No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied … since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn… Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.

Seneca

Things take time, it’s not so easy as to clicking in your phone and getting the rewards of life, instantaneously.

The rewards of life come with hard work, sweat and sometimes tears. And this you know I’m sure.

Anything worthwhile takes time and effort.

The world we live in

There is something wrong with our “social-digital world” and that is that we only see the rewards of life, constantly, daily. You only see the perfect engagement dinner, the trip to the beach, the smiling faces, you just see the rewards and you don’t see the entirety of life. Naturally, you start craving more and more the rewards and wonder, even subconsciously, why you are not living happily all the freaking time.

But you don’t even want this. Trust me, you don’t want the benefits without the work and it’s just terrible to think that the work and the other parts of life aren’t something to be enjoyed and lived fully.

Reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:

“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” 
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


Solving the puzzle

The stoic puzzle: there is no time to concern yourself for not having enough time, so live every day as if it were your last.

Hear this.

You harvest what you sow. Is that easy, and this may be one of the most important advice in life.

You don’t see what you sow immediately, it requires time. Therefore, this may get you thinking: isn’t there enough time?! I must harvest whatever there is then!

But no, because by doing this, you’ve missed the point, the pleasure of living is not in the harvest, but in the whole process. It doesn’t really matter if you’re not able to harvest what you plant, but on the process itself of not wasting your life preoccupied for the harvest, but in living it fully, joy and sadness, work and harvest, pleasure and struggle. It is in the entirety of it, and on how awoke you were to see it the entire time.

The decision remains yours, choose wisely.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” 
― Aldous Huxley, B

Want something else from Stoic Answers? Read: An antidote for the complaint.

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