So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
You will never be able to gain peace as long as you attach your sense of well-being to the things outside yourself. Unattachment, as the Buddha would say.
But then, what are we left with? With the triumph of principles.
And what does this mean? It means that you have to find value not in the material and the wheels of fortune, not in things going this war or another, but in the intangible attitudes and ways of being found inside you that play with the world.
It is a cold objectiveness, with a smile.
“A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”
― Taleb Nassim Nicholas
I find it interesting, and heartwarming, that so many people are subscribed to the Daily Stoic from Ryan Holiday. He is a marketing genius of course, and you can tell. His daily writing is short and concise, they go to the point. He has good “shorts” on YouTube, and is always active on Instagram. He is even creating Stoic Memes there, which are not super funny, but they spread the point he wants to make.
But I am not so sure if people really understand what Stoisicm, and philosophy in general, when dealing with ethics, truly entails. Philosophy promises freedom. But I am not so sure that this freedom can be found on Instagram while reading a post from the Daily Stoic.
Understanding is hard. I’ve read Seneca’s letters over 5 times and I still keep forgetting his principles.
But there is one thing in particular that I think is hard to change or to apply when you are learning to practice Stoicism, and that is changing what you value.
At some point in the Letter’s to Lucilious, Seneca advises Lucilious to leave all his pleasures and power positions and to better subscribe to a quiet life nurtured with philosophy, if he wishes to be happy. This might not be entirely accurate, I read it from Montaigne.
This left me thinking about the way we live our lives. Who amongst us is truly free? Who doesn’t care about losing his reputation? About being left penniless? And you might say to yourself: Well, it is very unlikely that I will be left penniless and without a job, I work too hard.
To which I would respond that your will hasn’t been tested by fortune yet. Anything can happen. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Covid left without a job a lot of people. So yeah, if something can happen, it might happen.
But, are you going to be left defenseless? Of course not, you still have your will, and your guts, and as Epictetus said:
“You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will.”― Epictetus
Good times bring about weak men. That’s true. It makes you care a lot, or more about your position in life. They make you think that you are your clothing, your cars, and your job. They depress you as well because your individuality is put in the shadows by the stuff you feel proud about.
Good times make you value external treasures, subjected to fortune, over inner treasures, subjected to your will.
A great man will always value his inner treasures over the external. You don’t even have to be a great man, to be honest, you just have to be a bit smart to realize this. They may take away your car, but no one can take away your attitude and your resourcefulness.
Practice, my friends, practice.
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