On Stoicism in general: Part II - Deepstash

On Stoicism in general: Part II

The Stoic says that everything else– disease, war, suffering, others’ aggression toward you– is completely neutral and is neither good nor evil.

This is what is meant by “The Inner Citadel.” The Stoics believed that your soul is your stronghold. It’s the only thing over which you have complete control and striving to perfect your soul your intentions is the only thing that matters in life. 

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The Inner Citadel

by Pierre Hadot, Mark Aurel (Römisches Reich, Kaiser), Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius

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The first two principles deal with the right thoughts and frame of mind. This is all nice in theory, but what principles should guide our actions day-to-day? What does Stoicism look like in its practical application? That’s number three– right actions. First: you must concentrate every minute on doing what you know is right, on living each minute like it will be your last, and, as Marcus says, “worship your inner power.”

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Your weaknesses are actually your strengths if you frame them correctly in your mind, and when you encounter something blocking your path, it is merely a chance to practice some new virtue that you have been neglecting. Patience, tolerance, persistence, courage, or something else. If you don’t love your fate and respectfully submit to whatever the world throws at you, you will just get stuck complaining about things and feeling sorry for yourself.

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There are two kinds of things in the world– those you can control and those you cannot. Accept the things you cannot and work ceaselessly to perfect the things you can.

That’s it. It’s a very simple philosophy. Or as Hadot says, “There is no good but moral good, and there is no evil but moral evil.” In other words, the good/evil dichotomy exists only inside one’s mind and actions. 

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In the Inner Citadel, Hadot applies to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations his characteristic interpretative approach: treating ancient philosophy as a “way of life” in particular one which provides its students with “spiritual exercises” to enable them to make progress towards wisdom and treating ancient philosophical texts with attention to the “forms of discourse” or constraints of genre, tradition, and audience that affected their production.

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Hadot points out, by laboriously grouping together all the passages in Meditations which share a common theme, that there are in fact very few original simulate the words of others, turn them around in his head and reformulate them in a way that makes sense to him. They’re not neat or coherent, and they’re not indexed. Hadot calls the writing of these thoughts a “spiritual exercise.”

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The second point is to love your fate and to fearlessly accept whatever happens to you without complaint. The Stoics had a complicated relationship with Destiny or Fate, but the basic point is that you shouldn’t complain. Anything bad that happens is not an obstacle, but it is actually an opportunity.

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You must eliminate all prejudice. See things as they are, and never as anything else. “To lay them bare… to strip away the legend that encrusts them,” Marcus says. When you experience things in the world, in a sense you’re having a dialogue. You see a painting and the painting seems to ask you “Do you like me?” and you respond internally, “I like you. You are good.” 

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One of the most incredible things about Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations was that he wrote the book only for himself; he never intended for it to be published or read by anyone else. I think this makes the original work seem all the more powerful. Marcus wrote these brilliant, incredibly lucid passages for himself, and for nobody else. He was a humble man who was trying to do his best to live up to his principles, and he was absolutely not trying to preach. 

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  •  Judge everything objectively
  • Don’t wish your circumstances to be any different than they are.
  • Be fair, generous, and dignified, both to yourself and to others.

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When you smell rotting garbage or experience physical pain, your answer is “This is uncomfortable. You are bad.” To the Stoics, this is not ideal. Instead, try to be objective and quiet your inner discourse with the world. See things only as they are, and resist the temptation to add your own thoughts and impressions. Do not judge the value of things in the world, because they are all equal and they are all outside your control anyway.

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marcus aurelius

"Discourse no more of what a good man should be; but be one."

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Acknowledge that all emotions come from within

It is not outside forces that make us feel something, it is what we tell ourselves that create our feelings. 

Many of us want to place blame and responsibility on external objects because it’s easy to do, but the truth remains that all conflicts start internally, in our minds.

The next time you run into an obstacle and feel resistance, don’t look at what’s around you. Instead, look within.

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Cafeteria Stoicism

Stoicism is made up of conflicting writings, especially around God, determinism vs free will, happiness vs avoidance of pain etc. Today most Stoic fans are practicing a cafeteria approach: picking up the few useful bits, modifying others, discarding the rest. 

But it’s important to know that this is what we’re doing. Because to the extent that we’re taking this approach, we’re not practicing Stoicism. We are abandoning it and relying implicitly on different (and often unidentified) philosophic ideas.

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