June 2, 2017 – A Little Greek Philosophy for your Friday

Reading social media everyday reminds me we live in a time of quick-tempers, anxiety and unprecedented sharing of feelings in social media. All of this has been facilitated by incredible leaps on technology. Most of us will say we want a friendly, happier, and calm existence while seeking out controversial websites and social media. I’m guilty as anyone of saying I want to avoid raising my blood pressure, only to click on a story that sends me through the roof – knowing full well that it would.

Recently, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of what I read – especially if doesn’t add to my happiness – or is of value as a source of information. I’ve always been fascinated with philosophy and in particular, Greek philosophy. The main reason I enjoy reading Greek philosophy is that Greek philosophers had so much time to contemplate life.  One particular school comes to mind when thinking about what would be useful in today’s negative media-saturated world – Stoicism.

Most people (who are familiar with the term stoic – or perhaps know a little about philosophy) think that stoicism is about suffering with a stiff upper lip or being emotionless like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. What Stoicism really teaches is acceptance and being practical about life.  Stoicism, as a philosophy, is traced to around 300 B.C. to Zeno of Cyprus.  The Stoics had centuries to think deeply -about how to live – without distraction – and developed techniques or ideas to help us appreciate the good in life, while accepting the bad. These techniques have stood the test of time and are still appropriate to today’s busy world. Here are some of the most useful techniques.

 

Learn to accept what is and isn’t in your power (think serenity prayer).

You should approach everything with composure and tranquility of mind.

The second-century slave-turned-teacher Epictetus said, “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” Viktor Frankl wrote about this principle in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl wrote that while we often can’t control what happens to us, we do have the choice how to react.  These days we also have the choice (media wise) to remove that stimuli as well.

Step back and see the forest, and not just the trees. Stoics call this “the view from above”.  Doing this will help you to put things in perspective and sometimes even help you laugh away troubles that are not worth worrying about. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius noted in his personal diary, “The Meditations” – “Altogether the interval is small between birth and death; and consider with how much trouble, and in company with what sort of people and  in what a feeble body, this interval is laboriously passed.” Meaning – don’t sweat the small stuff considering how much life you have lived – and will live.

Contemplate the day ahead. A prepared mind (according to stoics) will make all the difference between a crappy day and a fairly good one.  If you know you will be facing the office jerk – prepare yourself mentally for the challenge. If you know that traffic will be bad – find a podcast or music that helps calm you down – imagine yourself in a good spot and let the good times roll.

Be mindful of the here and now. The past is no longer under your control, and as Elsa said in the movie Frozen – let it go. The future will be here soon enough, the most effective way to prepare for it is to be where and when you are — right here, right now. As Kris Kristofferson wrote in the song (one of my Mom’s favorites), Help Me Make it Through the Night, “Yesterday is dead and gone And tomorrow’s out of sight…”

Finally, before going to sleep, either keep a diary or make a mental note to let go of the day that has passed. The idea is you to learn from your experiences and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher wrote, “Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids until you have reckoned up each deed of the day — how have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then for vile deeds chide yourself, for good [ones] be glad.” Then go full Elsa on the day and let it go.

So there it is – a little Greek philosophy for your Friday. Stoicism was meant to be a day-to-day philosophy to help you get through the day. Stoicism is not about suppressing emotions or suffering through life with a stiff upper lip. Stoicism is about regulating your responses to whatever life throws at you, enduring what you must, enjoying what can – and knowing the difference.

Friday Dad Joke.

Where do Generals keep their armies?

In their sleevies!

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