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Stoic Week 2014 – Everything You Need to Know

Stoic Week 2014: Everything You Need to Know

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Stoic Week 2014 is an online and international event taking place from Monday 24th to Sunday 30th November. This is its third year. Anyone can participate by following the daily instructions in the Stoic Week 2014 Handbook, which will be published online. You will be following the Stoic practices of philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, for seven days, and discussing the experience of adapting them for modern living with other participants in our online forums. The aims of the course are to introduce the philosophy so that you can see how it might be useful in your own life and to measure its potential therapeutic effectiveness.

About Stoicism: Stoicism was first practised in the Graeco-Roman world in around 300 BC. At the core of Stoicism is the idea that virtue, or strength of character, is the most important thing in life. They focussed on ‘following nature’ by perfecting the rational nature of the human being, through cultivating wisdom, courage, temperance and justice, and also on bringing to fruition the social nature of the human being, by aiming to excel in our social roles, whether familial or in society at large. Stoicism, therefore, is simultaneously a philosophy of inner strength and outer excellence.

About the course: The course guides you through all the basic ideas of Stoicism. Each day has its own theme, exercises to practise, reflections from original Stoic texts to consider. It has been written by the Stoicism Today team, an interdisciplinary group of academics and psychotherapists. You are also encouraged to take wellbeing surveys before and after the week, so that we can measure the course’s effectiveness.

You can find audio resources (guided meditations to download) for the course here.

Registration: The course is not held on the Stoicism Today website but on its sister website, modernstoicism.com. Please register for the course on that website, and fill in the pre-week questionnaires the weekend before Stoic Week commences, and again once Stoic Week is over. At the moment, there is no course content on the website, but you can register now by following these two steps:

1. Create an account on modernstoicism.com if you don’t have one already.

2. Visit the main course page for Stoic Week 2014 and click the ‘enrol’ button.

You will receive an automatic email with further instructions. In due course, how to fill out the pre and post Stoic Week wellbeing questionnaires will be made available on the course website.
 

Want to share your experiences during the week? There will be very active discussion boards during Stoic Week on the course website. You can also post your reflections on the Stoicism Facebook group.

I would like to meet other people interested in Stoicism face to face not just online. How can I do this? 

If you live in the UK, there is a one-day event being held at Queen Mary, University of London, on November 29th. There are 300 places for the event, so you should book now to avoid disappointment. Click here for more information. Videos and audio recordings of this event are planned, and will be uploaded onto the Stoicism Today website in the weeks that follow Stoic Week. You can see a video of last year’s London event here.

There are also other events being organised around the world. Click here for a round-up of these events. Get in touch if you are organising an event and would like it listed on the blog.

What were the results of last year’s study? Last year, around 2,400 people took part in Stoic Week worldwide. Our findings supported the view that Stoicism is helpful. Participants reported a 14% improvement in life satisfaction, a 9% increase in positive emotions (joy increased the most of all emotions, whilst optimism increased by 18%) and an 11% decrease in negative emotions. The findings also supported the view that Stoicism not only increases well-being but also enhances virtue –  56% of participants gave themselves a mark of 80% or more when asked whether it had made them a better person and made them wiser.

What else can I look forward to during Stoic Week? On the Stoicism Today blog during Stoic Week, there will be personal testimonies of how Stoicism has been useful in people’s lives, as well as articles tackling various stereotypes of Stoicism, and reflections by prominent authors on Stoicism and its uses in the modern world. Get in touch if you would like to share reflections on how Stoicism has been helpful in your life.

Stoicism in Schools: Are you a teacher? We have developed some lesson plans for students which you can make use of. Click here. 60 schools world-wide have already signed up.

There will also be participants from HMP Low Moss Prison in Scotland taking part.

Stoicism in the Media: If you would like to run a feature Stoic Week, please get in touch. You can read of the previous media interest in Stoic Week here.

Please share this page with anyone you think might be interested, and post it on Facebook and Twitter.

Stoic Week’s twitter account is @StoicWeek. The Facebook page for Stoic Week 2014 can be found here.

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‘Hold Your Horses – Driving Lessons From Ancient Rome’ by Jen Farren

Hold Your Horses – Driving Lessons From Ancient Rome

Jen Farren

Albania

I have a modern problem – driving. Albania is a land of aggressive drivers where few traffic signs or rules are obeyed. Drivers jump signals, go clockwise, anticlockwise and straight across at roundabouts and drive the wrong way up motorways. Meanwhile people and livestock run across the road and in the mountains, without warning, roads sometimes end by dropping off a cliff.

With little time to anticipate or react, at times driving is like a dodgem ride full of near-misses, bumps and shocks. For a new driver like me, it may be one of the worst places to drive. I looked for advice from the Stoics and found it in the surprisingly relevant parallel of the Roman charioteer.

In a tradition dating back to Greece, the charioteer also faced aggressive driving, the risk of losing control, accidents and crashes as: “one chariot crashing into another, shattering it to pieces, until the entire field of Crisa became a sea of chariot wrecks. (Electra – Sophocles).The Romans saw the chariot race as a metaphor for life – short, competitive, full of drama and danger. Life and racing are sports of chance and error and both require skill and emotional control over the self:

“Any sensible person will behave like a charioteer applying the reins to his team and will check the vigorous impulses of his affections.” Cicero

Continue reading

Stoic Gratitude & Wonder

Stoic Gratitude & Wonder

Mark Garvey

Introduction: Each essay at Mark Garvey’s blog, Old Answers, begins with a brief Q&A, in which an ancient philosopher responds to a query from a (typically vexed) modern-day seeker.

Q: “When I was young, I was interested in everything, and the world was full of wonder. But adulthood has worn me down. With each passing day I feel more like Oscar Wilde’s paradigmatic cynic: ‘A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ This change in attitude happened while I wasn’t looking, and I’m not happy about it. The only people I know who seem unjaded and reasonably content with their lot are religious believers, but the faith of my youth seems to have flown the coop. I’m bone-weary of the snark and cynicism that pass for social intercourse these days, especially on the internet. How can I take a step back, get a fresh view, and rekindle wonder in my life?”

A“Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence, to a humble and grateful mind. Not to instance great things, the mere possibility of producing milk from grass, cheese from milk, and wool from skins–who formed and planned this? No one, say you. O surprising irreverence and dullness!”

-Epictetus, AD c. 55 – 135, Discourses, Bk 1, ch 16

ewe3_tintedEpictetus raises so many currently unfashionable ideas here—God (Providence), humility, reverence—that it’s hard to know where to begin. For secular moderns, his expression of wonder at the seemingly miraculous origins of milk, cheese, and wool can easily provoke a smile of condescension, perhaps even a sneer. The primitive naïveté! What can such a man–bound by the limits of first-century cosmology, ignorant of today’s materialist, scientistic gospel and the “blind” inexorability of natural selection—have to offer that could be of any use to iPhone-Age Man?

We can’t read far in Epictetus without recognizing his belief in God. It’s also impossible to imagine a topic in current culture that has been so thoroughly mangled, misrepresented, and misunderstood. “The God question,” mankind’s inherent itch to grapple with the ultimate mystery of existence, has, in recent years, played out on the internet, and in the publishing world, with all the subtleness and intellectual acuity of a Three Stooges pie fight. In the process, humanity’s most complex, fertile, culture-shaping force—rich in wisdom traditions, creative arts, ethical thought, and psychological insight, and, for many, positively crackling with intimations of the transcendent—has been reduced to a tiresome shouting match, with doctrinaire literalists on one side and scorched-earth anti-theists on the other. To call this state of affairs regrettable doesn’t begin to cover it.

I’m happy with Epictetus’s theistic leanings. But whether or not we believe in God, it’s important to guard against the occasional impulse, when we’re sifting these ancient ideas, to toss out both baby and bathwater. History is replete with philosophies and belief systems that, despite arguable doctrinal details, have provided wisdom and ethical guidance to men and women in every era and culture and at
every point along the IQ bell curve. If you’re one who finds God talk troubling, all you need to muster, in order to benefit from Epictetus’s advice here, is some level of appreciation for finding yourself alive in a cosmos you did not create and in which you are given, along with your share of trouble and strife, bountiful opportunities for wonder and joy. If Epictetus, a crippled former slave who lived under some of Imperial Rome’s most treacherous rulers, found cause for, and wisdom in, adopting a fundamental position of humility and gratitude toward the universe, there is every chance that we, too, can benefit by embracing these attitudes.

Humility is a tricky subject, if only because it’s impossible not to sound laughably pompous when recommending it. Look here, you: Be humble! But that’s not it. We’re not talking about personal humility of the kind that can be so treacherous if pursued head-on, the sort that easily warps into conspicuous, Uriah Heepish self-abasement that’s the opposite of what it pretends to be. No, we’re after a broader, more foundational humility, a mindset that grasps our status as utterly dependent beings and that has absorbed, fully, the fact of our mortality. We want a humility not of groveling self-negation, but a clear-eyed recognition that every moment of our existence, as well as everything we have and are, is a gift. The mortality-humility connection is a natural one, and it is even reflected etymologically: Our word humility derives from the Latin humus, for soil or earth—that ground from which humankind arose, from which we draw our sustenance, and that will ultimately reclaim our bodies. We needn’t take it to morbid lengths, but occasional reflection on life’s contingency and brevity can provide a humbling perspective, one that can be both calming and a spur to greater engagement with life in the time left to us:

sprig_tint3Pass then through this tiny span of time in accordance with Nature, and come to your journey’s end with a good grace, just as an olive falls when it is fully ripe, praising the earth that bore it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.48. C. R. Haines, translator

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.56. Gregory Hays, translator

Through humility then–the acceptance of life as an unearned gift–we arrive at gratitude. One of the simplest and most ready-to-hand balms for a muddled life is the age-old remedy of counting our blessings. Granted, life’s bright spots can sometimes be hard to recognize, obscured as they often are by our day-to-day difficulties, by the usual dire headlines, and by the ongoing challenge of keeping our minds clear and our thinking straight. But when we can manage it, when the clouds part long enough to give us an objective glimpse of all we have to be thankful for, our gratitude can prove a strong antidote to the corrosive effects of cynicism, anger, sadness, and life’s accruing jumble of petty disappointments. And by reminding us of the often-unrecognized abundance in our lives, it can help to temper the grasping acquisitiveness that sometimes seems to drive us, even against our will. Finally, as Epictetus suggests, gratitude can help us regain our lost sense of wonder.

This is not just Epictetus’s idea. Gratitude is a virtue that enjoys high standing among the Stoics generally. Seneca, in On Benefits, says, “He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment on his debt.” The first book of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a poignant and grateful accounting of his indebtedness to family, friends, teachers, and others. Cicero called gratitude the greatest of the virtues, and “the mother of all the others” (Pro Plancio).

If you’re like the rest of us, bringing gratitude to the fore in your life will likely require a conscious effort. If you regularly pray, meditate, or practice some form of reflection focused on self-improvement, an easy step might be to add a minute or two to explicitly acknowledge those things, landscape5people, and events from your day for which you are particularly thankful. It’s not difficult, and once you get started, the number of good things happening in your life, even within the space of a single unremarkable day, may surprise you; they will certainly encourage you. In addition to recalling specific moments–the pleasant encounter with the shop clerk, the encouraging email from a friend, the old car that started and ran smoothly despite the bad weather–you might also remember those broader circumstances of your life that apply:

  • the presence, or the happy memory, of loved ones
  • a rational nature, a mind built for learning
  • the ability, and the will, to rise above challenging circumstances
  • good health
  • meaningful work
  • kindness from unexpected quarters
  • a capacity for doing good
  • nature: its power, beauty, and endless variety
  • …and so on

Regular practice with this exercise can grow on you. If you’re the journaling type, you can keep a written record of your reflections. You might even choose to follow the example of Marcus Aurelius and write about the people in your life to whom you are most grateful for help in shaping your character, providing for your education, and encouraging your spiritual/philosophical growth. Keep these notes and reflections to yourself, though; blasting them out to the world via social networking can be a species of ego-stroking and will only sap their power. Marcus’s Meditations were not written for publication; they were a tool for self-improvement and a form of spiritual exercise.

Once you’re established on the gratitude wavelength, you can begin to notice its impact on your daily life–lengthening your patience, recalling your attention to life’s smaller pleasures, and generally improving your resilience in challenging times. Humility and gratitude may or may not lead us to faith in God, but they can go a long way toward reawakening wonder and hope in even the most jaded adult.