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See The World Like A Poet And An Artist

Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature, and come to your final resting place gracefully, just as a ripened olive might drop, praising the earth that nourished it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.48.2

There are some stunningly beautiful turns of phrase in Marcus‘s Meditations—a surprising treat considering the intended audience (just himself). In one passage, he praises the “charm and allure” of nature’s process, the “stalks of ripe grain bending low, the frowning brow of the lion, the foam dripping from the boar’s mouth.” We should thank private rhetoric teacher Marcus Cornelius Fronto for the imagery in these vivid passages. Fronto, widely considered to be Rome’s best orator besides Cicero, was chosen by Marcus’s adopted father to teach Marcus to think and write and speak.

More than just pretty phrases, they gave him—and now us—a powerful perspective on ordinary or seemingly unbeautiful events. It takes an artist’s eye to see that the end of life is not unlike a ripe fruit falling from its tree. It takes a poet to notice the way “baking bread splits in places and those cracks, while not intended in the baker’s art, catch our eye and serve to stir our appetite” and find a metaphor in them.

There is clarity (and joy) in seeing what others can’t see, in finding grace and harmony in places others overlook. Isn’t that far better than seeing the world as some dark place?

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Reboot The Real Work

I am your teacher and you are learning in my school. My aim is to bring you to completion, unhindered, free from compulsive behavior, unrestrained, without shame, free, flourishing, and happy, looking to God in things great and small—your aim is to learn and diligently practice all these things. Why then don’t you complete the work, if you have the right aim and I have both the right aim and right preparation? What is missing? … The work is quite feasible, and is the only thing in our power…. Let go of the past. We must only begin. Believe me and you will see.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.19.29-34

Do you remember, in school or early in your life, being afraid to try something because you feared you might fail at it? Most teenagers choose to fool around rather than exert themselves. Halfhearted, lazy effort gives them a ready-made excuse: “It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t even trying.”

As we get older, failure is not so inconsequential anymore. What’s at stake is not some arbitrary grade or intramural sports trophy, but the quality of your life and your ability to deal with the world around you.

Don’t let that intimidate you, though. You have the best teachers in the world: the wisest philosophers who ever lived. And not only are you capable, the professor is asking for something very simple: just begin the work. The rest follows.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Never Do Anything Out Of Habit

So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain; to stop clinging to living and abhorring death; and in the case of property and money, to stop valuing receiving over giving.
—Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 6.25.5-11

A worker is asked: “Why did you do it this way?” The answer, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done things.” The answer frustrates every good boss and sets the mouth of every entrepreneur watering. The worker has stopped thinking and is mindlessly operating out of habit. The business is ripe for disruption by a competitor, and the worker will probably get fired by any thinking boss.

We should apply the same ruthlessness to our own habits. In fact, we are studying philosophy precisely to break ourselves of rote behavior. Find what you do out of rote memory or routine. Ask yourself: Is this really the best way to do it? Know why you do what you do—do it for the right reasons.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Peace Is In Staying The Course

Tranquility can’t be grasped except by those who have reached an unwavering and firm power of judgment—the rest constantly fall and rise in their decisions, wavering in a state of alternately rejecting and accepting things. What is the cause of this back and forth? It’s because nothing is clear and they rely on the most uncertain guide—common opinion.
—Seneca, Moral Letters, 95.57b-58a

In Seneca’s essay on tranquility, he uses the Greek word euthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction.” It is this state of mind, he says, that produces tranquility.

Clarity of vision allows us to have this belief. That’s not to say we’re always going to be 100 percent certain of everything, or that we even should be. Rather, it’s that we can rest assured we’re heading generally in the right direction—that we don’t need to constantly compare ourselves with other people or change our mind every three seconds based on new information.

Instead, tranquility and peace are found in identifying our path and in sticking to it: staying the course—making adjustments here and there, naturally—but ignoring the distracting sirens who beckon us to turn toward the rocks.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Cut The Strings That Pull Your Mind

Understand at last that you have something in you more powerful and divine than what causes the bodily passions and pulls you like a mere puppet. What thoughts now occupy my mind? Is it not fear, suspicion, desire, or something like that?
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.19

Think of all the interests vying for a share of your wallet or for a second of your attention. Food scientists are engineering products to exploit your taste buds. Silicon Valley engineers are designing applications as addictive as gambling. The media is manufacturing stories to provoke outrage and anger.

These are just a small slice of the temptations and forces acting on us—distracting us and pulling us away from the things that truly matter. Marcus, thankfully, was not exposed to these extreme parts of our modern culture. But he knew plenty of distracting sinkholes too: gossip, the endless call of work, as well as fear, suspicion, lust. Every human being is pulled by these internal and external forces that are increasingly more powerful and harder to resist.

Philosophy is simply asking us to pay careful attention and to strive to be more than a pawn. As Viktor Frankl puts it in The Will to Meaning, “Man is pushed by drives but pulled by values.” These values and inner awareness prevent us from being puppets. Sure, paying attention requires work and awareness, but isn’t that better than being jerked about on a string?

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Circle of Control

We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country—anything with which we might associate.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 1.22.10

This is important enough that it bears repeating: a wise person knows what’s inside their circle of control and what is outside of it.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to remember what is inside our control. According to the Stoics, the circle of control contains just one thing: YOUR MIND. That’s right, even your physical body isn’t completely within the circle. After all, you could be struck with a physical illness or impairment at any moment. You could be traveling in a foreign country and be thrown in jail.

But this is all good news because it drastically reduces the amount of things that you need to think about. There is clarity in simplicity. While everyone else is running around with a list of responsibilities a mile long—things they’re not actually responsible for—you’ve got just that one-time list. You’ve got just one thing to manage: your choice, your will, your mind.

So mind it.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

The One Path To Serenity

Keep this thought at the ready at daybreak, and through the day and night—there is only one path to happiness, and that is in giving up all outside of your sphere of choice, regarding nothing else as your possession, surrendering all else the God and Fortune.
Epictetus, Discourses, 4.4.39

This morning, remind yourself of what is in your control and what’s not in your control. Remind yourself to focus on the former and not the letter.

Before lunch, remind yourself that the only thing you truly possess is your ability to make choices (and to use reason and judgment when doing so). This is the only thing that can never be taken from you completely.

In the afternoon, remind yourself that aside from the choices you make, your fate is not entirely up to you. The world is spinning and we spin along with it—whichever direction, good or bad.

In the evening, remind yourself again how much is outside of your control and where your choices begin and end.

As you lie in bed, remember that sleep is a form of surrender and trust and how easily it comes. And prepare to start the whole cycle over again tomorrow.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

If You Want To Be Unsteady

For if a person shifts their caution to their own reasoned choices and the acts of those choices, they will at the same time gain the will to avoid, but if they shift their caution away from their own reasoned choices to things not under their control, seeking to avoid what is controlled by others, they will then be agitated, fearful, and unstable.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.1.12

The image of the Zen philosopher is the monk up in the green, quiet hills, or in a beautiful temple on some rocky cliff. The Stoics are the antithesis of this idea. Instead, they are the man in the marketplace, the senator in the Forum, the brave wife waiting for her soldier to return from battle, the sculptor busy in her studio. Still, the Stoic is equally at peace.

Epictetus is reminding you that serenity and stability are results of your choices and judgment, not your environment. If you seek to avoid all disruptions to tranquility—other people, external events, stress—you will never be successful. Your problems will follow you wherever you run and hide. But if you seek to avoid the harmful and disruptive judgments that cause those problems, then you will be stable and steady wherever you happen to be.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman