The Theoretical understanding of Stoic philosophy isn’t enough for one to become a Stoic. Stoic philosophers from the late Roman period embodied their philosophy according to their teachings.
The path of Stoic training is a challenging one, therefore one should be persistent when walking through it. Therefore, the rigidity of the stoic school can be attributed to its decline in popularity over time.
It’s true that the influence of Stoic thought began to slowly wear off during Marcus Aurelius’ reign (8 March 161 – 17 March 180), coincidentally this is when the Roman Empire’ power began to wane.
During these challenging times many undesirable events occurred (hunger, plagues, wars and uprisings). As time progressed, many religious and mystical practices (which Marcus Aurelius despised) replaced philosophical teachings. Evidently, this was a reaction to the uncertainty that the empire was going through.
One of those religious practices is Christianity. We can ask, why did Christianity thrive? While the Stoic school began to fade away from the cultural scene? I would say that the answer lies in the simplicity of Christian practice.
After all, it was enough for believers to just believe, belief was built on metaphysical faith. Stoicism on the other hand is built on intellectual logic, which requires much more involvement from the follower.
Nevertheless, today we live in similar times. Mainly because there are many people out there looking to attach themselves to an ideology. They hope that this ideology will allow them to make sense of the chaos which exists in the world. But that will only extend their suffering, below are the best stoic exercises you can use to free yourself from that suffering.
1. The universe is vast, you are small – View from above
Never forget to think about your place in the Universe. We are often carried away by Ego and impulses. They can delude us into thinking that we are at the centre of the world. This can’t be farther from the truth
If you take a moment to calm yourself, you’ll see that your mistakes are not fatal, and your success is not absolute. If you’re influenced by negative emotions, and your thoughts aren’t clear, the whole world will appear as negative to you. .
“He who lives in harmony with himself, lives in harmony with the Universe.“ – Marcus Aurelius
2. Be Grateful
Our attention is often focused on things which we don’t have. Those things might be distant objects, people or things. The truth is, their absence from our lives has nothing to do with our happiness.
Desires beyond our control, lead to ill-will, suffering, and negative emotions. This does not mean that one should not seek the good things in life, but one should keep in mind that those things will have no power over perception.
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus
3. Choose to live a simple life.
This teaching is similar to the last one. Let’s dive deeper into it. What does it mean to live a simple life in the 21st century?
Choosing to live a simple life doesn’t mean you have to give up certain things. On the contrary, this negative approach leaves us feeling empty and unfulfilled
Stoics advocated for a more positive view. Namely, our state of mind determines the perspective on wealth and possessions.
Most of our wealth is a trained habit of the mind. When we decide to train our minds to see what we have as plentiful, we escape the cycle of wanting more to be happy.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has“. – Epictetus
4. Don’t be interested in what other people think of you
This is one more obstacle which has to be addressed. Our everyday lives, be it outside in the real world, or on the internet (social media) are like a Vanity Fair. We’re often trying to impress others and in the process we forget ourselves. If your happiness depends on others, then it will end with others.
“The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.“ – Marcus Aurelius
5. Seize the moment
There are two adversaries a stoic can encounter. The first one is the past, and the second is the future. If you often think about the past or the future, you sacrifice the moment. The moment is elusive, and once spent, will never come back. Therefore, strive to focus on “Now“. Because what you choose to do now will affect your future, and will give you another perspective of the past.
“The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend on the future. We let go of the present which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends on chance, and so we relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty“. – Seneca
6. Illusion of control
This advice is the most pivotal when it comes to Stoic teaching. Recognize what you can control, and what you can’t. You can always control your responses, emotions, thoughts. But don’t be fooled that you can control outside events absolutely.
“You have the power of your own mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength“. –Marcus Aurelius
7. Perception is believing
The world doesn’t affect you unknowingly. You decide what has an affect on you. Think of the many cases when your perception (or thoughts) about things were proven to be wrong.
And think about how many times you were fooled by your own prejudices and emotions. We are deeply affected by how we perceive the world. Work on your perception, you will find freedom
“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance“. – Epictetus
8. Focus on improvement through action
We often dwell within our fantasies. Because they’re colorful, and have the ability to improve our mood. But, when you wake up from the fantasy, you encounter reality. Unfortunately, the more you fantasize, the less you act. It becomes a vicious cycle. Break it! Use the moment! Work on yourself!
“We should every night call ourselves to an account; What infirmity have I mastered today? What passions opposed? What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abort themselves if they are brought every day to the shrift“. – Seneca
9. Don’t complain
Life can be hard. It can be tough and unforgiving. How you choose to react is up to you. If you complain often, your character will be weakened. Complaining means that you accept defeat. However, the only one who can defeat you is yourself. Learn that hardship is the vehicle of growth and transformation in a just universe, see it as it is.
“Is the world without pain possible? Then don’t ask the impossible.“ – Marcus Aurelius
10. Control your emotions
Many things we can’t control can cause anger, sadness, excitement, anxiety, fear, jealousy, envy, etc. When we experience these emotions, we often act out of character which can often lead us to regretful choices. Try to calm yourself by controlling your emotions, and watch how your decisions stand on firm ground.
“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.“ – Seneca