THE GOLDEN SAYINGS
I have been investigating the Stoic Philosophy lately. I think all the turmoil this past year has got me more thinking about mortality but also how to live one's life in a good and decent way. But also how to deal with the anxiety that comes with everyday existence. How do you deal with the things that life presents to you? How do you cope with what life throws at you? These are the things that I have been thinking about lately. It started for me when I began reading Marcus Aurelius and his book the Meditations. I chose it from random on my list of cell phone books.
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”
I believe that to be so. Everyday your going to meet some challenge out there, or your going to meet someone whose going to give you a hard time and what is there to do about it. I think the only way is to accept. Accept what life gives you. Accept with Courage and Strength what life throws at you because it is all apart of the great Logos.
What is this word Logos? I'm fascinated with it. It perplexes and enthralls me. I think I could talk about it all day long. To me it is a word like the Tao in Taoism or Dharma in Buddhism. Things that encapsulate the Universal. It comes from Heraclitus the pre-Socratic Philosopher. What an interesting guy he is. One of the first who actually wrote a book on Philosophy.
“This Logos holds always but humans always prove unable to understand it, both before hearing it and when they have first heard it. For though all things come to be in accordance with this Logos, humans are like the inexperienced when they experience such words and deeds as I set out, distinguishing each in accordance with its nature and saying how it is. But other people fail to notice what they do when awake, just as they forget what they do while asleep .” There is Spirit or Pneuma and there is the Logos. The word of God. The Divine Reason that inhabits the Universe. Imbedded in us all. They called Heraclitus the Mysterious One because he spoke in riddles and sayings that are seemingly deliberate to confuse but make you think. Kind of like Lao Tzu. To bring it back to the Eastern side of things. One things I like about Stoicism is that it's very down to earth and common sensical to me. Very basic and simple. Live with virtue and live according to nature. But what does that mean? Sometimes it is very Vague. But it does allow you to fill in the blanks for yourself.
Some People like to criticize the Stoics? Saying it is very Manly and it just means “suck it up” and don't worry about things, but that seems pretty simplistic in understand what some of what they're talking about. It's funny how when they say the same things in Buddhism its taken for the truth but when the Stoic say the same thing its unemotional or wrong in some way. But it is the same notion that one must be past emotion and not let it rule you. In Buddhism it means to go beyond the cycles of this life. In Christianity it means to be one with Jesus and God in absolute Love and the same in Islam to be union with God like the Sunni. In Taoism it means naturalness and Wu Wei, no action, to think without thinking, and in Stoicism and Greek philosophy it means moderation and virtue to not be ruled by passion, to have love but not be ruled by it. There the ones that came up with the idea of cosmopolitanism. The idea that we are all connected. All human beings are all connected together. There a things called Hierocles Circles. Which I do find effective to think on and use. Which is basically a circle of attachment, a circle of relationships, where you view the people around you, and maybe your family, and the people that are closer to you, and then maybe your city or neighborhood as the circles go out, and going further and maybe your state and country and then further, but then the goal is to bring the circle closer together. Which does seem very New Age but I find it a effective to think like that, no different than to emanate compassion towards all sentient Beings in Buddhism, but who knows if any of things are effective at all. They seem to help me, but then again I keep doing the same things and not really ever get any better, but it's hard work to be a better person I think, it's not easy.
And then there is my man Epictetus. It's funny how I had heard his name before but never even thought to look into him. Maybe because he is more a hero to more conservative folks with him being inside more the Western Canon than outside of it. I read the book Man in Full by Tom Wolfe, and he had a character that lived his life by his works, and he talked about him all the time, but I still didn't even think to even look the guy up and see who he was. I guess it was just my own bias thinking that because Tom Wolfe was talking about him that it just wasn’t for me. Not that he's not a great writer which he is, but more in the sense that he is a conservative and I thought the guy must be in the same vein as he was. But in a certain way I couldn't have been more wrong. His Golden Sayings I think might be one of my all time favorite philosophy books in the “Western Canon”. I do have to say on a side note that I think the idea of Western anything is kind of ho bunk, just because you have northern and southern Europe, and everything in between, it's like saying India and Japan are the same place, but I guess when Caesar hit that English Shore, then I guess we were conquered by the West so we must have been influenced by them right. But back to my man Epictetus. What a strange and beautiful thoughts come out of him. I can see why conservatives might like him, because he talks about God a lot in his works. I think its easy for a Christian audience to understand him and to get what he's saying. I mean because the Stoics influence Christianity and all the terms in the Bible like Logos and other terms and in their practice.
“But God hath introduced Man to be a spectator of Himself and of His works; and not a spectator only, but also an interpreter of them. Wherefore it is a shame for man to begin and to leave off where the brutes do. Rather he should begin there, and leave off where Nature leaves off in us: and that is at contemplation, and understanding, and a manner of life that is in harmony with herself. See then that ye die not without being spectators of these things ” but when Epictetus talks about God let's not get it twisted he's talking about Zeus and the Gods of the pagan pantheon, and also he's talking about the Logos, and a more universal conception of God, but it does fit in the Christian conception of God as well, so maybe they are half right. And also the Military I think like's Epictetus and the Stoics because he was a tough minded guy. I think because he was a former slave and that influenced his thought and where he was coming from because he talks about no one being able to take your freedom and your virtue away from you because it is inside of your self and his master even broke his leg and he walked around with more a limp for the rest of his life, so yes he had been through some major crap in his life and it comes out in his philosophy. He is more of a Cynic to me than a Stoic but sometimes they go hand in hand. The Cynics were a sect of renunciation for sure. One of the most famous was Diogenes of Sinope, the man who lived in a barrel his whole life, and told Alexander the Great to get out of his light, and looked around cities with a lamp in broad daylight looking for virtuous people but couldn’t find any. But the Cynics were more along the line to give everything up, and live outdoors and harangue passerby’s about the sins of their life and how they were living, which once again does come back to Christianity, and their influence on possibly the life of Jesus and his batch of followers. But let's just say that Epictetus was more of a Cynic to me, and more a philosophy of renunciation, to give everything up and live a life dedicated to virtue. And some of the things we talks about really is used in Psychology today. They use it in Cognitive Behavioral Theory, in which you think about how you reacted to things in your life, and how you can change those things in that life for the better, so it can be kind of negative in the sense of thinking about death a lot, but its the acceptance of death as naturally part of life. Like one examples says that you should look at your child and know that he is going to die and accept it for what it is. Which can be a fatalistic way to look at the world but it is also a very realistic way of looking at the world.
I think for me why I find the Stoics and the Cynics to be interesting and why it pertains to my way life and thinking is the notion to live life according to Nature, to your own Nature. I do think this is where the Stoics and the Cynics differ, and you know get all nerdy on this Greek Philosophy obscure non sense that doesn't matter anyway. But the Stoics were more about common sense and living moderately and living with your nature, and doing your manly Duty for Rome, you notice not to many women around in these parts of Philosophy east or west, the only women back then they even talk about are Sappho and Aspasia, and Oracles and Vestal virgins and mad Empresses, but that's the way it was back then slaves and women repression for centuries, ain't Democracy grand. But back to living your life according to Nature. Their in line is the big difference between Stoics and the Christians. Because that entails still having sex and practicing your pagan ways but doing it with moderation and doing it with virtue. Still embracing life, and “being apart of the Great Festival of Life” so sayeth Epictetus, but doing it moderately and doing it with manly duty and things like that. But maybe were just talking about apples and oranges and they come from the same fountain and they come from the same tree, like Hinduism and Buddhism. But they are different but they are the same.
But does it really make a difference? What is human nature? Are you just going to live your life according to that human nature that has been set down from time immemorial. I'm not really sure. You can read all these books and try to understand stuff but does it really matter. People are going to do what they are going to do which is live life on the daily, arguing and talking and getting into problems and dying and having fun and laughing and having kids and living out that drama on the daily but maybe somewhere in there is some sort of harmony that I can't quite put my finger on because let's face it some people seem to be pretty content and happy but maybe I'm not one of those folks or maybe I haven't quite found it yet. I'm just going to keep doing things that I was proscribed by my nature that was shaped by my upbringing and moving around and getting into fights and getting drunk and so on on so forth and maybe there is nothing I can do about it but be my utterly self destructive self, but deep down I do believe in the ability to change circumstance and to be better that better person, or what the hell would I be living for anyways to be better. But maybe what I'm saying is I don't need a book to tell how to live right, and live with common decency and maybe that's what I like about Epictetus and Mister Marcus is that you have to act, and kind of like Zen Buddhism in a sense that nothing is taught everything is intuitive but that on for another discussion on some other tip. But gosh dang it I just have to much of that Dionysus in me, to be a Greek nerd again, too much Epicurean in me, too much damn drunken Irish to throw in a stereotype, to be too damn much of a Stoic or Zen any who, and maybe there in lies the problem, because sometimes you got to throw caution to the wind, and let it go, and to quote a great man named of Zorba the Greek:
“Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You've got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else...he never dares cut the rope and be free.”