While this blog has been technically inactive from the writer’s side, it has been consistently attracting readers throughout the pandemic. So I thought that I should continue writing as there is evidently a need for Stoicism in this crisis, both in others and in myself. At the end I will call for comments on how Stoicism has benefited you lately, and how you practice.
It’s a self-absorbed cliche at this point to say something like “I’ve had a difficult year,” but I’ll just say that I’ve had a difficult year. I actually consider myself lucky in that I haven’t lost a loved one to COVID-19, but I had to go through a very tough relationship breakdown. As if that weren’t enough, I think that I contracted the virus back in the spring and had a relapse last month. My son caught it and I then started feeling very fatigued and unable to read or write due to a brain-fog feeling. I wish I could tell you, since you came here to read about Stoicism, that the philosophy made everything better. In fact, it has been only one tool in my massive and still-growing toolbox meant to maintain mental and emotional health.
Early on, I was glad that I had already internalized the Stoic concept of the dichotomy of control. There are things that are up to us and there are things that are not. I have no control over whether the stores and restaurants are closed, and no control over whether a dangerous virus is spreading among humans at a fast rate. That is that. Some might find this an obvious statement, but it really did help me to adjust in the early days to the new realities of lockdown and germophobia. This is why the ancient Stoics stressed the importance of having key concepts “at hand.” If you come across a reading that you particularly like, I suggest you copy it out and look at it from time to time. You never know when you will need it. As for the dichotomy of control, it has always helped me to articulate to myself what it is that I can control, and to focus my attention on what I can do within that realm. For example, like many other people, I have been reaching out to friends and family more often via email, phone, or video call. I’ve also taken up certain hobbies that can be done in solitude in my home, such as cooking Indian food from a new cookbook, and crocheting. The former has been much more enjoyable as I can eat the results. Actually, it is a three-part hobby: I listen to jazz, drink wine, and cook Indian food. It is exceedingly pleasant.
As for how I have been practicing Stoicism–that is a tougher one to answer. I’ve drifted from the philosophy slightly in recent years as I have been reading and writing on other topics elsewhere. I realize now that writing for this blog was my way of practicing. I’m in good company as Ryan Holiday has said something similar when asked how he practices. Unfortunately, that means I have not been practicing as much lately. Having internalized a number of key concepts was useful but I’m not sure how to practice per se.
I recently started to practice vipassana (mindfulness or insight) meditation again. I have meditated on and off, mostly off, since 2000 or so. Returning to it, literally a practice where you work on it every day in hopes of refining your concentration and finding peace and wisdom, has made me wonder how I can incorporate Stoicism into this practice or something similar. Most useful for me though, and it may sound obvious, is simply reading the ancient texts. However, I don’t tear through them in a binge-reading fashion. I tiptoe through and linger a while, letting myself daydream and meditate, in a way, on the ideas.
If you have come here for expertise on Stoicism, I have never been able to offer that. I recommend the writings of John Sellars, Massimo Pigliucci, Donald Robertson, Pierre Hadot, and Christopher Gill (not an exclusive list, of course); Greg Sadler offers excellent video courses, some of them free. I offer only my own experiences and my own thoughts on what I read. It has occurred to me that I could try to cultivate more of a community here as well, since we are all feeling isolated. In that spirit, I encourage you to leave a comment and let other readers know how Stoicism has benefited you, especially during the pandemic, and how you practice Stoicism in your daily life.