Epictetus’ “Of Tranquility”: Don’t be a slave, exercise your prohairesis

In his discourse “Of Tranquility” (2.2), Epictetus frames his general advice, that we should keep in mind what is up to us and what is not, using the analogy of someone about to litigate a dispute in court. He advises his listeners to “consider . . . what you wish to maintain and what you…

Demolishing the things that terrify us: Bravery, Seneca-style

The U.S. presidential election results have affected many people at the core of their being. One one side, elation and vindication; on the other side (I am in this camp), anger and a feeling approaching despair. Stoicism, however, has helped me put things in perspective, plan for the future, recognize common ground, and feel hopeful.…

Looking at “the thing behind the appearance”: examining “phantasiai” and finding calm

Happy Stoic Week! One of this week’s morning meditation passages, from Marcus Aurelius, reads in part: There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain…

Musonius Rufus and Asceticism

While reading and researching Musonius Rufus for this post, I came across an interesting article by Richard Valantasis entitled “Musonius Rufus and Roman Ascetical Theory.” Valantasis is a scholar and Episcopal priest who has also written The Making of the Self: Ancient and Modern Asceticism and appears to be one of the most prominent living writers on ascetical…

Seneca on misfortune’s bright side

Seneca’s “On Providence” attempts to address the question of why bad things happen to brave, virtuous people. While some aspects of the essay are problematic, he does make a strong case for turning to philosophy now to learn to withstand adversity when it inevitably comes. Seneca highlights the basic Stoic precept that external events are indifferent,…

A Stoic Response to the Digital Onslaught

What I’m realizing lately is that it’s a good mental exercise to apply a Stoicism overlay to any theme: How would a Stoic react to [x]? I’ve enjoyed reading others analyze such diverse topics as suicide, waiting tables, and Angry Birds. In that spirit of discovery I thought I’d take on technology and our complex relationship to it. Technology…

Epictetus’ Handbook: Three Ways to Readjust your Thinking

Epictetus’ Handbook* is ancient wisdom for the modern attention span. I am perpetually juggling work and home responsibilities and tend to have ten half-read books on my nightstand. It is not a badge of honor, but a curse. I have read only a few of the Discourses but have actually read all of the Handbook. It spans…