“What then? Can one who follows out this Plan be safe in any case?” I cannot guarantee you this any more than I can guarantee good health in the case of a man who observes moderation; although, as a matter of fact, good health results from such moderation. Sometimes a vessel perishes in harbour; but what do you think happens on the open sea? “ Seneca
Living a Stoic life is a journey not a destination. I do not look forward to a reward at the end – rather my reward is the improvement I see in myself daily, both mentally and physically, by working to adhere to the values I have set for myself.
I have recently started to work on the virtue of temperance, in particular in regards to what I eat and drink. Part of this is driven by my age – what I could do with ease when I was 20 is no longer possible when I am 3 times that age. Part of it is also driven by a greater awareness of my body – what makes me feel bad and the extent to which external events unconsciously drive me to treat myself with food and drink to help relieve stress.
As I have grown in my understanding and adoption of a Stoic mindset, I am finding that I have less desire to self medicate, and with that realization am also seeing the extent to which my past behavior was also driven by society. There is a constant drum beat of advertising and promotion that food and drink will make me happy. I cannot recall an advertisement for food or drink that did not involve a scene of happy people enjoying themselves (by enjoying whatever food or drink was being served).
This is not a lie. I do enjoy being with friends for a drink and meal and still do, however I am working to look at it from the context of my personal values. Am I doing this because I enjoy their company (I am) or because I am looking to relieve my stress through their company as accompanied by food and drink (I was).
My stress is driven by my desire to control that which I cannot control. As I give up working to control the uncontrollable and focus instead on what I can control (my reactions, thoughts and actions), I find that my stress is reduced, and along with it my desire to medicate it.
“Cynicism is a school of thought of ancient Greek philosophy as practiced by the Cynics. For the Cynics, the purpose of life is to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.” Wikipedia
The cynics were famous for their disregard of the opinions of others, and to some it appears this philosophy is an attractive alternative to the enforced conformity of modern times. However rejecting society to live in the streets is in my mind is as baseless a way of life as endlessly striving to “fit in” and meet the expectations of society.
Living in agreement with nature in my mind starts with an understanding of man’s position in nature, which is that of a social ape with better communication skills than others in our clade. Being social is at the core of our being, and what it requires in me is the need to balance being a member of the social group while at the same time maintaining my independence of thought. Being neither a social conformist and striver, nor a social outcast living in the woods or street.
Being a member of the social group and living a virtuous life is not only complementary but supportive of each other. What use is the virtue of justice without it’s application in social settings and my interactions with others? It is by my interactions with others that I measure myself and my progress in living a virtuous life.
“There is no evil that does not offer inducements. Avarice promises money; luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures; ambition, a purple robe and applause, and the influence which results from applause, and all that influence can do. Vices tempt you by the rewards which they offer; but in the life of which I speak, you must live without being paid. Scarcely will a whole life-time suffice to bring our vices into subjection and to make them accept the yoke, swollen as they are by long-continued indulgence; and still less, if we cut into our brief span by any interruptions.” – Seneca. Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium
As the final act of this season’s performance of the endless play draws near, I am reminded that it does no good to be angry, jealous or envious of the .1% who accumulate ever more wealth and power to themselves. In the end, the result will be the same as it always has been, with the playing field leveled, the debris swept away and the start of the new season of “Who gets to be King of the Mountain?”.
How then should I live my life in the interim, chasing the carrots dangled by the puppet masters, railing against the injustice, or giving into despair? I will do none of these, but will instead recognize the cycle that I am a part of, and will attempt to live my life according to the values and virtues I have chosen, while ignoring the temptations and distractions of the circus.
The true rewards of living a virtuous life are internal – If I am doing so simply to receive the praise and admiration of others I am as guilt as the fallen. As Seneca says, “I must live without getting paid”. However it is the lack of that pay, and all the obligations that come with it, that frees me to truly be happy and unencumbered by expectations to meet the demands of others.
Likewise, I will not be angry with the fallen or those who brought (or bought) them to that state, but rather pity them all, because a lifetime will truly not be enough to remove the chains they have shackled themselves with.