Being Stoic

Posted by Mark Ward on Saturday, March 23, 2019

Stoics and the practical philosophy of Stoicism are gaining renewed attention. What is Stoicism and why might it be raising interest?

Stoicism is an incredibly practical philosophy, designed to be lived not just studied, Stoicism and Buddhism have much in common in this respect.

Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it. – Epictetus

When did Stoicism start?

The first Stoic is largely regarded as Zeno of Citium. Citium located in Cyprus was the birthplace of Zeno in 334 BC. Zeno was a wealthy merchant, however, he found himself shipwrecked in Greece, and it was in Athens that Zeno later founded Stoicism around 300 BC.

We don’t have any writings from Zeno and rely on the writings and accounts of his students or those that had an interest in what he taught. Most current material focuses more on the (infamous) Romans. We have Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, in particular, to thank for our understanding of Stoicism.  

Where did the name Stoic originate?

Zeno taught, discussed and debated philosophy with his followers and students at the Stoa Poikile (The Painted Porch). Passers-by started to refer to Zeno and those that gathered at the Stoa Poikile as Stoics. Unlike for example the term ‘Buddhist’, Stoic has no deeper meaning, it was simply the place within the Agora of Athens.

Are Stoic ideas of use to us now?

In my opinion, Absolutely! Stoicism seems to be undergoing a surge in interest. To me beyond the ‘positive quotes’ lurking on our favourite social media platforms, Stoicism has some very practical wisdom that is effective in our modern consumerism driven world. Added that we are bombarded with news and marketed to on continual bases. A few key quotes hopefully illustrate the relevance of Stoicism today.

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength – Marcus Aurelius

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants ― Epictetus

Stoicism places much emphasis on what is referred to as the externals those things over which we have little influence, Stoicism focuses on the internals_ _the things we can control; our perception, our virtue and so on.

Stoics also realise that externals can’t provide happiness, yes they can provide temporary joy, however, long term happiness is found within what we control

Where to learn more about Stoicism

There are a number of active Stoics who research, write, present and teach Stoic philosophy. A few recommendations are:

  • Simon Drew – Practical Stoic Podcast
  • Ryan Holiday- Ryan has written a number of books, I enjoy The Daily Stoic for its unique format of one page per day to read and reflect on
  •  Donald Robertson – Donald is renowned for his great books, teaching and presentations. His personal site is a great place to start