What is Stoicism, and What’s It All About?

At first glance, one might assume that being a Stoic involves becoming emotionally detached from tense situations. However, this is a common misconception. In reality, Stoicism is about becoming emotionally invested in a practical manner. This means channeling your energy effectively, especially in crucial moments, rather than being swayed by evolutionary impulses beyond our control. Such an approach conserves energy, as it is utilized more judiciously.

Stoicism follows a specific philosophical viewpoint, which aids in distinguishing what is important from what is not. If I were to name this concept, I would call it understanding ‘the nature of truth,’ officially referred to as eudaimonia by Stoics. In short, it means to live in accordance with nature. More on this later, as it also pertains to Taoism. In this philosophy, choices are made based on the singular truth that exists, and the optimal choice aligns with this truth. The challenge, of course, lies in discerning what this truth is.

This article aims to explain how Stoicism works and why it is effective. It is a logical philosophy that is not only grounded in reality but also acknowledges the abstract nature of individual thoughts.

A Brief History of the Origin of Stoicism

A bit of historical context can be helpful in better understanding philosophies. Therefore, ‘Stoicism’ is a term originating from ‘Stoa,’ a location in ancient Greece where Zeno of Citium, a student of the Cynics and well-versed in Platonic thought, taught. Zeno is widely regarded as the founder of Stoicism. He was heavily influenced by earlier philosophers such as Socrates, Xenocrates, and the teachings of Plato’s Academy. Zeno himself established a school in the Stoa Poikile or ‘Painted Porch,’ a public portico in Athens, giving Stoicism its name. Followers of Zeno’s philosophy, known as ‘Stoics,’ embraced this designation, reflecting the physical location of their teachings’ origin.

Stoicism, thriving in both ancient Greece and Rome, identifies the practice of virtues as key to a well-lived life (eudaimonia). It encourages living in accordance with nature, emphasizing virtues such as courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance. Notably, Stoicism doesn’t advocate for emotional detachment; rather, it promotes understanding emotions and managing them through reason. This approach helps in channeling emotional energy effectively, ensuring it’s used productively rather than being dominated by evolutionary impulses that don’t make sense. More on this later.

The Stoic school, initially led by Zeno, was subsequently led by Cleanthes and Chrysippus, who further developed its doctrines. During the Roman period, Stoicism found resonance with prominent figures like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, who continued to propagate Stoic ideas, emphasizing personal responsibility and the cultivation of a virtuous life.

In essence, Stoicism is more than its foundational pillars. It’s about cultivating a sense of internal control that’s conducive to the situation at hand, requiring wisdom and understanding nurtured through life experiences and the application of these principles.

The Stoic teachings, originally presented in the bustling streets of ancient Athens and the corridors of Roman power, remain relevant today. They offer a philosophical framework for navigating the complexities of existence, advocating a life of virtue, rationality, and self-control.




Our Goal: Eudaimonia

Let us begin logically at our goal. If we know the course of Rome, we may stumble upon the correct road. So, what exactly is eudaimonia?

We first align ourselves with one premise: there is but one truth, and we are all of it. Therefore, we live in accordance with fact, always. However, we may not be consciously aware of what exactly this fact is. For a couple of psychological reasons, which can be mathematically supported, this creates an interesting dynamic. We always live according to truth, but we don’t know it. Therefore, people often state, ‘know thyself.’ As if one can know, but also already lives it.

The goal of Stoicism is to understand, live, and know this capital Truth. This does not make you all-knowing. But definitely gives us a sense of understanding one’s position in reality. Which gives us a great insight on how we should behave. Of course, one should first grasp his or her own position in life before one might draw a line to a new position. Not doing so leaves us blinded and guessing. However, it is by guessing one might uncover truth. A journey to discover what is, and therefore find himself.

How would one do this?

As stated before, by knowing that one is in a position in reality, there are for now but two concepts one must understand: Reality and itself within it. As yourself is the source of direction, one interacts with reality and gets feedback from reality. A bit like a radar that signals, and awaits a bounce from a position further away. The time it takes and direction reveals the location. If one translates this into day-to-day action, then you are a bit like a radar, echoing around you, awaiting a signal back from reality. Some call this karma, but you might call it as you would like.

By understanding the feedback, the nature of truth, one understands its own relation to it. To have a dispute with someone might be because the person you’re having an argument with is an [problematic person]. But, it might be just so that one itself is a [problematic person] being argued with.

To fully do this efficiently, we follow something called the Golden Rule:

  • Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive or directive form)
  • Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form)
  • What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathetic or responsive form)

This would create a specific echo/karma that is consistent with your character. And this consistency leads to recognition. Eventually, the character that echoes finds his own self, where one achieves self-recognition. This would be experienced as a knowing mind. If one experiences such a mind, one knows it’s experiencing it. Funny enough, that’s what it is. To know, and also, to know oneself.

More on the Golden Rule

Now, why would the Golden Rule be so effective? It is probably the most efficient way of achieving enlightenment. This has to do with a couple of reasons. Let’s take a rule, for example, and see how it operates.

By treating another like how you want to be treated, one instantaneously understands one’s own desire. This may be too simple to understand but is harder to perform. One quickly notices how it’s creating justification, why he or herself is an exception to the rule. One often then starts projecting arguments why the other is at fault. But, the Stoic notices that by giving its own happiness onto the laps of another, it loses grips on happiness. And hopes, that the other notices and therefore responds in a virtuous way. Unfortunately, one, just like all, is not aware of your care. But, one is always aware of its own projection and care. So, there can be only one that never leaves yourself behind. Learn therefore to be kind to another, and the body learns to be kind to itself.

About Freewill

Now, the question that often arises when one discusses freewill, is that of it being an illusion or not. However, my attempt is not to address its validity. My attempt is to help you use it, while you are aware. Just like all illusions, they are experienced. And it is this experience that is true.

So, what do we experience? It is not hard for one to realize it has freewill. By performing an action, one associates itself with a will. And this will falls under your command. This will is also free, as it fully aligns with your desire. Identification is therefore important. And ego is a part of it. To understand this further, one might consider the concept of domains. Something to be under your domain falls under your ownership. The body is a good example of this phenomenon. Where one fully feels the ability to steer the system, and therefore feels the sensation of it being it.

This concept of domain is often spoken within religious circles. Where one is granted a domain by God. This would technically mean, that one has a body which it identifies with. This body is yours, and you use the will that is free, to steer it in ways one desires itself.

However, truth will always be. And our projections/goals that we may want to achieve are a faculty of freewill being applied. One chooses its direction in life. Chooses to go left or right. Chooses to believe in such and such. This might be the mystery of freewill. It is free in abstraction. Not bounded by law, and therefore may be applied creatively, for example, to create a fiction that is not. Or directed to an abstract goal that is not achieved yet. So, freewill often leads toward unfulfilled desires. This problem results in losing our own understanding of self, by highly identifying with what it is not but potentially could be. I personally often notice this during the day, where I work so hard, that I lose myself while achieving my daily tasks. It is then, that I start to feel misaligned, and of course, when one is misaligned, it is not capable of efficiently understanding how to get from point A to B. This notion is simple, if one does not know A. How can it know the right way to B?

This does not have to be the case, however. Not straying too far from one capability results in not forgetting. This is why we meditate. So that one recognizes itself again and can go on. One could also not apply his freewill too long or with too much effort. We are, not freewill itself. We are experiencing, in other words. We are something that experiences. And because of it being free, it really feels like us. Because it is about the only thing that adheres to our desire.

Now why would the Golden Rule lead us to Rome and what does this have to do with freewill?

We are that which we identify with, and so long it adheres to our will, we believe we are that as well. The only thing that fully complies is our freewill. And the thing that comes close, is our body. Our body does directly follow freewill, but is more slowly. More chemical, it takes its time to move. It is, like a bus. Of a large freighter. While our freewill feels like a captain that can steer the ship. The ship always responds in time. Our bodies work in a similar way. And sometimes our freewill, the thing we feel we are, goes a bit faster than the body can keep up. More specifically, the brain and its structure. So, we often think abstract in the hope that this abstract manifests within our neural plasticity. This is how we learn, and why it takes a while.

So, we are also or have a body. Depends on how you feel you want to put it. You do this automatically, not by thinking but by being.

To segue this to the Golden Rule, one understands that the body needs to be consistent.

order to shape. Because it is delayed in its response to our will. It needs time to learn. The Golden Rule is a way to consistently develop a character, and this character adheres to sane desires. To prove it is a way to become aligned with reality. One needs an example, and here it is. I walk through the street, I see a fine lady, I decide to strike up a conversation, and expect she follows suit. Obviously, this is what I desire, therefore I talk to her. But, things are not going my way, and she decides not to go along, it might be I’m too short, too harsh, she is not in the mood, or any other reason. I go home, disgruntled, perhaps even projecting. But then I realize, if a male or a lady which I’m attracted to approaches me with her or his desire. I might think then to myself, I would rather not comply. Putting oneself in the shoes of another, one quickly realizes its desires might be out of line with reality. And the Golden Rule is a perfect way to understand this dynamic. You could say, by doing this, one cleanses him or herself from hypocrisy and contradiction. And, we all have accepted that truth is without flaws, as all God’s laws are followed as expected. Even so, that we can build refined machines to watch cat videos on. It is by this we start to become consistent and this is what we build, something that does not falter when contested.

It is said, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”

This is the nature of truth. It is consistent, therefore the ultimate guide. The one that sets you free. All we have to do is to learn to listen.

At last, alignment with truth.

As one has said, one has to become like the father and can therefore become the father.

Practice brutal honesty. When orienting the mind towards truth. The mind can become something like truth. Therefore, it becomes more like a tool, a sensor, or a sense. When the nature of this sensor is understood, like the consistency of truth. This sensor can be read, it is however, read as something beyond yourself. Our senses, like our eyes for example, have a tendency to show us things we don’t like. Not because it likes to, because this is its nature. And it does this for obviously good reasons. This aspect is very much like truth, but your mind can become a vessel to not only receive through its senses. But become a sense for awareness itself. If this sense, and awareness are aware of the nature of truth it is then capable of self-reading. What is self-reading? The ability to read one’s own mind as it is. And thereby the individual capable of doing this, can understand its own struggle, desire, and real reasons for its behavior. These things may not be pleasant, just like your eyes can see things that are not pleasant. They may hurt, not in the way we hurt our hands when we touch a hot stove, but in a way it hurts as a desire we do not want to feel. Just like pain, we are conditioned to pull our hands away, and this may work for the physicalness of our body. But for something as abstract as the mind, there is no turning back, but only endurance. Therefore, it is important to really go through the feeling we may try to run away from. One might say that we have to face our inner demons.

It is true, the truth is brutally honest. It shows not tell. But in a way only the best teacher can, for it cannot lie, as it is the law. And the law is always followed upon. It can therefore be understood logically. And methods like spotting logical or understanding logical fallacies do wonders conditioning the neural synapse towards this nature of truth. Creating of our brain a system capable of enduring the first intense pains we go through when we uncover the truth. We may often find ourselves mentally at a location, we did not want to be. Yet, our actions have brought us here, just to teach us how to get out of it.

I conclude this article for now, as I’m working on this article for some time. It already undergoes a couple of revisions. It is very simple, the truth is the most simple thing as also the most complex thing to understand. For it encompasses entirety, as well as its simple non-word beingness, as its infinite poetic vocabulary to explain itself.