What we can learn from the Stoics
I read an article two or three days ago about how Stoicism can help you be the person you want to be. I took quite a lot from it and considered how I could apply it to my own life
Under the heading ‘View from above’ the writer suggests re-evaluating ones life; perhaps in the evening, you review your day and how you feel about things that may have taken place. He writes:
‘How many times have you had a conversation or an interaction with someone and thought afterward “oh man, I should have said that”, or “I wish I hadn’t done that”?‘(Toby Carr on Medium.com)
That has happened to me so many times. Indeed I used to spend hours after a conversation reviewing it in my mind and feeling cringingly embarrassed at the way I had conducted myself in the interaction.
Weird?! Not so, but the result of a complete lack of self confidence and extreme self-consciousness.
What the Stoics can teach us
I began reading the Letters of Seneca, another great Stoic. In three brief letters on the shortness of life he said:
We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.”(Seneca: The Shortness of Life)
I realised over time, reading Marcus Aurelius as well, that life was too short to worry about things I had said and was not able to take back, things I had worried about unnecessarily, situations I had handled badly. All the things that makes us human and fallible.
But I was soon to learn about the shortness of life in a dramatic fashion, which forced me to re-evaluate every single aspect of my life. My active life was cut short through illness and disability at the age of 48.
Although it has taken me 15 years to learn to live with my rapidly progressing paralysis, eventually I found a way to practice the teachings of the Stoics, just as I had always tried to do, to get over the self consciousness issues of my younger self, and all the things I wished had had different or better outcomes. Believe me, there is nothing that makes you more self conscious than suddenly having to live your life in a wheelchair!!
‘Exercise helps with mental clarity as well as general physical health’ and ‘Physical exercise should be a staple in everyone’s life’.(Toby Carr)
Obviously, for me, physical exercise was out of the question. Gone was the opportunity to take long walks to clear my head and do my thinking. Even now it’s difficult for me to find a private space to think.
I’ve always loved classical music, so with a pair of headphones I am able to get some thinking space listening to music that inspires me. That’s the nearest thing to a walk!
In addition, I can listen to the Letters and the Meditations of the Stoics on audiobooks.
So, despite my limitations, I still try to live and be the best I can be. I always try to think of something that makes me smile before I go to sleep. I don’t dwell on negative thoughts, or things I have said during the day or things that worry me, but to be in a positive frame of mind as I drift off.
None of it is easy – every slight movement or nerve pain reminds me I have MS and I will always have it. But, as someone close to me is fond of saying ‘life was never meant to be easy’. I’m sure everyone would agree with that.
Be kind to yourself, live your best life and, of course be kind to everyone else.
First published 10th December on https://medium.com