Monday, October 1, 2012

Living Free, A Stoic Philosophy?

This is an idea I had not entertained until yesterday. A regular reader/follower of this blog and a friend of several years sent me an interesting email early yesterday. Here is the email reprinted for you.


I subscribe to this free newsletter and the partial description of Stoicism that follows reflects a portion of your philosophy of life I feel. Should you wish to explore Stoicism to add to that philosophy is why I thought of you when reading this. I learned it is alive and well and practiced and not just an ancient Greek holdover. Here’s an excerpt (from

A key tenet of stoicism, as I read it, is that living a happy, contented life requires keeping both your wants and your fears to a minimum.
On this topic, Epictetus, who is particularly good at putting his thoughts clearly, had much to say…

"Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants."

"The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things."

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."

The implications and benefits of "right sizing" one's desires are obvious for someone living in a society that constantly urges us to buy the latest and greatest in everything – comfortable golf shoes included – even if it means going into debt to do so.
That's not to say that wanting something is wrong, but rather that living your life in a constant state of desire – say, for the latest model of iPhone – sets you up for constant disappointment should your desire not be met. In addition, almost by definition it means you are pretty much permanently discontented with that which you already possess.

I trust this is of value.


I’ve known Richard Rosen and his wife, Eve, for several years. We met before I began this blog at one of the Veteran Speakers Retreats I’ve coordinated for the past 11 years.  Richard is the brother of another friend I’ve known and enjoyed working with even longer, Art Gliner. I’ve known Art for about 30 years. Unfortunately and sadly, Art has become another victim of dementia and probably Alzheimer’s Disease. I can’t express how much of a loss it is to all of Art’s friends, professional colleagues and family for this sharp mind and great wit to no longer be among us. Richard has taken on the thankless responsibility of looking out for Art’s affairs and making sure Art is being looked after properly. I miss the Art Gliner I knew and associated with for so many years and I have nothing but respect for Richard for assuming this major responsibility.

It’s through this foundation that Richard and I have been sharing thoughts, ideas and philosophical perspectives on life, politics, the state of our society and world and other weighty topics. He and I share many philosophical ideas and I always look forward to an exchange with him. So, when his email arrived yesterday, though relatively short, I knew there were some precious gems to mine from it. I was right.

To be perfectly honest, I had never pondered this idea. And to be even more honest, I knew the word stoic and knew that Stoicism was a philosophy born in an ancient Greek civilization. I had a very basic understanding of the philosophy based on the, much simplified, dictionary definitions. I had never taken any time to delve into the actual philosophy, though. Appreciating Richard’s mind, there was no way I could dismiss this “challenge” to see how my own personal philosophy of living free related and compared to the philosophy of Stoicism. And, perhaps, even more important to me was this question, am I a stoic?

Okay, don’t think I’m going to let you off the hook that easy and tell you I am or I am not a stoic. And, accordingly, you’re not going to be able to discern or deduce whether you may be a stoic from this blog post. I’m sure you noticed there is a link in the email that Richard sent me. This link connects to a very lengthy and enlightening blog post by one, David Galland, managing director of Casey Research, the publisher of the blog. Richard piqued my curiosity and interest, so I clicked on the link and read the article titled “The New Stoics.”

So, what did I learn? I learned that, yes, in fact there are many aspects of Stoicism in my living free philosophy. In fact, as I read the article, I realized that it touched on just about all of the 12 steps in my 12 Steps of Living Free concept. There is a lengthy list of quotations from the Greek philosopher Epictetus that really caused me to take pause. Epictetus, was, in fact, of the third and last formal phase of stoicism. According to my research it is only from this third phase that there is any complete work or text still in existence. Very little remains of the first and second phase.  And, of course, like most things, there is an evolution of thought and so it is with stoicism.

It’s important to note at this point that my 12 steps for living free are, for the most part, my own invention. That’s not to say that I didn’t borrow ideas and concepts from other places. I most certainly did. In my opinion, there is nothing new under the sun, it’s pretty much all been thought and said before by someone. I simply synergised , synthesized and amalgamated thoughts and ideas I’ve seen, heard, experienced and practiced in my own life. Having no real in depth understanding of stoicism, I didn’t realize that many of my ideas and thoughts originated with stoic philosophies.

So, returning to the questions at hand. Am I a stoic? Are you a stoic? I can only speak for myself. You’ll have to make your own determination. As for me, I surely embrace many facets of stoic thought. I’m willing to concede that. However, in the very limited amount of research I’ve done since receiving Richard’s email and reading the lengthy article the link made available to me, I can only suggest at this point that the jury is still out. There is much more I need to learn and understand about both stoicism and myself. I find nothing particularly positive or negative in realizing and accepting that I may, actually, be a stoic. In fact, that may very well be one of the virtues of stoicism that I haven’t learned at this early stage of my research.

There is a book recommended in the article that’s available as a Kindle book. It’s titled, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (hard cover) A Guide to the Good Life:The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (Kindle version)., by William B. Irvine. I will be ordering the Kindle version of the book to add to my reading list. I especially like the subtitle, “The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.” That grabbed me right there. And, what do I expect to find? Truly, I expect that I probably practice a very modernized form of stoicism. As a pragmatic, non-conforming individual my focus is on leading a lifestyle as free from restrictions, limitations and irrelevant laws, rules and regulations as possible, while living in the moment and ultimately experiencing as much joy and happiness as possible during this brief stay on Earth.  I expect that much of my, “modern stoicism” is based on the early practitioners’ of this ancient philosophy, yet, fully aware of a much more complicated society with all the pressures and stresses placed on everyone in the 21st Century.

Indeed, simplicity, less is more, frugality, minimalism, tolerance, acceptance, releasing all the things we have no control over and embracing all those things we do and seeking joy and happiness internally through nature and all that is natural dates back to the ancient beginnings of the stoic philosophy. But, these tenets are just as modern and rewarding some 2,300 years after Zenos of Citium founded the movement.

I hope you’ll join me in this adventure into a philosophy that fosters freedom, joy and happiness. As always, I’m open to your thoughts, ideas, questions and observations. Share with everyone reading the blog through the comment section below or by emailing me directly. And, again, I send a special thanks to my friend, Richard Rosen, for raising my awareness, yet, again.

Do not seek to bring things to pass in accordance with your wishes, but wish for them as they are, and you will find them. Epictetus

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