Stoicism: Back to Basics

Today I thought I’d take things back and strip stoicism bare to its bones. In this sense, we need to look at the root of all things that make us who are to be able to examine the philosophy. When we think in such abstract terms and discuss the greater extensions of stoicism and its extensions that we forget the basics. Even stoics or people who call themselves stoic are prone to forgetting the foundations. It’s like being an expert in complex algebraic equations but are stumped by an analogue clock. It’s not unheard of.

So I’ll break it down in my understanding:

Condition + Biology = Person

That’s you, the sum of your conditioning and biology. Now we break those things down into their parts further in to two categories: Controlled and Uncontrollable.

When it comes to your biology, the controllable is rather simple: diet, exercise and healthy choices. We can control what to eat and drink; we control what amount of exercise we do, and we choose not to join the cast of Jackass and put sticks of dynamite up our arses for the sheer hell of it. What is not controlled are things like allergies, chemical imbalances and mental illness, and genetics. These things we will never be able to have control over no matter how hard we may want to. Growing up, I craved peanut butter despite it being deadly to me and that was that.

With your condition, the controllable is a very short list in comparison to what you cannot control. What you can control: your actions, your behaviours, your attitude and your immediate environment. That’s it. Of course the more personal power to wield in an office, the greater your reach. What you cannot control is almost infinite: other people, time, space, God and Fate and all their friends. To try to control what you cannot is madness and pointless. You will be scratching at the threads of time trying to leave some sort of tangible mark to be swept away with everyone else like dry dead leaves in an autumn wind. All you’ll do is make a fool of yourself in the time you have. If that’s the point, crack on, of course, but should anyone else suffer (you fool)?

Perhaps, in the grander sense:

Condition + Biology = Universe

In perfect balance and harmony, these are the core components of our existence. We cannot change or upend the rules so why try? I was reading Seneca today and almost as if it was divinely placed before me, I arrived at his 11th letter.

“For no amount of wisdom enables one to do away with physical or mental weaknesses that arise from natural causes; anything inborn or ingrained in one can by dint of practice be allayed but not overcome.” – Letters from a Stoic XI

I have depression and anxiety, this is a thing I cannot control yet allay with medications and introspection of the self to ensure that it does not over take me. I accept this, because I call myself a stoic. It’s not a shameful thing for anyone to harbour a thing that they cannot control. A blindness, a deafness, a mental illness: this is a thing of fate and you are no more or less than another. You are as strong as your peers, as human and as valuable as any part of this great cosmos.

“No amount of wisdom, as I said before, ever banishes these things; otherwise – if she eradicated every weakness – wisdom would have dominion over the world of nature. One’s physical make-up and the attributes that were one’s lot at birth remain settled no matter how much or how long the personality may strive after perfect adjustment. One cannot ban these things any more than one can call them up.” – Letters from a Stoic XI

These are the basics.

Stoicism does not demand you to cure your own maladies through thought and good will, it’s about acceptance of them. Realizing that you, in conjunction with everything around you, exists in harmony with the cosmos. This is the Way, this is the truth.



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