Bust of Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism: How this will change the way you think

The lockdown in India has been extended for the third time and I have been trying to get my head around the ways to deal with it. I would simply like to share the existence of this fascinating piece of philosophy which fits perfectly to look at things in a different lens. The intersection between an individual’s identity and their interaction with society is where the philosophical questions are born. Of course, there are plenty of philosophical thoughts, ideas that have restructured the way we think and the way we organize as a society. When Europe was facing one of its worst plagues, Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor and a famous stoic) recorded his psychological advice in his book ‘The Meditations’. But how is it relevant to 21st century lockdown?

Stoics like to accept that external conditions are not in our control and try to change our approach towards a problem. This can be extended to even our regular routine. When we look back to every negative moment in our life, it usually occurs because we like to believe that we have ‘control’ over things around us. Now I think back to every time I was upset or sad, it was premised on a fundamental assumption that my response would magically change the outside world. A Stoic living today would probably view the virus episode as a threat and logically train their mind to maintain balance. 

The indifferent attitude proposed can often be confused with having lack of emotions and sympathy. However, it is about being disinterested towards everything that it translates to being more composed with your response. For example, if you see any kind of injustice, you must voice your opinion. A stoic would more carefully craft their ideas because of their logical filter and will avoid being hysterical about the scene. This does not mean they lack emotions, it means they have control over their emotions. 

Surprisingly, the word ‘stoic’ in english is synonymous to being detached or aloof. The fundamental bricks of stoic philosophy are logic, ethics and physics. A stoic today would put more logical filters and less ideological material to assess a situation, so that they can respond in the best way possible. Living everyday is winning. With relentless material interest, greed, hatred, communalism, division in our society, I see stoicism as a neutralizing element that can lead to a path of introspection. 

The objective moral of the philosophy resides in seeking happiness by developing a consistent personality. Okay, does this mean we should wake up early, work out, eat healthy,etc? Not really, those are all important and each of us have different priorities, but at the end of the day building mental resilience matters more. The first step is training the mind to accept that we cannot change the way nature works and the behavior of people around us This is where it is important to note the ‘logic’ pillar- as an individual I cannot alter the reality, so my decisions and reactions are based on logic fenced with morality and reassured by physical existence. 

It is fascinating how a simple way of accepting the fact we  are a speck in this infinite system known to humans can drastically change the eternal purpose of living. In an effort to understand this, I practiced some elements of stoicism during this time of lockdown and found myself rationalizing things that are not controlled by me.  If we are upset because someone takes out their frustration on us because they had a bad day because someone else took their frustration out on them- we find that the chain keeps on going. The best bet as an individual is to remain unaffected so that we don’t unintentionally upset someone else. The second step is to know that we are not alone, nature and people around us are not dependent on us rather we are dependent on the system. The tricky part is to understand that only when we individually render logical thinking ability to make decisions on how we react will we be able to collectively make a change. The relation between individuals and the community is beautifully subscribed by the stoics. 

There is a strong desire for all of us to make changes in our pursuit. A simple extraction of philosophy in our conducts of routine would invariably change the way we deal with people. This school of thought offers more than enlightenment of individuals, the practical construct will make it applicable for the generations to come. The pioneers of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), an evidence based form of psychotherapy hold ideas of stoicism as their basic premise. 

We get distracted by trivial happenings and stress our beautiful minds (which still remains an unexplained fascination of humankind). Each one of you is a philosopher in your own way, the attempt of this write-up is to encourage introspection in a much wider sense.

All of us are students trying to make sense of many things around us, but most importantly we must make sense of our mind and thoughts.

Manjari Balu
Economics enthusiast and a coffee lover aspiring to build a network of like minded thinkers across the world.