The more I study mental illness and the structure of the brain, the more I am enticed about how the mind thinks. I know from experience that I can train my mind to recognize distorted thoughts, and take action to think differently, but I have been unable to discern a guiding framework. I have many tools, but where is my toolbox?
Then I rediscovered philosophy; particularly Stoicism.
Consistent practice is a necessary component to fully understanding anything; so on Mondays with Marcus I read from Meditations and write about the impacts of a particular passage in my life or my thinking, and refine the philosophical path on which I now walk.
An examination of Stoic philosophy is incomplete without reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. The following is from Book Two:
Of human life the time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgement. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour [sic], and life is a warfare and a stranger's sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion. What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one, philosophy.
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philosophia, meaning “the love of wisdom”.
According to [the teachings of Stoicism], as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
My current understanding is that Stoic philosophy is the love of learning to live with virtue. I do not mean a holier-than-thou ideal of attitude or behavior. I mean virtue as the Greek’s understood it. As, Arete, or “excellent of any kind.” Stoicism, then, becomes the study and practice, of excellent, ethical living, regardless of circumstance
Marcus Aurelius had a unique dilemma. As the Emperor of Rome, he was the most powerful being in the known world. Any desire could be fulfilled at his whim. Any person could be imprisoned for life or put to death if they bothered him. Imagine, how you could act if you had Marcus’ power for even a day. He lived with these awesome powers, and carte blanche to do whatever he wanted for nineteen years!
By nearly all accounts, Marcus lived up to Plato’s ideal of a “philosopher king”. Ruling with benevolence, and constantly on the search for knowledge to refine his understanding of the world and his place in it. While I do not rule an empire, I believe I can rule myself and my thoughts better, through a study of philosophy.