There has been a lot of changes in my personal life lately. I moved to a new country, got a new job and recently even bought a house. Things have been extremely busy and I have not been able to keep up with my reading these last couple months.
On that note, I did finish reading this gem of a book called The Stoic Challenge. William Irvine has done an excellent job explaining the basics on stoicism and his experiences with this philosophy.
According to the author, obstacles in life are to be seen as tests created by Gods of Stoicism. Au contraire, Stoicism doesn’t have any Gods. It isn’t even a religion. The author gives that status to the original founders and practitioners of the philosophy. If your flight is delayed, Stoic Gods must be watching to see how you handle this setback.
In his descriptions, the author lists many obstacles and setbacks that come his way. He is honest that he doesn’t keep his head each time, however, more often than not; he sees these as opportunities and tests.
A technique the author describes to hone one’s stoic acumen is called negative visualization. Sometimes, we take life for granted. In such times, it is not just enough to be grateful according to him. Sometimes, we ought to think what could have gone wrong and resulted in worse situations. So if you are worried about a promotion, maybe think back to the day you were interviewing for the job you now have. If you had missed that bus or overslept; you probably wouldn’t have the job today. This is a small but pertinent example of this technique and I feel it can be used effectively by everyone to appreciate what they have and be content.
Towards the end, the author suggests that sometimes only negative visualization is not enough. It is imperative that we deliberately put ourselves in situations which place us outside our comfort zones. It can be painful but extremely rewarding in the long term. For instance, if you have never gone hungry, try going without food for a few hours or maybe even a day. If you are afraid of public speaking, put yourself in a position where you speak to a group of friends. Expand that to include acquaintances, and then strangers. Slowly you will notice there is nothing to be feared.
Stoicism is an age old philosophy of living one’s life without worry. In today’s fast paced high tech world, the stress we face has increased multi-fold. I think that the principles of stoicism would serve us well if we were to apply those to our way of life. William Irvine’s book is a recommended read for anyone looking at an introduction to this philosophy.