#StoicWeek: Day 7

Steaming cup 

Today’s morning reading, the last in Stoic week 2016:

The works of the gods are full of providence, and the works of fortune are not separate from nature or the interweaving and intertwining of the things governed by providence. Everything flows from there. Further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. What is brought by the nature of the whole and what maintains that nature is good for each part of nature. Just as the changes in the elements maintain the universe so too do the changes in the compounds. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.3

…and the evening reading:

At every hour give your full concentration, as a Roman and a man, to carrying out the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity and affectionate concern for others and freedom and justice, and give yourself space from other concerns. You will give yourself this if you carry out each act as if it were the last of your life, freed from all randomness and passionate deviation from the rule of reason and from pretence and self-love and dissatisfaction with what has been allotted to you. You see how few things you need to master to be able to live a smoothly flowing life: the gods will ask no more from someone who maintains these principles. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5

One of the things I’ve learned from Stoicism over the past few years, and this week in particular, is just how few things you need, and how few things you need to master to be contented in life. Although not a Stoic, this is reminiscent of a famous quotation from eastern philosophy:

If you are depressed, you live in the past. If you are anxious, you live in the future… If you are happy… You live in the present.” – Lao Tzu

There’s much to be said for looking back at one’s life up to this point without regret, and looking into the future without fear. ‘Happiness’ is a fleeting thing, and too much of a slippery idea to be pursued in real-time. Instead, I’ve learned to focus on productive habits, workflows, and regimes that leave me contented.

I’m sure that a younger version of myself would have been disappointed with aiming for mere ‘contentment’. But, actually, as the Stoic philosophers argue, being of an even temper is definitely worth striving for. While life might not be so strenuous to our physical bodies as it was in the ancient past, modern life is nevertheless psychologically tumultuous.

Stoicism is a fantastic way to have a philosophy of living that gets out of the way and allows you to live. At the same time, it’s a never-ending process of self-improvement. I’ll continue striving for contentment.  

Image by John-Mark Kuznietsov