#StoicWeek: Day 3


Today’s morning reading from Stoic Week:

People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills; and you too are especially inclined to feel this desire. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain complete ease of mind; and by ease of mind, I mean nothing but having one’s own mind in good order. So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself. You should have to hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This was paralleled by something else I read this morning:

Life for us is whatever we imagine it to be. To the peasant with his one field, that field is everything, it is an empire. To Caesar with his vast empire which still feels cramped, that empire is a field. The poor man has an empire; the great man only a field. The truth is that we possess nothing but our own senses; it is on them, then, and not on what they perceive, that we must base the reality of our life. – Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Internalising the idea that happiness in life depends on your perception of things that happen to, and surround, you is hugely liberating. It reminds me of Alain De Botton’s The Art of Travel in which he points out that one reason why holidays can be so disappointing is that we have to take ourselves with us, as it were, complete with our worries, concerns and imperfections. The reality and the glossy brochure can never be identical.

In my own life, I’ve found this particular part of Stoicism extremely useful. I live in a terraced house only a few miles away from where I grew up. While I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit during my career, really all I need is my family around me, a healthy body, and access to books and the internet to keep me satisfied. 

Image by Rowan Heuvel