Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility – Sigmund Freud
Conscious responses and unconscious reactions are integral in determining the quality of the interactions we have and the relationships we forge. The Stoics believed that the way in which we respond to the world is our responsibility because we have the power to choose the action that best serves us in the moment.
The hope is that our growth and awareness are shaped by deliberate conscious evolution and not left to random chance through our unconscious behaviours.
In order to make the changes productive and in alignment with the emerging authentic self, the stoic philosophy explores 5 rules for life.
The framework is practical and straightforward and we are guided to build a conscious path built on resilience that also provides the foundation for a constructive personal philosophy
As we transition into the New Year it may be of benefit to consider this ancient wisdom for our modern times and try each day to embody the simplicity of simple living…
Rule 1: accept what you can and cannot control
There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will – Epictetus
A life focused on doing what we can with what we have is more likely to be productive and empowering. Distinguishing between the two polar ends of the same spectrum is key to the shackles that have us trapped in a never-ending loop of despair and frustration.
We live in a world of distraction and we have been pulled in so many directions that it is so easy to fall and blame others for our circumstances. This renders us weak and limited but if we turn our attention within we become in charge of our interior life. It is all about releasing attachment and embarking on the path of freedom and happiness
The chief task in life is simply this; to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own – Epicteteus
Rule 2: accept fate
Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy – Epicteteus
As events unravel around us we are exposed to the contrast of life and each and every experience, good or bad, has led us to this very moment. We need suffering to know peace, we need loss to appreciate what we have and we need dark to appreciate the light.
These occurrences are out of our control and no matter what we try to do we cannot wind back time or predict the future. Opportunities arise in the face of hardship and when we accept accountability we feel liberated and grateful for everything in our lives
Rule 3: accept death
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think – Marcus Aurelius
The fear of death prevents us from actually living and when we understand the impermanent nature of reality – all things have a beginning, undergo evolution and are ultimately transformed into something new – then we wholeheartedly accept the great circle of life in all its splendour!
Appreciation and gratitude enable us to stop taking things for granted and become more deliberate with our attention. Life is a limited resource and knowing this helps us to focus on what’s important and embrace the now moment.
Rule 4: accept that your happiness is your responsibility
In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility – Eleanor Roosevelt
Blame inhibits growth and we are very quick to reject responsibility and take ownership of the conditions of our lives. Momentary relief comes with blame but it is not sustaining and inhibits the opportunity that arises to do things differently. So instead of growing through the discomfort, stagnation occurs and the same mistakes haunt us year after year
If you want something good, get it from yourself – Epictetus
Rule 4: accept that life is change
Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food withour transfroming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? Can’t you see? It’s the same with you, and just as vital to nature – Marcis Aurelius
We like to operate within our mental framework where comfort and predictability have set up home and where the unfamiliar is an unwelcomed guest. Taking a chance on the destabilizing nature of change can seem uncomfortable but if we don’t lean in and continue to resist change the more we suffer
Our perceptions interpret how we see things in our reality but it is within our power to embrace the ‘hardships’ and use them as a catalyst for growth.
Understanding the basics of these principles helps us to expand and lean into this complex world. It initiates a transition where we respond instead of reacting to experiences and in turn, discover that conscious reframing has the ability to ignite the process of change…
Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it – Epictetus