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February 13, 2011 at 6:22 pm #140148Kol DrakeModerator
A couple of years ago, I was on a board and someone stated they were considering moving away from their previous life path philosophy and become a Stoic. I knew the word but did not know of the philosophy, so… I started digging. Who, after all, were the Stoics? They were those grim, wooden figures of ancient Greece and Rome whose goal it was to stand mutely and take whatever the world could throw at them. BEEP Wrong!
Heh. About the same time as the above, I was looking into possibly going to a Zen Buddhist place and ‘see’ if it was more in keeping with how I wanted to be and live. Again, I took to the libraries and books to figure out just what I would be in for. Zen has some great bits I have taken to heart but, the more I learned about Zen, the less it attracted me as a full blown, live this way in mind, body, and spirit.
At first glance, practicing Zen seemed to require me to suppress my analytical abilities, something I found it quite difficult to do. Another off-putting aspect of Zen was that the moment of enlightenment it dangled before its practitioners was by no means guaranteed. Practice Zen for decades and you might achieve enlightenment — or you might not. It would be tragic, I thought, to spend the remaining decades of my life pursuing a moment of enlightenment that never came. Zen doubtless works for some people, but for me, the fit wasn’t good.
Of course, more time and study and speaking with practitioners has cleared up some of those ‘first impressions’. I would now strongly disagree that the point of Zen is to have enlightenment experiences. Shunryu Suzuki, the monk who founded that San Francisco Zen Center said that he had never had an enlightenment experience. And he practiced Zen for over 40 years.
Today, my understanding of the central point of Zen is to stay aware of what is happening around you rather than paying attention to the near constant flow of your thoughts. Sitting zazen does not have as its goal the emptying of thoughts. It just asks us to try and notice these thoughts, set them aside and go back to just observing what is happening now.
Still… at the time, Zen was not ‘my cup of tea’. But, while looking into it, and doing some reading while working on an old IJRS lesson, I read what ancient philosophers had to say about desire. Among them were the Stoic philosophers — people like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus — about whom I knew little. They were neither grim nor wooden. If anything, the adjective that I thought described them best was “buoyant” or maybe even “cheerful.” And without consciously intending to do so, I found myself experimenting with Stoic strategies for daily living to see how they might jive with my concept of ‘being Jedi-like’.
So, when I found myself in a predicament — being stuck in traffic, for example — I followed the advice of Epictetus and asked myself what aspects of the situation I could and could not control. I could not control what the other cars did, so it was pointless — was in fact counterproductive — for me to get angry at them. My energy was much better spent focusing on things I could control, with the most important being how I responded to the situation. In particular, I could employ Stoic strategies to prevent the incident from spoiling my day.
I also started making use of the Stoic technique known as negative visualization: I would periodically contemplate the loss of the things and people that mean the most to me. Thus, when parting from a friend, I might make a mental note that this could conceivably be the last time I would see the friend in question. Friendships do end, after all, and people die suddenly. Doing this sort of thing may seem morbid, but the practice of negative visualization is a powerful antidote to a phenomenon that will otherwise deprive us of much of the happiness we could be enjoying: negative visualization prevents us from taking for granted the world around us and the people in it.
I like doing positive, creative visualizations as part of working with my subconscious and with the Force. It is a bit tougher when I try to explain about negative visualization, people often get the wrong idea so I tend to NOT speak on it anymore. Nearly all I did speak to on it tended to think the Stoics advocate that we spend our days dwelling on all the bad things that can happen to us.
This, of course, would be a recipe for a miserable existence. What the Stoics in fact advocate is not that we dwell on bad things but that we contemplate them, a subtle but important difference. They also recommend that we engage in negative visualization not constantly but only a few times each day and for only a few seconds each time. Our negative visualizations, then, will take the form of fleeting thoughts.
Visualizing in this manner has the effect of resetting the baseline against which we measure our happiness, and it can have a profound and immediate effect on that happiness. As the result of negatively visualizing, we might find ourselves taking delight that we still possess the things that only moments before, we took for granted, including our job, our spouse, our health — indeed, our very existence.
One of my favorite visualization exercises involves the sky. When I see it, I periodically remind myself that the sky didn’t have to be blue. But on most days it is blue, and a gorgeous blue, the hue of which changes subtly from hour to hour. Then I reflect on how wonderful it is that we inhabit a universe that can, on a nearly daily basis, present us with such a spectacle. A simple exercise, to be sure, and some would say a silly one. But if you can learn to appreciate the sky — something most people take utterly for granted — there is a good chance that you can learn to appreciate your life as well and thereby enjoy a happier existence than would otherwise be the case.
I also tend to be amazed at the moon… day and night. It is up there in the sky and it is a wonder to behold. Seeing it huge and reddish orange at ‘moonrise’ or seeing it during the day as a ghostly onlooker while the Sun shines boldly across the way from it.
Stoicism does not shoot for enlightenment as does Zen or some other philosophies. Instead, stoicism provides a body of advice for a person to follow and a set of strategies for them to employ in everyday life. The strategies in question are easy to use. That said, I think it takes rather longer to internalize Stoic advice and strategies so that one’s response to the events of daily living becomes reflexively Stoical, at which point one can truly claim to be a Stoic.
Of course, the big question is, why would a philosophy from 300 B.C. be any better to follow then the many centuries old Zen Buddhism or the modern day amalgam of ‘being Jedi’? What do any of them have to ‘do’ with becoming a better person/budding Jedi?
I mean, at a glance, Zen Buddhism and Stoicism seem to be polar opposites, philosophically speaking. Dig a bit deeper and one can find how much Zen and Stoicism have in common. They both advocate taking what Buddha referred to as “the middle path.” Buddha lived a life of luxury in a palace but was not fulfilled by that life. He abandoned the palace to live a life of extreme asceticism but again did not find fulfillment. It was then that he experienced his moment of enlightenment. The wise person, Buddha concluded, will not shun pleasure; at the same time, he will keep firmly in mind how easy it is to become enslaved by it. He will therefore be guarded in his enjoyment of pleasure.
The Stoics likewise advocated taking the middle path. Zeno of Citium began his philosophical education by practicing Cynicism, the ancient philosophy that advocated an ascetic lifestyle. The ancient Cynics (including Diogenes of Sinope and Zeno’s teacher Crates) lived on the street and owned only the clothing that they wore. Zeno abandoned Cynicism and under the Stoic philosophy he formulated, he told that there is nothing wrong with enjoying life’s pleasures, as long as we are careful not to allow ourselves to be enslaved by them and as long as, even while we are enjoying them, we take steps to prepare ourselves ultimately to be deprived of them.
Offer a Stoic a glass of fine champagne, and he probably won’t refuse it; as he drinks it, though, he might reflect on the possibility that this will be the last time he drinks champagne, a reflection, by the way, that will dramatically enhance his enjoyment of the moment. Then again, offer a Stoic a glass of water, and he might go through the same thought processes with the same result.
In having “last time” thoughts (which, by the way, are a form of negative visualization), a Stoic is behaving rather like a Buddhist. Both Stoics and Buddhists think it important, if we are to have a good life, that we recognize the transient nature of human existence, and both advise us periodically to contemplate impermanence. This is what Stoics are doing when they reflect on the fact that since we are mortal, there will be a last time for each of the things we do in life. Thus, there will be a last time you drink champagne — or water, for that matter. There will be a last time you touch the face of another human being. There will even be a last time you utter the word “forever.”
Along similar lines, both Zen Buddhists and Stoics think it important for us to strive to stay “in the moment.” People tend to spend their days and consequently their lives as well dwelling on things that happened in past moments and worrying about things that will happen in future moments. As a result, there is little time left for them to savor the moment they currently are living. If we are to have a good life, it is important, says Stoic Marcus Aurelius, for us to keep in mind that “man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant.”
For one last parallel between Buddhism and Stoicism, consider again the above-described blue-sky exercise. Turns out the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, in some of his practices of mindfulness, employ a similar exercise.
So, Stoic or Zen Buddhist or Budding Jedi, we adopt concepts, ideas, philosophies which ‘make sense’ and fit with our thoughts of ‘how the world is’ and how we hope to grow in that world. Even so, one soon discovers how much the world has changed when speaking of ‘accepting a philosophy’.
Way back then, if you told someone you were a practicing Stoic, they would have understood what you meant. In ancient Greece and Rome, it was common for people in the upper classes to adopt a philosophy of life; indeed, parents sent their sons to schools of philosophy (prominent among which were the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Academic schools) in part to acquire such a philosophy.
Tell modern individuals that you are a practicing Stoic or Jedi Realist, though, and they are likely to be puzzled. “Is it some kind of religion?” they will ask.
From me: “No. Religions generally concern themselves with the afterlife; philosophies of life such as the Jedi (or Stoicism) concern themselves with daily life. They teach us what things in life are most valuable and how best to attain them.”
Of course, this intro salvo tends to lead to other questions and more trouble. :p
The above response is likely to give rise to a new question: “And just what did the Stoics and/or Jedi think was valuable?” My response: “Not what most people think is valuable — namely, fame and fortune. To the contrary, the Stoics (and in particular the Roman Stoics) valued tranquillity, and by tranquillity they had in mind not the kind of numbness that can be attained by downing a third martini, but instead the absence of negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, grief, and fear, from their life. They had nothing against positive emotions, though, including that most positive of emotions, joy. The Stoics were also confident that people who exchange their tranquillity for fame and fortune have made a foolish bargain.”
This, by the way, is yet another point of agreement between Zen and Stoicism: both philosophies of life point to tranquillity as the thing in life most worth attaining. Just that both take different approaches (and views) on how that should be done. Consider an old koan, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” I suspect the Stoic answer would be, “You can’t even step in the same river once.”
I know I seem to be pushing the Stoic tradition but, one takes ‘what makes sense’ from all the sources when it comes to ‘how a Jedi should be’ (or consider). Or, at least that is my view on things. Being a Stoic Jedi and a semi Zennish Jedi still fall in line with how one views them from the movies and books… for the most part. Seeing those ‘connections’ is one step. Being able to then turn them into ‘ways to live Life daily… in ‘that’ way, is the next step in becoming a Jedi, in my opinion.
Check out the writings of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus. There you will find much advice on how to deal with insults, how to overcome grief, how to avoid getting angry, how to take delight in the world you inhabit, and so forth. Perhaps just as useful as ‘tools’ and a ‘way’ as Zen Buddhism concepts. Find what ‘works’ for you and then embrace it and make it a functional part of you daily life…. Be it Zennish, Stoic, Mystic, or whatever flavor of Jedi you envision for yourself… because what ‘works’ is what you can use and BE… every day.February 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm #157881JaxKeymaster
Thank you for that information. I’m sure it will be added to many people’s lists of things to learn about.February 14, 2011 at 12:34 am #157884SetanaokoParticipant
While being a Stoic helps you become objective, it doesn’t help you assist other people when they are emotionally unstable. You end up disconnecting yourself completely and can’t really convey to others that you actually care about what they are going through.
Let’s put it this way, who would you rather turn to in order to assist you with your problems? Deanna Troi or Spock?
I think that we are more a balance between Zen and Stoicism.February 14, 2011 at 5:07 am #157888JaxKeymaster
Interesting Setanaoko. Since I don’t know more than what is here I am interested in what Kol has to say about empathy and such with stoicism.February 16, 2011 at 7:04 am #157904Kol DrakeModeratorQuote:“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” — Epictetus
The Hellenistic Greeks’ philosophy of Stoicism did not encourage self-denial so much as abolishing the source of desire entirely, something that is also the goal of Buddhism. It also loosely correlates with the Bible’s teachings of controlling the “flesh”, which usually involves controlling ones’ emotions and urges. The ancient Stoics felt joy, love, empathy but had a different basis for the origins for such emotions.
Despite what some might espouse, being emotional and caring is not in and of itself a good thing. In fact, the more emotional and less self controlled a character, the more likely they are to fall to The Dark Side. Conversely, the more stoic, composed, and self-denying a character the more likely they are to be good and in line with The Force.
The reasoning boils down to this: Emotions are raw, powerful, and uncontrollable. A character that lets their heart or libido lead them is not rational and thus prone to temptation. Temptation of course takes many forms, and it is a slippery slope from there to full on villainy. On the other hand, heroes who exhibit self-control are like a knight in shining armor, able to resist temptation and Smite Evil.
However, there is a downside to extreme Stoicism: a lack of drive and at times a worrying lack of empathy. A completely composed Stoic runs the risk of not letting any human considerations weigh on their judgment. Essentially, without a bit of emotion to anchor them, the character may well float off into unreachable heights. And, referencing Vulcans as a ‘typical stoic example’ is far from correct. In point of fact, Vulcans fall under the heading of taking stoicism to the extreme.
Star Trek Vulcans have such strong emotions that they would end up being brutal savages if they did not control their emotions. Romulans, their racial cousins, do not suppress their emotions and are indeed very passionate and warlike. That said, they are highly sophisticated and clever, and quite a few of them are decent chaps. Perhaps not bottling up helps them control their emotions to some degree?
The Vulcans were sophisticated and clever too – they clearly got as far as interstellar travel before destroying themselves. It is possible to suppose the proto-Romulans probably agreed with the followers of Surak that something had to be done about Vulcan emotion, but strongly disagreed over exactly what. Regardless, they have clearly found some way to manage their emotions, since they are not nearly as warlike as the ancient Vulcans appeared to be. This does somewhat belie the oft-repeated Vulcan assertion that logic and emotion cannot be reconciled, but then again, the Romulans are no longer entirely the same species – perhaps they engineered the more volatile emotions out of their population?
ANYWAY, getting back to the Star Wars Universe, emotions and empathy were not avoided by the ancient Stoics. Neither were they absent in the make-up of the Jedi.
Ancient Stoicism was not identical with “stoicism” in the modern sense, although the concepts overlap.
A modern “stoic” is a person who puts up with pain or suffering without complaining, without expressing any sign of emotion. (Mister Spock fits this one to the extreme of course.)
The Stoics, by contrast, did not aim at emotional repression but at retraining their emotional responses. They thought that one could achieve a state of consciousness such that the things most people mind about — such as physical pain, and all the things that usually cause us anger, grief, frustration, and so on — would no longer feel important.
The point is not to pretend that sickness, death, and dishonor do not exist, or to deny the facts of loss, as in modern positive thinking. Instead, a true Stoic would be genuinely unaffected by the undeniable reality of such external losses. In modern terms, your lost job and lost career prospects, your now-worthless 401(k) account, your professional and social humiliation and isolation, your bankruptcy, your foreclosed home, your cancerous breasts, your dead children — all are, from a Stoic perspective, “indifferent.” What matters, in good times or bad, is not whether you have a job, an income, a family, or a home, but whether you have the inner strength to realize how little such things matter.
The Stoics taught that reason is the guiding force of the world, and ought to be the guiding principle of each human being. Thinking, and trying our best to discover the truth about the universe as well as about human life, is part of the duty as a Stoic. Rather than shut their eyes to the truth, they must work to make it acceptable emotionally. Everything happens for a reason, and if they could only align their feelings and actions with reason and with the forces of the universe — “live in accordance with Nature,” as the Stoic slogan had it, or “want what is” — they could live a life of perfect virtue, and hence, perfect tranquility.
If one were to take a critical look at the actions and behaviors of the movie and book Jedi, one might see how the stoic approach seems to apply to their thoughts and actions. Stoics believed that all the virtues — wisdom, justice, courage, self-control, piety, and generosity — were really just perfected reason applied to various spheres of conduct. While the Jedi may or may not see those virtues as stemming from reason, those are the Jedi virtues. The Stoic seeks to free himself from all passion, excitation, and frivolity in order to be able to apply his reason reliably. The same could be said of the Jedi.
So to free one’s self of emotions for the sake of being reasonable, so that reason can then be turned to the greater good…is hardly soulless. It is a very spiritual decision to put the good of the many over one’s personal sense of self. Which ties in with Buddhism, in the idea that nothing can ever be found that is self-existent or that exists by itself independently of other phenomena. Including the self — the Buddhists warn against self-grasping ignorance, or one’s belief that they exist under their own power, independently, from their own side.
And whether it is emotion or empathy, stoics did not not do it but expressed joy and happiness and understanding… just in a particular ‘frame of mind’ when they did so. Not unemotional ‘semi Vulcans’ as the definition tends toward these days. The Star Wars novels carry both sides of this debate. The Jedi order as it came to be in the prequel trilogy had boiled down the light side philosophy of self-denial and detachment into the following mantra.
“There is no emotion; there is peace.”
“There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.”
“There is no passion; there is serenity.”
“There is no death; there is the Force.”
Sith on the other hand, had this (not at first glance evil) counterpart mantra that exalted emotions.
“Peace is a lie,”
“There is only passion.”
“Through passion I gain strength,”
“Through strength I gain power.”
“Through power I gain victory,”
“Through victory my chains are broken.”
“The Force shall set me free.”
It should be noted that the Emotions vs Stoicism theme is only applied to Force-users, presumably due to the extremely addictive nature of The Dark Side. For the non-Force-sensitive masses, it’s not considered an issue.
It is also somewhat ironic that the Jedi practise self-restraint in service to the ideal of a free republic that practically embodies disorganisation, whereas the Sith practise passion in pursuit of a highly ordered galaxy which they control.
The original Jedi Code, from before the Order had its final schism and permanently split, shows a bit of both sides (and arguably is closer to the Jedi ideal than the later Code):
“Emotion, yet peace;”
“Ignorance, yet knowledge;”
“Passion, yet serenity;”
“Death, yet the Force.”
Subverted when the Jedi’s rigid adherence to the Code — namely their ban on love — contributes to Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. In fact, when one compares the decidedly saner, more realistic New Jedi Order that Luke Skywalker founded, it’s tempting to say that being damn near wiped out was a necessary lesson for the Jedi.
According to George Lucas, the Jedi aren’t against “love”, or even sex. (They actively encourage the former, in fact.) They’re merely against institutionalized marriage and courtship, which they see as a form of materialism and possession. Forgetting, of course, that in many ancient cultures, marriage was at least religiously blood covenant between the man and the woman. Politics and economics ultimately subverted it time and again, but that would be the fault of the “dark side” of human nature, not marriage itself.
So, while Jedi might ‘be stoic’ they also had plenty of emotions and empathy toward their fellow Jedi and those they served to protect. (Unless you were a clone during episodes IV thru VI…. then clones were target practice. :p )February 17, 2011 at 1:35 am #157912Anonymous
The Stoic Path is one that I’ve chosen to follow as part of my Jedi Path – they are not completely alike – the Stoic are not as involved with the spiritual or esoteric in the same manner.
Reading about various Stoic studies is different than experiencing the Path after studying the various Stoics.
I’ll give an example – part of the Stoic Path is to regard the worse possibility of a situation – and also to be highly critical of one’s daily behavior in a real or mental journal. It seems negative – but as Kol supplied – it is actually an incredibly life affirming.
A couple of years ago when I was beginning to examine the Stoic Path I decided not to wear a coat in mid-winter here in Detroit and face the cold. (It was a classic Stoic exercise). So – I did so most of the winter. It was a cold winter! I realized I was really pretty okay without a jacket for a few minutes until it hit about 10 degrees. That was when I knew it was going to harm me.
Rather than feel I had “failed” as a Stoic – I recognized what my cold limitations were. I see people rushing into coats at 30 degrees acting as if they may get frostbite or freeze to death. I once felt real fear and concern if I didn’t have a coat when it was 20 degrees and I had to be outside for a time. I lost that fear and gained in knowledge.
Stoicism is rather similar when it comes to emotion. Many of us fear if we do not “feel an emotion” we will not be as strong or alive. So – when, as a stoic, I began to feel an emotion rising in the course of a day I made an effort to step back and instead become a spectator to the scene. One incident is when in store, as the owner, I was approached by an irate customer who claimed they should receive new luggage because a baggage handler was able to damage it. (A baggage handle can damage an iron boulder if checked onboard…). The customer got a bit personal, speaking of me in very uncomplimentary terms, including the use of the world “Jew”, and “bitch” and other ugly things.
My employees became very puffed up and physically upset. I would have done so – but for this exercise. There was a WANT for confrontation – a need for it – but I suddenly realized how incredibly weak such a response would be in this incident.
Then other customers became upset – and wanted to turn their coworker into their supervisor. (We have a business that caters within a business organization). I asked the irate customer to speak to me in private – and the person followed me – then began to cry – and told me they were sorry.
WAS this an unkind act? Or would it have been unkind to use emotion?
I help people/situations when I see a need – not because it touches my heart. Emotion is not reliable: It makes for gullibility, sometimes ego stroking, sometimes guilt, but often the real heart of NEED is forgotten in the aim of dishonorably snookering people out of money through making the FEEL.
I’m not a terribly intellectual person. I can only say what I’ve experienced. But I needed the Stoic Path (which I felt was at core very much like the Jedi Path for myself) in order to gain the exercises the Stoic Path yet offers.
Let me end by saying that when I fail to respond properly – I no longer feel shame or disappointment in my failure. I see it as an opportunity to recognize my weakness (which are many!) and to improve.
I feel more sensitive to others rather than less – because I’m not seeing through perceptions filled with emotion – which tends to fog seeing what is really there. I feel I can truly help when I see the need – and better yet – see how to respond to what the need is rather than what people may want.
It is both simple and complex – the Stoic Path. Like the Jedi Path it is a life-long Way…February 17, 2011 at 2:42 am #157913AndyParticipant
About a week or so ago, Red Angel created a “jedi readings” website. Just so happens the only source he has right now is Epictetus. I recommended seneca and the meditations. http://metatemple.org/jedi-daily/
Also on Feb 5th, the Art of manliness featured a great reading from seneca. http://artofmanliness.com/2011/02/05/manvotional-seneca-on-dealing-with-groundless-fears/
Both those coupled with this timely topic is a lot of stoicism in february. Hows that for a bit of synchronistity?February 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm #157927Kol DrakeModerator
Yep.. seems that in the last year or so, when I get an ‘urge’ to post on one topic or another, it seems to be something resonating ‘in the Force’ since others are thinking along similar lines or having ‘those kinds’ of days.
Been thinking on this thread and chewing it over a bit.
While it might look like I am pushing ‘going Stoic’, that is not the case. Rather, I kind of hoped to show how we can look at ‘being Jedi’ under a larger lens rather then ‘just’ as Zen Monks with lightsabers. Stoic philosophy has it’s merits as does Zen Buddhism and we need to keep that Matrix phrase “Free Your Mind.” when looking and living the Jedi Life.
And, it is healthy to think “Today is beautiful and I should take time to appreciate it… for all the small moments as well as the cosmic ‘biggies’.”February 19, 2011 at 7:45 pm #157928JaxKeymaster
This thread has caused me to think about looking at the stoics as well as what I’ve learned in my spiritual studies because I think they all align, as long as I look at the subtleties and can find a way to explain it. I see a lot of my own personal living philosophy in these posts, without ever reading anything about the stoics or stoicism. This is definitely thought provoking. Thank you for sharing.February 20, 2011 at 7:46 am #157931inariParticipantQuote:From me: “No. Religions generally concern themselves with the afterlife; philosophies of life such as the Jedi (or Stoicism) concern themselves with daily life. They teach us what things in life are most valuable and how best to attain them.”
That is a darn good way of putting it. I’ll have to keep that somewhere handy for when I get asked that question.
I’ve been reading about these posts and I think that much of my personal way of being (for lack of a better word) is pretty similar to the stoics. I don’t often think ‘This might be last so-and-so’ I have or do, but the awareness is there, somewhere…I will always stop and smell the roses. Conversely though, thinking of bad things that might occur to loved ones or that might happen. Sure, I do this sometimes, but not much and never for long. It would make me all teary and upset. My rational mind recognises that this is probably due to an attachment, and Jedi shouldn’t be attached, but thinking, of, say, one of my kids hit by a car or something will just do that. And if someone is very upset I will appear to be calm to them, but inside I’m getting upset too. So I’m not very stoic in the manner described, but can understand what you are on about. Thanks for talking about it Kol!
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