Emails from a modern Stoic – Letter 5

It’s freaking awesome the way you have applied yourself to your study. How you have sacrificed time at parties, gaming and dating. Putting all your energy into to making yourself, every day, a better person. Not only do I hope you persist, I actually beg you to. 

I do have one piece of advice: hold back from following every trend you see online, many of the people you watch on TikTok or Instagram are just craving attention, not their own improvement. They do things which are for the purpose of getting likes, comments and shares. It is often not for your benefit. It can causes you to reflect on your appearance or way of living generally. Causing you to lean into crappy attire, messy hair, an unkempt beard, sleeping around a pile of unwashed or left out clean clothing, an outspoken dislike of each political problem of the day, and all other misguided means of self-advertisement. 

At the mention of personal development, self-care and even philosophy, however one chooses to pursue it, is unpopular enough as it is. Imagine the comments you would get if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of what is socially acceptable. So do focus on you inwardly, but at times allow our outward persona conform with the masses. Our clothes should not be flashy, just like they shouldn’t be dull and old fashioned either. 

We should not post photos of us with stacks of cash, or a new Rolex, buying new cars (on leases) or any other boasting that is easy to be sucked into online. But at the same time we should not lie to our selves, that not sharing this things, or living without these things is proof that we are leading the simple life. 

“Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob” – Seneca. Otherwise we will piss off and turn away the very people who we hope to inspire to be better. We will make them more reluctant to implement anything for fear they may have to implement everything we are doing. The first thing philosophy promises us is the feeling of companionship, of belonging to humankind and being members of a community; being different will mean the abandoning of that program. 

We must Becareful that the way we hope to gain approval does not actually earn mockery and unkindness. Our maxim, which we have been consistent on, is to live in conformity with nature: “it’s contrary to nature to torture one’s body, to reject simple standards of cleanliness and make a point of being dirty, to adopt a diet that is not just plain but hideous and revolting” – Seneca. In the same way as a craving for extravagant living, avoidance of familiar and inexpensive food indicates insanity. 

Philosophy calls for simple living (not self-punishment), the simple way of life doesn’t need to be a lame one. The caliber  I aim for is a balance between the ideal and popular morality. People should approve of our way of life and find it easy to understand. Does that mean we should act like others? Is there no practical difference between us and them? Of course there is. Anyone that takes a closer look at our philosophy should notice we are different from the mob. Anyone visiting us at home should admire us rather than our stuff. 

It is a great person that can treat his Kmart plates as if they were from David Jones. Compared to a person who treats their expensive silverware as if it was from Coles. A person that finds wealth an intolerable burden is the mark of an unstable mind. 

Now let me share with you a tip I heard on Hector’s (Hecato’s) podcast (he is another Stoic). “Limiting one’s desires actually helps to cure one of fear”. “Cease to hope”, he says, “and you will cease to fear”. But how, you will ask, can desire, fear and hope be linked? 

Well the fact is Lucas (Lucilius), that they are bound up with one another, unconnected as they may seem. While different, the two of them are bound like an influencer is bound to likes and shares. Fear keeps pace with hope. 

Their moving together doesn’t surprise me; both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety from looking into the future. Both are mainly a result of  projecting our thoughts into the future, instead of adapting ourselves to the now. Thus it is that future planning, one of the greatest gifts humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse. 

Think about it, wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are distressed by our past and future. A number of our gifts do us harm. Memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines their unhappiness to the present.

I love philosopy, especially when I find something readily applicable to daily life. While I enjoy the works of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and others, their work is a tad old. A few thouseand years. It can be easy to dismiss if you cannot see yourself in what you read. It is because of this I am working through Seneca’s letters from a Stoic. Slowly reqriting them as if they were an email sent in the now. It is my hope you will find something of value in the philosophy of Stoicism, just not written how you would normally expect it.

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