Posted on August, 8th 2017
All right so this month I was again inspired by Tim Ferris... is anyone else starting to see a pattern here? I guess you would actually have to read my blog to recognize it - haha. Last month I was engrossed in Ferris's most recent Ted Talk found here. In addition to his way of re-thinking fear, he refers several times to the ancient Stoic philosophers. A few years ago, while studying at CU Boulder, I was a sophomore and somehow became enrolled in an upperclassman philosophy class. Specifically PHIL3000 History of Ancient Greek Philosophy taught by the brilliant Mitzi Lee.
In addition to being utterly in over my head, I was always a "bad" student. That was no secret. Regularly engaged in toxic relationships and focused on skewed values instead of engrossed in my studies.... man, what I would do to redo my undergrad career. All right, so, the point is here, I was a horrible student but every single day of that semester I looked forward to Lee's class. I rarely participated (mostly due to lack of confidence and inadequate complexes), but man, did I ever take a lot away. I would soak up each and every word. I would read all of the assigned readings and then some. Sometimes I thought the discussions that arouse were pompous or stupid, but sometimes, life-changingly brilliant.... to be honest I was glad I had an opinion about them either way.
And then, the class was over. I got a B (a huge win for me compared to my normal C and D grades). Although I took no action after class was over, I've thought about philosophy ever since. As I continue to grow into myself and flourish in my "young adult" years I've regularly searched for a way to make sense of the world. Over the years, I've turn to yoga, to Buddishm, to physics, to the ancient Greeks and more. Anything to satiate the burning questions in my mind.
I think the biggest thing keeping me from further studying philosophy is quite simply how big and vast the subject is. I was intimidated. Even within the category of "Ancient Greeks" there are several subcategories you can follow that will continue to lead you down very different paths. It was overwhelming and so even though I had a burning desire to learn more philosophy, I was kept away for years and years.
Reading and hearing Tim Ferris' beliefs became the catalyst for me to start with the Stoics. It gave me an in, a nudge, a nod in the right direction. With that said, I settled on two texts and two "manifestos" that help you make applicable the ancient theories to present day life.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was a great foray into the subject. It's both easy to read and chalked up with engaging content. The book starts out with a bit of history discussing the first stoics and the Roman stoics. It quickly dives into applicable Stoic Psychological Techniques. Included in these were negative visualization, fatalism, self-denial, meditation and control. The book concludes with a section on Stoic advice and stoicism in modern life. These last few sections definitely read like a self-help book, but not in a demeaning way. I liked this book because you can directly apply it's concepts to your life today.
Letters from a Stoic, Seneca
A bit more dense than the first book, Seneca proved to be a more rewarding challenge. This consistented of a series of letters that Seneca wrote while he was in exile. It highlights and celebrates the many paradoxes within stoic philosophy, most notably that of wealth. His letters are directed to Lucilius and for the most part are lively and colloquial and only occasionally raised to higher levels. The letters discuss his philosophy of life and how to conduct yourself in the face of adversity.
The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness; Epictetus
I wasn't intending to read a fifth book this month, but somehow this one popped up and I couldn't say no. It was a small book that I'd found while sorting through my collection. It consists largely of small one to two page discourses with direction about specific topics. I.E. a manual for the most common scenarios in life. It served as a great segaway into the next book...
Discourses and Selected Writings; Epictetus
This was my favorite book this month. I somehow found humor in the writing and truly felt like I'd been transplanted back in time into their conversations. Again I was underlining every other sentence in this book simply because all of the content resonated with me. Even though it was written will over 2000 years ago, the advice and the concepts discussed are directly applicable to my life today. It amazed me how easily I was able to grasp his work and make it relate able. The book was divided into four main discourses. Book | focused largely on power and will and Book || was about confidence and conduct. Book ||| talked about the material that makes up a good man and what they should strive to achieve. Lastly, Book |V discussed freedom and whether or not anyone is actually free. Engaging throughout.
The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph; Ryan Holiday
Not going to lie, I was pretty hesitant to read this book, largely due to my disdain of the author. Nevertheless, I'd heard good things so thought I'd give it a try. Truth is, I enjoyed his worked and breezed through the book in three days. My main critique is that Holiday largely drew on examples of other stoics and how they'd put these beliefs into action. It was cool because it opened my eyes to new and exciting people, yet ultimately fell flat when it came to a cohesive story line or main point. If you only have time to read Irvine or Holiday, I 100% recommend Irvine, without a doubt.