Stumbling, Dusting Off, and Getting Back to Action!

I am planning on 2015 being a year of action, both for the Immoderate Stoic project and for my life in general. On this blog, I want to focus attention on active Stoicism. In my personal life, my family and I are picking up and moving to a new city and I plan on using that shake up to change a few personal patterns. All attempts at change come with the possibility of setbacks. To a Stoic, those obstacles that come from the outside (e.g. items broken in the move, plumbing at the new apartment needs work, or the new neighbors don’t understand noise ordinances) are no big deal. It’s the inevitable personal failures that can be disheartening. If my grand plan to have everything quickly unpacked doesn’t come to fruition...that’s all on me. So to start this year, I want to remember some Stoic advice concerning non-Stoic actions.

Marcus Aurelius begins Meditations 5:9 reminding himself to never lose heart.

Don’t become disgusted with yourself, lose patience, or give up if you sometimes fail to act as your philosophy dictates, but after each setback, return to reason and be content if most of your acts are worthy of a good person. Love the philosophy to which you return, and go back to it, not as an unruly student to the rod of a school-master, but as a sore eye to a sponge and egg whites, or a wound to cleansing ointment and clean bandages. In this way, you will obey the voice of reason not to parade a perfect record, but to secure an inner peace.
— Meditations 5:9:1-3

Marcus points out that the goal of the practicing Stoic is not to have been perfect in the past but to be actually content in the present. It’s unfortunate that I lost my temper in traffic this morning, but what am I doing to be fully present and joyful in the staff meeting this very minute? I should be happy to return to my daily practice. Again, in Marcus’s imagery, Stoicism is not a disappointed teacher waiting to scold me, it’s a salve waiting to heal my wounds.

The quote above is incomplete. After speaking about securing an inner peace, our Stoic emperor continues, “Remember, philosophy desires only what pleases your nature while you wanted something at odds with nature.” The Stoic conception of our human nature is prescriptive; it’s not about our desires in the moment but our life at its best. This point is so important Marcus actually felt the need to counsel himself against getting it wrong.

Remember, philosophy desires only what pleases your nature while you wanted something at odds with nature.

’Precisely, doesn’t it all come down to what pleases me most?’

Yes, it does, but be careful. This is just the argument pleasure uses to trick most people. Ask yourself—what could possibly please you more than to be great-souled, free, natural, gentle, and devout? And what is more pleasing than practical wisdom when you consider the reliability and efficiency of knowledge and understanding in every situation?
— Meditations 5:9:4-8

Here’s Stoicism’s reminder to aim for the best things. It is, after all, possible to not stumble in life but also to never walk towards anything worth the journey. Marcus Aurelius often admonishes himself for reading philosophy books as a means of hiding from the real duties his philosophy requires him to fulfil. I could point a finger at myself when it comes to philosophy podcasts, r/stoicism discussions, and the like. There are things to do in this world. I should finish them, then do more.

I’m ready for 2015: The Year of Action. I’ve been reminded to not lose patience with myself; to return to right thinking and then to take worthwhile actions. I think this year is going to be a joy and, if I think like a Stoic, that’s exactly what it will be.