Death is for Me

People are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles... -Enchiridion Ch 5

Stoics view mortality as a natural and fundamental aspect of life. We exist in an ever-changing universe. Therefore, much of stoic practice is meant to instill a consistent recognition of the impermanence of every aspect of life. Now, if you live in a culture that hides death away, be prepared for the backlash. As more Stoics become vocal about our philosophy, there will definitely be criticism concerning our views. And let's face it, the concept of death tends to strike at nerves.  

Caitlin Doughty, mortician and talented blogger, posted about her experiences with criticism in Death is for Everyone (a bit of a rant, really) . She is not a stoic, to my knowledge, but she is at the forefront of a movement to bring death back into our lived experience. As she reminds us, "Death is not a fad. Talking about mortality is not a trend piece like artisanal pickles or hand-carved charcuterie boards. It’s not something that “hipsters” are doing now. It is the fundamental core of the human experience." I enjoyed her post, and recommend it to you.

And just in case you hadn't stumbled across Stoicism's position on death yet, here's one more quote. 

Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything. -Echiridion Ch 21

I'm going to say that if a stoic teacher is advising daily visualizations concerning death, you have to view mortality as pretty central to the Stoic mindset. Now, Epictetus is not instructing us to be morose. On the contrary, death only "appears terrible." The goal is a daily recognition that death is neither terrible nor good, it is simply a fact. That fact, however, is a powerful one and can shape our decisions concerning what truly matters in this mortal life.  

So as we go around accepting Death, remember that we are the healthy ones. Living in accord with the world's terms is wise. So go forth, be mortal, and memento mori!

Fear Death? Try Tylenol.

A study suggests that acetaminophen not only blocks physical pain, it can help with the existential variety as well! I'm always fascinated by any new knowledge of how our bodies experience emotion. I find it particularly exciting when something as abstract as "existential dread" is swayed by a slight chemical change. Of course, as a practicing Stoic, I believe the more satisfying means of addressing death is to realize it isn't an evil. But hey, if a Tylenol gets you through the day, I'm all for it! 

Scorn death: Either it finishes you, or it transforms you.

Get It Together: A Challenge

I need to get my shit together. I use that particular phrase because I've just been introduced to Get Your Shit Together dot org. GYST is a life and death planning site that encourages people to prepare for the fact that you are going to die.  Do you have a Will? A Living Will? Life insurance? Does your significant other know the passwords to important websites? There's a lot to cover. GYST is there to point out that preparation for death involves a fair amount of paperwork.

As a stoic, I'm also supposed to be preparing for death with my mind. To us, death is part of nature and nothing that is natural should be unexpected. Therefore we prepare ourselves for change. We use negative visualization to rehearse loss. As Seneca said, "We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die. Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth." Personally, I find this rehearsal very calming. Yet, for all the time spent thinking about endings, I have done very little to prepare for my own.

Get Your Shit Together gives me a chance to take a stoic spiritual practice and apply it to paperwork. I can take the steps necessary to alleviate the stress on my wife if an accident were to happen or illness suddenly struck me. I'm issuing a challenge to myself, one that I believe would benefit any practicing stoic. I'm going to get my shit together this year. After all, it's the stoic thing to do.