Stoicism, a philosophy born in ancient Greece and popularized in Rome, has experienced a resurgence today. But why is something that was conceived thousands of years ago gaining favor in the modern world? Let’s delve deeper into what stoicism is and the reasons for its growing popularity.

Definition of Stoicism

Stoicism is a philosophical school founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the third century B.C. It focuses on the teaching that virtue (understood as wisdom) is the only source of true happiness and that we should be indifferent to such things as wealth, reputation and external disturbances, since they are beyond our control.

Origins of Stoicism

Stoicism is a philosophical school that has its roots in ancient Greece and was later widely adopted and developed in Rome. Here is a brief overview of the origins and early stages of this influential trend:

1. Foundation and first steps in Athens:

  • Zeno of Citium (c. 334-262 B.C.) is considered the founder of Stoicism. After being shipwrecked near Athens, Zeno arrived in the city and became familiar with the teachings of Socrates and other earlier philosophers. After studying with several masters, he began teaching in the Painted Portico (Stoa Poikilê in Greek), which gave the name to his school: “Stoicism” (from “Stoikos”, relating to the Portico).

2. Initial development:

  • Cleantes (c. 330-230 B.C.) and Chrysippus (c. 279-206 B.C.) were the direct successors of Zeno and contributed significantly to establishing and expanding Stoic teachings. Chrysippus, in particular, is known for his vast written work (although little has survived to the present day) and for consolidating logic, physics and ethics as the three pillars of Stoic thought.

Transition to Rome:

  • As Rome’s power grew and Greece began to decline, Stoicism found a new home in Rome. Philosophers such as Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater played a key role in this transition, bringing Stoic philosophy to the Roman world.

4. Stoicism in Rome:

  • In Rome, Stoicism was adopted and adapted by several prominent figures. The most notable include:
    • Seneca (c. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.): Advisor to Emperor Nero and prolific writer, Seneca left numerous essays and letters discussing Stoic ethics and practice.
    • Epictetus (c. 50-135 AD): Former slave who became an influential Stoic teacher. His “Enquiridion” and “Diatribes” are main sources of Stoic teaching.
    • Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD): Roman emperor and philosopher, he is known for his “Meditations,” a set of personal reflections on Stoic practice and the nature of life.

Throughout its evolution, Stoicism remained true to its central tenets, but each of these philosophers contributed his own interpretations and emphases. The result is a rich tradition that has influenced Western philosophy and remains relevant to this day.

Main teachings of Stoicism

Stoicism, a philosophical school that arose in ancient Greece and flourished in Rome, has been a source of wisdom and guidance for countless people over the centuries. Despite its antiquity, its teachings are still relevant and applicable in modern life. In the following, we will explore the main teachings of Stoicism and how they can enrich our existence.

1. Living in Accord with Nature

The Stoic motto “live according to nature” does not refer to a connection with the natural world, but rather to recognizing and living according to our own rational nature. It is a call to understand the laws of the universe and act coherently with them, cultivating virtue and wisdom.

2. Differentiating the Controllable from the Uncontrollable

One of the most well-known teachings of Stoicism is the differentiation between what is in our control (our actions, thoughts and emotions) and what is out of our control (external events, opinions of others). By focusing on what we can control and accepting what we cannot, we can achieve greater peace of mind.

3. Virtue is the Supreme Good

For the Stoics, virtue (excellence of character) is the highest good and the key to a fulfilled life. The four Stoic cardinal virtues are: wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. These must be cultivated and practiced independently of external rewards.

4. Negative Visualization (Praemeditatio Malorum)

Unlike the modern trend toward positive thinking, Stoics practice negative visualization: contemplating possible adversity or loss. This is not done to be pessimistic, but to prepare ourselves mentally, appreciate what we have and reduce the impact of possible emotional shocks.

5. Ataraxia or Mental Tranquility

Stoics seek ataraxia, a state of tranquility and peace of mind. By not allowing external circumstances to disturb our mind and focusing on cultivating virtue, we can approach this ideal state of serenity.

6. The Memento Mori

The phrase “memento mori,” meaning “remember that you will die,” is a stoic reminder of the ephemeral nature of life. This teaching urges us to live fully, to appreciate each moment and to act with purpose, knowing that our existence is finite.

7. Cosmopolitanism

Stoics consider all human beings as citizens of the same world, emphasizing interconnectedness and universal fraternity. This vision promotes empathy, understanding and a sense of global community.

Major Figures in Stoicism and Their Stories

Stoicism, one of the most influential and enduring philosophies in history, has been shaped and promulgated by a series of thinkers whose lives and writings have left an indelible mark on Western thought. Let’s explore the main figures of Stoicism and immerse ourselves in their fascinating stories.

Zeno of Citium (c. 334-262 B.C.)

History: Born in Citium, Cyprus, Zeno began his philosophical journey after a shipwreck in Athens. After studying with the Cynics and other philosophers, he founded his own school in the Painted Portico (Stoa Poikilê) in Athens, giving rise to the name “Stoicism”.

Contributions: Zeno laid the foundations of Stoic philosophy, focusing on living in accordance with nature and the importance of virtue as the supreme good.

2. Cleantes of Assos (c. 330-230 B.C.)

History: Cleantes, a native of Assos, spent part of his life as a boxer before becoming a disciple of Zeno and eventually his successor in the Stoa.

Contributions: He continued and expanded Zeno’s teachings, writing hymns on Stoic doctrine and defending its principles.

3. Chrysippus of Soli (c. 279-206 B.C.)

History: Chrysippus, a native of Soli (today in Turkey), was a prodigious mind, and it is said that he wrote more than 700 works, although unfortunately, very few have survived.

Contributions: Consolidated and systematized Stoicism, especially in logic and ethics. His work was so crucial that many said: “If it had not been for Chrysippus, there would have been no Stoa”.

4. Seneca (c. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.)

History: Born in Cordoba, Hispania, Seneca was both a statesman and a philosopher. He served as an advisor to Emperor Nero, a relationship that eventually led to his orderly death for alleged treason.

Contributions: Through his essays and letters, Seneca explored how to apply Stoic teachings in daily life, facing problems such as anger, death, and fortune.

5. Epictetus (c. 50-135 A.D.)

History: Born a slave in Hierapolis, Phrygia, Epictetus obtained his freedom and became a prominent Stoic teacher in Rome. Subsequently, he founded his own school in Nicopolis, Greece.

Contributions: His “Enquiridion” and “Diatribes” convey the foundations of his thought. Focused on differentiating what is in our control from what is not, he provided a practical manual for living according to stoicism.

6. Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.)

History: Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius is the personification of the “philosopher king”. He ruled the empire in a time of wars and plagues, and used philosophy as a guide.

Contributions: His “Meditations” are personal reflections on how to apply stoicism in life and leadership. These notes, originally written for himself, offer an intimate window into the mind of one of Rome’s most admired emperors.

Why the resurgence of Stoicism?

The resurgence of Stoicism today can be attributed to a number of factors that make this ancient philosophy relevant and attractive to people in the modern world:

  1. Seeking inner peace in tumultuous times: In a world characterized by rapid change, uncertainty and constant stress, people are looking for ways to find tranquility and calm in the midst of turbulence. Stoicism offers techniques and principles that enable people to cultivate a serene and resilient mind in the face of life’s challenges.
  2. Focus on self-transformation: Stoicism places great emphasis on self-development and self-improvement. At a time when many people are looking for ways to grow as individuals and reach their full potential, Stoic teachings on virtue, self-discipline and control of emotions are especially appealing.
  3. Resistance to consumerism and materialism: As more people realize that the relentless pursuit of material possessions does not necessarily lead to lasting happiness, they are looking for alternatives. Stoicism promotes material detachment and the importance of focusing on the essentials, which aligns with the trend towards a more minimalist and meaningful approach to life.
  4. Practical applicability: Unlike some abstract philosophies, Stoicism focuses on action and practical application. It offers concrete tips and techniques that people can implement in their daily lives to face emotional challenges, make wise decisions and cultivate healthy relationships.
  5. Search for meaning and purpose: In a world that is hyper-connected but often devoid of deep meaning, Stoic teachings on the importance of living according to virtue and purpose resonate with those seeking a more meaningful and authentic life.
  6. Focus on self-discipline: Stoicism promotes self-discipline as a means to achieve true freedom. In a world full of distractions and instant temptations, the ability to exercise control over one’s impulses and habits is a valuable attribute.
  7. Connection to modern psychology: Many Stoic concepts, such as the differentiation between what we can control and what we cannot, the importance of self-reflection and the management of emotions, align with the practices and techniques recommended by modern psychology to improve mental well-being.

Overall, the resurgence of Stoicism can be understood as a response to the challenges and aspirations of today’s society. This philosophy offers a practical and timeless approach to dealing with life’s ups and downs, finding deep meaning and developing a resilient mindset in an ever-changing world.

How to Incorporate Stoic Practices into Your Daily Life and Their Benefits

Stoicism is not only a theoretical philosophy, but a practical way of life. Throughout the centuries, his teachings have offered tangible tools to face the challenges of existence. But how can we incorporate these practices into modern life and what are their effects? Here we explain it to you.

Daily Practices of Stoicism

  1. Morning Meditation: Start the day reflecting on your goals and challenges. Ask yourself: What obstacles can I encounter today? How can I approach them with virtue and wisdom? This introspection prepares you to face the day with intentionality and purpose.
  2. Distinguish between the Controllable and the Uncontrollable: The essence of stoicism lies in recognizing the difference between what is under your control and what is not. When faced with adverse situations, remember that you cannot control external events, but you can control your response to them.
  3. Reflective Journaling: At the end of the day, take a moment to write and reflect on your actions, decisions and emotions. Did you act in accordance with your principles? Where could you have done better? This self-evaluation allows you to grow and learn from your experiences.
  4. Negative Visualization: Although it may sound contradictory, imagining unfavorable scenarios or losses can be beneficial. This practice, known as “premeditatio malorum”, helps you to value what you have and to be prepared for possible adversities.
  5. Practice of Ataraxia: Cultivates mental tranquility by avoiding disturbance by external events. Take moments to pause, breathe deeply and remember that true peace comes from within.

Effects of Living According to Stoicism

  1. Resilience: By understanding that challenges are natural and learning to face them with equanimity, you develop greater resilience in the face of adversity.
  2. Stress Reduction: When you stop worrying about what you can’t control, you experience a noticeable reduction in stress and anxiety.
  3. Mental Clarity: The practice of introspection and reflection promotes a clear and focused mind, allowing you to make more informed and deliberate decisions.
  4. Greater Appreciation: By regularly visualizing loss or change, you learn to appreciate more deeply what you have in the present.
  5. Personal Development: Constant self-evaluation allows you to recognize areas of growth and work on your personal improvement.

Austerity and Meditation in Stoicism: A Ramiro Calle Perspective

Ramiro Calle, a renowned yoga teacher and authority on Eastern philosophies, has explored throughout his life the confluence of diverse spiritual traditions. Although his primary focus has been on yoga and Indian traditions, he has pointed out on multiple occasions how certain teachings intertwine with Western traditions, such as Stoicism. Here we will explore the relationship between austerity, meditation and peace of mind, according to Ramiro Calle’s perspective, taking into account Stoic teachings.

Material Austerity

Stoicism and many Eastern traditions emphasize the importance of living simply and without excess. According to Ramiro Calle, material austerity is not a renunciation for the sake of renunciation, but a way of divesting oneself of the superfluous in order to focus on the essential.

  • Detachment from the Material: By reducing dependence on material possessions, we free ourselves from the anxieties and worries associated with them.
  • Simplicity: According to Calle, simplicity not only reduces distractions, but allows us to live more consciously and presently.

2. Mental Austerity

Austerity does not only refer to the material; it is equally crucial to cultivate an austere mind.

  • Reducing Distractions: In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with information. Ramiro Calle stresses the importance of reducing distractions in order to focus on self-knowledge.
  • Control of Desires: Like the Stoics, Calle suggests that by controlling and understanding our desires, we can achieve lasting peace of mind.

3. Meditation as a Tool for Self-Knowledge

Ramiro Calle, being an expert in meditation, emphasizes its importance in the path to self-realization and peace of mind.

  • Mindfulness: Meditation teaches us to be present, to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment. This practice aligns with stoic reflection and introspection.
  • Detachment: Through meditation, we learn not to identify with every thought or emotion that arises, similar to how the Stoics strove to remain equanimous in the face of external circumstances.

4. Convergence of Practices for Peace of Mind

The search for peace of mind is a recurring theme both in Stoicism and in Ramiro Calle’s teachings. Through austerity and meditation, we can reduce internal and external turbulences, finding clarity and serenity in our daily lives.

In conclusion, the resurgence of Stoicism as a philosophy of life in the modern world is due to a convergence of factors that make it especially relevant and attractive to people today. Despite having been conceived in ancient Greece and popularized in Rome, its principles and teachings have proven their durability and ability to adapt to contemporary challenges.

The search for tranquility in the midst of turbulent times, characterized by constant change, anxiety and overstimulation, has led many people to seek in stoicism a refuge of calm and control. Stoic philosophy provides practical tools to meet these challenges, allowing people to find a sense of balance in a chaotic environment.

In addition, the resonance of stoicism with modern trends such as minimalism and material detachment has been an important factor in its resurgence. Stoic philosophy advocates differentiating between the essential and the superfluous, which fits perfectly with the search for a more meaningful life that is less focused on the possession of material goods.

The practical applicability of Stoicism has also been a point in its favor. Unlike other abstract philosophies, Stoicism focuses on the daily implementation of its teachings through concrete exercises and reflections. This makes it a practical guide for improving daily life and developing emotional strength.

Likewise, the growing disenchantment with consumerism as a path to happiness has led many people to explore alternative philosophies that promote deeper and more sustainable well-being. Stoicism, by focusing on virtue, self-discipline and peace of mind, offers a path that differs from the materialistic approach prevalent in modern society.

In short, stoicism has experienced a renaissance in the current era because of its ability to provide guidance and stability in a world characterized by uncertainty, excessive consumerism and the constant search for meaning. His focus on self-transformation, wisdom and inner peace resonates deeply with the needs and aspirations of many people seeking a more meaningful and balanced path in contemporary life.

Ramiro Calle talks about Stoicism in this video, which you can watch in full here.

 

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