Perception

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The Daily Stoic: January 12, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Epictetus, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: The One Path to Serenity
  • Stoic: Epictetus

Today's quote:

Keep this thought at the ready at daybreak, and through the day and night - there is only one path to happiness, and that is in giving up all outside of your sphere of choice, regarding nothing else as your possession, surrendering all else to God and Fortune.

- Discourses, 4.4.39

What is outside of our control is outside of our control - but it is not outside of God's control. Any time we find ourselves susceptible to anxiety or fear, we should meditate on this point: God is in control. "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4) Keep this thought at the ready, and make it a conscious effort when needed. "May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

Therefore, do not be consumed by anxiety over things outside of your control. Trust in God to see you through, and to give you peace about your circumstances. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

The Daily Stoic: January 11, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Epictetus, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: If You Want to be Unsteady
  • Stoic: Epictetus

Today's quote:

For if a person shifts their caution to their own reasoned choices and the acts of those choices, they will at the same time gain the will to avoid, but if they shift their caution away from their own reasoned choices to things not under their control, seeking to avoid what is controlled by others, they will then be agitated, fearful, and unstable.

- Discourses, 2.1.12

We cannot find serenity by hiding from the world and its tribulations. As Christians, we are called to go into the world, to preach the gospel, and to be the body of Christ in the world - indeed, not to be of the world, yet to be in the world.

The stoics were not recluses as we might imagine a monk or a Zen Buddhist. They were fully participants in the world, engaged with the world - and in that context, grappled with how to live virtuously. The same is true of the early church. In fact, the Apostle Paul met with the Stoics in Athens, and debated with them in the Areopagus (Acts 17).

What I find interesting about this passage is that Paul - who very well may have been influenced by Stoic philosophy and who at least echoed some tenets of Stoic philosophy in his epistles - articulates some of the fundamental differences between Christian belief and Stoic philosophy in his debate at the Areopagus. One of the primary differences is that the Stoics were not inherently theistic; the philosophy is more agnostic, equally attributing the influence/control of fate, luck, nature, or God. The main point of Paul's debate is that God exists, has made Himself known to the world, and has revealed Himself as the basis for virtue.

As the Stoics taught, we cannot live the life we are intended by avoiding the world. Christians today must be in the world, which means we, too, must grapple with how to live virtuously, without avoiding the evils and temptations of the world. "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." (John 17:14-18)

The Daily Stoic: January 10, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Epictetus, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: If You Want to be Steady
  • Stoic: Epictetus

Today's quote:

The essence of good is a certain kind of reasoned choice; just as the essence of evil is another kind. What about externals, then? They are only the raw material for our reasoned choice, which finds its own good or evil in working with them. How will it find the good? Not by marveling at the material! For if judgments about the material are straight that makes our choices good, but if those judgments are twisted, our choices turn bad.

- Discourses, 1.29.1-3

The stoics considered good and bad to be attributes only of one's internal thoughts, choices, and actions - regardless of any benevolent or ill intent of external forces that lead to our exercise of internal control. To the stoics, assessing thoughts, choices, and actions as either good or bad was based on the application of reason and judgment to our reaction to those external forces, with the objective of achieving, as The Daily Stoic describes, "steadiness, stability, and tranquility."

As Christians, our reason and judgment are informed by the word of God, by our understanding of the nature of God, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. "Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you." (Psalm 119:89-91) "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." (Psalm 119:105) "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16-17) "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth... But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:16-17, 26)

Thus, we find steadiness, stability, and tranquility in a world full of anything but, by standing firm in our faith - an active choice and conscious response, based on reason and judgment, to the external forces over which we have no control.

 

The Daily Stoic: January 9, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Epictetus, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: What We Control and What We Don't
  • Stoic: Epictetus

Today's quote:

Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don't control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more , the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.

- Enchiridion, 1.1-2

Here, Epictetus echoes sentiments from Discourses, that we considered on January 1st, about differentiating between what is within and what is outside of our control. Beyond our own thoughts, choices, and actions, everything else is really outside of our control.

Our bodies? We may gain greater and greater understanding of biology, chemistry, and physiology - understanding that enables us to make better decisions about care for our bodies, as well as diagnosis and treatment for disorders and diseases of our bodies. But we have no direct control over the cells, hormonal, metabolic, genetic, or other processes of our bodies.

Even so, as Christians, we must strive to be good stewards, even masters, of our own bodies. "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (I Corinthians 6:19-20) "Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (I Corinthians 9:26-27)

Property? Homes can be lost to natural disasters, accidents, even taxes. Automobiles and material possessions can be lost to accidents, theft, and age/deterioration. Wealth can be lost to economic downturns or changes to economic policy.

As Christians, we know that our ultimate wealth and possessions are not earthly. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

Reputation? We certainly contribute to our reputation, but in the end, we cannot control the perceptions or opinions of others.

As Christians, we are instructed to act in ways that contribute to positive reputation. "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." (Proverbs 22:1) We also understand that it is only our reputation before God that truly matters. "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”" (I Samuel 16:7) "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." (Acts 24:16) "May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

As Christians, we understand that, ultimately, God is in control. "Be still, and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46:10) This understanding informs our assent regarding those things that we cannot control. Regardless of what happens to us in this life - everything that is outside of our control - our ultimate hope is in Him. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (I Peter 1:3-7)

The Daily Stoic: January 8, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Perception, Seneca

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Seeing Our Addictions
  • Stoic: Seneca

Today's quote:

We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can't stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable.

- Moral Letters, 74.12b-13

I've always liked coffee, even from a young age, when I would sip the cold, next-morning leftovers from my dad's night-before evening black coffee. But I really developed my love of coffee in college, thanks to a dear friend (in memory of whom I still occasionally have coffee with Kahlua) and a subscription to Gevalia (their Royal Vintner Kaffe became part of our family Christmas tradition for several years).

By the time I graduated and was working my first job out of college, I was easily drinking a pot - 10 cups - a day. I've never particularly been a caffeine fiend; I stopped drinking soft drinks early in high school (I started drinking primarily water, due to tennis and marching band). Even so, that much daily caffeine consumption can and will cause a physiological, chemical dependency - as I found out, when I realized that not getting my daily caffeine intake started causing migraine headaches.

That was the moment that I decided to start implementing regular coffee fasts, to break myself of that chemical dependency. (Side note: a cold-turkey caffeine fast is not recommended, unless you want to spend two days in a dark room, avoiding all sound and light and maxing out NSAID daily dosages. Spend a few days - or a couple weeks - tapering down daily caffeine intake.) I decided to make February my annual "coffee fast" month. I'm sure my liver appreciated the break, but the intent was more mental than physical: in principle, I did not want to be chemically dependent on anything. Now, I simply keep my regular coffee intake at 2 - 4 cups per day, well-below the level that would cause a chemical dependency/withdrawal symptoms.

Addictions, and their adverse impacts, can come in other forms. In our connected, mobile-device culture, cell phone notifications have become addictive, leveraging the same neural circuitry as cocaine and slot machines, and causing hallucinations in the form of phantom vibrations. Cell phone notifications literally cause a dopamine response in the brain. That, combined with a 24/7 news culture designed to keep stress levels elevated and a social media culture that encourages interactions that lack social norms for filtering of thoughts and attitudes (i.e. keyboard warrior syndrome) and the allure of "doom-scrolling" that keeps us focused on the worst sociopolitical aspects of society, has led to a pandemic of social media-related depression among teens (and, I suspect, adults as well).

Just as the types of fat we consume in our diet become the building blocks for the cells in our body - we literally are what we eat - in a mental sense also, we are what we consume, and what we focus our thoughts on. This is a biblical principle. "For as he thinks within himself, so he is..." (Proverbs 23:7 NASB) "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness." (Luke 11:34-35)

As Christians, we understand that addictions - whatever their nature - distract and draw us away from our relationship with God. "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) "“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything." (I Corinthians 6:12)

So how do we overcome these types of addictions, particularly addictions of the mind? By mastering our thoughts, in turn by controlling that which we choose to consume (see, hear, etc.) and talk about. "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2) "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." (Romans 8:5) "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

The Daily Stoic: January 7,2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Epictetus, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Seven Clear Functions of the Mind
  • Stoic: Epictetus

Today's quote:

The proper work of the mind is the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent. What then can pollute and clog the mind's proper functioning? Nothing but its own corrupt decisions.

- Discourses, 4.11.6-7

The stoics believed that the mind should be applied for the following functions (as elaborated by The Daily Stoic) - functions that all align with biblical principles:

  • Choice (to do and think right) - choice between right and wrong, of thought and decision to act:
    • "Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:8)
    • "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17)
    • "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Romans 8:5-6)
    • "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Refusal (of temptation) - with respect to passion and vice:
    • "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)
    • "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever." (I John 2:15-17)
    • "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:24)
    • "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • Yearning (to be better) - with respect to reason and virtue:
    • "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." (I Corinthians 13:11)
    • "See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done." (II Corinthians 7:11)
    • "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
    • "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2)
    • "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
  • Repulsion (of negativity, of bad influences, of what isn't true):
    • "Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (I Timothy 6:9-10)
    • "He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”" (Mark 7:20-23)
  • Preparation (for what lies ahead or whatever may happen):
    • "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty." (Proverbs 22:3)
    • "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Matthew 24:42-44)
    • "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (I Peter 3:15a)
  • Purpose (our guiding principle and highest priority):
    • "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)
    • "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." (I Timothy 6:17-19)
  • Assent (to be free of deception about what's inside and outside our control - and to be ready to accept the latter):
    • "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience." (Romans 13:1-5)
    • "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”" (I Peter 3:13-14)
    • "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)
    • "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body." (II Corinthians 4:8-11)
    • "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." (II Corinthians 6:4-10)

The fundamental difference for Christians, I think, is the dichotomy we recognize between our inherent, sinful nature and our renewed spirit in Christ. As Paul laments: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:14-25)

The Daily Stoic: January 6, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Where, Who, What, and Why
  • Stoic: Marcus Aurelius

Today's quote:

A person who doesn't know what the universe is, doesn't know where they are. A person who doesn't know their purpose in life doesn't know who they are or what the universe is. A person who doesn't know any one of these things doesn't know why they are here. So what to make of people who seek or avoid the praise of those who have no knowledge of where or who they are?

- Meditations, 8.2

In Marcus Aurelius' description here, I get the sense of a person utterly adrift, not knowing who he is, where he is, or why he is there. Tragically, this is how many go through life, whether because they never understand or accept the inherent need to understand their place in the world, or perhaps worse, because they seek out those answers but never find them.

There are two admonitions in this meditation: one, as discussed by The Daily Stoic, that we should endeavor not to be such a person; and two, that seeking the praise (or wisdom, advice, or knowledge) of such people is little more than the proverbial blind leading the blind.

Thankfully, as Christians, we have the answers to these questions. We know what the universe is, where it came from, who created it, and why it was created. We know where we are in the universe. We know our purpose - why we are here.

Do not expect the world to understand, much less accept, the wisdom of God and our certainty in it. What Paul said to the church in Corinth is still true today, 2,000 years later: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (I Corinthians 1:18-21)

The Daily Stoic: January 5, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Perception, Seneca

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Clarify Your Intentions
  • Stoic: Seneca

Today's quote:

Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view. It's not activity that disturbs people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad.

- On Tranquility of Mind, 12.5

I tend to be a rather deliberate person. Rarely will I make an arbitrary decision or take an arbitrary action; everything I do has a purpose. Yes; this attribute can be maddening to others, to whom it evinces anal retentiveness (perhaps only a few degrees separated from OCD, depending on whom you ask). But to me, it merely means that I am always acting toward some objective or goal - however big or small it may be. I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in junior high, and started reading books on fatherhood and leadership around the same time.

I don't consider myself to be a particularly driven person, at least insofar as such drive is conventionally understood, toward wealth, fame, etc. I would like to think that my goals are more closely aligned with my own sphere of influence and with God's purpose for my life. Being remembered as a loving husband and father who loved God, worked hard, and provided well for his family will be more than enough of an epitaph for me.

That said, I do think that we are called to live life with purpose. Indeed, one of the 7 Habits, as referenced by The Daily Stoic, is "begin with the end in mind." As Robin Williams so memorably encourages his students in Dead Poets Society, referencing Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
  Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
  Tomorrow will be dying

The Dead Poets, of which Mr. Keating was a member while a student at Welton, took Henry David Thoreau's introduction to Walden as their mantra (and literal calling to go into the woods) to live deliberately: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life..."

The stoics called this concept - the end or goal of stoic ethics - eudaimonia, roughly translated as "happiness" or "flourishing", and by which they meant "living in harmony with nature" through living a morally virtuous life.

To quote Mr. Keating: "The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem... seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines? ...Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die."

Morbid? Perhaps. But also biblical: "A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2) "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27)

What was Mr. Keating's point? "Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary."

As Christians, we are called to seize the day, to make the most of our opportunities, and to live life to the fullest in the furtherance of the kingdom of God. "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." (Proverbs 27:1) "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34) "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity..." (Ephesians 5:15-16) "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14) "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (I Corinthians 9:24-27)

The Daily Stoic: January 4, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: The Big Three
  • Stoic: Marcus Aurelius

Today's quote:

All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.

- Meditations, 9.6

Today's quote and reading introduce the three Disciplines of stoic philosophy: Perception, Action, and Will.

In stoic philosophy, the discipline of perception, also referred to as mindfulness or assent, correlates to the field of logic (derived from logic, reason, rhetoric, and truth) and is expressed through the virtues of courage and temperance. The stoics taught that we must control our perceptions - to live in harmony with our nature as rational beings, and in accord with reason and truth in thoughts and speech. This principle may be described as prosochê: attention to the faculty of our own minds, withholding our assent so as not to get carried away by irrational and unhealthy passions and vices.

From a biblical perspective, we are called to the same discipline. As Paul instructs the church as Ephesus: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:29-32) And as Paul encourages the church at Philippi: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

In stoic philosophy, the discipline of action, also referred to as philanthropy, correlates to the field of ethics (derived from our understanding of what is morally good, bad, and indifferent) and is expressed through the virtue of justice. The stoics taught that we must direct our actions properly - that they should be taken with hupexairesis (fate permitting or God willing), with koinônikai (for the common welfare), and with kat’ axian (in accord with value). This principle may be described as "love of mankind."

From a biblical perspective, we are called to the same discipline. "Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”" (Matthew 22:37-40) "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:16-18)

In stoic philosophy, the discipline of will, also referred to as acceptance or desire, correlates to the field of physics (derived from our understanding of the laws of Nature - natural science, metaphysics, and theology) and is expressed through the virtue of wisdom. The stoics taught that we must willingly accept that which is outside of our control. The principle may be described as amor fati: the love of one's fate.

From a biblical perspective, we are called to the same discipline. "“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”" (Jeremiah 29:11) "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34) "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7) "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)

As Christians, we know that our ultimate happiness (the stoic concept of eudaimonia) is a matter of eternity. Because of this understanding, we can accept with hope and grace whatever earthly fate befalls us. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

The Daily Stoic: January 3, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Perception, Seneca

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Be Ruthless to the Things That Don't Matter
  • Stoic: Seneca

Today's quote:

How many have laid waste to your life when you weren't aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire, and social amusements - how little of your own was left to you. You will realize you are dying before your time!

- On the Brevity of Life, 3.3b

There is incredible power in the word "No" - especially in making the most of the finite time we have available each day, each week, each year, and in our lifetime. Modern society makes much of - or at least, pays lip service to - work-life balance; but even aside from that balance, what of our choices in how we spend our time away from work? And what about the thoughts and emotions that occupy our minds at work, at home, and even while we sleep?

As we have already contemplated, 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have given us ample opportunity to be consumed by such thoughts and emotions - even as many find themselves less "busy" in terms of physical activity. As a result, we cannot find peace, calm - serenity.

There is a difference between appropriate concern for the things for which we are responsible and worry. The latter not only can become a time thief by consuming our thoughts, but for Christians can be seen as a lack of faith in God who has promised to provide: "So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:31-34)

And anxiety and worry are only the beginning. Other passions can consume us, especially in our current, social media-driven culture. As Paul instructs the church as Colossae: "But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (Colossians 3:8)

So then, what should consume our thoughts?  "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2) Further: "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15)

As Paul encourages the church at Philippi: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

Peace of mind and an attitude of gratitude, then, are a conscious choice - a choice that is entirely under our own control, a choice that frees us from thoughts and emotions that would consume our finite time, and a choice that helps us truly live the life we are intended.