On the Porch with the Stoics: Discipline of Will
You’ve heard in the prior episodes about the first two disciplines that the Stoics practiced: the disciplines of perception and of action. Today, we hear about the third discipline–the discipline of will. Our clearest examples come from the trials and tribulations of war and great loss which we will hear about today. But we’ll learn that the crucible of war is not the only time to pull out this discipline from our old friends, the Stoics. It’s a daily practice. This discipline of will requires that we answer the question, “How do we govern ourselves in a world that isn’t always happy and fair? How do we reconcile the externals and internals–those things within our control and those things outside our control. This discipline is about our character and how we define ourselves.
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Quotes from today’s episode:
“…good and evil are not just abstractions you kick around and give lectures about and attribute to this person or that. The only good and evil that means anything is right in your own heart, within your will, within your power, when it’s up to you.“ –Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale
“Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give into adversity, never to trust prosperity and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything that is in her power.” –Marcus Aurelius
“Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.” –Epictetus
“Your three components: body, breath, mind. Two are yours in trust; to the third alone you have clear title.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 12:3
“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” –Seneca
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself all the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?'” –Seneca
“No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, ‘No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.'” –Marcus Aurelius
“…stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 10:16
Resources for today’s episode:
Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale’s Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in the Laboratory of Human Behavior. This naval pilot exemplifies a modern Stoics life, particularly in the crucible of great suffering. An excellent book!
Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (translated by Gregory Hays) — LOVE this! I can see why Bill Clinton reads this every year. It’s a joy to read. I am inspired by it! This particular edition flows beautifully. The introduction and notes that Gregory Hays includes in this publication are thorough without being highbrow.
Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic — This is the paperback version of this classic. And wow! Is it amazing! When you want to read the classics, choose the Penguin Classic version. That’s not me selling something, this is really very good. (The Modern Library editions are usually excellent, too.)
Epictetus’s Encheiridion (or simply, The Manual), translated by Thomas W. Higginson — This little book has played a disproportionately large role in the rise of modern attitudes and modern philosophy. And Thomas Higginson’s translation is beautifully rendered for the contemporary audience without losing the ancient’s wisdom and clarity.
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman — The Daily Stoic offers 366 days of Stoic insights and exercises, featuring all-new translations from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the playwright Seneca, or slave-turned-philosopher Epictetus, as well as lesser-known luminaries like Zeno, Cleanthes, and Musonius Rufus. Every day of the year you’ll find one of their pithy, powerful quotations, as well as historical anecdotes, provocative commentary, and a helpful glossary of Greek terms.
The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness, Epictetus and Sharon Lebell — This is Ms. Lebell’s modern-day interpretation of Epictetus’s Encheiridion. It is a great starting place for someone who doesn’t want to slog through anything remotely ancient. And that’s a bit unfortunate because this text doesn’t need any updating. It’s so thoroughly a classic, it almost transcends time.