Thursday, December 10, 2015

How Little

The fourth chapter of The Book of Life's Curriculum is on 'The Stoics'. One of of the cornerstones of what I look for in a philosophy on life is 'the ability to deal'. I think we all choose ways to fill the gaps in our understanding. To make sense in a world we don't have capacity to make sense of. The leaps, fudges, fakings and role playing lets us pretend to be confident. The beliefs help us think we have cracked the code. That the gaps are filled by something solid. What works for me is to try and find a philosophy that basically says I and we will be ok. That we are already ok. That helps you take the next step forward, whatever happens. I still think that our control is very limited to the moment in which we find ourselves. Sometimes our control is overwhelmed by the moments which lead us there, and we miss our chance.

The Stoics lend a solid foundation to that world view. If you imagine the 'Worst Case Scenario', it is often not nearly as bad as you think it is. It is one of the problems with woe is me moaning. It is very difficult to be self reflective. We can see the humour in other's complaints. How lucky they have it from a different perspective. It is very difficult to see how lucky you have it from your own perspective. The Stoics believed in something very similar to the Yogic practice of Tapas. A form of austerity or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Some take it to extremes, but the way it was described to me, Tapas should never do permanent damage. The point is to strengthen. Not to break. Much like the physical yoga exercises. Pain is never a good thing. A little positive stress is. A little harder. A little stronger.

We think in contrasts. If you are always fine dining or sleeping in an awesome bed, it won't feel fine or awesome. Michelin Star dining may have the same impact on you as Jungle Oats porridge. A First Class flight may be as forgetful as a daily commute on the London Underground. The Stoics suggested sleeping on the floor for a week a year, eating nothing but stale bread and water. I haven't done anything that extreme. My bed felt amazing after spending a week in a hostel though! Something as simple as making a cup of tea becomes a treasure.

One issue with Tapas I have is you can't claim that it helps you experience what it must be like for the people for whom that is not Tapas. The last World Bank estimate in 2012 suggests around 900 million people live at or below $1.90/day. I want to find out more about what that means practically. I can't wrap my head around the possibility. Particularly, what it must feel like if that isn't some philosophical exercise you are doing. If that is reality. Marcus Aurelius, one of the most famous stoics, said these exercise help you realise how little material stuff is needed to live a happy life. And that is the irony, even within the most extremely impoverished situations, there are bursts of energy, strength and resilience that inspire profound admiration.

I found this book on Kindle... still to read
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