Stoic Practice vs. Christianity

“No person is free who is not a master of himself.”

This quote is usually attributed to Epictetus, but found in works attributed to Pythagoras, and stated as: “None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions.”

—As quoted in Florilegium, XVIII, 23, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p.368

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.”

—MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 7.61

I often see Christians projecting their beliefs on Stoicism, let us compare them and be clear how these world views differ and overlap. I practice Stoicism and like to associate with others doing so, ancient and modern. There seems to be a tendency toward atheism these days among Stoics. Ancient Stoicism had the concept of Logos which represented a God figure, Zeus, but this concept was not defined by a personal relationship, as it is in Christianity. Zeus represented nature. I am not debating those differences between Stoics in this little essay. Disclaimer, I have no interest in Jesus or Christianity, beyond studying their historical impacts. I grew up as an evangelical Christian. I find the Stoic spiritual practices of ethics and virtue to live the best life, far superior to belief and faith in things unseen. Stoics help themselves using their reason and will.

Stoicism and Christianity are both concerned with how best to live, but Christians feel this life is a shadow of a life to come. The Stoics didn’t talk much about an afterlife and were agnostic about what, if anything lies beyond death. For the Stoics, what matters isn’t so much what may or may not happen after death, but how we make best use of the time we have now. This is one of the main reasons I practice Stoicism and not a religion idolizing people or worshipping a god beyond nature or the life we know now.

I do not agree with the Christian world view on original sin and death, which is why I practice Stoicism and not the Christian or any other religion. Stoics are focused on the life we have, not one to come. The Stoics viewed death as natural, a return to Nature. The Stoics believed that life should be lead through actions rather than words. I concur. What we do matters to us. The Stoics provide practices to help you control your reactions to thinking and difficult physical circumstances now, which is the only thing in your control.

Discourses Book 1.1 “About things that are within our power and those that are not.”

Epictetus speaks for Zeus/Nature, from Discourses,

“…I’ve given you a certain portion of myself, this faculty of motivation to act and not to act…the power to make proper use of impressions.”

—Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, translated by Robin Hard, Book 1.1.12

Stoicism is an Ancient Greek philosophy formed in Athens while the Greek world was in chaos after the death of Alexander the Great. Zeno of Citium founded the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BC. Stoicism is based on the moral ideas of the Cynics. Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of virtue in accordance with nature.

“Now, If virtue promises to enable us to achieve happiness, freedom from passion, and serenity, then progress towards virtue is surely also progress towards each of the states.”

—Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, translated by Robin Hard, Book 1.4.3

(Epictetus does seem to often have a personal view of the divine as related by Arrian in Discourses.)

The Greek term for word is Logos. Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, used Logos (the word) to explain what he saw as the universal force of reason that governed everything. He said all things happen according to the Logos. This belief became the foundation of Stoicism. Greek speaking Jews came to view the Logos as a force sent by God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as the Word, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; he is the driving force sent by God.

Modern day Christianity has a splintered past and is practiced differently between the Protestants and Catholic Church. Eastern Christianity is often thought closer to the original church that formed after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. I would argue that the Pauline Gospel is the foundation for the modern Western church more than other competing strains of early Christianity. This form of Christianity developed from the beliefs and doctrines espoused by the Hellenistic-Jewish Apostle Paul through his writings in the New Testament. These are muddy waters.

According to Christianity, it is only through Jesus of Nazareth that people can achieve eternal salvation. Humans save themselves through grace instead works, while the forgiveness of sins comes by faith alone.

I do not concur due to my experience. I take no one’s word as final on life and death. I am living this life now. Christian belief to me is a tyranny and not well reasoned or aligned with natural life and death. There are no similar concepts in Stoicism, where what you do is its own reward or punishment now, in the moment. We practice to be ready to act with reason and not be overwhelmed by emotions or fear.

Stoicism and Christianity are both monotheistic. Stoicism follows Heraclitus and believes in one Logos; Christianity follows Jesus, and requires followers to believe in the one true God and have no other gods before him [her]. Additionally, both Stoicism and Christianity serve the will of the Logos/God. They teach we can liberate ourselves from fear and anxiety by submitting to the will of the Divine.

In Christianity, the Word (Logos) was made flesh and dwelt among us. In Christianity, a relationship with the Logos is much more personal.

“The Stoics also referred to the seminal logos (“logos spermatikos”), or the law of generation in the Universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos. The Stoics took all activity to imply a logos or spiritual principle.” — https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logos#Stoics

“The Stoics often identified the universe and God with Zeus, as the ruler and upholder, and at the same time the law, of the universe. The Stoic God is not a transcendent omniscient being standing outside nature, but rather it is immanent—the divine element is immersed in nature itself.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoic_physics#God

“The Stoics [defined] free will as a voluntary accommodation to what is in any case inevitable. According to this theory, man is like a dog tied to a moving wagon. If the dog refuses to run along with the wagon he will be dragged by it, yet the choice remains his: to run or be dragged. In the same way, humans are responsible for their choices and actions, even though these have been anticipated by the logos and form part of its plan.”

—(xix-xx) Gregory Hays

Another big difference between the two worldviews is Christians ask God for help, while the Stoics seek help from within. Through prayer, Christians ask to be released from suffering, healed when sick, and comforted in sorrow. By contrast, Stoicism tells us that if we want any good, we need to get it from ourselves. No spirit will relieve us from our pains.

Stoicism and Christianity have competing views about human nature as well. For the Stoics, nature has instilled people with the capacity to reason, which we can exercise to live out virtuous, dutiful lives. Christians, on the other hand, believe people are born with original sin, which has corrupted our internal moral compass. While it is possible to better ourselves by using reason, it is only by the grace of God that people are improved and saved.

This was just a high level survey of some of the differences between Stoicism and Christianity. I have nothing against Christians or anyone practicing Stoicism. The historical Jesus was not a Stoic as far as we know. We practice Stoicism here to live the best we can in a chaotic world beyond our control, bounded by birth and death. I’d argue Stoicism is about being the best Human Being we can be here now. We should not hold dogmatically to the ancient Stoics or cultural beliefs in my personal view. Epictetus said roughly the same. I think discussing these and other worldviews is beneficial if you can keep an open mind. But the words are just pointers to how to choose the best action any given moment.

“Such is the law that God has laid down, saying, ‘If you want anything good, you must get it from yourself.’”

—Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, translated by Robin Hard, Book 1.29.4

Embrace the Mystery

I am no theist or deist.

I embrace all religions, as Walt Whitman did.

Today if one rises and says 2 + 2 = 5 and repeats it enough, others will believe them and you have a new religion.

In a cosmos of mystery, anyone offering assurance, is raised up as a false god.

No other or thing can be your god.

This is what trump did.

I can offer you no assurance of anything.

I can’t even tell you what death is.

So how can I tell you what birth is?

We only have impressions.

If you can let your dogmas and beliefs go, you can read any book, sit in any church and appreciate the emotional expressions.

Epictetus said: “What is good enough for the universe, is good enough for me!”

I concur.

My church is all of this.

We do not have reasons or logic to explain things, we only have impressions, visions.

To have a clear mind is a great benefit in this wayward lost world humanity has created.

To be free of theories and suspicions and conspiracies allows one to live the best life they can.

To make calls to a savior or god or priest or portal or princess or president is dishonest and dastardly and stupid and wrong.

One should ignore fools spitting this or that truism or morality or theory or belief or god.

We all just have sense impressions.

Yours are no more or less valid than mine.

Your conclusions are, for I have none.

To claim some absolute truth is nonsense.

I only report my impressions of life.

That is all anyone can do.

There is no system, there simply is what is.

What we see is superior to what we reason about.

What establishes itself in the age and in the heart is the only real logic and the only real verification anyone has.

Do you accept the universe and all that is in it?

This is the most important question I feel.

We take it all in.

Some can see farther and deeper than others.

Listen maybe to these more than the logicians and reasoners.

They do not know.

They live apart from this.

But I am of this and I know myself and thus know this.

No one can claim or explain absolute beginnings or endings.

These are children and fools doing so.

They should know better than to draw such conclusions.

I do not disdain life, I love this and am optimistic about this, based on my experience of life.

Realizing only my mind made this world and life and death a hell was freedom.

Evolution no more clears up our beginnings and endings than any philosophy or religion does.

There is no demiurge or apocalypse in my mind.

There are no angels or demons tearing me apart.

Far from it.

These are the rantings of those lost in imagination.

There are no serpents or lizards or conspiracies against you.

Those are concepts that create a hell and tyranny in our minds.

Do not resist these concepts, simply let them pass through you.

People hurting others know no better.

They only hurt themselves.

And their punishment is felt in themselves, you know this from experience, just as kindness and virtue and character are their own reward.

You will not be rewarded in the sky by a god.

Or punished in a hell later for what you do now.

You punish or reward yourself through your actions.

Let all of this pass through you and notice what is happening.

It is foolish to deny the substance and feeling of life.

That is the ground of our being.

We have imagined so much that we have lost our way.

Come back

Come back

Come back

Mystery is not the denial of reason, but its honest confirmation.

Reason leads to mystery.

If you have not this sense of things, you are lost in your mind.

Come back

Come back

Come back

Mystery is not superstition.

Mystery and reality are two halves of the same sphere.

If you have lost the mystery of life, I am sorry for you.

You nor anyone alive knows Jesus or any from the past.

We are here now.

I can’t tell you who they were.

We only have manipulated stories.

Let fixed positions and stories and myths and facts pass through you.

Let prophecies pass through you.

Let dogmatism pass through you.

Let the lies pass through you.

Grab nothing.

Those who hate others, hate themselves most.

Let easy answers and conditioning pass through you.

Mystery is on the other side of this.

Wondrous mystery.

There you will find your joy.

There you will find your greatness and beauty.

Your fate is yours, as your will is yours.

I claim all as my religion, nothing need be excluded.

The universe is more than enough for me.

I need nothing more.

To shun others, is to shun yourself.

To silence others, is to silence yourself.

I am not irreligious or an infidel.

I am deeply connected to my being, or I couldn’t write like this.

It is all meaningful and all beautiful.

Hell exists in the imagined distance one maintains from this.

Most live in their own imagined hell.

You will never talk anyone out of their own hell.

You can only find your own way out of it.

I am not traditionally religious, no.

My religion is being a human being in the cosmos, a mystery.

I need add nothing nor take away anything from this.

There is no conflict here.

We end, where we began.

So enjoy the ride.

I have nothing to argue with anyone.

Their view is their own.

It is easy to beat a believer and prophet with the mystery of the present.

It is easy to beat a materialist and eschatologist.

I can beat them with a look.

I bend into shapes they could not imagine.

Let artificial positions and conclusions pass through you.

Nothing imagined can beat what is.

To know thyself is to know the mystery.

It is a koan, we can’t penetrate the mystery, but only acknowledge it exists.

The best words and actions cancel themselves out and simply leave what is right before you.

The best words show you, your identity is make believe.

There is no mine or yours.

There are no borders to defend.

I have no one name, all names are mine.

The cosmos = zero.

Sometimes you’re up, sometimes down.

But it all ends in zero.

Energy can’t be destroyed or created.

So what happens when you die?

Here is what I think, speaking for myself, which is no self really.

The self is the imagined problem.

That’s the whole problem with all of this, right there.

That word, self.

That is not a word, that is not right, that isn’t.

How did we forget this?

The body stops a cell at a time.

But the brain keeps firing those neurons.

We don’t really feel any of this.

We are too busy in the moment to remember.

Every atom in my body was forged in a star.

This matter and body is mostly just empty space.

This energy that appears as me is just energy vibrating very slowly.

There never was a me.

Electrons in my body mingle and dance with those in the ground and in the air around me.

We are no longer breathing when we die.

Then we remember there is no point where any of that ends and I begin.

This is dying before dying.

This is the only way to remember.

I remember I am energy, not memory or self.

Everything I feel I am, came after me.

I was before them and will be after.

Everything else are pictures that rose up in imaginary time.

We are knots of space-time.

We have a sword, a sharp one that one can cut through the knot when you are ready.

I am the lightening that ties all the pictures together.

I am returning home.

A drop falling back into the ocean.

All of this is one.

The cosmos and its infinite dreams.

We are the cosmos dreaming of itself, thinking we are selves.

Thinking and dreaming, the same.

We forget our dreams so easily.

But when I remember, there is no time or death, life is a wish made again and again.

I am that I am.

Good luck with your stories, and myths and conspiracies.

None of that will remain.

You and all of this is but a dream, here and gone.

Take solace in this.

Relax into this.

Then you will know real peace.

Epictetus on Philosophy as a Way of Life

“No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

—Epictetus – Discourses  – Book I, ch. 15.

See http://classics.mit.edu/Browse/browse-Epictetus.html

As I have practiced stoicism, what I find online is often superficial and analytical and unsourced. Pierre Hadot is an exception with his books “The Inner Citadel” and “Philosophy as a Way of Life.” He presents the stoic spiritual practices that must be practiced to benefit from.

I have noticed a trend in the modern stoics relying heavily on written commentary and readings and not a lot of talk on practical application. Many argue esoteric points missing the heart of Epictetus in my opinion.

Books are good weights, but not the real thing.

“Epictetus’s chief concerns are with integrity, self-management, and personal freedom, which he advocates by demanding of his students a thorough examination of two central ideas, the capacity he terms ‘volition’ (prohairesis) and the correct use of impressions (chrēsis tōn phantasiōn), Heartfelt and satirical by turns, Epictetus has had significant influence on the popular moralistic tradition, but he is more than a moralizer; his lucid resystematization and challenging application of Stoic ethics qualify him as an important philosopher in his own right.”

—From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epictetus/

Thus it is very difficult to discuss these topics online without coming off as a moralizer of your own viewpoints when no one can see the application of said practices in your life.

Should we then say nothing online? Perhaps. But there is benefit in discussing and wrestling and pointing to the gold imho, but these dialogues are no substitute for practice and application.

I, as all of you, am a work of art in progress.

Epictetus spoke from the heart and was funny, not just in his mind. His philosophy was lived and practical.

You have to attain on your own. We can’t just moralize our viewpoints to others. Around normal folks not versed in these practices, example is the best teacher.

The below from “A SELECTION FROM THE DISCOURSES OF EPICTETUS WITH THE ENCHEIRIDION”

https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10661/pg10661-images.html

LII.

In every thing (circumstance) we should hold these maxims ready to hand:

Lead me, O Zeus, and thou O Destiny,
The way that I am bid by you to go:
To follow I am ready. If I choose not,
I make myself a wretch, and still must follow.

But whoso nobly yields unto necessity,
We hold him wise, and skill’d in things divine.

And the third also: O Crito, if so it pleases the gods, so let it be; Anytus and Melitus are able indeed to kill me, but they cannot harm me.

Vision and Power

The Destiny of a Human Being is to confront fear.

You have everything you need to do so.

Two are made one within you.

Wander and seek until you find, then rest.

I can tell you from experience, this is the way.

The way of no way.

Once you know the I AM as you, you will go beyond the I AM into the Absolute, where all is then available to you.

I had to face the worst and most evil in myself and in my family.

I had to expel my hatred and anger.

It was the hardest thing I have had to do.

Enacting your will is the only thing that grants you power.

When you have come to the beginning, you will come to the end.

“The life of a person is a circle.
From childhood to childhood.
So it is with everything where power moves.
When a vision comes from the Thunder beings of the west,
it comes with terror, like a Thunderstorm.
But when the storm of the vision has passed,
the world is greener and happier.
For wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain.
The world you see is happier after the terror of the storm.
It is not enough to have a vision. In order to have its power,
you must enact your vision on earth for all to see.

Only then do you have the power.”

–Black Elk on his Vision Quest

Only then.

I AM a Human Being

Not that anyone asked or needs to know, but know who you are reading.

A human being.

“I will govern my life and thoughts as if the whole world were to see the one and read the other, for what does it signify to make anything a secret to my neighbor, when to God, who is the searcher of our hearts, all our privacies are open?”

—Seneca the Younger

I am no nihilist.

I am no atheist.

I am no agnostic.

I am no believer.

I am no mystic.

I am no Angel.

I am no spy.

I am no Demon.

I am a human being.

I move swiftly, like 💨 and 🔥

Seneca the Younger spoke against the folk religion of the common people. But he had a deep sense of the invisible mover of our Will, God. Choose your name. Let us call it the original human religion.

I do not deny the invisible hand in my life, truly, I credit it with creating my will and body. I do not preach about this god. I reflect on the beauty of it in my life. I cannot teach this god. I cannot reveal this god to you. I cannot name it, nor do I claim it. Nor do I feel myself more special than any other. But I know this as I know my breath. Both mysterious in a way and profoundly beautiful. I am not so arrogant to imagine myself god’s special creation. This is all special and wonderful and beautiful and the ugly is beautiful too in a way. God itself can correct me through my clear burning Will, but no human could.

To know your Will, is to know the face of God.

I practice the first and only true religion.

It has no prophecies.

It has no priests or priestesses.

Zeus himself showed me.

Being a Human Being.

Be a Great Engineer, Be a Great Human Being

I support a team of highly effective engineers.

We build great things.

I build high performing teams.

I don’t lead them. 

I don’t teach them.

I demonstrate how to be great.

Because I know what is great inside of me. 

And I call this forth in them. 

Be great!

I have been having a little debate on my team with some of the younger engineers. I like to wrestle with them. I enjoy a good wrestling match. They get me down on the mat sometimes, but they can’t pin me, yet. Well, old goats 

🐐

 know a trick or two to make up for being so dumb and stubborn. 

When I wrestle, both win. I don’t try to beat my opponent. I want to share a superpower that will make a good engineer great and give you an advantage over 99% of the folks working today. I know this to be a fact, as I have lived it and from experience, I can tell you the theme in the below article works. 

A great engineer is not the most intelligent or highest paid, they are the ones who get the most done in a clutch, exerting the best amount of energy, for maximum effect. It ain’t always pretty or evident who is holding things up on their shoulders. No one may notice your contribution, but you know. That’s why you don’t have to work 80 hours a week to be great. If you work that way, you will be the worst actually. 

Until you have honed this superpower, it will feel counterintuitive and strange exercising it. Give this a chance maybe. We are not independent minds and contributors, we are a team, a network.

A great team is not a higharchy, it’s more like a self organizing mesh network, look it up. https://lnkd.in/gaJs8_5z The node that makes the most connections, is the best. You extend the network one node at a time. You can have a full or partial network. One big benefit is a node doesn’t need the strongest 

💪

 signal to talk to a central station, it needs just enough to send info to the nearest nodes. When the nodes are connected optimally, you get a much more consistent, even speed across the network. Because a mesh network provides multiple possible paths for transferring data from point A to point B, the network will preferentially use the fastest most efficient path. But if that path becomes blocked or congested for some reason, alternate paths can be and are used instead.

Thus, a team is only as good as its connections between its members. This superpower will help you to design and implement the best solutions. I learned this at Adobe for 5 years. A guy named Steven Webster taught me this. I wasn’t very good at this at the time. This superpower will supercharge your interactions with teammates too. Don’t judge the other, always lend a helping hand. 

When I interview someone, it is the soft skills that are most important to me. I know using these, I get the biggest bang for my effort and best teams. Practice them and you will see. Study what makes teams great. Study yourself. Brutally refactor and cut away what is not needed. Practice. They take years to develop. Be great! I don’t hire calculators or machines, I hire human beings. 

And what is this superpower? 

Empathy 

Article – https://lnkd.in/gfgmhkPx

Burn 🔥 The Boats

Everything I write these days is meant to inspire self expression and individuation, for myself first.

Write openly about yourself to be yourself.

When you’re young, you think you have all the answers.

As you age, you realize, really, you have none.

The best people I have come across, have a single burning 🔥 purpose…

To live their best life and point others to the same in spite of all resistance and circumstance inside and outside, which are the same.

If you look into the past, you find every generation hoping the future generations do better than they did.

The great people in my opinion, have a common theme in their expressions, love this life and earth and be worthy of it.

“The writer of these lines has nothing whatsoever to teach anyone; his words are just his contribution to our common discussion of what must inevitably be for us the most important subject which could be discussed by sentient beings.”

—Wei Wu Wei

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself and that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with eternity.”

—The Alchemist

“Don’t be concerned with other people’s impressions of you. They are dazzled and deluded by appearances. Stick with your purpose. This alone will strengthen your will and give your life coherence.”

—Epictetus

I have one burning 🔥 purpose, to live the best life possible and inspire others to the same, have a great one!

“A burning purpose attracts others who are drawn along with it and help fulfill it.”

— Margaret Bourke-White

Burn 🔥 the boats!

Only one way through life now.

Straight on til morning.

Fear Falling, Courage Rising

“Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others.”

—Aristotle

Courage is not dead in me yet. I am thankful for that. It lives in individuals. Like a Lion waiting to move. But one can’t really know if courage will be there when needed until they are tested. Truly, we fear our own weakness most. Nothing and I mean nothing can replace experience. Courage is one of the 4 Stoic virtues. Courage is the ability to exert one’s will in the face of risk. Aristotle said that the highest risk was death and that the most courageous man was the one that acted fearlessly in the face of death.

I recently faced my own death, twice in a month. I can’t say I was fearless. But something arose inside me. Something I haven’t known very well, my will. I pushed myself forward beyond my fear and it was a catalyzing experience. Do what is necessary when it is necessary. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. One day, it won’t.

Why not give all you have to what you do? In your relationships. In your work. In your play. What are you saving your fear for? Fear is a corrective and it can be a poison. Honestly, I didn’t know I had much courage left in me. I have been reckless with my life and opportunities at times. But I have cultivated my focus and it paid off when I needed it to. The feeling of possible death feels like falling off a ladder from a 1000 feet up. You are totally alone and feel powerless. It is humbling, but necessary to know how life is like balancing on a pin. One day I will fall off and that’s how it will be. The one thing we can know for sure in life.

Don’t go looking for trouble, but when it comes, be ready. Until death and I meet again, I’ll smile like I mean my life. Every second of it. Success is just the next breath, the rest is gravy. Yum.

Golden

“I do not teach a definite Philosophy—I have no cocked and primed system—but I outline, suggest, hint—tell what I see—then each may make up the rest for himself. He who goes to my book expecting a cocked and primed philosophy, will depart utterly disappointed—and deserves to! I find anyhow that a great many of my readers credit my writings with things that do not attach to the writings themselves but to the persons that read them—things they supply, bring with them.

Epictetus says: “Do not let yourself be wrapt by phantasms”—and we must not: that is very profound: it often comes back to me.

Epictetus is the one of all my old cronies who has lasted to this day without cutting a diminished figure in my perspective. He belongs with the best—the best of the great teachers—is a universe in himself. He sets me free in a flood of light—of life, of vista.

My contention is for the whole man—the whole corpus not one member—not a leg, an arm, a belly alone, but the entire corpus, nothing left out of the account. I know it will be argued that the present is the time of specialization, but that don’t answer it.”

—Walt Whitman from “Walt Whitman Speaks”

There is a reason Marcus Aurelius sat at the feet of a crippled ex slave to learn what a human being looks like.

He saw gold and I see it in Walt and I see it in others and I see it in myself and I love it.

Best Results

Don’t go off half cocked, before you are ready
Pack your powder, well
Cock the hammer, fully
Don’t aim, rest into position
Squeeze just enough, don’t pull
FIRE 🔥

You will hit something, the bullseye 🎯