Putting philosophy into practice is a rewarding experience and it requires constant work. Stoicism offers practical techniques and meditations that are meant to be integrated into everyday life and it was enjoyable to learn how to do exactly that for Stoic Week 2021, which took place between October 18th – October 24th.
What is Stoic Week?
Held annually by Modern Stoicism, Stoic Week is a project that invites people from all over the world to bring Stoicism into their routine for a full week. The theme of Stoic Week 2021 was Stoicism and wellbeing, with materials put together by Eve Riches and Tim LeBon, practitioners of the philosophy who combine it with psychology and positive mental health.
Over seven days, different Stoic themes were explored:
Day 1: Control
The theme of the first day was control and diving into the foundation of Stoicism with the idea that you should only focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. Tim and Eve built the theme around the teachings of Epictetus and provided additional context through a helpful video on the dichotomy of control by Dr Chuck Chakrapani.
Day 2: Emotions
A popular myth about Stoicism is that it takes a negative view of emotions and people should repress what they are feeling. A Stoic is capable of being highly emotional and as pointed out by Eve on the course:
“The Stoics tell us emotions follow judgements (thoughts about things) which are either true or false. When we say “bad” emotions, we’re not trying to be like a robot. The goal is to think about or judge things correctly, having better emotions then follows as a ‘bonus’. This is a truly LIFE CHANGING idea! When I’m mentoring clients, they have often experienced a lifetime of anxiety or depression. Finding a way to be able to change that can be the key to true wellbeing.
If a difficult emotion always follows an untrue thought, it makes sense to work on it. Bad emotions are based on the false belief that wellbeing depends on things like fame and money. They tend to be really intense and unstable.”
Practical exercises were included on how to make the most appropriate decisions based on our emotions e.g. through journaling and being self-reflective in the morning and evening.
Day 3: Character and virtues
The theme of the third day focused on the four Stoic virtues of justice, temperance, courage and wisdom. It can be easy to see these ideas as separate from each other but they are needed at all times. The course provided great insight into how best to interpret these virtues without feeling as if they are impossible goals to reach for.
Author and lecturer John Sellers also provided a handy video on understanding the Stoic virtues and stripping away the ‘loftiness’ of how they sound and bringing them down to earth.
Day 4: Caring for ourselves and others
On the fourth day, the Stoic idea of caring for others was explored. This involved understanding the philosopher Hierocles’ circles of concern and the notion of oikeiosis.
“Part of having a good character is to care for others AND caring for ourselves involves building and nurturing relationships with others and with nature. When we care for others, we need to do it with good character. For example, you can’t do it in an unwise way or with no self-control. For example, many people think that by sacrificing their own wellbeing ‘for the cause’, they can help other people, but this doesn’t work, and tends to lead to unhappiness on all sides. Caring needs to be sustainable and wise!
Hierocles suggested we should think of ourselves inside a series of circles, and we should try to ‘draw the circles toward the centre’, making the way we use language a part of this; e.g. calling elderly women in your community ‘grandmother’, calling your friend your brother or sister. Modern Stoics have added the outer circle ‘All of Nature’, as only focusing on the interests of humans, and trying to separate that from the interests of all of nature, doesn’t make sense.”
Day 5: Seeing the bigger picture
Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. To take a narrow view of things and give into anger, frustration, sadness and despair. In these situations, taking an objective view may be helpful and the theme of the fifth day focused on seeing the bigger picture.
This was best represented by the Stoic practice of the View From Above. As summed up in this section of the course:
“Stoicism brings us this great gift of transcendence; being able to step outside the concerns of our lives and see the ‘bigger picture’. This gives us a chance to see things as they really are. We are more able to care for and connect to others as we move beyond only seeing things from our own point of view. Whilst a lot of the things we worry about seem pretty unimportant viewed on a cosmic scale, acting with good character still really matters. Looking at the bigger picture, we are citizens of the universe, and acting with virtue is our contribution to the greater good!
We can find that despite our best intentions, we can still ‘fall off the Stoic horse’ when suddenly in a challenging situation. Taking the long view / view from above can provide a shortcut to WISDOM.”
Day 6: Stoic it up!
The theme of the sixth day focused on putting everything that had been learned through the first five days into practice. While it’s good to learn the foundations of Stoicism, the true value of the philosophy is actively using it in your daily life and that may not always be easy.
Being conscious of the phrase ‘stoic it up’ may help with shifting your mindset and a helpful exercise from Tim involved splitting what is TRULY important in life and what SEEMS important into first and second divisions.
For example, things that are truly important are good character and being self-controlled, so they would go into division one. Division two features things that are of less importance but can still have value if used appropriately. This includes money, status, pleasure etc.
Day 7: Building a Stoic toolkit
For the final day of Stoic Week 2021, it came down to creating a Stoic toolkit. A lot of this section focused on reminders of previous techniques and I loved the video that was included by Greg Sadler and Andi Sciacca.
Greg and Andi are married and both practice Stoicism in their relationship. They focused on how to bring Stoic teachings into romantic relationships, work relationships and friendships.
How did I feel after Stoic Week?
Completing Stoic Week was of huge value to me. Through thinking about the tips and techniques across the course, it helped reinforce a positive mindset.
It also helped me feel more calm and less anxious throughout the week. Continuing to put Stoic theory into practice is an ongoing process and Stoic Week certainly helped by providing the tools to stay on the right path.
Whether you know about Stoicism or not, I’d recommend taking part in Stoic Week!