How can Stoicism Help in Pandemic Times?

Linda Blaesing

When I first read about stoicism I got fascinated by the wisdom and the value this wisdom added to my own perspective of things and thereby to my own life. Additionally, this philosophy helped me a lot to deal with the first wave of Covid-19 and the social isolation in March 2020. In the book ‘How to be a Stoic?’ there was an example of a soldier who was in captivity for several years. According to him the optimists didn’t make it out of prison, because they expected to be out by Easter. Easter came, Easter went and then Thanksgiving and then it was Christmas again and they were still in captivity. They died of a broken heart. ‘You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that might be.’

 

How to be a Stoic? – 12 practical spiritual exercises:

In the following, I summarized 12 practical spiritual exercises of the book ‘How to be a Stoic?’. You can easily adapt them into your daily life.

1) Examine your impressions
Distinguish between the impression and it’s source. Act on things which re under your control and regard the rest as not of your concern.

2) Remind yourself of the impermanence of things
Memento homo – remember you are only human. If you remind yourself of the mortality of people you are attached to you won’t be so distraught if they are taken from you. Remember how precious your loved ones are.

3) The reserve clause
The universe decides what happens, but you have some room of maneuver. You can decide to enjoy the ride, even as you remain aware of the constraints you have and know that whatever you wish to accomplish always comes with a big caveat: Fate permitting. Formulate your goals in terms of things you can control.

4) How can I use virtue here and now?
Live virtuous and with integrity at all times. The virtues Courage, Justice, Humanity, Temperance, Wisdom and Transcendence will be asked of you in different situations. There is not a single impression you will not have the moral means to tolerate.

5) Pause and take a deep breath
Do not respond impulsively to impressions. Take a moment before reacting and you will find it easier to maintain the control and react virtuously.

6) Speak little and well
Let silence be the goal for the most part. Say only what is necessary, and be brief about it. This way the things you do say will be more meaningful.

7) Other-ize
We can familiarize ourselves with the will of nature by calling to mind our common experiences. Take other’s perspectives.

8) Choose your company well
Avoid fraternizing with non-philosophers. If you must though be careful not to sink at their level. Stay conscious.

9) Respond to insults with humor
Don’t defend yourself against rumors. Respond with: ‘And he doesn’t know half of it, because otherwise he could have said more.’

10) Don’t speak too much about yourself
Just because you enjoy dwelling at excessive length on your adventures and good deeds doesn’t mean that others derive the same pleasure from hearing about them.

11) Speak without judging
Until you know other people’s reasons, how do you know that their actions are vicious? Try to avoid any judgment when you are speaking.

12) Reflect on your day
You can write the reflection of the day in your diary. If you acted unvirtuously or did something that compromised your integrity forgive yourself and think about how you can avoid repeating this behavior in the future.

 

From loneliness to solitude

 

Another content of the book and stoicism in general, I found particularly useful for social isolation in pandemic times is the continuum from loneliness to solitude. Actually, the continuum runs from alienation, the most extreme form of feeling disconnected to others, to loneliness, social isolation, aloneness, solitude and connectedness:

Loneliness is a passive involuntary state. Maybe you feel ashamed of being alone and you compare yourself to other people who seem to have many friends and never seem to be alone. However, changing the perspective could really help. You could compassionately accept the current situation and you could even actively choose to be alone. Being in solitude is a voluntary state. You can use this valuable me-time to check-in with yourself. Spend some time with important self-care activities or listen thoroughly to your body’s needs and fulfilling them. Once you’ve learnt to enjoy the time with yourself in solitude it will be easier to you to connect to other people, too. Because then this doesn’t come from a fear to be alone anymore, but rather from a place of peace and love. Other people will pick up on that and it will attract them. I can only recommend to try this and see the effect for yourself.

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