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Posted: December 10th, 2022

The Stoic Outlook on Suffering

The Stoic Outlook on Suffering

Suffering is an inevitable part of human life. We all face losses, tragedies, pains, and hardships that challenge our well-being and happiness. How can we cope with these difficult experiences and find meaning and purpose in them? The ancient philosophy of Stoicism offers some valuable insights and strategies that can help us deal with suffering in a constructive and resilient way.

Stoicism is a school of thought that originated in ancient Greece and was later adopted by the Romans. It teaches that the only thing that is truly within our control is our own thoughts and actions, and that everything else, including the events that cause us suffering, is beyond our control. Therefore, the Stoics advise us to focus on what we can do to improve ourselves and our situation, rather than dwelling on what we cannot change or control.

One of the main principles of Stoicism is to distinguish between things that are within our control and things that are not. The Stoics call the former “internals” and the latter “externals”. Internals include our judgments, opinions, desires, aversions, and intentions. Externals include everything else, such as other people’s actions, natural phenomena, bodily sensations, and even our own life and death. The Stoics argue that externals are not good or bad in themselves, but only become so depending on how we judge them. For example, losing a loved one is not inherently bad, but only becomes so if we judge it as such.

The Stoics also teach us to accept externals as they are, without trying to resist or change them. They call this attitude “amor fati”, which means “love of fate”. By loving fate, we embrace whatever happens to us as part of the natural order of things, and as an opportunity to learn and grow from it. We do not complain or lament about our suffering, but rather see it as a challenge to overcome and a test of our character. As Marcus Aurelius, one of the most famous Stoic emperors, wrote in his Meditations: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Another key concept in Stoicism is “virtue”, which means excellence of character. The Stoics believe that virtue is the only true good, and that everything else is indifferent. They define virtue as living according to reason and nature, and acting in harmony with the universal reason that governs the cosmos. The Stoics identify four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control. By cultivating these virtues, we can live a good and happy life, regardless of our external circumstances.

How can we apply these Stoic principles to cope with suffering? Here are some practical techniques that can help us:

– Reframe our perspective: When we face a painful or unpleasant situation, we can try to reframe it in a more positive or neutral way, by focusing on what we can learn from it, how we can benefit from it, or how we can use it to help others. For example, if we lose our job, we can see it as an opportunity to explore new career options, develop new skills, or pursue our passions.
– Practice gratitude: Instead of focusing on what we lack or have lost, we can practice gratitude for what we have or have gained. We can appreciate the simple things in life, such as our health, our family, our friends, or even our breath. We can also be grateful for the challenges and difficulties that make us stronger and wiser.
– Meditate on impermanence: Everything in life is impermanent and subject to change. Nothing lasts forever, not even our suffering. By meditating on this fact, we can reduce our attachment to externals and become more adaptable and flexible. We can also realize that our suffering is not unique or personal, but shared by all living beings.
– Seek support: We do not have to suffer alone. We can seek support from others who care about us or who have gone through similar experiences. We can also offer support to others who are suffering or in need. By doing so, we can strengthen our social bonds and cultivate compassion and empathy.

Stoicism is not a philosophy of indifference or resignation. It is a philosophy of action and empowerment. It teaches us how to face suffering with courage, wisdom, justice, and self-control. It helps us find meaning and purpose in our suffering and use it as a catalyst for personal growth and development.

References:

– Dealing with Loss & Suffering: What Stoicism Teaches [https://www.stoicsimple.com/dealing-with-loss-suffering-what-stoicism-teaches/]
– Finding Meaning In Our Suffering: What The Stoics Can Teach Us About Tragedy, Loss, and Pandemics [https://dailystoic.com/finding-meaning/]
– Stoicism and Pain Get research paper samples and course-specific study resources under   homework for you course hero writing service – Manage ment: 4 Techniques Practiced By Marcus Aurelius [https://dailystoic.com/stoicism-and-pain-management/]

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