Philosophy for life and other dangerous situations

This is a timely book by Jules Evans and I loved about these on Epictetus & Seneca:

The art of maintaining control

How could a stoic stay calm and mentally strong in the midst of so much uncertainty and oppression, when their ability to control their own destiny is so hampered? How can they hope to remain the ‘captain of soul’? Epictetus answer was to remind himself constantly what is in control and what isn’t. Epictetus makes a list of things that are in control and those aren’t.

Zone 2: Our body, property, reputation, job, parents, partners, friends, co-workers, boss + The economy, past, future + the fact we’re going to die
Zone 1: Our beliefs

We’ve to learn to exercise our will & power in Zone 1 and we’ve to accept that we don’t have complete sovereignty over zone 2 – over external events. We’ve to accept what happens in the world, otherwise we’re going to be angry, miserable for most of our times. A lot of suffering arises, Epictetus argues, because we make 2 mistakes. We try to exert absolute control on zone 2 which isn’t in our control. When we fail to control, we’re helpless, angry, guilty, anxious and depressed. Different people go through these level of emotions and stop at those different  levels. Secondly we don’t take full responsibility of Zone 1. Instead we blame for our thoughts and beliefs on others in Zone 2 and then we end up feeling bitter, victimized, out of  control and at the mercy of external circumstances. Many mental illness and emotional disorders come from these 2 fatal errors.  Also a person with depression will often blame external factors for their bad mood. They will blame past, or their parents, or their co-workers, or the economy, or the global politics. They constantly abrogate responsibility for their own beliefs and feelings. And this only makes them feel more helpless, out of control, and depressed. A 2010 study of British soldiers found that the main cause of emotional suffering among the troops was not battle-related. It was getting phone calls from their wives, in which their wives complain about problems back home – problems which the soldiers were powerless to do anything about. The feeling of being out of control and powerless to help one’s loved ones is more demoralizing that any Taliban bombs.

What can we do?

  • The Serenity Prayer: The omnipresence force, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference. This is the best attitude to tide over our adverse circumstances and have to bide our time and wait for the situation to change.
  • Don’t blame yourself and don’t use other people as an excuse for what has befallen you.

Epictetus greatly influenced Marcus Aurelius’ that he once visited this old man in Greece to learn from him, so good read of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is befitting to act on what has been said so far. Stoic is used very much ion sports training and the Wimbledon center court has this Rudyard Kipling’s saying inscribed in there – ‘Meet with triumph and disaster and treat those both two impostors the same.

The art of anger management

Seneca, called by his full name Lucius Annaeus Seneca, lived in Rome Empire between 4 BC and 65 AD. He was chronically ill for much of his life, plagued by asthma and suicidal bouts of depression. He served both Caligula and Nero, the necromantic dictators of his time. After making a particularly brilliant speech aroused the emperor Caligula’s jealousy. Seneca was exiled from Rome, and it’s said his life was only spared because he was so ill that Caligula expected him to die soon anyway. In the last decade of his life, Seneca returned to Rome, became tutor to the young emperor Nero, amassed a fortune as a moneylender. and for a while as one of the most powerful and wealthy men in Rome. But he eventually fallout with Nero , was accused of plotting against him, and was forced to commit suicide.

His advice to anger management was to

  • always wait in the moment of anger.
  • If over-optimistic expectations are one for the main causes of anger, then the cure is to lower our expectations. Try to bring them more in line with reality.
  • By reading and watch more tragedy, we can think of our pampered lives and learn to be grateful.
  • Obstacles add fuel to the flame of the stoic’s virtue and regard all adversity as a training exercise.
  • Be tortoise like, withdraw from externals and find peace and contend-ness in the inner citadel – what is really valuable is not your house, career or reputation but your soul



Buffet from Ancients


He was austere and had few possessions, and kept to a simple diet of bread, lentil, olives and water. He was an advocate of pleasure not in the hedonist view point but from a rational perspective. One interpretation goes as: When we say that pleasure is the end and aim of life, we don’t mean the pleasures of prodigal or pleasures of sensuality as are understood by some through ignorance, prejudice or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and disturbance in soul. It is not an unbroken succession f drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life;it is sober reasoning, searching of the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession if the soul.
Epicurus drew up a classification of human desires. ‘Of desires, some are natural, others are groundless. And of the natural, some are necessary as well as natural and some natural only.’ To achieve a life of tranquility, the Epicurean has to examine his or her desires and ask if they’re really natural and necessary, or not, They have to consider the pleasure it’ll led to, and the pain and inconvenience, and ‘measure the one against the other’. Epicurus puts friendship at the very heart of the good life. It was far more important to him than sexual love, which led to jealousy and all kinds of emotional disturbances; or the family (he never married) or the state.


Memory exercises and incantations had a central place in the Pythagorean way of life. Pythagoras and his followers had a profound understanding of the irrationality of human psyche. It’s not enough to transform the personality through philosophical reasoning, you need to speak to the irrational part using maxims, symbols, song and imagery, so that your insights sink into the brain and become a part of your DNA.
Is it not clear that by means of thought we are the absolute masters of our physical organism and that, as ancients showed centuries ago, thought – or suggestion – can and does produce diseases or cur it? Pythagoras taught the principle of auto-suggestion to his disciples…The Ancients well knew the power – often the terrible power – contained in the repetition of a phrase or formula. The secret if the undeniable influence they exercised through the old Oracles resided probably, nay, certainly, in the force of suggestion.  So the words you utter has more power, curses and blessings have equal power, when they’re authentic, soulful, rational and devoid of self-centered-ness, irrationality and depression.


You are who you imitate – it comes from an ancient technique called exemplum or moral example . The theory behind is very simple and yet profound: it’s based in the observations that we’re social animals and lot of our moral behavior comes from observing and emulating others. Albert Bandura, the social psychologist, through his famous ‘Bobo doll’ experiments, explained that ‘Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action’.

Plutarch argued against the stoic doctrine that we should try to entirely eradicate any passion within us. Instead, he followed Plato in arguing that eradicating our passions ‘is nether possible nor expedient’. Instead, we should strive ‘to keep them within due bounds, reduce them into good order, and so direct them to a good end; and thus to generate moral virtue, which consists…in the well-ordering of our passions’. In education, it is our job to guide the passions of young people ‘to a good end’ by instilling in them good habits. ‘Character’ he wrote, ‘is habit long-continued’. We’re all of us a combination of reason, passions and habits – but, thankfully, most of us are free to change our habits, using our reason. This is particularly true of young people, for youth is impressionable and plastic, and while such minds are still tender, lessons are infused deep into them.


He or his father (a banker of renown) was accused of defacing the currency of his native Sinope, a city on the coast of the Black Sea. He was overthrown from his city and arrived at Athens as an exile under a cloud of a scandal but he embraced his notoriety, became a radical philosopher, and declared his mission in life is to deface the currency of civilized conventions. Humans’ emotional discontents arose from the false values of civilizations. Why do we choose to be miserable? Because we want to be accepted by our civilization. Living in a dense metropolis forces us to be polite, which come from a Greek word polis, meaning city-sate and urbane, from the Latin urbs, meaning city. Diogenes acted out of his philosophy of freedom on the streets, dressing in rags, feeding  on the leftovers, and living in a barrel in the center of Athenian marketplace, to show the bemused Athenians how simple and happy natural life could be. These animal antics earned him the name Diogenes Kynikos, or the Diogenes the dog-Like, which is where the word ‘cynic’ comes from.

Some tools in the arsenal of cynics:

  • Shame-attacking: practice makes perfect and that is the idea to attack shame and take it head on’
  • Status-attacking: Diogenes never bought into ‘the rat race’ and instead embraced a life of poverty and showed it’s independence and is less complicated. When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes in his barrel and asked him what he could grant the philosopher. Diogenes replied, ‘Only that you stop blocking the sun’

Best lesson of cynics is not take all our comforts for granted and be happy with less than with craving for more and be sucked into the inconveniences to out up for that.

Aristotle emphasized a golden mean between excesses.