Fire In Stoicism

Energy for the day

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Fire is always an engaging metaphor.

Some philosophers thought it was the fundamental substance. The force that animates all life.

The Stoics used fire as a metaphor in several memorable ways, which are worth reviewing.

For instance, here’s Marcus Aurelius:

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces - to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What's thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it - and makes it burn still higher.

Meditations, 4.1

Fire turns obstacles into fuel. We have the ability not just to withstand adversity, but emerge from it even stronger.

And here is Epictetus:

If you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different. The same goes for moral inclinations. When you get angry, you should know that you aren’t guilty of an isolated lapse, you’ve encouraged a trend and thrown fuel on the fire.

Discourses, 2.18

Each decision builds on the last. With every reaction and response we shape who we are.

There’s something to be grateful for here: we have the power to change our habits. There’s also a reason for caution and seriousness – no lapse is isolated. Each decision shapes who you are and thereby shapes your future. Just start moving in the right direction. Action by action.

🎯 Action

Today, fuel the right fires.

🎆 Heraclitus was, perhaps, the original philosopher of fire:

All things change to fire,

and fire exhausted

falls back into things.

🎆 Fire brings to mind the idea of antifragility: the capacity to benefit from stressors, not merely withstand them:

Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.

Nassim Taleb, Antifragile

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