The Stoic Belief That Brings Calm

How the Stoics face stressful events with equanimity

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

Picture a recent stressful moment in your life. Everyday existence involves anger, stress, and anxiety – just to name a few negative experiences. Difficult situations are impossible to avoid.

But picture that event again – the exact same thing happening – without the negative emotion. Imagine encountering the stressful stuff of life with calm.

It is possible to face challenging circumstances with equanimity. Difficult events cannot be avoided, but our negative reaction to them can be.

Indeed, you’ve probably gone through trying times in your life before with calm and poise – situations that would have caused others to lose their composure.

Stoicism is the promise that this can happen more often.

Epictetus writes in his Discourses:

Material things are indifferent; how we use them is not. How then may a man maintain not only steadiness and calm, but also the state of mind that is careful and neither reckless nor negligent?

Epictetus, Discourses 2.5

This is the key question: how can you “maintain steadiness and calm?”

The Stoics developed a number of techniques to answer it. However, Stoicism is not a just collection of lifehacks. It’s a worldview and life philosophy. As such, it has a specific view about what is good in human life, namely, virtue or excellent character.

Core to Stoicism is the idea that anything external to character is indifferent.

This means that wealth, power, and status are not what fundamentally matters. Instead, it is how you use them that does. Wealth is not good in itself. One can use it well, through effective philanthropy or wise investment. But equally, one can use it poorly. What ultimately matters are the decisions and judgments you make.

This insight can bring calm.

So much of our stress comes from placing too much weight on indifferents. Most of us care too deeply about our social status, wealth, and how “we feel” and not enough about our virtue.

Stoicism allows us to let go of one source of stress and focus on what’s important – there’s peace in that.

🎯 Action

Identify one indifferent from your life that’s causing stress and remind yourself that it’s not what ultimately matters. With repetition and practice, you can ingrain the one Stoic belief that brings equanimity: character is what ultimately matters.

🔗 Links

🌊 Learn more about how Stoics manage negative emotions in the Finding Calm course in the Stoa app. In the course, you will practice ancient and modern meditative techniques and apply the Stoic belief that only virtue matters in order to reduce calm. With a collection of seven ten-minute meditations, you can easily complete the course within a week.

Here’s just one of the reviews:

I’ve been trying to find a lot of different methods to calm down and process my thoughts, but most meditation exercises only focus on just calming you down and not looking at the big picture. With Stoa you can really get a sense of how to take yourself out of your thoughts and get a sense of how to handle different, difficult situations.

App store user, ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Liquide Liquide

Check it out here. As always, we’re running a business, but do not want cost to be an obstacle. So, if you still want to use Stoa after trying a free trial but cannot afford it, reach out to us and we’ll give you a free account.

📖 The translation of Epictetus above comes from Ward Farnsworth’s The Practicing Stoic. Ward compiled the best quotes of the Stoics by theme: externals, perspective, wealth and pleasure, emotions, and more. An exercise I’d recommend doing yourself too! He also includes quotes from thinkers the Stoic influenced, such as Michel de Montaigne:

Not being able to govern events, I govern myself, and if they will not adapt to me, I adapt to them.

Michel de Montaigne, Of Presumption

📔 One last note – do some people care too little about their status, wealth, and how they feel? Yes, in a sense. Even though such things are not good (or bad) fundamentally, how we relate to them is. Each give us information about our behavior. If we’re not popular – it could be because everyone else is vicious or it could be because we’re cruel. Indeed, one way people come to peace with indifferents is by realizing that they play an important role in their life. For example, someone who becomes nervous before a flight may realize that their feelings of anxiety helps them ensure they’re fully prepared. Such feelings are normal and prudent.

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1 Referral — Cheatsheet on The Most Important Stoic Concepts— get access to our list of the most important Stoic concepts with links and instructions for putting each into practice.

3 Referrals – The Stoic Training Program PDF — in this 10-page guide, we share the three main ideas and practices that ground a Stoic approach to life.

5 Referrals – Five Stoic Meditations get five downloadable meditations to go deeper into your practice.

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