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It’s Only After You’ve Lost Everything That You’re Free to Do Anything

One day late in the fourth century BC, the Phoenician merchant Zeno set sail on the Mediterranean Sea with a cargo full of Tyrian purple dye. Prized by the wealthy and by royalty, who dressed themselves in clothes colored with it, the rare dye was painstakingly extracted by slaves from the blood of sea snails and dried in the sun until it was, as one ancient historian said, “worth its weight in silver.” This was Zeno’s family trade. They trafficked in one of the most valuable goods in the ancient world, and as it has always been for entrepreneurs, their business was on the line seemingly every day.

On that fateful day, a day not unlike one you may have experienced, Zeno lost everything. His ship wrecked upon the rocks, his cargo lost to the sea. We’re not sure what caused the wreck, but it devastated him financially, physically, emotionally. It could have been the end of his story—the loss could have driven him to drink or suicide, or a quiet ordinary life in the service of others. Instead, it set in motion the creation of Stoicism, one of the greatest intellectual and spiritual movements in history.

Buddhists believe that suffering comes from our attachment to desires, while Stoics believe that suffering comes from our judgment to external events. A Buddhist eliminates suffering by detaching himself from his desires. A Stoic eliminates suffering by being indifferent to all external events.

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“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The Three Disciplines, Life Lessons from a Roman Emperor

The first discipline is the discipline of perception. “[Perception] requires that we maintain absolute objectivity of thought: that we see things dispassionately for what they are,”

The second discipline, action, deals with our relationships with others. We need, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, “to live as nature requires.”

The third discipline, the discipline of will, encompasses our attitude to things that are not within our control.

Seneca writes with bemusement of this impulse, writing to Lucilius about how he liked to sit up above the port and watch as people sped with such frantic energy to get information..
there is a story about Napoleon’s habit of actively delaying the opening of his mail.
Because most issues resolved themselves and he wanted to let time sort things out for him.

  • Philosophy
  • Socrates (470–399 BC)
  • Socrates was Plato’s teacher and that Socrates was Plato’s elder by at least a few decades.
  • Plato (424/423 – 348/347 BC)
  • Epictetus (50 – c. 135 AD)
  • Epictetus acquired a passion for philosophy and, with the permission of his wealthy enslaver, he studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus.
  • Epictetus obtained his freedom sometime after the death of Nero in AD 68
  • The philosophy of Epictetus was an influence on the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 to AD 180)
  • Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180)