A Bronze Mind

A wicked man is like a dog tied to a cart- compelled to go wherever it goes. What Cleanthes intends to describe here is clear- a man who has no self-control is a wicked man, unpredictable, you can never guess when he will span out of control. But all men with a mind, that is indeed the entire human race bear the potential, no matter how small, to loose control at some point, because as beautiful and gracious our mind can be it can also turn into our own worst enemy. Unfortunately the mind’s physiological structure makes the second scenario incredibly easy to materialize- the neural fluid connectivity encourages disorders such as compulsive thinking, depression and outbursts rather than hindering them- one negative emotion can potentially grow into a full blown negative state that in turn could hinder one from performing his daily tasks. Yes the brain can be that limiting.

Wouldn’t it be better if our mind evolves from a spongy, fragile parasite into a loaded steel gun. As a matter of fact there is an entire branch of philosophy originating from as far back as 2500 years ago, that dedicates itself on how a man can train his mind to carry out complex duties obediently regardless of the situation or the task at hand. In fact various philosophies root themselves on these principles but today I would like to elaborate one in particular: Stoicism.

Unfortunately, the game called ‘a broken telephone’ or one person whispering a phrase into another’s person’s ear, that action is timed a hundred and the hundredth person ends up with a phrase entirely different from the original one, leads to many misconceptions about what Stoicism actually means. The modern interpretation is that of a person or act that maintains strong indifference regardless of how devastating or happy a situation is- a stoic person responds to both good and bad events indifferently. This definition limits stoicism’s true meaning and practical importance. The key to understanding and implementing stoic philosophy into our life is the simple fact that thoughts can be trained to accept negative events graciously and if possible, turn them into opportunities.

Stoics practiced reflective thinking, worst case scenario visualization, and stillness of mind techniques similar to meditation in Eastern philosophy in order to build cognitive self control. They believed in the principle that actions define man rather than thoughts- while thoughts evaporate unless pinned down on paper, action, no matter how trivial, are concrete transportation mechanisms that take us to a specific destination whether real or imaginary. People’s main misconception about stoicism is the mismatch between how passions are defined in Stoic philosophy and how we define ‘passions’. While stoic logic defines passion as anguish or suffering resulting from passively responding to external events, we associate passions with positive feelings. The misconception is clear once we transcend passion’s superficial positivity and accept the short life of good moments. Hence stoicism is about using life’s good moments to prepare for the bad ones to come, and when they come not only to accept them but also see them as an opportunity for positive action.

Marcus Aurelius, one of history’s most recognized stoic nicely sums up this motto for us: if you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure as you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold this expecting nothing, but satisfied to live according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word you utter you will live life happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.

 

Cognitive psychology is based on these principles from stoicism and its accessibility means we can practice it at home through thinking reflectively and analyzing our actions, searching for solutions for the problems we have identified. The greatest challenge we all face is that the modern world we live in bombards us with too many distractions which in turn prevents us to find some quiet time to think things through. Another obstacle we need to overcome is to stop looking for quick fixes such as watching TV, surfing the internet or socializing with people that replace the so needed reflective thinking. The best way to incorporate self-evaluation into a daily routine is the old school method of keeping a diary- and what I intend here is not the teenage version of a pathetic narrative but a strategic thought book-keeping. Just started one a couple of weeks ago and it really helps- let me know how you get on with yours!!


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