‘Do not act as if you were going to live for a thousand years… while you are alive, while it is still possible, become a good person.’ — Marcus Aurelius
[Enrol now for Stoic Week 2015 on the Modern Stoicism e-learning site, using the key “Marcus” without the quotes.]
Stoic Week is now in its fourth consecutive year. It runs around the same time each year, and this year it’s Monday 2nd — Sunday 8th November. The event is free-of-charge, international, online, and open to everyone. It’s organized by the Stoicism Today team, of which I’m a member. We’re a multi-disciplinary group, composed of classicists, philosophers, psychologists, and psychotherapists, with an interest in applying ancient Stoic concepts and practices to the emotional and behavioural challenges of living in the modern world.
The Stoicism Today team currently consists of several experts and authors on Stoicism who have come together to help others learn about how Stoicism might be applied in daily life. The group is organized by Prof. Christopher Gill, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter, and includes: Jules Evans, Gabriele Galluzzo, Gill Garratt, Tim LeBon, John Sellars, Patrick Ussher, Tom McConnell, and my good self. Stoicism Today is a completely philanthropic and non-profit project. We came together because we were interested in meeting other people with an interest in Stoicism, and trying to put it into practice instead of just talking about it.
We’re completely open to anyone taking part. For example, our Stoicism Today blog, hosted by the University of Exeter, includes hundreds of articles on Stoicism from guest authors, who come from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds. We’ve also tried to engage with critics of Stoicism by inviting them to speak at our conference and to contribute articles to our blog. A collection of these articles, edited by Patrick Ussher, was published as Stoicism Today: Selected Writings, vol. 1.
The success of the initial Stoicism Today events took us by surprise and Stoic Week has consistently grown in size, year on year. Last year, over 2,650 people took part online. Registration is already underway for Stoic Week 2015. You can create an account right now on our Modern Stoicism e-learning site, if you don’t already have one, and enrol at the page below, using the key “Marcus” without the quotes. Over 1,100 people have enrolled in advance, at the time of writing, and we’re still two weeks away from the start of the event. (If you want to help us surpass last year’s numbers, share this article to any friends or groups you think may be interested in Stoic Week – growing Stoic Week each year increases the probability we’ll be able to continue running it.)
Stoic Week consists of a handbook and a set of audio recordings. There’s a regular daily routine but also the chapters contain readings and different exercises for each of the seven days. We’ve gathered data from previous participants, using established psychometric measures employed in similar studies. These appear to provide tentative statistical evidence for a range of psychological and emotional improvements reported by people after using the exercises and readings. We also run a longer, four-week, version of the course, which is more intensive, and therefore led to more substantial benefits for the participants. The results of our analysis of quantitative and qualitative data is published online for anyone to inspect.
This year, the Stoic Week Handbook 2015 will be available in EPUB, PDF, HTML and other formats, and the audio downloads will be available as MP3 files. The topics being covered all relate to the theme of Marcus Aurelius and The Meditations, and they are titled:
- Monday: Life
Life as a Project and Learning from Other People
- Tuesday: Control
What is in our Control and Wishing with Reservation
- Wednesday: Mindfulness
Stoic Mindfulness and Examining your Impressions
- Thursday: Virtue
Virtue and Values-clarification
- Friday: Relationships
Relationships with Other People and Society
- Saturday: Resilience
Resilience and Preparation for Adversity
- Sunday: Nature
Nature and the View from Above
In addition to the online event, which is international, there’s also a conference held in London, which is now in its third year. The conference will take place during Stoic Week, on Saturday 7th November, at Queen Mary University in London. See below for more information:
This year, the theme for Stoic Week is The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and we’ll be asking participants to emulate Marcus by writing their own daily Stoic maxims and reflections down, and giving them the opportunity to share them with others.
Why Stoic Week Matters
First and foremost, Stoic Week is an opportunity for people interested in Stoicism, all around the world, to get together as a community, and actually work together on putting Stoic concepts and techniques into practice in daily life, with support and feedback from each other. It makes a big difference to many people to read about the obstacles others have encountered, and how they overcame them. The questions people have and difficulties they face, often have common themes, and we can benefit enormously from the chance to communicate with each other, while working on the same project, even if it’s only one week.
Some people stress that Stoicism is meant to be a lifelong practice, and not just something you dabble in for a week or so. That’s unquestionably true. However, by giving people a chance to practice Stoicism, along with thousands of others, as part of an online community, for one week, we also create a foundation for lifelong changes. You have to start somewhere.
Stoicism isn’t for everyone, of course. Stoic Week gives people an opportunity to evaluate what living like a Stoic might be like, so that they can decide to what extent they agree with it. Most of our participants end up reporting very favourable findings about Stoicism but there may be some who just want to take away a few aspects and combine it with another philosophy of life. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
My own background combines academic philosophy and cognitive psychotherapy. I studied philosophy at university, and my masters degree was in philosophy and psychotherapy. I then went on to write five books on philosophy and psychotherapy, and various articles and book chapters in other publications. So my special interest has always been in the relationship between ancient Stoic philosophy, as a way of life, and modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), the leading evidence-based psychological therapy. Stoicism is important to me for many reasons but one of them is, of course, that it offers a much broader perspective than psychotherapy. CBT and other therapies can only offer strategies and techniques, many of which happen to have been historically derived from Stoicism. (Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, the two main pioneers of CBT both explicitly stated that their ideas and techniques were influenced by ancient Stoicism.)
Stoicism is not just a therapy, although it did explicitly contain therapeutic strategies. It’s a philosophy. So, perhaps ironically, my interest in Stoicism is that it overlaps with modern CBT, but transcends and surpasses it, by offering something much broader in scope, and far deeper insofar as it contains a challenging set of values and world view. Although there have been some vocal criticisms of the attempt to compare Stoicism to CBT over the years, we found at our conferences that far more people were concerned that we needed modern psychological evidence to support the value of Stoicism in daily living. They recognized that evidence was most likely to come, at least initially, from the parallels between Stoicism and CBT, which has an enormous body of research supporting its efficacy as a psychological treatment for a range of different emotional and behavioural issues. So we can say that, arguably, many familiar aspects Stoicism are likely to be effective because they resemble, and indeed inspired, similar strategies and techniques in CBT, which have been proven effective by numerous scientific studies.
Stoic Week is important, therefore, because it allows people to learn more about Stoicism and to meet and collaborate with others who share their interest. It’s also important because it gives us an opportunity, albeit in a tentative way, to gather data about the actual beneficial effects of Stoic strategies, which we hope will inspire larger and more carefully controlled follow-up studies in the future. (We only have the resources to carry out relatively informal pilot studies at the moment but that’s typically seen as an important precursor to doing more intensive research in the future.) Overall, though, I believe the most important thing is to get people thinking, and talking about practical philosophy. Stoicism Today and Stoic Week have certainly succeeded in doing that, far more than we could ever have anticipated.