Unshakeable Freedom:Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life (2016) by Chakrapani is a recent book on Stoicism, written as in introduction to applying the philosophy as a form of self-help or self-improvement. Chuck’s also published his own editions of several Stoic classics and a book about the origins of the philosophy called A Fortunate Storm (2016).
The first thing I wanted to say is that this book is probably one of the best introductions to Stoicism that I’ve read. I think it’s very well-written. The philosophy seems crystal clear and the use of examples from various famous philosophers and modern role models makes it engaging and easy to read. I really think Chuck has a way of expressing Stoic ideas that’s very clear and concise. I would definitely recommend that people who are new to the subject start with a book like this. I read the whole book in an afternoon, on my Chromebook Flip, while wandering around Athens. (Between chapters, incidentally, I had a chance to visit the Benaki Museum, where they have a statue of an unnamed Athenian philosopher from the reign of Marcus Aurelius.)
I find that some self-improvement books have one idea, which they flog to death. Chuck’s book manages, though, to present lots of different ideas very simply and effectively. Some books on Stoicism also short-change the reader, I feel, when it comes to the actual psychological techniques used in the ancient philosophy. Chuck includes quite a variety of Stoic exercises, though, both old and new. I’m not sure how he managed to cover so much ground so well in so few pages but he did, and I find that very impressive. He even includes a review of the ground he’s covered, and the exercises, in the final chapter.
The whole book revolves around the central theme of inner freedom, and what that means for Stoics. For instance, the six “Big Ideas” he lists in the book include:
- Problems are only problems if you believe they are.
- Leave your past behind.
- Don’t let the indifferents rob your freedom.
- Where there is fear, freedom is not.
- You can never lose anything because you don’t own anything.
- Life is a festival. Enjoy it now.
The twelve psychological exercises he includes are called:
- The anticipatory prep technique (“Morning Meditation”)
- Course correction (“End-of-day Meditation”)
- Passion counter
- Pause and examine
- Two handles (not to be confused with fork handles)
- Entitlement challenge
- Praemeditatio malorum (“Negative Visualization”)
- Impersonal projection
- Cosmic view
- Marcus’ Nine
- Sunbeam visualization
- South Indian monkey trap visualization
I also wanted to mention that despite being a fairly simple (I suppose “non-academic”) introduction this book presents Stoicism in a pretty accurate manner. Some of the introductory books and articles really bastardize Stoicism pretty badly, unfortunately, and that spreads a lot of confusion among people in online communities. But Chuck’s book is spot on because it’s written by someone who actually cares about the philosophy and has taken time to try to understand how to live in accord with its principles. I always feel you can tell whether an author is just winging it or if they’ve really put their own ideas into practice. A lot of self-help books, including some on Stoicism, don’t pass the smell test in that regard. You can tell that Chuck’s book is based on his experience of Stoicism, though, and that he’s sincere in his attempt to look at life through a Stoic lens.
He addresses some common misconceptions. For example, he makes it clear that Stoicism isn’t about repressing all of our emotions but rather replacing unhealthy emotions with healthy ones. And he clearly explains the tricky Stoic concept of “preferred indifferents”. Although things like health, wealth and reputation are “indifferent” in the sense that they don’t contribute to the goal of life nevertheless it’s natural and rational to prefer health over sickness, wealth over poverty, and so on, within reasonable bounds. Stoics do care about these “externals”, in a sense, but not enough to get upset about losing them. Many people ignore that concept although it’s really the very essence of Stoic Ethics and therefore the cornerstone of the entire philosophy. That leads them to exaggerate the “indifference” of Stoicism in a way that invites criticism (and is really more like earlier schools of philosophy such as Cynicism). Chuck’s book presents a more accurate, balanced, workable, and realistic version of Stoicism, though. That’s another reason why I think it’s a good introduction.
So I better conclude… I once had a friend who worked in the British Library who thought that there were far too many books in the world and it would be better if most of them were just shredded. Although I can’t bring myself to advocate book burning nevertheless I have felt myself becoming ever so slightly more sympathetic toward his point of view over time. I’m in good company at least, because our Stoic friend Marcus Aurelius also thought he’d do well to put his books away for a change and get on with life. I’ve had to read too many books as a student and then for my research as a writer and trainer. This one was not a chore, though, but a pleasure to read.
Professional film critics, I notice, are rather preoccupied with the length of films. Just as the time flies by in some movies, though, some books are quicker and easier than others to read. I read this book in a few hours because it was worth reading, and a pleasure to read, and not overly-long either. That matters to me because I know that if I recommend The Road Less Travelled to someone, they’re unlikely to get past the first few chapters. (And that’s a hugely overrated book anyway, IMHO.) Chuck’s book is a page-turner that gives you more bang for your buck. Sorry to have wasted your time but it’s probably easier to read than my review to be honest! I know that if I can persuade someone to read this – and they should – then they’ll probably get through it in a few hours, enjoy the whole thing, and come away with an accurate and workable idea of Stoic philosophy. So please do just go and read it.
(After watching this video of Chuck talking at Stoicon in Toronto….)