Interview: Tom Butler-Bowdon on Marcus Aurelius

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I’m Tom Butler-Bowdon, author of the “50 Classics” books (Hachette) which look at the key writings in self-help, motivation, spirituality, psychology, and philosophy.

How did you become interested in Stoicism?

Tom Butler-BowdonI first learned about Stoicism, as many people do, through The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The edition I had was one of the tiny Penguin 60s. At the time I didn’t realise it was only a few extracts from The Meditations, not the whole text, but it still blew me away.

At the time I was writing a book called 50 Self-Help Classics, about the key texts in the personal development genre. Naturally I looked at titles like How To Win Friends and Influence People, and Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, but I was also looking around for older wisdom. This pulled me towards Marcus Aurelius. Later, it was interesting to see Marcus depicted in the film Gladiator.

It just amazed me that a Roman emperor could have this kind of philosophical insight. But the more I learned about Stoicism, from other books and authors, I could see that Marcus Aurelius was simply a great exponent of a whole body of thought.

What’s the most valuable thing we can learn about Stoicism from the life or writings of Marcus Aurelius?

I see a lot of similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism, and one of the key ones is the emphasis on impermanence. Stoics, and some schools of Buddhism, like to focus on death, knowing it brings some clarity about our purpose while alive. It stops us from getting too prideful, or obsessed with wealth, fame or glory, or take ourselves too seriously. We know these things are so ephemeral. There’s a passage I love from The Meditations:

Expressions that were once current have gone out of use nowadays. Names, too, that were virtually household words are virtually archaisms today. All things fade into the storied past, and in a little while are shrouded in oblivion. Even to men whose lives were a blaze of glory this comes to pass; as to the rest, the breath is hardly out of them before, in Homer’s words, they are ‘lost to sight alike and hearsay’. What, after all, is immortal fame? An empty, hollow thing. To what, then, must we aspire? This, and this alone: the just thought, the unselfish act, the tongue that utters no falsehood, the temper that greets each passing event as something predestined, expected, and emanating from the One source and origin.

Do you have a favourite quote from The Meditations?

As well as that one just mentioned, I love this one:

Love nothing but that which comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny. For what could more aptly fit your needs.

Marcus Aurelius’ reign was a difficult one. He was constantly at war with Germanic tribes to try to protect Rome, and had to deal with all the usual intrigues and crises that came with being Emperor. Yet he did not shirk from his role. This line also reminds me of the existentialist view of Jean-Paul Sartre. Whatever happens to you, even if it is finding yourself in a war, don’t resist it. Because it is happening, it is yours. Own it, and make the most of it.

Today it’s fashionable to say that “everyone has a purpose”, and to “pursue your dream”, but this pursuit is not always easy or fun. My reading of Stoicism is that it is not so much about looking for happiness, but being sure your life is meaningful. Duty is a big part of that. As Marcus Aurelius puts it:

Everything – a horse, a vine – is created for some duty. This is nothing to wonder at: even the sun-god himself will tell you, ‘This is a work I am here to do,’ and so will all the other sky-dwellers. For what task, then, were you yourself created? For pleasure? Can such a thought be tolerated?

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism?

Just start reading The Meditations, or Seneca, or one of the other Stoics. Writing honestly and simply was part of the Stoic ethos, in contrast to the sometimes complex and flowery rhetoric of the classical world. This means that Stoic books are very accessible and easy to read today.

When you’re reading The Meditations, it doesn’t seem possible that Marcus Aurelius was sitting by a campfire penning it close to 2,000 years ago. Humans have not changed much in that time. We are still social, emotional animals that seek to live by higher moral standards.

What do you think is the most important psychological technique or piece of practical advice that we can derive from Marcus’ Stoicism?

This technique is more from Epictetus than Marcus I believe, but I learned it from Massimo Pigliucci’s How To Be A Stoic. It’s called “dichotomy of control”, and simply means that some things are up to us, and other things are not. All we can do is focus on what we can actually do, and resign ourselves to the unfolding of everything else. The result is that we will waste less mental energy worrying, projecting, and fearing, and are able to focus on the task at hand.

To create the future, we have to accept reality fully in the present, and not be too swayed by emotion and circumstances. As Marcus Aurelius puts it:

Be like the headland against which the waves break and break: it stands firm, until presently the watery tumult around it subsides once more to rest.

In short, don’t get caught up in trivia or pettiness; appreciate your life within a larger context.

Tom Butler-Bowdon

Tom Butler-BowdonTom is the author of eight books including 50 Economics Classics (2017), 50 Psychology Classics (2017, second edition), and 50 Philosophy Classics (2013). His 50 Classics series has sold over 400,000 copies and is in 23 languages. Tom’s ninth book, 50 Business Classics, was published in 2018.

Bringing important ideas to a wider audience, the 50 Classics concept is based on the idea that every subject or genre will contain at least 50 books that encapsulate its knowledge and wisdom. By creating a list of those landmark titles, then providing commentaries that note the key themes and assess the importance of each work, readers learn about valuable books they may not have discovered, and save a lot of time and money. Tom’s work began in the personal development and success fields with his bestselling titles 50 Self-Help Classics and 50 Success Classics. Second editions of these titles were published in 2017.

Tom is a graduate of the London School of Economics (International Political Economy) and the University of Sydney (Government and History). He lives in Oxford.

Website: www.Butler-Bowdon.com
Twitter: @tombutlerbowdon

 

Interview with Gregory Lopez about Marcus Aurelius

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

Greg LopezI’m on the Modern Stoicism team, founder of the NYC Stoics, co-founder of The Stoic Fellowship, co-facilitator of Stoic Camp NY, and was co-organizer of Stoicon 2016, where I presented a workshop on Stoic versus Buddhist mindfulness and wrote an article for Stoicism Today on the topic. I also presented at Stoicon-x Toronto 2017 on the whys and hows of starting your own Stoic community.

How did you become interested in Stoicism?

I’ve always had an interest in philosophy, but somehow missed the Hellenistic period during my studies. I volunteered for, and ultimately became president of, SMART Recovery NYC. There, I was trained in aspects of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and discovered that its founder, Albert Ellis, was heavily influenced by Stoicism. I decided to fill the gap in my philosophical knowledge, and discovered online communities, like the New Stoa (now The Stoic Registry) and The International Stoic Forum that were attempting to practice this philosophy in the modern world. Given the lack of in-person meetings about Stoicism at the time, I decided to start one in New York City to help myself and others learn more about Stoicism and how it could be applied in the modern world.

What do you think is the most important psychological technique or piece of practical advice that we can derive from Marcus’ Stoicism?

That keeping your own Meditations-style journal is a powerful Stoic technique. It can be easy to slip into the mindset that Marcus is speaking to you as a reader in The Meditations. But if you keep in mind that it was his personal diary, the techniques he was using there, and why he was writing what he was writing, become more apparent. Framing The Meditations in this way can unveil Stoic techniques that Marcus was using, and that you can attempt to mimic. Marcus’ entries follow several patterns, including reminding himself of basic Stoic theory, arguing with himself, and reframing situations. If you carry your own journal or writing app around with you, you can do the same and see how it works out!

Do you have a favourite quote from The Meditations?

I find “Let no act be done without a purpose” (Meditations, 4.2) is useful to keep at hand.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism?

In terms of books, my favorite overall intro to Marcus and The Meditations is currently William O. Stephens’ Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed. It gives a solid biography of Marcus along with a useful analysis of themes within The Meditations. After having taken your online course on Marcus, I suspect that your upcoming How to Think Like a Roman Emperor will be very worthwhile, too. But since it’s not out yet and I haven’t read it, that’s not a kataleptic impression, so I’ll withhold judgement. 😉

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Stoic community is very important for practicing Stoics in my view. If you’re looking for an in-person Stoic community in your area, or want to start your own, check out The Stoic Fellowship. We’ll also help you throw your own Stoicon-x if you want a homegrown Stoic conference near you! Or, if you like supporting Stoic things, sign up to volunteer or throw a few tax-deductible bucks our way.

Also, if you’re in New York City, feel free to check out the NYC Stoics.

In addition, I’ll be at Stoicon 2018 in London on September 29th giving a (hopefully practical) workshop on prolepseis, or “preconceptions”. This is a core concept in Stoic psychology, and a major theme in Epictetus’ Three Disciplines, but it doesn’t get much press. If Epictetus is to be believed, though, the misapplication of preconceptions is at the core of all human ills, so it’s kind of a big deal!

Finally, Massimo Pigliucci and I are co-writing a book tentatively entitled A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control—52 Week-by-Week Lessons. It’s expected to be released in Spring 2019 by The Experiment.

Interview: Justin Vacula on Marcus Aurelius

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

Justin VaculaI’m Justin Vacula, host of the Stoic Solutions Podcast where I offer practical wisdom for everyday life focusing on topics including gratitude, acceptance, overcoming adversity, finding meaning in life, moderation, dealing with change, friendship, loneliness, and anger.

Podcast guests include counselors, academics, authors, mixed martial artists, and musicians. I currently serve as counselor-in-training intern working with elementary school students in a community and school-based behavioral health program while pursuing my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

How did you become interested in Stoicism?

I found Stoicism through the Rationally Speaking Podcast formerly co-hosted by Massimo Pigliucci and the Thinking Poker Podcast hosted by Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis. Andrew and Nate spoke of Stoicism as a tool to improve one’s mental fortitude at and away from Poker tables following encountering many adverse events in Poker. I stated to read Epictetus’ Discourses, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic and began applying Stoicism to my life.

What’s the most valuable thing we can learn about Stoicism from the life or writings of Marcus Aurelius?

Marcus’ work continually touches on themes of acceptance – that things we view as misfortunes in life, negative experiences, are inevitable and should not lead us to despair. We can question our impressions, our opinions about happenings in the world, and work to change our mindset to not be consumed by intense negative emotions. We can see death as a part of change in life and be grateful for having been born making the most of the precious time we have. We can recognize many situations, death included, in which we lack a large degree of control, and be content with outcomes focusing on what we have power over. Rather than overly blaming ourselves, lamenting the state of the universe, or being resentful, we can work to come to peace with the world seeing a larger picture including positive happenings in our lives.

Do you have a favourite quote from The Meditations?

Marcus encourages us to take action in the world, to be an active participant in our lives and society not squandering the time we have on a day-to-day basis – “have I been made for this, to lie under the blankets and keep myself warm?” We can rise to face challenges in our lives to better ourselves and the world around us – learning, growing, working toward self-mastery, and enthusiastically taking on roles performing to the best of our ability finding purpose in what we do rather than viewing our lives as miserable toil.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism?

Stoic Solutions PodcastI would encourage people to take a critical evaluation of their own lives and discover areas in which they can find improvement. Identify goals and work toward a modest plan of making progress. Examine your thoughts and see if they are productive or self-defeating. Progress is possible especially when considering areas of life where you can shine – particular skills where you can experience joy and accomplishment.

Free Facebook Live Webinar: Friday 27th 7.30pm EST – The Secret of Stoicism in Marcus Aurelius

I’m doing a free webinar on the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm EST. Everyone is welcome! It’s a deep dive into the fundamental psychological technique of The Meditations, drawing on some aspects of Marcus’ life and my experience as a cognitive psychotherapist, etc. Look forward to seeing you there!

🦉 Join my Free Webinar on the life and Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. Tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm EST. Deep dive into one of the most fundamental psychological techniques found in ancient Stoicism. Everyone welcome! 😉 Hit the “GET REMINDER” button on Facebook.

Marcus Quote

Course Enrolling Now: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, my online course about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, is now enrolling and begins Sunday 5th August 2018.  Click the button below to learn more or enroll right now…

This is a huge course containing lots of different resources: videos, live webinars, quizzes, discussions, articles, infographics, and more.  It runs over four weeks, although you also have the option of completing it self-paced if you want.  (Recordings of all the webinars can be viewed in your own time.)

This course is designed to be suitable both for individuals who are new to the subject and those who are well-read in Stoicism.  It approaches the subject of Stoic philosophy, and its practical applications in daily life, from a new angle, by using many stories from the life of Marcus Aurelius to illustrate Stoic concepts and techniques.  It deals with emotional issues including coping with anger, pain and illness, fear, and loss.

Thanks Donald for your personal perspectives, the anecdotes and breadth of applied experience with Stoicism; the practical and historical perspectives, using Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations , were very insightful and valuable also for long-term retention. Lots of thought-provoking material here to read and re-read. Many thanks. The course concept and contents are highly recommended. (I came close to turning this course down – but am greatly relieved now that I registered at the last minute!) – Sachigo

You can read more testimonials from students on the main course page.  Course evaluation forms were completed by over a hundred previous students. They rated their satisfaction with the course content 93% on average.

This is a subject close to my heart as I’ve recently finished writing a new book about Marcus Aurelius.  The course is an opportunity to explore his life and philosophy in more detail, though, and using the interactive possibilities of modern e-learning such as webinars, quizzes, and discussions.  The discussions in this course are very active – previous students have posted over 800 comments about the course materials in total.  I’m sure you’ll find this a great way to gain even more benefit from Stoicism and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in particular.

If you have any questions about the course, please feel free to get in touch.  I read every email and promise to get back to you with a response.

Look forward to seeing you there,

Donald Robertson Signature

Interview: Walter J. Matweychuk on Marcus Aurelius

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

Walter J. MatweychukI am a clinical psychologist and work at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice psychotherapy and train psychologists to do psychotherapy. I teach, at New York University, a graduate-level course on cognitive behavior therapy. I author books on this therapy and maintain a website REBTDoctor.com aimed at disseminating this useful philosophy and psychotherapy. I also am a consultant on a project with the United States Navy where we are teaching rational thinking and problem-solving skills to enlisted personnel. What all these roles have in common is I teach people how to help themselves and others to cope with adversity.

How did you become interested in Stoicism?

I practice a form of psychotherapy known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). It is the original form of cognitive behavior therapy. Dr. Albert Ellis, a famous psychologist now deceased, created REBT. I studied with Ellis for many years. He based REBT on ancient and modern philosophy and behavior therapy. REBT heavily borrows from Stoicism. I am always looking to improve my effectiveness as a psychotherapist and communicator of REBT. I assumed that by studying the underlying ancient philosophy upon which Ellis built REBT, I could deepen my understanding of it, better communicate its core ideas and perhaps enhance my clinical effectiveness.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

I integrate quotes from Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius into my REBT sessions. Stoicism mixes nicely with REBT, and the aim of using these quotes is to induce a philosophical shift that helps the patient cope with the adversity that originally leads them to seek psychotherapy. I also use these same quotes to assist me in coping with the adversities I face and to develop my character and lead a meaningful life.

What’s the most valuable thing we can learn about Stoicism from the life or writings of Marcus Aurelius?

To prepare ourselves in advance for adversity, especially adversity caused by others. To expect it to happen so as not to be thrown by it. To see that when obstructed by others, we can more effectively address the challenge by not disturbing ourselves about what has happened. Marcus teaches that humans largely hurt ourselves. I agree. We hurt ourselves largely by the attitudes we choose to hold towards what others do to us. Marcus reminds us to remember that people do bad things largely out of ignorance or emotional disturbance not because they are bad people. I believe this about people. Seeing people as flawed, ignorant and emotionally disturbed makes sense to me. I then go on to remind myself that I too am a flawed human. With this mindset, I work to control and improve my behavior and also resist what people do so that I can accomplish my goals. In so doing I try very hard to work with people as opposed to work against them. I try to accept people and not condemn them, although I may very much dislike what they are doing. Not condemning people as people allows me to avoid self-defeating anger and to deal with them constructively. Aurelius also helps me to see and remember that I live in a social world and it is important that I try to get people to work with each other rather than against each other. As I see it, people too easily work against each other. He helps me maintain the perspective that it is good and natural to see ourselves as part of a whole, not isolated individuals. With all this said, I try to keep other people’s interests a close second to my interests.

What do you think is the most important psychological technique or piece of practical advice that we can derive from Marcus’ Stoicism?

There is great value in holding ourselves responsible for our emotional reaction to other people rather blaming them for our reaction. Others may obstruct us, but we hurt ourselves about what they do. We control our emotional destiny regardless of what others do or fail to do. When we master this simple idea, we liberate ourselves.

Do you have a favorite quote from The Meditations?

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism?

Take your online course on Marcus Aurelius and read the Meditations.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

I believe people are well advised to study both Stoicism and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. They complement each other nicely because Ellis crafted REBT from Stoic ideas and sentiment. Stoicism is a wonderful philosophy, but REBT can be more accessible, at least initially. Use both tools. To this end go to my website REBTDoctor.com and watch my free audios and videos and learn about REBT and how to put it to use in your life. Register for my Intermittent Reinforcement emails, and you will receive on an intermittent basis useful emails on how to deepen your understanding of REBT and how to use it to cope with adversity and change your unwanted behaviors. If you are a mental health practitioner, coach, or philosophical counselor, consider reading my book Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – A Newcomer’s Guide. It will teach you how to use REBT in your counseling and coaching work with others. Finally, I will be doing a workshop at Stoicon 2018 in London which I have titled “Stoic and Rational Thinking in an Irrational World.” I plan to show how both Stoicism and REBT and be used in today’s challenging world and to facilitate a lively discussion with those who attend!

Interview: Jules Evans on Marcus Aurelius

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

Jules EvansI’m a British writer, author of Philosophy for Life (2012) and The Art of Losing Control (2017), and one of the original organizers of Modern Stoicism.

I’ve done Stoic-themed workshops with lots of audiences, including Saracens rugby club, who I’ve worked with for the last four seasons.

I blog at www.philosophyforlife.org

How did you become interested in Stoicism?

I got into Stoicism via Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helped me when I suffered from PTSD and social anxiety in my early 20s. CBT reminded me of Marcus Aurelius, who I had read as a teenager. I went to interview the founders of CBT, Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, and heard how they had been directly inspired by Stoicism. Then I started to interview contemporary Stoics, writing up the interviews for an online magazine called the Stoic Registry. Through that, I helped organize the first gathering of Stoics – in San Diego, in 2010.

I also met Donald during that time – we must have met in, like, 2010 or something. We were researching along similar lines, both very inspired by Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life. Anyway, I wrote up my stories of modern Stoics in the book Philosophy for Life in 2012, and then in 2013 the Modern Stoicism project started and Stoicism really started to revive. I don’t consider myself a card-carrying Stoic, but I still think it’s an incredibly helpful and wise philosophy with some excellent methods for transforming the self.

What’s the most valuable thing we can learn about Stoicism from the life or writings of Marcus Aurelius?

I guess two things. First, how our emotions come from our opinions or perspective. And second, to remind oneself of the limit of one’s control over the universe, and focus on our own moral agency. It’s fascinating how Marcus constantly reminds himself that he’s not a God, he can’t control the universe – unlike his predecessor, Caligula, who declared war on the sea and made his soldiers attack it!

Do you have a favourite quote from The Meditations?

Our mind becomes dyed with the colour of our habitual thoughts.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism?

Well, read the Meditations or Epictetus’ Discourses. They’re very accessible. Find a modern translation. And then, try a modern intro to Stoicism like those by Donald or me!

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Philosophy for LifeI’d like to speak up for an eclectic approach to Greek wisdom – that’s my approach. I don’t think Stoicism has to be an ‘all or nothing’ philosophy. I find some of its insights into the mind and reality deeply wise, but other philosophical approaches are also very helpful for me, particularly Buddhism at the moment. I think Stoicism can sometimes lead to an overly self-reliant and overly-rationalist approach to life. We’re flawed humans with messy emotions and that’s OK – it’s better to admit that rather than pretending to be some super-rational sage.

I find Buddhist loving-kindness meditation is a good supplement to Stoicism, so one practices being kind and gentle to oneself and others. How kind was Marcus? I feel he related to other beings with a sense of fastidious duty, but I don’t get a sense he was a tremendously warm person, do you? Maybe that’s what his son Commodus felt!

Interview with Massimo Pigliucci about Marcus Aurelius

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I am the K.D. Irani professor of philosophy at the City College of New York. My background is in evolutionary biology and philosophy of science, and my professional interests include the logical structure of evolutionary theory and the nature of pseudoscience.

How did you become interested in Stoicism?

Funny thing. I was going through a bit of a midlife crisis a few years ago, as well as doing my PhD in philosophy. Had figured out that virtue ethics was in the right ballpark of what I needed, but neither Aristotle nor Epicurus clicked with me. Then one day I saw this on my Twitter feed: “Help us celebrate Stoic Week!” And I thought, who on earth wants to celebrate Stoic week, and why? But I signed up, and the rest is history, as they say…

What’s the most valuable thing we can learn about Stoicism from the life or writings of Marcus Aurelius?

Massimo PigliucciThat even the most powerful man in the world can benefit from philosophical reflection, although of course just doing so does not make him a sage. Reading the Meditations one gets the palpable impression that Marcus was a man honestly trying to do his best with the incredibly onerous task he had assumed. And it’s clear he got comfort from his philosophy, from reflecting on Heraclitus and Epictetus, among others. But, understandably, he was also a man incapable of escaping the constraints of his own culture (e.g., he couldn’t conceive of questioning the institution of slavery), as well as a fallible man (e.g., though there are, as you know, attenuating circumstances, the choice of Commodus as his successor wasn’t exactly the most brilliant move of his life). That’s why we common folks, almost two millennia later, can relate to him. He is thoughtful, and human. As we all aspire to be.

Do you have a favourite quote from The Meditations?

Yes: “Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. … I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him.” (II.1) It has so much wrapped in it! (Especially if you look up the full quote.) It is a realistic assessment of life and people. And yet a compassionate one. It is humble, and eminently reasonable. It kind of embeds, for me, the very best of Stoic philosophy.

How do you currently makes use of Stoicism in your work?

I use Stoicism at work and in life in general. I find basic Stoics precepts, and pithy phrases to remind me of them, incredibly useful to navigate the small and sometimes big problems of life. I get less angry at people by telling myself “it seems so to him”; I keep in mind that my plans might need to be changed because of contingencies by saying “fate permitting”; and I try to steer away from damaging thoughts by repeating (usually internally) “you are just an impression, and not at all the thing you portray to be.” Reading the Stoics and studying their philosophy has also changed my priorities in life and at work, making me focus on what is really important, as well as prompting me to question whether something is, in fact, important. I spend more time with my best friends, because friendship is crucial to cultivate one’s virtue and become better people. It is no exaggeration to say that Stoicism has changed my life since I started studying and practicing it.

What do you think is the most important psychological technique or piece of practical advice that we can derive from Marcus’ Stoicism?

Write your own philosophical diary, which is, in an important sense, what the entire Meditations is. While one can extract several other exercises from the text (see here), I found that writing an evening journal of reflection is helping me immensely in being more attentive to what I do and why, and in trying to do better the next time around. And after all, since sages are as rare as the mythical Phoenix, doing better is really all we can strive for.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism?

How to be a StoicYou mean other than downloading your book, which has been waiting on my queue for a few weeks? On Marcus specifically, I really like William Stephens’ Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury). It has a nice structure, which includes a look at Marcus’ life and time, an in-depth discussion of its main influences (the above mentioned Heraclitus and Epictetus), but also an informative analysis of the main philosophical themes of the Meditations. Turns out, Marcus was a pretty decent philosopher in his own right, and Stephens manages to actually reconstruct some of the formal arguments scattered throughout the Meditations, and which may not be apparent to the casual reader.

In terms of Stoicism more broadly, I’d say to get hold of a good translation of the three major authors. I suggest Robin Hard’s version of Epictetus’ Discourses, Enchiridion, and Fragments (Oxford Classics), Hard’s version of the Meditations (also Oxford Classics), and the recent complete series of Seneca put out by University of Chicago Press (seven books, including the tragedies and the Natural Questions, though someone interested in Stoicism as an ethical philosophy might do without these latter).For modern texts, I’d say your Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (the first book I read on modern Stoicism!), for the advanced students Lawrence Becker’s A New Stoicism, and – if I may – my own How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

I would also suggest to join or get started a local group of practitioners, perhaps using the meetup.com platform, and making sure to use the resources of the Stoic Fellowship. Finally, your Stoicism Facebook Group is a great, and very large, virtual community. But as you know, it’s not for the faint of heart: while one can find excellent advice and support, there is more than the occasional troll or snarky commenter. Then again, I guess that’s one way to practice Stoic patience and endurance…

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Well, I have already plugged my book above. My informal writings on Stoicism can be found at howtobeastoic.org, but I’m especially happy with my recently launched mini-podcast, Stoic Meditations (13 platforms so far). At last count it had 500,000 downloads, which I’m frankly astounded by. Each episode lasts about two minutes, and is basically a short meditation, based on a quote from Seneca, Musonius, Epictetus, or Marcus, which I then explain and elaborate upon.


Massimo is the author of How to be a Stoic.  You can read many articles on his blog and website, and his new podcast.