When doing a course, it’s important to be clear from the outset how the goals are being defined.
Your overall goal in this four-week training program is to learn to live more consistently in accord with traditional Stoic values, or with “virtue” and practical wisdom, and to evaluate the results for your quality of life. The most important aspect of this will be training yourself to consistently place more importance on your own character and actions than upon external events. You’ll also be training yourself to cultivate mindfulness so that you avoid going along with any thoughts, actions, or feelings, that may interfere with that goal.
If you’re unclear about anything or have any questions about the course goals, feel free to contact your course facilitator.
The aspect of Stoic practice we’ve chosen to focus upon is the advice to distinguish carefully between what is “up to us” and what is not, in any given situation, particularly when distressing emotions arise. This is the foundational Stoic practice described in the opening sentences of Epictetus’ famous Handbook (Encheiridion) and it’s the dominant theme that recurs throughout his Discourses. So there’s no doubt that it’s a central feature of ancient Stoicism and something most people would recognise as characteristic of the surviving Stoic literature.
Epictetus consistently recommends this as a starting point to novice students of Stoicism and it can be seen as the basis of more advanced practices. It’s also a very simple and versatile way of coping with situations and one that modern students of Stoicism report finding beneficial and easy to put into practice. So we’d like you to reflect on ways that you can expand on this basic strategy and gain more benefit from it over the next four weeks.
At first, focusing on living with virtue might seem like a different thing from mindfulness but for the ancient Stoics they were intimately connected. The central premise of Stoicism is that virtue is the only true good, the most important thing in life. When we view it this way we naturally come to pay more attention to our own character and actions, which take place in the present moment.