The Stoic Druid – Part Three

The ancient Stoics typically adopted the traditional four cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. The main goal of the Stoic is to live in accordance with nature, or live in accordance with virtue. In my work on the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training Course I’ve been asked to think of examples, of people who inspire me in how they conduct themselves, in the way that they walk their talk. I’m also reminded of those people who I simply do not want to be, ruled by their shadow selves, causing destruction wherever they go.

Wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, are the cardinal virtues in Stoicism, and their opposites are vices. Epictetus sums up the key Stoic indifferents as “health, wealth, and reputation”. Your status in society, your bank account, your reputation, all these are matters that are not entirely under your control. If they are not under your control, then they are indifferent. Indifferents also don’t necessarily contribute or detract from your happiness and well-being, from your peace of mind. Some may be preferential over others, such as being healthy, but ultimately even if we are ill, we are still able to live as well as we can, with the Stoic virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. If we are ruled by our reactions to that which is indifferent, then we will never progress, instead living reactionary lives, ruled by our shadows, making bad decisions, treating others unfairly, becoming fearful and lashing out with bad behaviour.

From the online site Stoic Ethics, we have it summed up here:

“The Stoics elaborated a detailed taxonomy of virtue, dividing virtue into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness. Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing. Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness. Moderation is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self-control. Similarly, the Stoics divide vice into foolishness, injustice, cowardice, intemperance, and the rest. The Stoics further maintained that the virtues are inter-entailing and constitute a unity: to have one is to have them all. They held that the same virtuous mind is wise, just, courageous, and moderate. Thus, the virtuous person is disposed in a certain way with respect to each of the individual virtues. To support their doctrine of the unity of virtue, the Stoics offered an analogy: just as someone is both a poet and an orator and a general but is still one individual, so too the virtues are unified but apply to different spheres of action.”

This sits very well with my many years of studying Zen Buddhism. The notion of compassion is central to Zen Buddhism, and combined with the Western Stoic notion of virtue can make even more sense to the practitioner. I’m sure the Buddha would have loved to have had a chat with Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus!

At some points in our lives, we will all be faced by difficult challenges. How we rise to these challenges is what defines us, morally, spiritually, ethically. Our actions may not always bring about peace. We may be required to call people to account for their actions, or to stand up for another. We may have to do things we would prefer not to, to be uncomfortable, to make unpopular choices. But in staying true to nature, to the virtues, and working with compassion we ennoble our hearts and our souls in the journey of a life well-lived.

In my studies, after now having defined what the above virtues mean, and applied them to my own life, I’m moving on to suspending value judgements and towards what the Buddhist would call Right View, albeit in a Stoic context. It will be interesting to see how these two philosophies overlap, and where they differ. It should also be interesting at this point in my life as well, where I am called to challenge bad behaviour and try to cease further suffering by making a stand in certain areas. After having spent the last couple of weeks defining my goals in Week Two, I’m now moving once again into a deep study of my thought processes, reactions and behaviour in Week Three. Self-monitoring is always a fun, and very useful, exercise. 🙂

30-Day No Plastic Challenge – The Results!

So, the last week of my “No Plastic for a Month” challenge and it’s been harder than I anticipated. I didn’t manage to get through the whole month without buying food that had been packaged in plastic: there were three exceptions. I had to make a rice dish for a wedding, and simply could not find rice that didn’t come in plastic packaging (where I live in Suffolk there are no big bulk food suppliers, sadly, not even at large food chain superstores. I shall be writing letters to them all about this.) I also had to buy some hazelnuts and sunflower seeds (vegan diet, my protein intake) and these too were unavailable without plastic.

All in all, I’ve looked at the waste that I produce, and it’s seriously overhauled. I thought I was pretty good at not having too much rubbish to collect every two weeks. I know that even the bag of rubbish that I was throwing out a week was too much, and since the challenge this has reduced to half, or even less than half a bag of rubbish a week. An eye-opener. The plastic that a lot of packaging comes in, the bendy but not stretchy plastic, is not recyclable in my area. I didn’t realise quite how much I was still using.

There is no such thing as “away”. We do not throw our rubbish “away” – it simply ends up in another place. With dwindling oil supplies and the rate that plastic biodegrades, we seriously need to re-evaluate our relationship with it. We do not live in a disposable society, no matter how much marketing in companies try to tell us otherwise. We only have one planet, one place to live, and we must treat that with utmost respect.

I shall continue in my search to find food that isn’t wrapped in plastic, and to keep my waste as low as possible, or even lower. Shopping is now not only concerned with ethical and organic implications, but also packaging to an even higher degree than before. Working on an ethical principle that asks the question, “What if everyone did the same?” is the best guideline I’ve ever come across so far.

To all those who took this challenge with me, well done, and long may you continue. If you’d like, please share your thoughts here on this blog, or write your own blog post and ping back to me – I’d love to hear from you!

Awen blessings,

Jo.x