I first became interested in classic Stoicism after reading Massimo Pigliucci’s column in the New York Times earlier this year. Stoicism is a philosophy of life that is compatable with many world views, both theistic and atheistic. I find that it blends well with my own Humanist lifestance. Contrary to popular opinion, Stoicism does not entail suppressing all emotions – although it does offer techniques that enable practitioners to constructively deal with negative emotions.
The main focus of Stoic philosophy is on meditation, mindfulness, and the classic virtues (Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance). It is similar in many respects to Buddhist teachings, but it is firmly grounded in the Western philosophical tradition.
Modern Stoicism is experiencing something of a resurgence, as philosophers and medical health professionals are combining efforts to bring the benefiits of Stoicism to a larger audience. The interest of the mental health community is no accident, for Stoicism is the philosophical root of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, which are considered to be among the most effective treatments for depression and a wide variety of other mental disorders.
Every year, the Stoicism Today project conducts a free “Stoic Week” to introduce people to Stoic practice and to test the benefits that that Stoic practice brings to the participants. There is no charge for enrollment, but participants are asked to participate in a brief survey both before and after the program so that the organizers can study the results of the program.
As Massimo Pigliucci stated in his column, “Stoicism is simply another path some people can try out in order to develop a more or less coherent view of the world, of who they are, and of how they fit in the broader scheme of things.” While I don’t think that Stoic practice is right for everyone, I believe that many would benefit tremendously from exploring these ancient techniques. If you’re curious, I suggest that you check out Stoic Week to learn more. It starts on November 2, but there is still time to register.