“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” — Marcus Aurelius
“You become what you give your attention to…If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.” — Epictetus
Stoicism was made for times like these. In fact, Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations, his seminal work, during the Antonine plague.
Over the last 100 years the world has been zombified. Coronavirus is a wake up call. And like an early morning alarm, most people just want to go back to sleep.
They’re terrified of what’s to come and don’t know how to handle the uncertainty.
But stoicism, as always, is there for you to lean on. Stoicism will help you not only weather the viral storm, but help you use it to your advantage.
What is Stoicism
Stoicism was founded by Zeno in the 3rd century BCE. It was famously spread by Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius (my father) and Seneca.
The central precept of stoicism is that you cannot control the external world, but you can control your perception of it.
It’s a philosophy focused on self control and standing up for four main virtues:
- Temperance (moderation)
There are several precepts that are especially useful during these times.
Memento Mori is a reminder of the inevitability of death. A commonality of many philosophical systems is the contemplation of death. For millions of years, humans were intimately close to death.
Whether in daily hunter gathering or the constant wars and epidemics, the external world was a constant reminder of our inevitable demise. Society was structured around metaphysical traditions that made us ponder this inevitability. Philosophies like stoicism and religious like christianity are just two examples.
One of the biggest differences of modernity versus antiquity is how disconnected we are from this existential truth. Religions have been all but extinguished and death has been abstracted away. Men are dulled and told their innate violence is pathological, wars are obscured through the use of technology and drone strikes and our food almost magically appears with one click of a button.
But even so, there is no way to flee from this reality. You are mortal. You will die. No matter how much you wash your hands or how clean your diet is, your body will perish. Rich or poor, vegan or carnivore…all humans are equal in this existential truth.
It’s terrifying. But what if our overly safe environment has also robbed us of something. What if this realization can improve your life?
Because most people today never contemplate death, they live like they will live forever. They forget the present moment, toiling away for a dream like future. They’re willing to cope with a shitty boss, 100 hour work weeks and constant anxiety just so some day they can sit on a beach with a margarita.
People give up their time like it’s as prevalent as tap water.
But what if that “someday” never comes? People are tight fisted with their money, shrugging off the homeless who ask for a mere quarter. But they allow instagram, social media, and vain titillation to suck up their finite time.
We’ve all constructed bubbles around our lives to shield us from the truth that we will die. But Coronavirus is a pin prick…a reminder of the harsh realities of nature. Nature doesn’t care about your ambition. Nature doesn’t care about how hard you’re working or how much you love. Nature will kill each and every one of us.
Nature is harsh. But living in accord with it, is a doorway that can transmute your entire existence.
Let coronavirus be this wake up call for you. You will die someday. So live for the present. Count your blessings. This moment is all you have.
Premeditate on Issues
Premeditatio malorum is another stoic technique that Marcus Aurelius and many others practiced. The stoics prepared for the worst. So that when it inevitably came they were better able to face it.
Like Memento Mori, this may seem defeatist and cynical, but ultimately results in a more blissful existence.
It’s paradoxical: If you’re never prepared for something to go wrong, you set yourself up for a life of misery and anxiety because things always will go wrong. This is a fundamental law of the universe: entropy and disorder always increases. As sure as the vegans will lie about meat, the universe will throw a wrench in your plans.
Get ready for your plans to go haywire. Get ready for your incredible summer trip to be cancelled. Get ready for disease to strike when you need it least.
So that way, when it does, you’ll be like a strong stone on the beach unmoved by the waves.
This all came out of nowhere right? Everything was perfect. Winter was breaking. The economy was humming. We all had summer trips coming up and big new quarterly milestones at work.
Bam. Plans halted like someone flipped the breaker on the entire world.
Never trust prosperity to increase and for your luck to continue.The world has a playful way of always keeping your ego in check. Just when things are going best, be vigilant for the tide to turn. Because if you’re prepared for low tide, you can use it to your advantage. And if you’re not, plan to sink as you collide with the bottom of the ocean.
Amor Fati: Accept What’s Outside Your Control & Take Advantage of Your Fate
Epictetus said “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”
After you accept what’s outside your control — one of the chief tenets of stoicism — you must accept your fate.
Until we discover the delorean to go back in time, there is no way to change the past. So instead of thinking of the what ifs and regretting the outcome, accept what you can and take advantage of it.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus
Love your fate because it is all you have. And view it as the universe teaching you a lesson. Because it always is. The question is if you’re listening to what it’s trying to teach you.
What better time to do that than right now? No blaming others — regardless of how idiotic the spring breakers are — will change the situation.
So this quarantine are you going to be the person that complains and devolves into an anxious shell of yourself?
Or are you going to use this pandemic to your advantage.
Yes, there will be tragic outcomes. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot and should not treat this quarantine like a gift.
Amor fati, as the stoics said. Love your fate. Believe that the universe is conspiring to help you and instead of harm you…and then it is.
What if coronavirus was a gift? What if it was the universe telling you something? What would it be saying? For one, times of adversity are opportunities to step back and reevaluate your life. What have you been taking for granted? What habits can you change? What crutches are you relying on that are no longer doing you any good?
What if the coronavirus is telling you it’s time to start that side hustle? Or improve your eating habits? What if the coronavirus is telling you that next plague won’t be so easy on those with high blood sugar. That maybe the real plague is the heart disease around the corner.
There’s never been a better time to work on your self. To improve your consciousness. A grass fed ribeye. 20 minutes of meditation. Daily yoga. Getting some sun for a change. A walk outdoors. A brutal morning workout.
Marcus Aurelius used to say to himself “It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it…It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it.”
The universe just made a move. What’s your counter? Is it strong enough to beat you into submission? Or will you judo back?
Make sure that you are a better person at the end of the quarantine. And no matter what happens you’ll look back upon this period fondly.
This time is challenging. But for some, it will be the most important period of their lives.
Will you be the person that complains all quarantine and emerges sicker than ever?
Or will you radically transform your life?
If you can’t now, will you ever? What are you waiting for?
If you’re ready to change your life and want to start the carnivore diet, sign up below for a 14 day guide to getting started below.
The only cost: you leave your inner bitch at the door.