In preparation for a trip across the country not long ago, I did something I rarely do: I took one of my own books along to read. It was The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results. It was published ten years ago, and I had not re read it since the early days after it first appeared on bookstore shelves. I tried to approach it objectively, as I would any book. And I have to admit that I really enjoyed it! I had forgotten various little discoveries I had made when I first wrote the original draft of the book, going back almost twenty years. The top three Roman stoics, the slave Epictetus, the prominent lawyer Seneca, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had great and practical insights about life that can tremendously enhance our experience of the world today. Their wisdom, at its best, will never go out of style.
The stoics had many perspectives that can help us. Inner resilience is the best path for outer results. Things are not often what they seem. Most of our difficulties come not from the world, but from how we think about things in the world. Nothing can truly harm a good person. By changing our thoughts, we can change our lives. Nothing is to be feared. And I could go on. But, to me, perhaps chief among their insights was the claim that joy is our natural state.
Think about that for a second. Joy is our natural state. If any stoic philosopher was right in thinking this, then either you are experiencing joy right now, or there is some unnatural, unnecessary obstacle in your life blocking that joy, and it's an obstacle you can remove.
If you are, right now, in a state of joy, congratulations. If you aren't, then you should be asking yourself what's getting in the way. What's blocking you from the state of mind that should be your natural default setting? The possibilities are many. And you can't do anything about the ones operative in your life right now until you can identify them. The stoics were confident that, whatever the obstacles might be, you can eliminate them through controlling your emotions, and in turn, you can do that by controlling your thoughts. It's just that simple.
The stoics were philosophers who wanted to help us peel back the worry and anger, the suffering and agitation, the distraction and confusion that too often rules our lives, and get back to the natural state of joy. When we experience that natural joy, we flow forward with all the power that we're meant to have in this life. And that's the power, in the deepest sense, of love.
What's keeping us from it?