The most important practice in Stoic philosophy is being able to differentiate between what we can control and what we can’t control. What we have influence over and what we do not. In his book Meditations, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius makes us realise just how much choice we have when it comes to forming opinions about our situation:
Be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. I hear you say, “How unlucky that this should happen to me!” Not at all! Say instead, “How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint.
This passage reminds us that the challenges that we face will continue to test us again and again and again – like waves against rocks. In each and every moment, the control that we do have is our opinion about what is happening to us. We can lament and scream “Why me?” and prolong the suffering, or we can decide to be heroic and be grateful that our challenges are our own, and that we are capable of matching them.
This ties in quite seamlessly with another Stoic concept: Amor Fati.
Amor Fati translates as ‘Love Your Fate’. Almost every single person on earth right now has Coronavirus written into a part of their story; whether it be catching it, having plans disrupted by it or simply hearing about it. It is here, the best we can do is accept it. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche popularised Amor Fati with this quote:
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”
This concept is usually represented by a symbol of fire. Again from his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius reminds us that:
A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.
The Coronavirus pandemic is a challenging time, there is no doubt about that. Schedules are disrupted, adjustments need to be made, people are getting sick, people are dying, the timeline is uncertain. All of these things are neutral though. They’re just facts. How we choose to use them is what can turn this difficult situation into a brighter one.
All of the problems can be stones that one by one, start to extinguish the fire that you once had. Alternatively, they can be bits of dry wood that only serve to fuel your inner brightness. You can channel your inner Jocko Willink and add “GOOD” to the end of the all of the disruptions.
Schedule disrupted? Good. It was time for a reassessment of how I was spending/wasting my time.
Timeline is uncertain? Good. This is the perfect time to practice patience and acceptance in the face of uncertainty.
Gym is closed? Good. I needed to work on more bodyweight exercises anyway.
Make the best of this situation but don’t be an asshole and a possible death facilitator. Practice Stoic values. Social distance. Cancel meet-ups. Help others that are more vulnerable. Postpone visiting your gran. Share resources. Isolate if you are sick or think you might have been in contact with someone who is. Don’t panic. Do your best with what you have got.
Remember what you do control and what you don’t control.
Act on what you can. Be at peace with what you can’t.