Truth & Beauty: A Stoic Approach to Balance

Stoicism is a school of philosophy that has recently piqued my interest. I, like many I encounter, once (falsely) relegated Stoicism to a type of practice wherein one must, under any circumstances, never show what one would deem to be any emotional weaknesses, and instead remain solid and firm, even in the face of the most turbulent situations.


Upon reading and studying the Stoic writings (mainly in the form of essays and letters), I began to uncover a deeply rich and beautiful way of looking at, and operating within the world. Stoicism presents a set of principles, that at first glance, may seem a little harsh or overly disciplined, but when put into practice, help one discover the richness and beauty of life that exists in what we may think of as everyday ordinariness.


Two such topics that pierce through Stoic tenants and in doing so make themselves applicable to the world of healing and development are that of truth and beauty.




Marcus Aurelius - one of the more recent Stoic writers, whose "Meditations" became a rich source of insight into self development and life itself - even to this day.




Truth.

Wisdom is one of the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism (the others being courage, temperance and justice). The love of truth, or the seeking of truth, was seen by the Stoics as true wisdom. To the Stoics, this meant the knowledge of what was good, and what was bad - for both body and soul. It is the knowledge of what helps us thrive and prosper (eudaimonia), and of what harms and hinders us. Prosoche (attention) is a Stoic word referring to the continued practice of mindfulness in regards to our internal discernment and judgements of everyday life, and particularly how these judgements can shape our emotions and desire. It can be used as a type of internal barometer, allowing us to recognise that the presence of certain emotions may indicate to us that we are acting outside our internal values. The Stoic love for wisdom and truth also apply to honestly with oneself and another. Wisdom and truth are absent in the presence of self deception. This is perhaps one of the more pertinent lessons I found on my self healing journey. Becoming genuine and authentic requires us to employ a high level of honesty with ourselves. We cannot heal that which we are unaware of - especially that which we are wilfully unaware of.

Beauty.

The Stoics went as far as to regard everything good as beautiful. This required a thirst for truth and wisdom (in the Stoic sense). The Stoics saw beauty in the proportion and functioning of both body and soul. Though they appreciated physical beauty, to the Stoic, real beauty laid within. Stoics would see the beauty of one's character radiate from within them. The strength and beauty of one's character was often developed through the continued practice of the four virtues (as previously mentioned). Stoics sought to discover the beauty in the smallest movements of everyday life. By not holding stringent preference over what was occurring, life to the Stoic became a beautiful interaction between man and 'God'. Stoics would continually seek to view the world from a level of objectivity that involved recognising aspects of the world for what they are rather than as we perceive them to be. By practicing this view, the material world was stripped of its over-glamorisation, and happiness removed from the dependency of acquisition. Underneath, a causeless happiness is given the chance to emerge.



The level of sobriety in which we are able to look at ourselves will greatly determine what we are able to see, and thus, what we can change and/or work on.



I will leave this post with the following quotes from Marcus Aurelius, teaching us that the inherent beauty of all needs no added praise, that objectivity may render life a beautiful experience.


“Anything in anyway beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made better or worse by praise.”


“Objective judgement, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance - now, at this very moment - of all external events. That's all you need.”


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