When I was six years old my mother took me on a ride in a little two-car antique train, with worn red velvet seats and little curtained windows, up into the steep, curvy mountains of Pennsylvania to visit my cousins at home. My 'cousins' were in their seventies and eighties at the time, seven of them, unmarried brothers and sisters, living together in the house where they grew up, across the street from the cemetary.
They were like angels: quiet and ethereal, silver-haired or white-haired, elven, small, with eyes that could really see. What I mean by that is, that when I looked into their eyes, someone was really there, looking back. Looking back without excessive caring (dispassionate), and with an unanxious, untroubled, serene quality (eudaimonia). I felt that it didn't matter that I was a child; to them, I was a human being. Their movements were quiet, modest, yet carefree and natural, like teenagers in a quiet mood, not rushed, yet active, just doing the ordinary everyday things of life that don't engender a lot of excitement. Observable in their natural habitat, unpretending. These brothers and sisters shared the household tasks, cooked meals every day, kept the house spotlessly clean and neat, went out to work and came home again.
For fun, they took those old-fashioned wood-and-canvas lawn chairs over to the cemetary and sat under the trees reading the Stoics and the fathers of the church. I remember the old-fashioned type-setting of their small books with their long Latin names. I remember my Cousin Vincent showing his book to me, his clear gray eyes, serious and good-tempered, connecting with mine.
They offered me a view of an alternative lifestyle. It's certainly one that I've never forgotten, and it's pretty close to the lifestyle my husband Gary and I live, and we lived this way with my parents for twelve years. I had no idea we were all part of a larger community: the stoa.
I've been reading about the Stoics lately....
I had no idea they had their own cosmology, ie theories and observations about Nature and metaphysics. It turns out the 'Old Stoa's' view is very close to the worldview of modern science. Infinite regression of causes, no prime mover, etc. The magic is IN matter. I wrote my theological thesis on that back in 1985: panentheism vis-a-vis incarnation. The mystery is within and also outside. I later moved on to the Shiva-Shakti thread in 'hinduism' : the marriage of consciousness and manifestation; again the union of the physical and the divine, immanence with transcendence. There are many words about this.
Anyway, back to the point: I'm entertaining the notion that we may be more stoic than we suppose. Aside from the thread of connection through our scientific tradition, it also comes down to us through our european 'christian' heritage. I know my Irish Roman Catholic forbears were heavily influenced by it ( my cousins who had their own little 'stoa' in Pottsville Pennsylvania). Having bumped around in spiritual circles for as long as I have (55 years!), of course I am interested in exploring this further.
We usually think of the Stoics as encouraging the 'stiff upper lip' but actually their teaching was to be a person of good humor in all circumstances. They would have liked the Desiderata (in fact they may have written it - you know, that 'serenity prayer' that the 12-step people use.) Another interesting factite (I just invented this word and it means: little fact, or little-known fact) about the stoics is that two of their most prominent leaders were semitic. Does that mean they were Jewish? Greek Jews, like St. Paul? Greek Jews have clearly played a very important role in the creation of western culture, in more ways than even Horatio kens.
Stoicism is most often associated with morality, but in the modern mind, morality itself is associated with a 'do-this, don't-do-that' sort of mentality. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, 'morality' has to do with the condition of one's heart. 'Morale' comes closer, as a word, to what the ancients meant by the word 'moral.' An action or behavior has to be something one can give one's heart to.
Whiskey River recently included on his blog a really great quotation from Carlos Castaneda's 'don Juan Matus' on choosing the 'path with heart': "Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you."
- don Juan Matus
This is not considered 'like Stoicism.' It's thought of as 'really cool.' Some people might think of it as: New Age. I'd say, it's ageless.