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Harnessing Ancient Wisdom for Modern Challenges: Stoicism, Recovery, and the Power of Perspective

Updated: Jul 26, 2023


Ancient philosophy systems really have a way of making sense. Take Ryan Holiday, for example. He’s this modern guy who's all about stoicism and has written some pretty insightful books on the subject. The personal value I have in his books about ancient philosophy is immeasurable. But here's the thing, philosophy is just a system of us trying to figure out what the hell is happening around us and in us. Philosophers are the group of people throughout time who gained the most traction in figuring out why we are here, why we do what we do, and what the hell is the point of this whole thing. These thinkers were changing the world before everything was at our fingertips. There is a strong argument that they were closer to their souls simply because of a lack of distraction.

Stoicism is filled with the wisdom that is applicable for recover.  Pay attention to what has worked for thousands of years.
Temperance, Truth, Wisdom, and Courage

So, why do these ancient philosophy systems, particularly stoicism, work? Well, let me break it down for you. First of all, stoicism is all about embracing the things we can control and accepting the things we can't. It's like this mental framework that helps you navigate through life's ups and downs without losing your cool. And let me tell you, when you're sitting in a jail cell, accused of trying to cut your mother's head off, keeping your cool becomes imperative. While ascertaining what is in your control and what is not, learn to manage your energy. There is no point in dwelling on and thinking about things that can’t be helped. Especially when that bandwidth in your brain can be applied elsewhere.

Stoicism teaches you to focus on what truly matters and not get caught up in the things that are beyond your control. It's about finding inner peace and contentment, even in the most challenging circumstances. Life will undoubtedly bring struggle, challenges, and setbacks. You don’t get to not struggle. The stoic’s trick was to struggle well.

Ryan Holiday, in his books like "The Obstacle Is the Way," takes these ancient philosophical principles and applies them to our modern lives. He shows us how we can use these teachings to overcome life’s tests, find meaning in adversity, and lead a more fulfilling life. It's like he's this bridge between ancient wisdom and our contemporary struggles. In this book, I learned the art of applying Amore Fati as a principal of life. Amore Fati is not just being all right with what has happened, good or bad, but loving it. If you can love everything and understand it is working for you and from you. You will become unstoppable. He expands on how the perspective of any situation can be changed. Not just to endure but to thrive as a result of what was proposed as a threat. According to the Amor Fati principle, tolerance of what you perceive as life happing to you is not enough. Truly loving your circumstances is a whole other level.

But here's the thing about stoicism that really resonates with me. It's not about denying or suppressing our emotions. It's about acknowledging them, understanding them, and then choosing how to respond. See, in that homeless shelter, surrounded by weary men and elbow-rubbing showers. Emotions can run high. But stoicism reminds us that we have control over how we react to those emotions. We can choose to let them consume us, or we can choose to rise above them. It’s more about perspective than an objective occurrence of situations.

Philosophy often emphasizes the power of belief and faith in something greater than ourselves. It's not necessarily about religion or God in a traditional sense but rather about finding a sense of purpose and connection to a higher purpose. When the foundation of stoics was being laid, Jesus was getting the ball rolling on the New Testament. In those dark moments when everything seems to be falling apart, having that belief can be a guiding light, a source of strength to keep going.

So, yes, ancient philosophy systems like stoicism work because they provide us with practical tools and perspectives to navigate the challenges of life. They teach us to focus on what we can control, find inner peace amidst chaos, and choose our responses to adversity. And when you combine that wisdom from ancient philosophers with the insights of modern thinkers, well, you've got yourself a powerful recipe for resilience and personal growth.


The Founding Fathers of Stoicism


Consider the founding fathers of stoicism and how they can help you to navigate substance use and abuse. Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus were influential figures in the development of stoicism, each contributing unique insights and teachings that remain relevant even today, particularly in the context of recovery.

Let's start with Marcus Aurelius, who was not only a Roman Emperor but also a philosopher. His most famous work, "Meditations," is a collection of personal reflections and philosophical insights. Many leaders, CEOs, Presidents, and serious men are known to carry this book with them and revisit the lessons often. Meditations was never meant to be published. It was actually his personal journal that made it through time and now continues to shed light on a great participant of this world. Marcus Aurelius emphasized the importance of self-discipline, self-control, and the power of reason in navigating life's challenges. He believed that we should focus on our own actions and character rather than being preoccupied with external events or the actions of others. This perspective can be highly valuable in recovery because it encourages individuals to take responsibility for their own choices and behaviors rather than blaming external circumstances or other people.

Seneca, another prominent stoic philosopher, was known for his wisdom on virtue, resilience, and the importance of embracing adversity. Seneca was a high-ranking leader and a man whose struggles, on the surface, could have been considered equal to the “first-world problems” we have today. He wasn’t going hungry if you know what I mean? Nonetheless, he emphasized the need to cultivate inner strength and virtue in the face of challenges, urging individuals to develop a sense of tranquility and contentment. Temptation was always just around the corner for this man of status, making attention to moderation and focus on the highest good a must. Seneca's teachings emphasize the idea that setbacks and hardships can be opportunities for personal growth and character development. In the context of recovery, his lessons encourage individuals to see their struggles as opportunities for transformation and to approach setbacks with resilience and a growth mindset while maintaining virtue.


Epictetus, a former slave turned philosopher, focused on the concept of control, distinguishing between things that are within our control and those that are not. Epictetus could be considered the ancient Nelson Mandela, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Most of his life was under the constraint of shackles and he had little influence over his lifestyle. Yet, he taught that true freedom lies in our ability to choose our responses to external events, rather than being enslaved by circumstances. Epictetus emphasized the importance of acceptance and the power of perspective, highlighting that our suffering often stems from our judgments and interpretations of events rather than the events themselves. In recovery, this perspective can be invaluable as individuals learn to accept the things they cannot change and focus their energy on taking meaningful action in the areas they can control. Consider losing the ability a leg, which Epictetus did experience resulting from a beating. Also, consider that you have a finite amount of energy. Is it more useful to spend this energy on making your legs work or becoming stronger in your upper body to navigate life in a wheelchair easier?

Collectively, these philosophers contributed to the philosophy of stoicism by providing practical tools and perspectives for leading a virtuous and meaningful life. Their teachings emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, resilience, self-reflection, and the cultivation of inner strength. In the context of recovery, their lessons can inspire individuals to take ownership of their journey, find meaning in adversity, and develop the mental and emotional fortitude needed to overcome challenges and sustain long-term recovery. By applying the principles of stoicism, individuals in recovery can develop a sense of inner peace, resilience, and purpose, enabling them to navigate life's difficulties with greater clarity and strength.

What can be noted is the vast difference in their positions while on Earth. Varying levels of wealth and power ranging from the Emperor of all civilization to a slave chained and beaten regularly. What does this tell us? Despite everything, and I mean everything, you can leave a dent in this world, and where you are right now has nothing to do with who you can become.


Power of Perspective

In summary, the power of perspective, as beautifully highlighted in the philosophy of stoicism, is an unparalleled tool in our existential toolkit. It is a mental framework enabling us to thrive amidst chaos, trials, and tribulations. Whether you are a philosopher Emperor like Marcus Aurelius, a well-heeled statesman like Seneca, or a slave turned philosopher like Epictetus, stoicism teaches us that the locus of control resides within us, not outside. The transformative wisdom in Ryan Holiday's books brings to light that, regardless of our circumstances, we can harness the power of perspective to shape our responses and carve out a fulfilling, purpose-driven life.

Stoicism equips us to differentiate between what's in our control and what's not, enabling us to conserve our energy for battles truly worth fighting. This is a philosophy that not only teaches us to be okay with life's happenings but to embrace them wholeheartedly, to love them even, and see each experience as an opportunity for growth. This is the Amor Fati principle in action.

Remember, your circumstances don't define you; it's your perspective on those circumstances and how you choose to respond that truly matters. Embrace the challenges, the hardships, the setbacks - they are merely fuel for your journey to becoming unstoppable. So, next time life presents you with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, remember the power of perspective and choose to see it not as a hindrance, but a stepping stone to greater things. The wisdom of stoicism is timeless, and its lessons are just as valuable and applicable today as they were thousands of years ago. Through adopting this ancient yet ever-relevant philosophy, we're not just learning to endure life, but to truly thrive amidst all of its glorious unpredictability. It is this power of perspective that shapes our resilience, our peace, our personal growth, and above all, our undying spirit. In essence, it is the stoic perspective that allows us to struggle well and emerge stronger than ever.

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