This week is ‘Live like a Stoic’ week in London. But what does it mean to be stoical? Doesn’t it involve being miserable and repressing your emotions? No no no. Jules Evans, Policy Director at the Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions, explained to me what Stoicism is, how it can benefit busy Londoners, and how it relates to mindfulness meditation.

KB: What is Stoicism?

JE: It’s an ancient philosophy that originated in Athens in 300 BC before spreading to Rome and around the world. It inspired Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and still helps many people today to cope with adversity and live a good life.

KB: How can adopting a stoical outlook on life help busy Londoners cope with the demands of living in a chaotic, capitalist and at times dangerous city? 

JE: It helps people focus on what is in their control while accepting what is not. It helps them become aware of how their opinions and perspective can create their emotions and how they can change their perspective and thereby change their emotions. And it helps them think about virtue – what does it mean to live with fortitude, patience, kindness, integrity?

Live like a Stoic Week 24-30th November

Live like a Stoic Week 24-30th November

KB: Can Stoicism help Londoners to observe the beauty in their own city? 

JE: There’s an idea in Stoicism of living in the now, bringing your attention to the present in order to appreciate the beauty of nature for example. There’s also the idea of sometimes widening your perspective, getting a bigger picture, through the contemplation of nature. That might best happen outside of London, but I find Hampstead Heath a good place for contemplation!

KB: Would a stoic practice mindfulness meditation? 

JE: Yes many do. Both Stoicism and Buddhism share the idea of the importance of mindfulness, of learning to be conscious of one’s automatic thoughts and desires and to avoid hasty attachment or aversion to external things.

KB: What does Stoicism have in common with Buddhism?

JE: Well, mindfulness for one. Overcoming attachment and aversion. Focusing on the present moment. More fundamentally, both think of philosophy as a form of therapy or medicine. And both share the cognitive theory of the emotions – the idea our emotions are connected to our thoughts and beliefs.

KB: Where can Londoners go to practice Stoicism and meet other stoics? 

JE: We are hosting a big event in London this Saturday although it’s sold out alas. But there is an online handbook at http://modernstoicism.com/ which people can follow. Plus lively facebook and reddit pages on Stoicism, and an organisation called New Stoa. There are many local philosophy groups such as the London Philosophy Club, and organisations like the School of Life and the Idler Academy often host stoic events.

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