Stop and think like a Stoic

“Did you mean stick walkers?”

-No, Google, nor did I mean silly walkers of any sort. Looks like you’ll be no help on this one.

So what do I mean, stoic walkers? I mean Epictetus, Seneca, Cicero, Zeno, Aurelius et al, and I mean all walkers whose nurtured optimism is balanced by a daily meditation on the reality of our situation on earth. We can each only do what we can do, individually, but we can always still move, think, and think and feel within a range whose extent is measured a footfall at a time.That’s the stoic presumption of bounded freedom.

“Every day, we have a choice to either reinforce a habit, or challenge it,” knew the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers of stoicism. And every day we have an opportunity to survey the field of possible action and decide what’s worth challenging, and what we must accept and live with.

The Cynics were the self-styled dog philosophers, for their indifference to convention and public propriety. But Stoics invite another canine metaphor, reported by Alain de Botton:

The Stoics had another image with which to evoke our condition as creatures at times able to effect change yet always subject to external necessities. We are like dogs who have been tied to an unpredictable cart. Our leash is long enough to give us a degree of leeway, but not long enough to allow us to wander wherever we please. 

Not the most flattering image, but my dogs have learned to be stoical in this way most of the time, squirrel sitings excepted. I, however, and probably most of us, still strain against the leash more often than necessary. A little more circumspection and a little less strain is one of the happy by-products of my daily rounds.

And, as our national patriotic holiday descends, does walking also foster the counter-feeling of independence Stoics seek? It does. In the modern urban context especially, as with biking, the ability to transport mind and body at will is a tremendous source stimulus of self-reliance. Stoics always were and always will be walkers by temperament. And bikers. But the togas have to go.

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