There are good practical reason for running a five-week course. It’s a good way of providing something for those who have missed the beginning of term and might not want to hang around for the next ten-week course to begin. Then there are those who have attended courses in the past who might want to get a taste of what the School has currently on offer.
For me there was a personal reason for wanting to run Philosophy As a Way of Life. I was when I began to conceive of the form it might take recovering from leukaemia. I’d asked my consultant if he thought I might be up to tutoring a philosophy course. “You’re doing really well,” was his reply, “but I’d give it a few more weeks.”
That suited me fine. A few more weeks would be five weeks before the end of term, just time time enough to run the course.
When I’d been lying in Intensive Care I wanted to express what I was directly experiencing. In accord with a Stoic practice I wrote: ‘There is possible for there to be a growing awareness that we are not alone, rather that we are part of the whole, the totality of humanity and beyond that, the totality of the cosmos. We are at one with the all, and that all is the final reality, the truth about ourselves.’
After ten days or so the doctors had managed to save me from imminent departure, and it was then a thought arose, ‘If I’ve been granted a bit of extra time I know what I would love to do, and that’s to run a course on Stoicism.’ Having endured the chemo therapy I’d been through I thought I’d be well qualified.
Lying in hospital four of the fundamentals of Stoicism were uppermost in mind:
The awareness that we are not alone; that we are part of the whole.
A concentration on the present moment and thereby living as if seeing things for the first time.
The ability to remain free and serene in the knowledge that it’s not our outer circumstances that rule our life but our inner attitude.
The belief in the absolute value of the human person.
Philosophy as promoted by the School has always been practical, and that’s exactly what Stoic philosophy is. They saw philosophy as being therapeutic, creating a way to develop what Zeno, the original Stoic, called, ‘a free flowing life’, that is a life free from all the usual hang ups caused by being worked up, stressed out and generally despairing.
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. Marcus Aurelius
Lying in Intensive Care I wasn’t distressed nor despairing. I felt supremely contented. There was certainly no sense of separation. The Stoics desired to live in harmony with Nature, their own essential Nature and the Nature of the all. They recognised that in truth there was no difference. It was the Stoics who coined the word cosmopolitan, the original meaning of which is citizen of the cosmos. Taking that view certainly relieves you of the isolated state of me and mine.
Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Marcus Aurelius
It’s thoughts of this nature that makes Philosophy As a Way of Life so appealing and so popular, that and the encouragement the students are given to make their own contribution to our exploration of Stoicism, a beautiful expression of the universal love of wisdom.