Is Stoicism Creative?

“Health is generally preferable to illness and wealth to poverty, depending on how they’re used, but neither is of any value whatsoever when it comes to judging whether someone has lived a good life, according to the Stoics.”
― Donald Robertson, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Ancient Tips for Modern Challenges.

Since creative work begins in the mind, I like to think the pursuit of health is of utmost importance to a person seeking more creativity in their life. Considering that the brain sits atop the body and is the command centre for the whole operation, it follows that the health of each part is not as separate as we think. In fact, more rigour should be taken to consider the thoughts we produce, because they do more than innocently roll around our heads.

No matter what kind of creative pursuit is being explored, the seeds of inspiration grow in the mind. Sometimes these sprouts are hidden and become fully formed ideas before we realize it. These sparks or flashes almost feel magical, like we have no control over whether they arrive or not. Most creative people don’t wait for a sudden revelation to kick-start action. Rather, they cultivate healthy habits which support their priorities.

How does stoicism support or contribute to creative inspiration or thoughts, and ultimately to an end result? Along with many other practices which support healthy functioning of the brain, I think stoicism has a place in the toolkit. We face new challenges everyday and must remain open to new ideas, as has been the case over millennia. What is different about modern times is that we have many competing stresses in our lives without a broad range of tools to manage them with.

The philosophy of virtues, or stoicism can be another angle to approach the daily flow of information and interactions. These theories of thought can be used like a pair of good sunglasses. Instead of squinting and blocking out much of the available information, you can safely view it all. This distance or perspective allows calm and rational choice in the matter of what to focus on. Acting like a filter, these glasses give just a moment more time to think clearly and without distraction.

The modern day philosopher and writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines a Stoic as someone who “transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.”

Of course, incorporating new ideas of any kind into daily life is difficult at best. Layering on something like stoicism might be overwhelming, to put it lightly. For sure, that is what I think as I begin this research and task of understanding. I’m still reading the translators notes at the beginning of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I’ve even heard that others will revisit this text every year to glean something new. So, I’m not in a rush. I’m going to savour this first reading.

Along the way, I have uncovered a few gems to help set the stage for my understanding of stoicism. I want to get the most value of the ancient text so that I am able to experience my life with a lens that supports my creative practices. I believe that by changing the way I process negative information, I can live more creatively. For certain, the only things I can control are my own thoughts, perceptions and reactions. Accepting these ideas is the easy first bit. Understanding them is next and implementing a change in my normal patterns of thought will be the final stage.

All of this is to say that while stoicism is not a creative practice per se, by thinking like a Stoic, I am pretty sure that creativity will have a better chance to thrive. Ultimately, I think creative thoughts are elusive and require certain conditions to emerge from. There is no downside in the study of these ancient philosophers and their method of thought. There are always some nuggets which could be incorporated into a modern life. I also love to follow where my curiosity leads me!

I believe the magic of a creative practice is anchored in how normal it is. Meaning it is part of a lifestyle, not something separate. I want all my moments to include the joy of creativity, not just the few weeks of a year when I can escape my normal life for a vacation. It seems so sad that we live such a stressful existence, most of the time, so that we require a recovery period. I truly believe we can ‘create a life we don’t need a vacation from’.

By pursuing a creative life, it seems logical that our level of wellness will be enhanced. As the DailyFinds this week have explored, there is much to be gained from practicing creativity. Enjoy these DailyFinds if you missed any of them this week.

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“Change your thoughts and you’ll change your world.” ― Marcus Aurelius

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