Living In Accordance with Nature
Part of living a virtuous life, to a Stoic, is to live in accordance with nature; which is one of the central Stoic ideas. Like our foot is part of our body, we are part of a whole and we must live our role. Epictetus describes this in one way by saying of a foot that:
it will beseem it (if need be) to walk in the mud, to tread on thorns, and sometimes even to be cut off, for the benefit of the whole body; else it is no longer a foot
I think I interpret the axiom to “live in accordance with nature” to mean a few things. I believe it to mean living in harmony with your environment, your community, your means and your ability. There is some cross over with Eastern philosophies and their concepts of yin and yang, tranquility, harmony and balance. I like to generalize this concept as “going with he flow.”
My caveat to going with the flow is that doing so shouldn’t contradict your duties, goals and values; or more generally with being virtuous. When it does that’s when you stop going with the flow and fight the current. This helps me from getting complacent in the flow and reminds me to swim against the stream when necessary. The tricky part is identifying the right moments. Stoic mindfullness helps.
My definition of environment includes both your physical and social environments. As much as possible try to live in harmony and balance within these environments. Be respectful and good to nature as much as possible. I like the camping ideal of leaving your campsite in better condition than before.
In your social environment you should fit in as much as possible without compromising your values. Part of being happy is engagement with your community and life will have less friction if you maintain good relationships with your neighbours.
As a practicing Stoic I don’t necessarily share popular opinions and values with those around me all the time; however, I try my best to be respectful of those individuals and remember that they have the right to place value judgements where they see fit.
Live within your means. Don’t get into debt to increase your so-called quality of life or to enjoy luxuries. Instead focus on improving your situation and controlling your spending; eventually you’ll be making your money work for you and have more than you need.
Since I started drafting this post my wife and I have actually paid the last of my student debt. I graduated from my second degree just 4.5 years ago. I think considering we had an initial 5 year repayment plan and we were surprised with twins reaching the goal 6 months early is good.
I think it natural to analyze yourself to determine your abilities (or talent) and build skills to support them. I have some natural ability or tendency toward visual fields; drawing, painting, photography, design. etc. I decided to study design and I’ve built skills in web design, identity deisgn and illustration to a lesser degree.
I’ve learned to separate ability from skill which I think was a bit of a turning point in my professional development. Skills can be learned, and I’ve been able to identify the skills I want to develop and find enough articles and resources online to increase over time.
Natural ability and talent could be and indication of a grand plan, the fates or simply a coincidental combination of chemicals in your brain, hormones and genetics. My point is, it is natural, so don’t fight it unless in violates your values.
February 28, 2015 at 8:19 am
So so true. Most of the hurdles people face in life stem from the inability for them to see how they are fitting or not fitting into nature. “I feel the flow, I feel I am not going quite with it, but I don’t know why.” Typically we want to find someone to blame, but that avenue never leads to clarity because the moment we blame, we give up responsibility and let go of the wheel. How are we supposed to right the ship, if we are not even willing to take command of it.
I have a natural ability to bear heavy burden. I have never been affected by death, I must always do the lion’s share of the work and I typically find joy in doing jobs that others shy away from. This is only the physical aspect however. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that this ability could translate into a spiritual ability. Perhaps I can be just as effective carrying and dispelling the burdens associated bewilderment and confusion that so many of us struggle to endure and overcome. Who knows just as yet. I’m not really sure even how, but I do know this is my ability which is a good start I suppose.