A Stoic Approach to Fear

Seneca: A Stoic Life

One of the things I admire about the Stoic philosophers is that they embodied the wisdom that they preached. Seneca, one of the three notable Stoics (along with Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus), used the philosophy of Stoicism to navigate the turmoil and uncertainties during his life.

Although he maintained a high status in ancient Rome as a politician and financial clerk, Seneca was forced into exile by Claudius, and ordered to commit suicide by his former student – the tyrannical emperor Nero. 

In a typical Stoic fashion, on his death bed, Seneca urges his friends, family and followers not to fear death. Dying with dignity and courage, he argues that it is only through death and the ephemeral nature of our existence which gives life meaning. It is not the duration of one’s life that is of significance Seneca claims, but rather the endeavours and meaningful pursuits that one engages which makes life worthwhile.   

 In his consolation to his friend Marcia over the death of her son, Seneca writes that we should always be prepared for the unknown, directly confront our fears and cherish our existence. Nothing should be taken for granted.

Life is fragile, yet despite this, utterly beautiful.

The person who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive

seneca: Of consolation to marcia

Letters from a Stoic

One of the more notable works left behind by Seneca is the Letters from a StoicNear the end of his life, Seneca wrote 124 letters to his friend Lucilius offering philosophical insight and consolation, highlighting many of the key themes in Stoic philosophy.

My favourite in this collection is Letter 13 – On Groundless Fears.  In this letter, Seneca encourages Lucilius to practice resilience providing  questions to consider when assessing the validity of his fears.

Many of our fears Seneca notes are unfounded. We can not control the external world, but we can control our interpretation of it. Much of what we fear are fabrications produced by our mind which, if properly evaluated and critiqued, have no basis in reality.

 Even if unfavourable events do come to fruition, we do not know what the future holds. It may perhaps be a blessing in disguise.

To expand and identify these key ideas these I created a graphic which summarizes the questions and maxims Seneca urges us to consider when we are faced with anxiety or fear. In the thought bubbles are direct quotes from Seneca’s letter which speak to these concepts.

This post was originally posted on my personal blog A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – In Search of Inner Freedom

Source Image: Pexels Free Photos

11 thoughts on “A Stoic Approach to Fear

  1. Belief is the cure for the Stoic mortal fear of death which was sacrificially forever eradicated some 2,000 years ago on an immortal Cross.

  2. Accepting without rancor that which is inevitable is the ideal of stoicism.

    Overindulgence in fear (or anger or shame or whatever emotion is overwhelming one) is the enemy. The only way I know of to avoid this is to realize your anxiety isn’t making the outcome any less likely. Instead it is making your “here and now” miserable. Doesn’t matter if you’re worried about getting fired or getting dead.

    Do what you can to fix the problem. Accept it once it is beyond your control to influence. Get on with life while you have it. Don’t fear the reaper.

    Or as that great American philosopher Doris Day sang, “Que sera, sera.”

  3. Thank you for the mention of Paul Tillich, Andrew. I looked up his books and his writing sounds very much what I’m looking for at the moment.

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