Stoic Podcast Notes #1

Stoic Podcast Notes #1 — Stoic History, Conflict, and Meditating on Death

My name is Ramses, and I’m addicted to podcasts.

For years I was a bookworm. But in recent months, I’ve been searching elsewhere.

I’ve waded through the internet’s archives—listening, curating, and thinking, all to find the most useful podcast episodes.

Listening to podcasts has become somewhat of an obsession. Every chance I get, I have my earbuds in, a podcast playing in Spotify, and my Evernote app open to take notes.

I pause, I think, and I write. I have no particular aim, except to learn and slowly digest philosophical insights. My only hope is that my future self will make wise use of my notes.

And then I thought: why not share my notes publicly? Not everyone has the time or the patience to sit through long and deep podcast episodes. But I do, and by re-writing my thoughts, I further digest the wisdom from my fellow Stoics.

The Stoic Podcast Notes will be a recurring type of post on this blog. Every week, I will pick 3 to 5 episodes that caught my attention, and I will share my notes on them.

Remember there is a comment section on this blog! If you have notes on the same episodes, know of other good Stoic podcast episodes, or if you have different thoughts… share them!

Philosophize This! #11 — The Hellenistic Age Part 2: The Early Stoa and the Cynics

43 minutes | Audio | Transcript | Website

Stephen West is the history teacher you wish you had in high school. He not only retells history brilliantly but he also clearly explains the ideas of the philosophers in his stories. Stephen’s 5-part series on Hellenistic philosophy introduces ideas from Socrates until early Christianity. Two episodes in the series are about Stoicism.

Starting in part 2, Stephen tells the story of Zeno and how he came to find the Stoic school. He then proceeds to explain the basics of the Stoic philosophical framework. As this is a podcast for a general audience, Stephen doesn’t expect you to know anything about Stoicism yet. However, I was surprised to hear how deep he goes into the core Stoic ideas and what the implications are for the practitioners.

I recommend you listen to all five episodes in the series but listen to part 2 (episode #11) and part 3 (episode #12) if you’re looking to deepen your understanding of Stoicism.

Stephen also provides transcripts for every episode. Check out the links below.

Audio: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Transcripts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

My takeaways

  • The Cynics
    • Cynics believed a virtuous life is a life worth living. We need to be in harmony with our own nature and our place in nature.
    • Cynics taught that our desires are imprinted by those around us, by society through social conventions. By taking a step away from society, we have a shortcut to happiness because we’re cut off from desires that are imprinted on us by others. According to Cynics, the more we do this, the happier we’ll be.
    • Cynicism was an evolution of Socrates’ teachings, and Stoicism was an evolution of Cynic teachings.
    • Cynicism contains many lessons that we can find in some way in Taoism.
  • Zeno
    • Zeno visited the Delphic Oracle and was given the advice to “take on the complexion of the dead.”
    • As a result of the Oracle’s advice, Zeno read ancient books on philosophy.
    • Zeno shipwrecked around 311 BCE outside of Athens.
    • Zeno liked many of the Cynic ideas but was missing physics and metaphysics. Zeno wanted to ask abstract questions, and that is something the Cynics were not interested in.
  • Stoic physics
    • Basic elements, as believed by the early Stoics: earth, water, air, fire.
      • Active elements: Air, fire.
      • Passive elements: Earth, water.
    • The basic elements are transformed to create everything in the universe.
    • The cosmos is cyclical, and everything that happens is the best way it could unfold.
  • A Stoic wouldn’t panic during a zombie apocalypse. Stoics would be the survivors, and they would accept their fate regardless of the outcome. Stoics make use of their rationality and don’t mindlessly follow the crowd. A Stoic thinks what is the best step to take for him and the universe in every moment.

Good Fortune #18 — Conflict

16 minutes | Audio | Transcript | Website

Matt van Natta is back with his podcast! For many practicing Stoics, Matt is the person that introduced them to Stoicism. He’s the author of the Immoderate Stoic blog and the excellent book The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism.

In episode 18 of Good Fortune, Matt talks about conflict and teaches us a few mindsets to handle and avoid conflict with others. Two tools we have to our disposal are kindness and faithfulness (Discourses 4.5):

“What then has been given to you with which to meet this attack? If you seek to act like a wolf, you can bite back and throw more stones than your neighbor did. But if you seek to act like a human, examine your store, see what faculties you brought into the world? You brought no faculty of brutality, did you? No faculty of bearing grudges, did you? When then is a horse miserable? Not when he can’t sing “cuckoo!” but when he can’t run…Does it not follow then that on the same principles, a human is wretched, not when they are unable to choke lions, but when they have lost their kindness and faithfulness?”

— Epictetus

My takeaways

  • Nothing can hurt a Stoic, except for their own moral faults.
    • When someone is vicious toward you, you will only be hurt if you respond with vice. In other words: you can only hurt yourself through your reaction.
  • Stoics know that we can only control our own actions. What do we strive for? Excellence. Be excellent in your reactions.
  • How Stoics respond to conflict.
    • A Stoic would ask: “What conflict?” — There is no conflict unless you make it one.
    • The standard Stoic reaction is not to engage in personal conflict.
    • Stoics don’t engage in retribution.
  • Tools we have in conflict, according to Epictetus (Discourses 4.5):
    • Kindness.
    • Faithfulness.
  • Stoics act like they do because it makes them happier, to heal the division between people, and to make the world a better place.

The Sunday Stoic #161 — The Fear of Death

20 minutes | Audio | Website

The Sunday Stoic is the first Stoic podcast I discovered and started listening to regularly. Apart from the content, I also take inspiration from Steve’s focus on the Stoic community. He not only shares his insights into Stoic philosophy but also invites listeners to share their ideas and philosophical routines. In between segments, Steve jams on his guitar and gives you a moment to let things sink in a bit. What else do you need?

In this episode, Steve meditates on death and shares useful exercises from his listeners.

I liked the practical exercise from listener Hannah: “What is something nice you can do now for your future self? What is one small, silly thing you can do right now that will make life a little bit easier for your future self? Think parking your car, laying out your clothes for the next day, cleaning up your room, etc.”

My takeaways

  • According to Seneca, we should free ourselves from our fear of death. When we are able to do this, many possibilities open up.
  • According to Epictetus, we should free ourselves from our aversion from what’s outside our power. Death is undoubtedly outside our control; it’s inevitable.
  • How Marcus Aurelius overcame his fear of death:
    • Reflect on how death is part of the natural chain of events.
    • Go with the flow until it’s time to go.
    • The world you’re leaving when you die is filled with people that annoy you. Death is a release.
    • Remember that your troubles are in your mind.
    • Don’t be a puppet to your passions. Think about your last hour on earth to remind yourself things will end. This will be your drive to keep your emotions in check.
    • Be the best person you can be in the limited time you have. Seize every moment.

What Are YOUR Favorite Stoic Podcast Episodes?

What do you think of podcasts, and do you use them to learn more about Stoicism? I’m eager to hear what you think of my notes and to hear about your learning process with podcasts.

For example, do you take notes, do you read transcripts, do you use the exercises you hear in episodes? Share your wisdom!

Please share your favorite Stoic podcast episodes and insights in the comment section.

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An educator by training, I turned to philosophy and coaching after a period of personal transformation. I'm interested in ancient European and Eastern philosophy. Having studied Zen Buddhism for years, I combine other wisdom philosophies with Stoicism.