My path to flourishing and Stoicism began when I was quite young. My father passed away when I was at high school and for a while I struggled to adapt to the loss. I didn’t spend much time in school, was running wild, and was getting in trouble with the police.
However, I did enjoy reading.
My home town, Ayr, is the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, who was a master Freemason.
My father and most of my friends’ fathers were also Freemasons. Freemasonry gave my father a philosophy of life.
I began reading books on the symbolism and rites that he left behind. I gleaned that it was based on the legends of Old Testament Christianity but also influenced by Hellenistic philosophers such as Plato and Pythagoras, and even included reference to the four cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance, which we associate with Stoicism today.
I began educating myself about world religions and philosophy.
Stoicism helped me to find a sense of meaning and direction in life. It also gave me the psychological tools to help myself and others achieve greater emotional resilience. My favourite Stoic exercise is the View from Above because it’s often helped me quickly change perspective on events that seemed, at first, to be stressful and overwhelming.
I read the Bible but also many eastern religious texts, and Gnostic Christian literature was my favourite.
The early Christians were actually very influenced by Neoplatonism and one of the Naj Hammadi Gnostic codices even contains an excerpt from Plato’s Republic.
Can you imagine if that version of the Bible survived today, featuring Socrates?
So I became more and more interested in ancient philosophy because I was looking for a secular alternative to religion, as a guide to life.
At university in Aberdeen, I studied philosophy and history of Indian religions before going on to study in and train in psychotherapy.
The philosophy I studied at university (mainly Wittgenstein and Heidegger) fascinated me but it seemed too abstract and complex to be very useful in daily life.
Eventually, I discovered the Stoics and realized that was exactly what I’d been looking for all along.
Stoicism helped me to find a sense of meaning and direction in life.
It also gave me the psychological tools to help myself and others achieve greater emotional resilience. My favourite Stoic exercise is the View from Above because it’s often helped me quickly change perspective on events that seemed, at first, to be stressful and overwhelming.
I’m Donald Robertson and this is my #PathsToFlourishing story.
Donald Robertson is the author of How to Think Like an Emperor and the forthcoming graphic novel Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. He is advisor for Stoicon-x Women: Practical Paths to Flourishing. It was Donald’s idea to hold a women’s conference that encouraged Brittany and me to imagine and build this event. Connect with him on Twitter.
This is a #PathsToFlourishing story published as part of a series of stories inspired by the Stoicon-x Women 2021 theme: Practical Paths to Flourishing.