CM Magazine Cover
From Vol. 6, Issue 1, January 2024

Stoic harmony and love

Stoic Everyday || JOHN KUNA

View PDF Back to Latest Issue

A smooth flow of life

Zeno spoke often about how a life well lived is achieved by finding a smooth flow of life. Chrysippus took this concept and expanded it to living in accordance with nature. There are many aspects of human nature that others will likely explore: our creativity, our capacity for reason, our ability to communicate our thoughts well. But I would like to focus on what I think is perhaps the most fundamental part of what it means to be human – our love and care for others. Finding a better way to love not only leads to better relationships, but it can help you be a better person, too.

All of us have faced challenges with love and loss in our lives. Perhaps we loved a romantic partner who eventually fell out of love with us. Or we loved a parent deeply who passed away suddenly. Or maybe we loved someone who didn’t ever share those same feelings for us. Whatever the issue, whether romantic or familial or friendly, Stoicism provides a framework that can help us navigate love for a better life.

Misinterpreting Stoicism

When I first encountered Stoicism, I misinterpreted a lot of the concepts. In particular, I recall being put off by the way it seemed to discuss love. I read this passage from Epictetus:

With regard to whatever objects… are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are… if you embrace your child or your wife, that you embrace a mortal—and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it. - Epictetus, Encheiridion 4.

Initially, I found that passage callous. But after learning more about the philosophy and going through hardships in my own life, I came back to it realizing the profundity of its sentiment. When we accept that who or what we love can and will come to an end, it frees us of fear and attachment, allowing us to love deeply and fully in every moment.

How a Stoic loves

The Stoics argued that one could not properly love without properly understanding virtue, which means that living well means loving well, too. They did not shirk or avoid their intimate or loving relationships; nor did they cling to them like a hopeless romantic. Stoic love is a love of appreciation rather than a love of attachment. If you are attached or clinging to that which you love, it becomes suffocating for the subject of your affection and opens you up to unnecessary suffering and clouded judgment. A love of appreciation is joyful of the reason you loved someone or something in the first place. It cherishes the time spent together; and during time apart, you have only fond memories. It is a wholly positive experience for those involved. And when it is over, there is no need to despair.

As Seneca often did in his Letters to Lucilius, I will reference some profound wisdom – not from a Stoic – but from someone whom I would never agree with on most things:

If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.

Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.

So if you love a flower, let it be.

Love is not about possession.

Love is about appreciation.
- Osho Rajneesh

Appreciating the moment

Just as love is not about possession, think of the love you have of nature as you go on a hike. You pass by a thousand little wonders. The chipmunk that quirkily rests atop a stone. The leaves of a tree rippling softly in a breeze. The clouds floating and dissipating high in the sky above. The creek gurgling below your feet. You love each moment and cherish them equally. Yet, as you pass them by during your hike, you do not despair for having passed them. You appreciated that experience and that moment.

So it is with the love you have for another. You love the experience of them, each moment you spend. But when you pass them by or they you, that is as natural as continuing along in your journey. So, do not despair when they are no longer in your life – appreciate them for the experiences you shared, the lessons you learned, and the love you have for them.

Loving without clinging

As we enter this new year, I encourage you to evaluate those in your life whom you love or have loved. Ask yourself: do you love them for who they are, or do you cling to them out of fear of losing them? How can you reframe your love to align it with the Stoic way?

John Kuna is a Stoic prokopton, writer, and dog lover. He likes digging deep into Stoic theory, but also writing accessible and inspiring Stoic content.