Like I said at the end of my previous post about dealing with death, there isn't much to add to the philosophic options given to us by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
After all, there are only so many different ways of looking at reality. The ancients ran though them all. Metaphysical. Natural. Atomistic. Holistic. Rational. Mystical.
So when I found myself leaning toward a "nature knows what it's doing" attitude toward death, it didn't take me long to realize that I was walking on well-trod Stoic ground.
He's helped me get through a bout in the dentist's chair and frustrations with Microsoft. Granted, those aren't quite as serious a problem as death, but Stoicism is well-suited to coping with just about anything.
Because one of its main tenets is to focus on the thing itself, not our reaction to it. It's amazing how problems fade away when we don't spread our own mental crap on top of what's really going on.
"His ship sank."
"His ship sank."
"He was sent to prison." But if you add the proposition "a terrible thing happened to him," then that is coming from you.
The "citadel" being referred to is what's under our control: the judgments we make about what's happening. Ships may sink. Jail doors may close. Death may be at hand.
Those are facts. How we look upon them is something different. The Stoic ideal is to see things as they are, not as how our imagination considers them to be.
An objective or adequate representation is one which corresponds exactly to reality, which is to say that it engenders within us an inner discourse which is nothing other than the pure and simple description of an event, without the addition of any subjective value-judgment.
"He was sent to jail.
What happened? He was sent to jail. But 'He is unhappy' is added by oneself [i.e., subjectively]"
Thus both Marcus and Epictetus draw a clear distinction between "objective" inner discourse, which is merely a pure description of reality, and "subjective" inner discourse, which includes conventional or passionate considerations, which have nothing to do with reality.
As I wrote about in my previous post, I (obviously) was very much alive when I began to envision my death. Even more, there wasn't anything or anyone threatening me. Certainly not the full moon.
The thoughts of death that produced such a disquieting feeling in me came from…me.
To a Stoic, it's natural to be startled by things that go bump in the night. And that includes self-induced bumps, such as One day I'm not going to exist anymore!
However, what happens next often is unnatural. We start talking to ourselves. This subjective inner dialogue imagines all kinds of things.
"Somebody's broken into the house. They're coming to get me." "Death is going to cast me into eternal nothingness. I'll be non-existent for eternity."
Who says? How do you know? What in the here and now supports these notions of there and then?
Often, if not usually, zilch. Nada. Nothing.
My anxiety about nothingness is rooted in nothing. Crazy.
Yet this is a reflection of the normal state of human affairs. We're always making up stories in our heads. We project plot lines both forward into the future and backward into the past, even though we're not in control of the action, nor do we have a view of the entire stage.
When death comes, die. Until then, live – in reality, not fantasy.
If we want to become aware of our true selves, we must concentrate upon the present. As Marcus puts it, we must "circumscribe the present," and separate ourselves from that which no longer belongs to us: our past words and actions, and our future words and actions. Seneca has already expressed this idea:
"These two things must be cut away: fear of the future, and the memory of past sufferings. The latter no longer concern me, and the future does not concern me yet."