Stoicism: How an Ancient Philosophy Applies to Modern Prepping, Survival, and Hard Times

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By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook

In life, it’s vital to balance action, mindset, and spirituality. When it comes to preparedness and survival, I try my best to keep visiting between these three essentials constantly, for myself and also in my guidance work and writings. I find Stoicism to be particularly helpful.

Action and mindset can be pragmatic, functional. But spiritual matters are more intimate, more personal. One can find whatever one’s looking for – strength, faith, determination, inspiration, solace – in religion, philosophy, and other practices, even physical ones. The beauty is that these aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other.

This time, I’ll talk about philosophy. It can be a code of conduct, a practical and actionable guide for a better life. In that sense, it shares that ancient, profound, powerful wisdom and higher aspirations of most, if not all, religions. Just as well it can also prove helpful, particularly during hard times such as what we’re going through in much of the Western world.

People may roll their eyes and deem “philosophy” overly theoretical, academic, or too distant from their reality. However, men and women of action have been using philosophy throughout history and to this day to overcome obstacles and achieve personal growth and victories in all areas of life: relationships, careers, business, adventures, courts, and battlefields. So why not in preparedness and survival?

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens, Greece, by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. The most well-known practitioners and promoters are Epictetus, Cato, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, considered one of Rome’s wisest emperors.

Stoicism asserts that virtue and judgment are based on behavior rather than words. Therefore, it’s not some theoretical concept, much less an academic debate with esoteric propositions.

It’s a very actionable philosophy comprised of simple yet solid, proven, and – most importantly – actionable principles that carry the wisdom of time-tested practices. That’s why it yields practical results.

Why Stoicism?

I studied and practiced Stoicism even before discovering preparedness as a structured disciple and started dedicating myself to it. Since then, I have been deeply impressed by how much both have in common, to the point that I included a few Stoic principles in the first edition of my Street Survival Training book from 2018.

I’ve edited out that part in a recent revision to improve the objectiveness and free some space for more on-point content related to street survival (the stuff I share here on TOP). However, I still share its tenets whenever I have the opportunity to try and see if they can benefit from it as much as I do, always taking care not to be preachy. And above all, I follow its core principle – that is, more through actions than words.

Below, I review some of the main Stoic principles and how they relate to preparedness and survival. It may seem that some overlap in parts. Nonetheless, I believe it bears visiting each to appreciate the nuanced insights and wisdom they provide individually and collectively.

“Focus on what you can control.”

The central tenet of Stoicism is, at the same time, the most simple and powerful. One. It’s Selco’s concept of big and small circles and a lot more.

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can clearly tell myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus

Another way of expressing that idea is “we don’t control what happens, but how we respond.” That’s important in life, no matter the context. Still, it becomes even more powerful during challenging times like now and even more so if TSHTF because that’s when focusing our energy and efforts on ourselves, our thoughts and our actions is the only way to improve our situation.

“Practice Misfortune”

Ancient Stoics of all walks of life would abandon their possessions, leaving their homes occasionally to wander the streets or country for a period, experiencing life with very little or no possessions, comforts, and conveniences.

“Seneca, who enjoyed great wealth as the adviser of Nero, suggested that we ought to set aside a certain number of days each month to practice poverty. Take a little food, wear your worst clothes, and leave the comfort of your home and bed. Put yourself face to face with want, he said, you’ll ask yourself “Is this what I used to dread?”

It’s important to remember that this is an exercise and not a rhetorical device. He doesn’t mean “think about” misfortune, he means to live it. Comfort is the worst kind of slavery because you’re always afraid that something or someone will take it away. But if you can not just anticipate but practice misfortune, then chance loses its ability to disrupt your life. [SOURCE]

Practicing what we fear and training adversity can provide maturity, wisdom,  a more profound life experience, and ultimately make hardship less fearful and more bearable (when it inevitably comes). Based on that idea and the urge to become more resilient and better prepared for difficult times (among other personal goals), I decided to follow that doctrine and started going out on the streets amidst the homeless.

“This too shall pass.”

Everything is transient, cyclical. Classic Spanish Author Miguel de Cervantes put that idea perfectly in his masterpiece novel Don Quixote:

“For neither good nor evil can last forever, and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”

This also encapsulates a couple of important lessons or reminders: to keep hopeful and see the light at the end of the tunnel when SHTF or the times are dire and to appreciate, be grateful, and enjoy fully when times are good.

Memento Mori

Translated literally, memento mori means, “Remember you must die.”

Meditating on death can give us strength, courage, and a dose of serenity to face adversity and danger. Don’t sweat the small things. Don’t take everything so seriously. Always remind yourself no one lives forever. So be good, do good things, and be humble.

Marcus Aurelius said:

We could leave life right now. Let that determine what we do and say and think.

That’s a proposition to guide our actions in the best, more just, and decent way as if those are our last deeds on earth because they might as well be.

“Premeditato Malorum”

Premeditato Malorum means “the premeditation of evils.”

To put it another way, “practicing negative visualization” can well be considered another staple of preparedness. Imagining scenarios and things that can go wrong helps us prepare for setbacks and losses, which are inevitable.

But pay attention: that’s not the same as engaging in a negative spiral of thoughts or inaction. Dwelling in doom and gloom is counterproductive. Using negative visualization to strategize, plan and act is an exercise that builds preparedness and confidence.

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

If we suffer in anticipation, we suffer more than necessary. That’s common if we live too much in the past or in the future and too little in the present.

It’s also counterproductive and not based in reality because our imagination can make things and situations much worse than they are, especially ones that can happen in the future or as a result of our actions and decisions. As Seneca explains:

“We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.’ In doing so, we put ourselves in a mental disposition which is incommensurate with the situation we happen to be in truly. We lose track of the present, and we embellish the future with our fears and insecurities. Oftentimes, our greatest inner turmoil is not an ailment of actuality, but an unconscious manifestation of our perceived shortcomings…The immediate consequence of the gap between perception and reality is that on the individual… the largely self-inflicted, but nevertheless perturbing, anguish of the mind.”

“Amor fati”

Amor fati translates to “love of one’s fate.”

Treat everything that happens and every moment, even bad ones, as something to be embraced and lived fully. No matter how tricky or challenging or bad the situation, it all happens as it should. We are small and ignorant about the greater designs, unable to see the bigger purpose of everything. But it exists, and we must embrace whatever comes our way with courage and determination.

The principles of stoicism speak for themselves.

These principles speak for themselves. They’re profound but, at the same time, actionable and thus serve a very practical purpose if we can continuously reflect on and internalize them.

There are many other Stoic aphorisms that can help preppers have a better life now and also if times get dire. Below, I provide a few online and printed sources to inspire and guide those looking for more about Stoicism.

Books

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs, by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is The Enemy, also by Ryan Holiday

Websites

Daily Stoic – Ancient Wisdom For Everyday Life

Aurelius Foundation

Do you use Stoic practices?

Have you studied Stoicism? Do you find it to be a useful philosophy? Is it something you could see applying to your preparedness efforts? Is there another philosophy you find useful?

Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor

Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

Leave a Reply

  • Top notch work as usual Fabian.

    Excellent breakdown of the subject with practical references and examples for personal application.

  • a really great article,
    “Practice Misfortune”– i lived homeless in my late teens for 2 years in the late 70’s (parents died), it was an experience that has served me well in life although it was not fun at the time. it doesn’t take as much to make a person happy as some may think. sometimes a hot meal, a dry place to sleep and a full belly is enough. i have encouraged people on other sites to take a sleeping bag, and a tent and no more than 20 dollars and try living on the street for 2 weeks and no cheating. it will teach you what things in life are really important. it teaches humility and resourcefulness. all good traits in a person. it was a very good life lesson and has made me a stronger and more successful person by being able to cope with, and reason out problems.
    it’s all been good for me for a long time now. i feel that God has watched over me.

    • You should submit an article of your experiences to this site. I would read it for sure. Glad your situation has improved.

  • I think that focusing on what you can control is very wise. There is so much in life that we cannot control. Keep it simple. Understanding that you could die at any time is also wise. We will all die at some point and boy you just never know what the day may bring.
    Great article. Should hopefully help some folks sleep a little better 🙂

  • No, I don’t follow Stoic principles because they’re Stoic principles. Instead I follow those that I find in the Bible. However, there is a certain commonality in some of the principles.

    The first one I have to reject—“Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” Mankind needs external definitions of good and evil that apply equally to all people. Universal rules that don’t change. Most people have a basic understanding of what is good and evil, which the Bible calls “law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:15). But many ignore that “law written in their hearts” and call evil “good” and good “evil”, and act on it. That’s why universal rules are needed.

    Because I grew up in the woods and camping, when I found myself homeless, I went camping. I did what is called “stealth camping” in parks. Once as I was going through a park at night, I found another person stealth camping, so well hidden that one had to be within three feet of his camp to find it. I’m just not a city person. Even when I’m not homeless, I find myself evaluating places as possible stealth campgrounds. I guess that’s my way of practicing misfortune.

    Don’t fret about the future, live for today recognizing that at some unknown time which could be as sudden as tomorrow we will die are mirrored also as Biblical principles. Those do not absolve us of preparing for bad events we see coming down the pike. But they do help steel us from wallowing in self-pity when hardship comes our way.

    One Biblical principle I see missing in the above list is love for one’s neighbor. That includes for love for the homeless, living on the streets. Even though we may love them, there are times when we can’t help them.

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