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Stoic Spiritualism?


If you've read previous posts, you'll know that I grew up in the Catholic church, you'll also know that I am now on the skeptical side of that equation; I consider myself a non-theist. I still however, have a soft spot for the "smells and bells" of the rituals from my former church life. As I've been trying to find ways to reconcile this with a secular life, I have been happy to find whole groups of people in the same boat as me. And many of them are also Stoics.


A work that has affected me recently is by Dr. Ursula Goodenough. She has a wonderful book called The Sacred Depths of Nature, a work that combines a sense of spirituality and science. By spirituality in this case I don't mean a belief in the spiritual. That word is kind of a loaded term, but our language doesn't offer a better one as far as I can tell. By spiritual I mean a sense of awe and connection with the Cosmos, with all life, with reality. Dr. Goodenough is also involved in the Religious Naturalist Association. Having explored their work I have come to find several organizations of "Naturalists". A naturalist is someone who believes that nature is the ultimate, all that there is (or least all that we can know about) Naturalists tend to find the same sense of the scared in nature that a church goer might find in a Sunday service. There are folks who identify as Spiritual Naturalists, Pagan Naturalists, even Christian Naturalists.


I identify with some of these groups for the following reasons.

  1. I find meaning in community (even if it is mostly online)

  2. I do not worship nature, but I revere it, and want to remember my place within it

  3. I want to make use of regular ritual to remind myself of my values and to make some of my Stoic practices experientially different from the rest of my day


I am only in the infancy of exploring this idea. However, I have been trying out a few things.

For example, we set up an alter (or focus) on a table home to celebrate the Fall Equinox. This was a great way to mark the season, be mindful of the arrival of autumn, as well as to think of harvests and the things we are grateful for. Now that the equinox has passed, the same table contains Halloween decorations.



I have also made a cigar box into a small alter, on which I can display items of meaning while I meditate. I am still not a regular meditator but having this display helps to focus on the things I want to meditate on. Some of the items I display are:

  1. A fossil to remind me of the sea of time before the present, and that I too shall one day die

  2. A living plant or a seed (I am a botanist after all) to remind me of all life

  3. A blue marble that I found while taking a walk on the family farm, it reminds me of our blue planet

  4. A statue of Zeno, the founder of Stoic philosophy, this statue reminds me to focus on the Stoics and the character traits of other people whom I wish to emulate




These practices have helped me to feel connected to the changing seasons, and to meditate more regularly. They also fill a gap in the ritual side of my life. While this side of life may not be very "Stoic", it is very human. So if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or that something is missing in your life. Try lighting a candle or some incense, reflect on the seasons, pay attention to what is blooming outside, reflect on the evolution of our species or place in the Cosmos and try to see how these things relate to your values and your character.




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