#1061 The God of Medicine

Prescribing Hardships to Cultivate Our Virtue

Continuing our exploration of Stoic practices that help us step in between stimulus and response so we can choose our optimal response, let’s hear how Marcus Aurelius approached it.


First, quick note.

As we discussed, Stoicism is the philosophical foundation of modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. What we haven’t discussed yet (and what I didn’t know until reading Donald Robertson’s How to Think Like a Roman Emperor), is the fact that Viktor Frankl was ALSO deeply influenced by Stoic thought.

In fact, his whole stimulus-response-freedom wisdom is, essentially, Rule #1 of Stoicism: We can’t control what happens to us, but we CAN (and must!) choose how we respond to it.

Or, as Frankl so powerfully and poetically puts it: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


Moving on to the great emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

THAT guy faced a LOT of challenges trying to wisely rule Rome at the peak of its powers. Civil war. Plague. Barbarians rebelling. Watching eight of his thirteen children die. That kinda thing. 😲

How’d he aspire to deal with those challenges as a practicing Stoic?

Donald Robertson tells us: “Marcus actually imagines Nature herself as a physician, like Asclepius, the god of medicine, prescribing hardships to him as if they were painful remedies. To take Nature’s medicine properly, we must accept our fate and respond virtuously, with courage and self-discipline, thereby improving our character.

In Meditations, Marcus himself put it this way: “So here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not, ‘This is a misfortune,’ but ‘To bear this worthily is a good fortune.’

That’s Today’s +1.

Facing any hardships?

Is it possible that Nature is simply prescribing us the very medicine we need to cultivate our character?

Let’s turn any perceived poison into medicine by practicing our virtues.


P.S. We recently shared this Epictetus gem in another P.S. but it’s so good I say we soak our minds in it again! 🙂

The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.

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