My Journey to Stoicism (PIV)

“You become what you give your attention to.” – Epictetus

Exploring Jungian psychology, virtue ethics, and the pursuit of meaning on my Stoic journey (Part IV).

This is part 4 of my 4 part series on ‘My Journey to Stoicism.’ Link to Part I

At the same time I was learning about these deeper questions in philosophy, I was also learning about Jungian Psychology. 

Stoic Philosophy was a start. Accept your fate. Look to yourself for the things that are within your control. Your thoughts and actions. Look within yourself to try to understand the truth of Wisdom, Justice, Temperance, and Courage in any given situation.

I still have much to learn about Stoicism, but it has led me to focusing on other philosophical approaches towards the question “How does one ‘Know Thyself’?”

Jungian psychology goes beyond looking within your rational mind for answers to the causes for your thoughts and actions. Looking beyond: to your unconscious mind. To understand your True Self. The unconscious motivations for your thoughts and actions.

Carl Jung says that the second half of life requires finding “a mature spirituality”. It is not something that can be given to you by other people or organized religion. It is something you have to wrestle with for yourself.

Cattle die, kinsmen die,
the self must also die;
I know one thing which never dies:
the reputation of each dead man.

The Poetic Edda, Havamal, Stanza 77.

It does not have to be belief in God or the supernatural, but I think it is accurately defined as a belief in something greater than one’s self. The self lives and the self will die, and then what? To find meaning in death is to find meaning in life. Doing the work of a human being is to work towards something that is greater than one’s self. 

Building corporations that will last generations, building monuments that can last 4000 years, writing books that are read 2000 years later. These are all noble accomplishments, but all are ultimately lost to the sands of time. But working towards the human cause that lives beyond the self. That’s the idea of the cosmopolis.

“At Dawn, when you’re reluctant to get up, have this thought readily available: I have work to do as a human being, and that’s why I’m getting up. Do I resent it if I’m on my way to do the work for which I was born and for the sake of which I was brought up into the world?”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations, Book 5, Section 1.

What is the work of a human being? To do Good. To act with Virtue. To be in alignment with the Nature of the Cosmos (Robin Waterfield’s footnote on Meditations 5:1).  


As I learned about Stoicism, it felt like something familiar that I had learned before but lost for a while and came back to. My journey to Stoicism did not actually begin when I started studying Stoicism in 2020. It did not begin at age 18 when I started reading Albert Ellis.

I recently found the eulogy that my father wrote for his father. In the first few lines, he wrote that his father must have grown up learning “Roman Virtues.” 

I had no idea what it meant when I read it many years ago. Ethnically our family is not Italian or Roman. It was a strange statement. But to read it again in 2020, it all made sense. What is Virtue?

My father and his father both worked for the U.S. Federal Government. I think after World War II, it felt like the U.S.A. had defeated evil at an existential level, and was building the roots of a great cosmopolis. A utopia where people can find a place where they belong. Where they can provide for others and are provided for in return. Where rationality will prevail, if people can only be educated and given opportunities.

I think you would be hard pressed to find any of that optimism about the federal government over the past 5, 10, or 20 years. 

But the Cosmopolis is not to be found in the material world. It is an ideal, like The Sage, to keep in mind and to give direction, purpose, and meaning.

If you want to see my reading list of books I read during my journey to Stoicism, see the end of my personal blog.


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David Alexander

New Mexico-based psychotherapist exploring Stoic Philosophy and Jungian psychology to understand human nature, aiming for self-discovery and empathy through integrated disciplines.

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