“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” -Socrates
With the world reeling at the levels of socio-economic, politically volatile and environmentally critical tension today, many of us are increasingly looking inward to find solutions for living a meaningful, stable and balanced life. Although it dates back to Ancient Greece, Stoicism has become a go-to philosophy incorporated by individuals from all walks of life, businesses, academia, mi, itary and sportspeople to name a few.
The backbone of Stoicism is self-sufficiency, reason, pragmatism, and mindfulness. It offers an unequivocal appeal when it comes to facing the ins and outs of modern life; especially when combined with cognitive psychology and practical techniques.
This coming weekend, several hundred Stoical philosophers and fans of Stoicism from Greece and around the world will gather in Athens’ Cotsen Hall of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (Anapiron Polemon 9) to attend a series of talks, lectures, discussions and parallel events for the first time in the Greek capital.
Co-organizing the event are Modern Stoicism teachers and lauded authors, Greek Alkistis Agio and Scottish Donald Robertson, who is bringing the event to Athens for the first time. “All sorts of people have been drawn to Stoicism including the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, founding father George Washington, admiral James Stockdale, President Bill Clinton, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, publisher Arianna Huffington, NFL executive Mike Lombardi and NFL star Tom Brady. They all share the love of wisdom, personal development, excellence, resilience, endurance, and mindfulness,” says Alkistis Agio.
“This is the sixth annual Stoicon, the annual conference of Modern Stoicism,” Agio says, “It’s a nonprofit organisation run by a multi-disciplinary team of volunteers. Stoicism is coming home after two and a half thousand years! We have a series of experts from different fields who will present a wide variety of themes related to Stoic philosophy, that make it relevant to modern people, including: emotional resilience in the face of adversity, environmental responsibility, Stoicism and creativity, Stoicism and the art of finding happiness (Jonas Salzgeber, John Sellars, Massimo Pigliucci, author Kathryn Koromilas, Chrysoula Kostogiannis and Chrysoula Kostogiannis,), Stoic warrior resilience training programs of the American Military (Thomas Jarrett, LTC-R, retired combat stress, control officer) and more.”
Donald Robertson, who like Agio bases his teachings on a Stoicism but also combines it with his expertise in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), offering personalised as well as group and online courses to global audiences, says: “There are about a dozen speakers in total at Stoicon, who will be giving presentations and workshops on Stoic philosophy and its relevance to daily life in the modern world.” Along with the talks, Stoicon has also organised a series of parallel events related to historical locations like the Agora, where the original Stoa Poikile is located, and Delphi. “The ultimate goal is for participants to develop a sophisticated understanding about Stoicism and how this philosophy might benefit them in their daily lives,” Robertson adds.
For both Agio and Robertson, organising this event is not only important for them professionally but personally too. “I started researching, writing and presenting on Stoicism over 20 years ago,” Robertson says. “It's become my main focus. I just published my sixth book on philosophy and psychotherapy, ‘How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius’ and I'm now working on a graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, who visited Athens near the end of his life. To me, this event is a dream come true in a sense. It's an opportunity to showcase a wonderful philosophy of life that was born in the centre of Athens 2,300 years ago. Doing so in here - one of the most amazing cities in the world - is something that will leave people from the UK, US, Canada, and other parts of the world in awe of the history, I think. One of our presentations, for instance, is about a powerful psychological exercise described by Marcus Aurelius, called the View from Above, which happens to resemble the view of Athens from high up on the Acropolis.”
For Agio, the upcoming conference feels like a triumph: “I must admit that I’m quite proud of the fact that I convinced the organisers of Stoicon, who are based in Toronto and London, (complete strangers to me at the time), to bring it to Greece! So here we are; over 300 people from all over the world are coming here, many of them for the first time ever. I am excited to be co-hosting this event along with best-selling author Donald Robertson. Also, I’m excited that we have extra-curricular outdoor events as well as indoor events at The Agiorgiti-Residence, home of The Athenian Stoic Society.”
In today's consumer-driven, technologically-intricate and solitary society, stress and anxiety are widespread. Agio notes that “Stoicism offers a tried and tested philosophy which is thousands of years old. More and more people are turning to Stoicism for a philosophy that is applicable whether or not you are religious, as it is based on the highest humanist values and can offer us a 'moral compass' to navigate through the greatest challenges of life. Like the Olympic Games, although it was born in Greece, it belongs to the world now.”
*For Stoicon tickets head to eventbrite.ca