Sunday, August 1, 2021 - Stoic Philosophy and Unity Teachings: The Discipline of Perspective

The Obstacle is the Way

The talk given today on Stoic philosophy given by Licensed Unity Teacher Donna van Oosten, reminded me of one of the great strengths of Unity philosophy - the capacity to seek and find Truth from all kinds of places and times. If we are spiritual seekers throughout our lives, we will find Truth principles popping up in unexpected places. This talk was instructive in finding the places where ancient Stoic philosophy interweaves with Unity teachings today.

During a recent vacation, Donna listened to a book along with her daughter called “The Obstacle is the Way”, by Ryan Holiday. (Interestingly, two USC zoom book book groups studied a similar title “What’s In the Way, Is the Way”, by Mary O’Malley this past spring.)

Although the common definition of “stoic” is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining, the philosophy of Stoicism was founded in the 3rd century BC and flourished in the Roman and Greek world. It declined in the 4th century AD but like all eternal Truth, some of its principles emerged in our lifetimes in new books.

Below are Stoic ideals useful for our lives that Donna introduced along with Unity thought that is consistent with them (Stoic in bold):

Impediment to action advances action.

We perk up and pay attention when something goes wrong in our lives.

Stoicism has a “reserve clause”: Our expectations are reserved for what is within our sphere of control.

Our “reserve clause” in Unity is prayer that ends with “this or something better.” That allows us to keep our peace of mind while we walk through our lives.

It is our attitude and approach – our interpretation of appearances that is impactful. Remove the appearances (from your mind) and know that you can overcome the obstacle.

It takes skill and discipline to bat away the bad perceptions.

In Unity we find it takes humility to develop the skill and discipline to find the Truth about our strong feelings and opinions, and to change our consciousness to reflect that universal Truth.

Stoicism and Charles Fillmore, Unity co-founder, were in agreement about the need for skill and discipline in the realm of mind.

“Clear away the cobwebs of your mind,” taught Fillmore.

In Unity, our statement of faith is that “There is One Presence and One Power.”

The Stoics say: If we can make good out of this, we will.

Donna advised us to remember that Faith and Strength don’t automatically mean “positivity”.

People walk through hell sometimes, and we must use our faith and strength to support them but not use positive tropes to diminish their pain. We can stand in faith for those in pain, knowing that God is good despite appearances. The most important thing is to be authentic. “Authenticity is an open heart,” Donna said.

We want to be powerful enough to open our heart to pain, yet simultaneously able to go forward with faith and strength continuing to see the good in life.

Be ceaselessly creative, especially in times of pain and trouble.

The Fillmore’s way to be ceaselessly creative was in the use of Denials and Affirmations, a powerful way to change the mind. In their practice there are two movements of mind – the power to accept or to reject. We deny that there is not enough (love, time, money, etc.). We affirm the cycle of giving and receiving. They are in the same circle. If you want love, give love. Skill developed in the use of Affirmations and Denials allows us to release fear and live in faith.

Donna said that our job is to have the self-discipline of heart to carry our love into any situation.  Our task is to bring heaven to earth through the 12 powers of our Christ within.

Stoic Disciplines:

  • Objective Judgment (make sure your perception is objective)
  • Unselfish Action
  • Willing Acceptance

Stoic philosophy says these things are up to us:

Emotions, judgment, creativity, attitudes, desires, perspective decisions, and determination.

Myrtle Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, said “the day will come when all adverse states of mind will give way to the Light of Truth”. It is interesting how many Unity ideas do integrate with the ancient Stoic philosophy. Both urge us to be our best selves, to think our highest thoughts, to exercise our power in improving ourselves rather than trying to “fix” or change the world.

Donna’s Spiritual Practice

We are invited to become aware of the idea that obstacles may be overcome by using opportunities to practice virtue:

Patience, Courage, Creativity, Humility, and Love.

Terri Brewer