“My idea of the modern Stoic Sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragility
In this article we break down Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s idea of the modern stoic sage. If you survived the dark night of the soul, escaped the master’s shadow, mastered the soulcraftsman’s toolkit, and discovered the poise of sacred activism, then this article is just for you. If not, then the following four transformations are just as good a launching point as any toward a more self-actualized disposition.
Transforming Fear into Prudence
“Healers are Spiritual Warriors who have found the courage to defeat the darkness of their souls. Awakening and rising from the depths of their deepest fears, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Reborn with a wisdom and strength that creates a light that shines bright enough to help, encourage, and inspire others out of their own darkness.” – Malanie Koulouris
You’ve awakened and risen from the depths of your deepest fear like a phoenix with a new heart, but that does not mean the end of fear, not at all. It means you must now take on the difficult task of transforming fear into prudence. You’re always going to be afraid of something, and that’s okay. Fear is a natural reaction to seemingly dangerous (whether psychological, spiritual, or physical) stimuli. And the more you’re stretching your comfort zone, breaking mental paradigms, and thinking outside of boxes, the more you’re going to experience states of existential anxiety and spiritual distress.
In order to transform fear into prudence we must be able to adapt to fear by means of flexible courage in order to achieve the end of sagacious self-actualization; likewise with transforming anxiety into circumspection and despair into providence. Flexible courage is a robust state of calculative foresight, and the ability to adapt and overcome to the vast amount of things that are out of our control, coupled with the ability to transform the few things that we have control over, all while remaining calm in the face of unforeseeable events.
It’s a tall order, sure, but nobody ever said self-actualization was easy. In order to become the type of person who is able to “shine bright enough to help, encourage, and inspire others out of their own darkness” we must be able to transform fear into prudence.
Transforming Pain into Information
“The only failure is quitting. Everything else is just gathering information.” – Jen Sincero
So you’ve woken up to the fact that life is pain, that to exist means to suffer, whether that’s the tiny suffering of hunger or the painful suffering of starvation, whether it’s the tiny suffering of a broken heart or the painful suffering of a loved one’s death, you have come to terms with it. So what now? What do we do with this pain and suffering?
We transform it into information. In the game of life, and it is a game (read James P. Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games), the only failure is to quit. The ultimate failure is the downward spiral of suicide. The ultimate goal, which is inherently unreachable but we must strive for it nonetheless, is enlightenment. A sage is able to ride the rollercoaster of emotions between downward-spiral and enlightenment by collecting information along the way and transforming wounds into wisdom.
She is fluid and flexible between setbacks and achievements alike. She is able to break apart and put herself back together again, by collecting wisdom from the information gained from experiencing pain. And other than Mother Nature herself, there is no greater teacher than pain. All wisdom begins first with nature, the greatest of guides and second with pain, the most difficult of guides. The scars will be great, but the providence will be even greater, and those scars look like gold to the self-actualized sage. Like Kahlil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Transforming mistakes into initiation
“To live is to suffer and to survive is to find meaning in this suffering.” – Nietzsche
I’ve always said that rock bottom is a solid foundation upon which to build a new life. And so it also goes with mistakes. When we make a mistake it is the perfect opportunity to learn something new. Indeed, we learn more from our mistakes than we ever do from our successes. Humphry Davy said it best, “The most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by my failures.” Similar to pain being transformed into information, mistakes must be transformed into initiation, into a fresh start, into a new beginning. This way we are not crushed by the weight of failure.
Instead we are aroused and motivated with a sense of adventure, a new beginning to begin a new quest. “If you stumble make it part of the dance.” If you misstep make it part of the stutter step. If you err make it part of the errand. Mistakes can make us wise, but only if we have the capacity to transform them into initiation. Deep meaning is created when we find the survival component inherent within our suffering.
And, have no illusions, it is our responsibility alone to bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe. The more mistakes we’re making, the more we’re living on the edge of our comfort zone, the more we’re growing. As Eric Voegelin put it, “Our role in existence must be played in uncertainty of its meaning… as an adventure of decision on the edge of freedom and necessity.”
Transforming desire into undertaking
“A man is a method, a progressive arrangement, a selecting principle, gathering his like to him, wherever he goes. He takes only his own, out of multiplicity that sweeps and circles round him.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
So now you have free autonomy, you have clout, you have the sacred self-expression of your art, and you have collected wisdom along the way, what are you going to do with this power? First and foremost, you must be responsible with it, and that means transforming all your aspirations into a sincere undertaking. All our desires, all our yearnings, must be transformed into a mission, a sacred calling, and a responsible duty toward the health and prosperity of the human condition.
Championing our passion for life is a perfect opportunity to reawakening the sacred within us, to touch the cornerstone of our capacity as a meaning-bringing creature in an otherwise meaningless universe, and then bring that meaning to others like Prometheus brought fire from the gods. It’s on us to bestow upon the world the gifts that only we are capable of bestowing. Let’s discover our own philosophies. Let’s add our own unique contribution to the human leitmotif. Let’s inject the universe with our own particular genius. Christ said it best, “If you bring forth the genius within you, it will free you. If you do not bring forth the genius within you, it will destroy you.”
The more ideas we test, the more clearly we define our reality. The more clearly we define our reality, the clearer we become. The clearer we become, the more we are capable of transforming our desires into a sagacious undertaking of the first order. Like A.C. Grayling said, “Let us curiously test new ideas and court new impressions, never acquiescing to facile orthodoxy. Philosophy may help us gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded, for philosophy is the microscope of thought.” And the microscope of thought for the modern sage is the ability to transform fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.