The following is from The Art of Living, Sharon Lebell’s translation/interpretation of the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus:
Nothing can truly be taken from us. There is nothing to lose. Inner peace begins when you stop saying of things, ‘I have lost it and instead say, ‘It has returned to where it came from (p. 18).’
This is radical because Epictetus applied it even to the death of a child or a mate.
It seems to me that this applies only to a situation where the loss has already occurred. If you have a chance of preventing the loss, that is, saving a life, then you can’t be relaxed about it. The threat of loss is a great motivator.
But when the loss has already occurred, then you have to deal with it. You need to find inner peace. You can do this by recognizing that loss is inevitable. All your loved ones will be lost to you eventually. Or you will be lost to them. Loss in life is not optional.
Our loved ones do not belong to us. Those who have a biblical spirituality can say that we all belong to the creator of life. Thus death returns us all to God. God is stronger than death, a fact which gives us the basis for the resurrection. So biblical spirituality adds something to our perspective on loss.
But I do not think it takes anything away from the Stoic perspective. My loved one’s life, which never belonged to me, has returned to where it came from. Thus I need to stop the tape that tries to keep replaying in my head saying that I am a victim of loss.
I do not think this means that grief is inappropriate. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul said that he wanted Christians not to grieve as “those who have no hope (4:13). He did not say we were not to grieve at all. Even if we can look beyond death, it still creates an impenetrable, if temporary, silence. Grieving for that seems healthy.
So far I have been talking about the most extreme case: death. But there are many other loses we may face. Loss of possessions. Loss of a job. Loss of a relationship resulting in a broken heart. Loss of trust due to disillusionment. Loss of a good reputation.
Again, I think people should fight for all these while we still have them. But when the loss has already occurred we need to find solace and recover. It helps if one can say, “Well, this sucks, but I have to take responsibly for moving on.” It does not help to just keep saying over and over again how unfair life is.
One thing the Stoics sometimes leave out is the importance of what we would call a support network. In other words, many of us have found having supportive people around us helps us to deal with loss. The somber Stoic attitude is that we may lose these also, so tranquility depends mostly on our private attitude. As we go along, I will probably make some criticisms of the individualism and downplaying of community that the Stoic philosophy seems prone to.