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  • Daniel Vargas

A Stoic seeks to understand the primal mind

“Rise to the level of your ideals, not the average of your environment” - Marcus Aurelius

As we continue to develop (as humans, and as Stoics) we are constantly tested to either fall in line with what our primal mind wants us to do or rise to the level of our ideals. The gift of being human is having logic and rationality, this is what provides us with control over our primal mind.

In the grand scheme of things, what does the primal mind want? It wants comfort, it wants what we desire now (not later), it wants more of what it can get. It wants to get rid of what pains us. However, over the long run, giving in to these primal desires would become the vices that control us. We are in a constant battle with the primal mind and as philosophers we must test every thought we have.

Let's use relationships as an example. Imagine yourself in a committed relationship, and if you are in one, congratulations! You see, the wandering eye, or curiosities is a natural thing, we can say this is true because of our biological responses are wired to provide us with the primal drive to reproduce. However by allowing yourself to give in and let's say, send that DM or talk to someone intimately with the purpose of getting closer, you are giving in to your primal mind. You chose to bypass your logic and reason to instead follow your primal mind. Fellow stoics this is not exclusive to men, either. The greatest thing about modern technology is data gathering and reporting. Men and women cheat at the same rates. So yes, men and women follow their primal mind, time and time again.

We can say we are tied to our primal minds, or that it's difficult to control. However, no one is bending your foot, “well he or she struck up a conversation with me”, some might say, but what actions did you choose thereafter? Seneca has a famous quote, “you may bind my leg, but not even Zeus himself has the power to take away my freedom of choice”. We as stoics know that we always have a choice and we decide on those choices! You can ignore the reality of your choices, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

Let's discuss another example; What about health and wellness?

We ignore the doctor to avoid discomfort! We choose to eat sugary and unhealthy foods to satisfy the primal desire of delicious foods (sweets, glucose) over healthier food, which heavily impacts our livelihood.

Let's use a more aggressive example. A primal part of the brain wants to end those who do not agree with your way of thinking or disturb/harm your ego. This is heavily done in the political world; the primal mind consumes itself with what it wants to accomplish and will die by its word, this is the primal ego. It takes WORK, and challenging work to question yourself, you change your way of thinking, the habitual part that seeks comfort in knowing what you currently you know, avoiding change. Today we see individuals who are willing to end relationships simply because they don't agree with you instead of putting in the work to understand one another.

This is not to put down the primal mind or claim that it's weak, my fellow stoics, the primal mind is strong in many ways, like survival. It does what is necessary at times but it is our rational mind that must have the hands on the wheel as well. It's normal to have primal impulses, but to regulate one’s desires is to be a virtuous human. Stoics seek to first understand the primal mind they inherently possess and then choose to have it under voluntary control.

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