Updated: Nov 2
One of the four prisoner of war camps that my grandfather was held in was Eichstätt. Here is an excerpt from his diary:
“Eichstätt could boast of older campaigns than that, for three miles away at Pfünz, there were the remains of a small Roman Camp which had served as an outpost against the Barbarians during the campaigns of Marcus Aurelius, in Southern Germany. Grass grew now over the walls, and wild strawberries had rooted between the stones. Below, the river moved by as silently now as then. Here, a soldier, a philosopher might well have written something of his meditations.
“Men seek out for themselves, cottages in the
Country, lovely sea-shores and mountains -”
We were by no means the most remarkable English visitors that Eichstätt had known. In the VIII century, St Boniface the ‘Apostle of Germany’ had sent thither Willibald and Walburga, his nephew and niece, to work as missionaries there. They were Cornish in origin, son and daughter indeed of a King of Cornwall. And these too, who had begun their work in a Benedictine monastery in Yorkshire, had ended it in Bavaria, the one as Abbess of Heidenheim, the other Bishop of Eichstätt. They were subsequently canonised as St Willibald and St Walburga; the schloss dominating the valley was called Willibaldsburg.
Such was the past which these places could remember, a past of which little evidence was left in the valley along the plain. Now and for five years the Kriegsgefangenenlager was to stand there, a building we were to regard as our home. Doubtless it too would contribute something to History, but a later chronicler must speak of this. Doubtless by then the camps would have disappeared; but the rivers would be running yet and the blizzard blowing at Dössel. Let us go in then, out of the blizzard. Let us look at some of these prison camps.”
I am that chronicler that my grandfather speaks of! I am now sharing in my book on purpose his personal story that may have gone forever untold. Whilst researching all the references my grandfather makes in his journal which he kept from September 1939 through to April 1945, I have been taken on a fascinating journey reading Stoic philosophy in particularly reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
In December 1941, my grandfather wrote down this piece of wisdom by Marcus Aurelius:
“Men seek out retreats for themselves, cottages in the country, lovely seashores and mountains. Thou too art disposed to hanker greatly after such things; and yet all this is the very commonest stupidity; for it is in thy power, whenever thou wilt, to retire into thyself: and nowhere is there any place whereto a man may retire quieter and more free from politics than his own soul; above all if he have within him thoughts such as he need only regard attentively to be at perfect ease: and that ease is nothing else than a well-ordered mind. Constantly then use this retreat, and renew thyself therein: and be thy principles brief and elementary, which, as soon as ever thou recur to them, will suffice to wash they soul entirely clean, and send these back without vexation to whatso’er awaiteth thee.”
Having read Meditations from Marcus Aurelius, I can see how it would have given him the wisdom and practical advice essential to living a meaningful life. It would have helped him have the courage and resilience to sit out all the many unknown days, months, years as a prisoner of war.
Stoicism teaches you that you cannot control external events however you can control your own thoughts and your reactions to those events.
One of the core tenets of Stoicism is the practice of ‘amor fati’ which is the love of fate. This essentially means to let go of what you cannot control and to live in harmony with nature, to accept and embrace what happens in life including difficult and painful circumstances.
This mindset would have helped my grandfather and other prisoners of war to create purposeful living and to reframe their situation as an opportunity to develop inner strength and resilience.
It is the same for you today, in this age of constant distractions and a world that often seems chaotic, I appreciate that finding and maintaining focus on your purpose can be a challenge.
Stoicism, an ancient philosophy that accentuates self-control and resilience, offers valuable insights and practices to help you nurture purposeful focus amidst this noise of modern life.
To maintain your focus on purpose, it is essential to have a clear understanding of what truly matters to you. Stoicism encourages introspection and reflection to identify your core values and goals. By contemplating the transient nature of life and the inevitability of death, Stoicism reminds you to align your actions with what is meaningful and lasting. This clarity of purpose provides you with a guiding light, enabling you to navigate distractions and setbacks with resilience.
Mindfulness, a central component of Stoicism, involves awareness of the present moment. By directing your attention to the here and now, you can avoid being overwhelmed by past regrets or future anxieties. Stoicism teaches you to observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, acknowledging them but not allowing them to control you. By practicing mindfulness, you can anchor yourself in the present and remain focused on your purpose.
View obstacles as opportunities for growth rather than being disheartened by setbacks. See them as chances to strengthen your character and resilience. By reframing challenges as necessary components of your journey, like the Stoics, remain committed to your purpose even in the face of adversity. This mindset shift empowers you to stay on track and keep focused on the bigger picture.
In a world which constantly vies for your attention and pulls you away from your purpose, Stoicism offers a powerful remedy. Clarify your purpose, practice mindfulness and embrace obstacles to focus on a purpose-driven life. Your inner virtues and values are within your control and enable you to forge a path that aligns with your true purpose.
Focus on Stoicism!
Action Point: Clarify your purpose, practice mindfulness and embrace obstacles to focus on a purpose-driven life.