This verse in one of Alice in Chains’ most haunting songs captures the essence of the Stoic battle:
“And yet I find
And yet I find
Repeating in my head
If I can’t be my own
I’d feel better dead”
The need to be one’s own. One’s own man. Free from outside influence. Free from tyranny. Free from anxiety. Fear. Unnecessary pain. To be free from the slavery that Seneca talked about—the slavery of pointless obligations, other people’s expectations, materialism, the slavery of addiction or ambition.
And yet it is with some tragic irony that the man who wrote that lyric was for too much of his talented artistic life not his own. He was addicted to heroin and cocaine, cigarettes and self-loathing. In the end it was death that relieved him of those forms of slavery, or rather we could say that the slavery killed him and deprived us of him exactly 16 years ago yesterday.
This is sadly a common Stoic theme too—to fall personally short of the beauty of words and the insights of the philosophy. To paraphrase an earlier part of the song, yet we fight, yet we fight…
So let us repeat that Stoic mantra in our head today and pray for strength that Layne Staley didn’t have.
P.S. This was originally sent on April 6th, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.