Sharon Lebell | A Delightful Conversation

Sharon Lebell | A Delightful Conversation


Sharon Lebell is a philosophical writer and musician from Northern California. Her book, "The Art of Living", is a collection of modern translations of some of Epictetus' best teachings that has served as a source of inspiration for Stoics all around the world for over 20 years. 


- The true heroes of our society are those who simply do their job well and keep their word. These people get little acclaim, and yet they are the true fabric of our society. 

  • In the 90s Sharon Lebell translated some of Epictetus’ best lessons into a book called “The Art of Living.” 
  • Her translations have been read widely around the world and remain as one of the hallmarks of Stoic literature. 
  • Quote: ‘Ideas are so much more valuable than “isms.”’
  • Philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism and others have many similarities with Stoicism, mostly with their common purpose which is to call us to a greater attention to the world and ourselves, and to find meaning in life. “To dare to care about the moment you find yourself in.”
  • Even meditation, if taken to the extreme, can in some ways detach us from what should be our true focus - attention to the moments while we’re living. Although, Sharon does make the point that she would never dissuade someone from meditating. 
  • Sharon suggests that if you’re going to find meaning in your life then it’s always going to be based in relationships, even when that relation is transactional. Holiness, or the “sacred opportunity” of humanity is found in our relationships.
  • In Stoicism and Eastern philosophy we are called to come “home” and to realise that we are not separate from Nature, but that we have a home in Nature. It’s ok to be here.
  • Simon suggests that Stoicism offers the western equivalent of the “sly man” in Eastern philosophy. This is the person who lives by the “middle way” and simply accepts life for exactly what it is. They’re not a guru, because life isn’t all about thought and meditation. They’re not a yogi, because life isn’t all about discipline. They’re simply trying to move through live like water flowing with a river. 
  • The idea of “po” comes from a writer called Edward de Bono. 
  • The idea is to suspend judgement around certain ideas. Not to say “yes,” not to say “no,” but to simply sit with an idea and to let it be what it is. It’s to simply point at the idea and to not believe or not believe. To not label an idea, but to simply see it. 
  • The word “po” exists within many words, like poem, suppose, posit, possibility etc. 
  • Po is about getting into a frame of mind where you’re not trying to exert your will onto live. You’re not helpless, but you’re living in agreement with what things are, or with Nature. 
  • We have a habit of immediately assigning a meaning to every idea of situation, and as soon as you assign a meaning this actually removes the possibility of that thing being something else, because what you think is what you see. Use po to open up the windows of opportunity to what could be. 
  • There is a real benefit to simply trying to see the world for what it is as opposed to what you think it is. Simon describes it as “becoming a spectator, not a player.”
  • We shouldn’t be afraid to live like this simply because we think we won’t be able to chase our goals or get what we want. As Sharon says:
  • “There’s tremendous power in just letting go of the rope, and letting life be what it actually is. And it’s not that dangerous!”
  • There’s an ancient idea taught by Christianity, Stoicism, eastern philosophies and other texts which reminds us that we have everything we need in order to survive and thrive. We simply need to learn to quiet our own hyper-thinking minds so that we can see that we will survive today just like we survived our entire lives, and just like the millions of people who came before us and lived their lives. We contain the bare necessities. 
  • When you step back and view the world for what it is the you realise that you don’t actually have to be anything, and you don’t have to do or think anything. So what are you going to do?
  • We need to get back to basics so that we can ask the important questions like “what does a good person look like?” “What is a true Stoic?” “What does it mean to live a good life?” These are questions which are worthy of our attention. 
  • We go after idols, and we’re always searching for someone to aspire to be. Sharon suggests that a truly good person simply looks like everyone else. They’re simply a regular person who is inclining towards virtue and honour - being valuable members of society. These people sustain the social web which holds us all together, and they deserve our attention and encouragement. 
  • These people don’t use a soapbox to tell other people what to do or how to live, but they simply do what is necessary. If someone’s hungry, they give them a sandwich. They keep their word. They’re kind. They are the people who hold our society together. 
  • Sharon shares her experience being around thought leaders and spiritual guides during her time in the publishing industry. 
  • “We so want people to be untarnished and perfect so they can be our heroes, but we’re all kid of jerks - and we’re all angels.”
  • Should we look for people to aim at? Or should we seek to recognise moments of goodness?
  • Humility awaits those who recognise that even the people at the top are dealing with things that we can’t imagine. Nobody is perfect, and as soon as we recognise this we can start to work on ourselves as opposed to searching for other people to chastise. 
  • The art of understanding starts by listening to a person on their terms, and receiving what they are trying to get across. 
  • It matters to people to feel heard, seen and received. We need to remind ourselves of this from time to time. 
  • “The opportunity of this moment comes in relation to the other people who we’re dealing with and the quality of attention which we bring to them and and to the possibilities which inhere in any circumstance.”
  • We need to remember that our real existential meaning comes from relationships, and we should understand that people are imperfect, and so are we. Don’t be so interested in being right, but be interested in finding common ground. 
  • “It’s not even that satisfying to be right. It’s just kind of a cheap thrill.”
  • We know that being right isn’t always fun because we don’t feel great when we “win” an argument. Understanding each other is the bridge which leads to effortless change.