Interview with Sukhraj Gill
Rising From Life's Bench
Sukhraj Gill is a member of the Aurelius Foundation team, a community interest company dedicated to increasing awareness of the principles of Stoic philosophy. In her professional life, she is a solicitor and practices at a law firm in London, UK.
Stoicism provided thought models and principles to interpret the experience and manage much more constructively during recovery and, beyond, in actively choosing how to live.
How did you become interested in Stoic philosophy?
I was severely ill a few years ago after contracting COVID-19 and am very fortunate to have survived and made a full recovery. At the time, one of life’s curveballs had landed and the jigsaw puzzle of my life was everywhere; I had unexpectedly confronted my mortality and was physically and mentally unable to function as usual – all in just over a week. I was placed on immediate sick leave from my work, and felt all the impotence of rage, unable to help the situation and understand the circumstances. I spent much of my time angry and frustrated at being sat on Life’s bench, deprived of my usual career and personal pursuits.
In lucky circumstance, very early in my career I met Justin Stead, Founder of the Aurelius Foundation, and a few weeks into my (angry) recovery asked him for advice on my career and circumstances. Justin introduced me to Stoic thought and presented me with a golden opportunity to pause and consider how I was processing the circumstances and my perspective. Stoicism provided thought models and principles to interpret the experience and manage much more constructively during recovery and, beyond, in actively choosing how to live.
As part of the Aurelius Foundation team I’m fortunate to be able to support our growing Stoic community and continually learning from the experts on our team and partners of the Foundation too.
For me, a brush with mortality has brought a clarity of understanding to the importance of identifying a personal moral standard and achieving a sense of congruency between our morality, the goals we identify and how we approach them.
What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?
Stoic teachings on the nature of our Time and our Death are infinitely valuable in understanding our life in context. Stoicism helps us understand Life as a timebound concept to make conscious choices about how we live our everyday and where we spend the currency of our time and energy.
As Seneca says his letter On Saving Time,
It is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile.
Begin with the end in mind when living Life and critically evaluate yourself and your goals. By doing so we can develop a broader view of our lives and how we use our limited time. As a species, I believe we can be prone to identifying and being extremely successful in securing and achieving goals which ultimately – we realise too late - weren’t the “right” ones for us.
In practical terms, whilst we have clarity in hindsight, there is little we can do to rectify our path through Life in retrospect, so in striving for self-knowledge as early as possible to understand who we are, what’s important to us and what’s going to matter in the long run we can live a focused life on our “ultimate” goals.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was any major modern project – for each of us, ourselves and our lives are our central projects and construction of behaviours or habits to culture our character and reach our goals take time and effort.
For me, a brush with mortality has brought a clarity of understanding to the importance of identifying a personal moral standard and achieving a sense of congruency between our morality, the goals we identify and how we approach them. Stoic practice (e.g. Seneca’s practice in taking stock of each day) can provide us with tools to evaluate how we’ve spent time and, critically, keep us accountable and centred on driving our own agenda in a noisy world.
What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?
Pause. Reflect. Calibrate.
In relentless pursuit of results in a busy world, it can be easy to continue driving forward without consulting our internal roadmap to check our moral progress and figurative destination. I suggest taking these 3 steps regularly to maintain alignment between your values and goals:
Pause to remember and reinforce who you are and the character qualities you are living up to.
Reflect on what goals you are driving towards and your intentions.
Calibrate your path through Life and ensure you are heading in the right direction for you as part of your bigger vision.
Do you have a favorite quote that you use?
There are many quotes I draw on, but a simple and effective quote I think of frequently to remind myself of the need for independent thought and vigilance over my own character, choices and behaviours is from section 16, Book 5 of Meditations:
Your mind will take on the character of your most frequent thoughts: souls are dyed by thoughts…
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?
Get started. Read, reflect and discuss – start your journey to understanding. We generally understand, develop and change in increments, so start learning and enact long-term change slowly.
I’m part of the Aurelius Foundation team and we regularly hold in-person and virtual events for everyone to join – we have many varied ages and levels of experience within our team and our community. I’d encourage everyone to access the free resources on our website from reading lists to webinars available in our seminar library too.
Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy...
Plato’s Academy Centre represents an investment in bringing a rich history to life, where philosophers dedicated their lives to teaching and we can learn to live better in consequence.
The recent event we attended with you in Athens was incredible and Donald’s poetic reading in the warm autumnal air at the original site of Plato’s Academy moved us all. It would be a pleasure to support in any way in continuing the tradition of teaching at the original site of Plato’s Academy.
I cannot say enough about all the life altering and positive effects Stoicism has brought to my life. It all began in 2016 when I first read an article posted by Donald Robertson. I was 71. Reflecting on my absolutely amazing life Stoicism has helped open the door to a life filled with joy for me, Sally our children and grandchildren.
Leer los textos , las entrevistas y conocer , absorver todos los ensinamientos de la Academia y consequentemente se dedicar a estudiar paulatinamente a Marco Aurelio , trajo (?) para mios 74 años una nueva luz ... No escribo mui bien en español , mas entiendo perfeitamente ( soy brasilena , pero vivo en Montevideo) ...Jubilada como maestra (historia de las religiones ) quieo dentro de lo posible estar siempre leendo y disfrutando todo lo que diz respeto a la Academia y los estoicos... Saludos y conten conmigo, Emilia