This blogpost is part five in a series of five exploring the Stoic psychological tactics that can be used to rediscover joy in your life and is based on William Irvine’s A guide to the good life.
A lot can be said about meditation and there are countless ways to practice it. None of them are wrong or inferior. They are however all different save one aspect: meditation is undivided attention. On the whole meditations is a way to gain insight in what it is you’re meditating on.
This being said, how did the Stoics implement meditation. Seneca advises us to periodically meditate on the events in our daily lives, how we responded to them and how we -in accordance with Stoic principles- should have responded in stead.
It’s very simple actually, before you go to sleep lay there for a moment (or kneel beside your bed if you prefer) and think about how your day as. This type of meditation is completely unlike the meditation of a Zen Buddhist. Where a Zen Buddhist sits still for extended periods of time trying to think of just one thing, calming his mind and focusing on his breath or a koan a Stoic will be all over the place with his mind. Focusing on all the events of the day and reliving them. Total chaos if you ask a Zen Buddhist, functional if you ask a Stoic.
Epictetus takes Seneca’s bedtime-meditation to another level. He suggests that in daily life we should “simultaneously play the roles of participant and spectator” living the moment and scrutinizing it while doing so.
Marcus shares this idea and advises us to examine every thing we do, determine what our motives are for doing it and and evaluate the value of what we are trying to accomplish with this action. “We should continually ask whether we are being governed by our reason or something else. And when we determine that we are not governed by our reason, we should ask what it is that governs us. Is it the soul of a child? A tyrant? A dumb ox? A wild beast? We should likewise be careful observers of the actions of other people.” After all, we aren’t the only ones who make mistakes, if someone else makes a mistake we can learn from it. The same goes for success.
The bedtime-meditation can also be used to review all the tactics. Did we engage in negative visualisation lately? When was the last time we practiced self-denial? Were we trying to control something that was completely our of our control? And how about our goals, are they internalized? Take some time to look at everything.
Changes in daily life
After practicing these tactics for a few months your relationship with other people will have changed. It has to after all, you’re thinking differently about yourself and about life. Has your social circle noticed any changes about you? Be aware here. Perhaps you get insulted sometimes and manage to shrug it off. But also shrug off the praise. Epictetus shares with us his thoughts on the admiration of other people, it’s a negative barometer of our progress as Stoics: “If people think you amount to something, distrust yourself.”
Signs of progress as a stoic (according to Epictetus)
- We stop blaming others
- We stop censuring others
- We stop praising others
- We stop boasting about ourselves
- We stop boasting about how much we know
- We blame ourselves, not external circumstances, when our desires are thwarted
- Because we have a degree of mastery over our desires, we find we have fewer of them than we did before.
- Our “impulses towards everything are diminished”
- Quite significantly, is we have made progress as a Stoic, we will come to regard ourselves not as a friend whose every desire must be satisfied but “as an enemy lying in wait”
How can you tell if someone is a Stoic
A Stoic, although capable of spouting Stoic principles and telling stories will not resort to this for “Those who know… don’t speak. Those who don’t know… speak.” It’s because of this that Stoics will not get noticed a lot especially if they choose not to write a series in Stoic psychological tactics on their blog and thus boast about it. I’ve yet much to learn…
Seneca took his daily practice to be adequate as long as “every day I reduce the number of my vises, and blame my mistakes.”
Marcus offers us with a great piece of advice I’d like to close this series with. One I think applies to practicing Stoicism but also in all other ventures in life: Continue to practice Stoicism “even when success looks hopeless”.
These five tactics combine to form a philosophy of life and as such, if you practice them they will change your life. I hope you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. If there is anything else on this subject you’d like to know please do contact me and I’ll do my best to answer all your questions.
The posts in the Stoic psychological tactics series: