Moving towards a change in lifestyle can be difficult. It requires a habitual commitment that is difficult to stick to. Especially moving away from a life you may be used to. Stoicism is a philosophy that requires day to day practise, meaning it must become a regular part of your life. In this lecture we will introduce one useful stoic exercise for everyday of the week in an attempt to get your progress of self development underway.
MONDAY. A View From Above. The term was coined by the noble Roman emperor Marcus Aureilus, this practise is meant to shift our perspective and therefore lessen the impact of our day to day struggles. Described to be a ‘spiritual exercise’ that looks to improve human life, it’s a philosophical mindset that should be embodied by those who aspire to a good life. Aurelius wrote that we should “Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them.” The practise begins with the stoic imagining they are seeing the world’s events from a point higher than themselves. It’s purpose is to remind us of our perspective in this massive cosmos. It teaches us to reconsider our anxieties and worries, obligating us to put them into perspective.
TUESDAY. Focus exercises, reject distractions. In this modern environment we are bombarded with a massive amount of distractions and options. But with too many options we can become struck with the curse of indecision. Anyone would find it difficult to keep up with all the changes we come across, and with all these options it can be infuriating to correctly pick a path, so infuriating that we either never commit to a path or take on too much at one time. The stoics stressed the importance of purposeful action, taking care to make the right decision, rather than just submitting to the immediate reaction to our circumstances. Through a dedication to focus, we are ensuring that we live intentionally.
WEDNESDAY. Death as a motivator not a point of weakness. Death is an inevitable part of life, we are constantly reminded of our inherent fear of dying, the idea that we’re running out of time, and the fragility of life. Memento Mori is latin for ‘remember that you will die’ or ‘remember you are mortal’. A powerful idea, the formula for great insights, breakthroughs and wisdom. Death makes our lives important and meaningful, it creates priority, and gives us the perspective to focus on what is important in our lives. Alongside this is the concept of ‘amor fati’, love of one’s fate. It focuses itself on acceptance. Wholeheartedly accepting the events of your past, all the good and all the bad. Once we do this we live in a world where we’re not worrying about the results of every decision we make, we instead learn to accept the outcomes with a renewed attitude of gratitude and strength.
THURSDAY. Know and work at your worth. Learning to comprehend our own abilities and weaknesses. Once we learn to define our own individual worth we work at an excellent quality because we do what we want rather than on the back of somebody else’s demands. Work on this by acting with virtue the best you can. “Every night, before going to sleep, we must ask ourselves: What weakness did I overcome today? What virtue did I practice?” Seneca advises. Look at your thoughts and actions, develop your own personal strength with these tools. Let go of the circumstances holding you back and demand the best for yourself.
FRIDAY. Journaling. The stoic practise of journaling is exemplified with the work of Marcus Aureilus. One of the most powerful stoic philosophers. Everyday he wrote his own journal to guide himself throughout life. But writing a journal wasn’t only unique to Aurelius, keeping a diary of everyday events was a widespread stoic habit. The process allows the individual to bring to order their thoughts, ideas and memories. It’s purpose is founded in the intention of going back and analysing the day, reviewing how it went in comparison to how the individual initially intended. It’s benefit is massive, it can help as a coping mechanism in hard times, constantly setting the reminder to act with virtue and continuously correct oneself. “I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve said and done, hiding nothing from myself, and passing nothing by.” Seneca states.
SATURDAY. Application of virtue. One of the most central stoic teachings. A stoic, at their core, is a person of virtue. Living with the motivation of virtue. Doing the right thing, acting with pure integrity. “A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.” states Seneca. The core of these virtues are courage, temperance, justice and wisdom. Courage is defined through bravery, not always necessarily in the practical sense but also the fearlessness it takes to face difficult situations head on. Temperance means moderation, avoiding excess. Justice is simply during what's right regardless of the circumstance. And wisdom, the core, is the advocation of truth and understanding, knowing that knowledge is
something to always strive towards.
SUNDAY. Self control training. This focuses itself on the realisation that “Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” Our thoughts and desires belong to us, they lie in our control. Once we realise this we know that we have the choice to pick optimism; regardless of any circumstances.
Stoic philosophy, to be exploited fully, must be viewed as a way of life rather than a discussion piece. The stoics pride themselves in guiding you towards a life of balance, tranquility and happiness, it works as a practical path for us in the modern world.