The Stoics used a form of meditation or reflective practice, which they may have borrowed from Pythagoreanism. It involves morning and evening meditations.
The morning meditation consists of being grateful for the new day when you wake up. You take a few moments to compose yourself and then think about your plans for the day ahead, imagining how you can make yourself a better person,
while also accepting that some events are beyond your control.
The evening mediation involves a daily retrospective where you think about what you did well during the course of the day, and also reflect on what you could have done better. The aim is personal growth and intentional cultivation of the four Stoic virtues: moderation, courage, fairness, and wisdom.
The Stoics reflective practice probably derived from the earlier Pythagorean school. Not much of Pythagoras' writings survived antiquity, since the school was destroyed by an angry mob, and Pythagoras himself may have been murdered.
What we do know about the Pythagoreans is that like the Stoics, they believed in the protective virtue of moderation, and that a person who wants to grow will naturally align themselves with the good.
This excellent Youtube video by the scholar Manly P. Hall, gives a great overview of the surviving Pythagorean fragments, entitled the Golden Verses of Pythagoras:
Every November, a group of psychologists and philosophers based at the university of Exeter in England run an experiment and online study course called Stoic Week. These same folks maintain the fabulous Blog, Stoicism Today. The 2015 Stoic Week theme focused on one of my favorite philosophers, Marcus Aurelius.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Stoic Philosophy, The Stoic School began with Zeno of Citicum in Greece and moved West to Rome where it was popular in the first few centuries A. D. The Stoics, including Zeno, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and others developed a practical philosophy for increasing happiness and virtue, which they called The Art of Living.
Stoic thought is currently enjoying a modern revival as some of the core practices align with those of cognitive behavioral psychology, as well as various elements of Eastern thought which resonate with modern readers. Stoic Week is an experiment of sorts where this pragmatic philosophy is applied through daily practice to see if it makes the participants happier and more content with their lives.
I participated in Stoic week last month, and it was a great experience. Here are the top five lessons that I have learned from this 2300 year old philosophy:
This week's post is a new resource. This quick, illustrated guide provides an overview of ancient Stoic wisdom and an introduction to the Stoic point of view on ethics and personal growth. Classical Stoics used an applied philosophical technique, loosely known as Stoic Reflective Practice, with the goal of developing an excellent and virtuous character. The info-graphic explains what Stoic ethical philosophy is about, and why it is relevant in modern life.
The four Stoic virtues consist of courage, moderation, justice and wisdom. The Stoic emphasis on moderation or appetites and control of the emotions, is somewhat similar to Buddhist philosophy. Both enjoy a growing appeal with western audiences.
Stoics do not consider philosophy to be to be something intellectual or separate from life. Philosophy, or love of wisdom, is very much an applied art that the practitioner works on each day, using techniques like Stoic Reflective Practice. Stoics focus on self-improvement each night by ruminating on what they could have done better, and using it as motivation to improve their personal conduct.
This guide is a brief introduction to the topic. Please check back soon for more posts about Stoic ethics and personal growth!
Did you know that research in the field of positive psychology indicates that your level of happiness is at least 40 percent dependent on intentional activities within your control? With practice, you can significantly improve your overall happiness, even if your natural state is one of pessimism. You can work towards maximum stability and happiness in your life by practicing gratitude and the Stoic Art of Living.
Positive psychology focuses on the wellness and happiness aspects of mental health, rather than on mental illness alone. According to Dr. Robert Emmon's book, How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, psychological research shows that your “happiness quotient,” is about 50 percent dependent on a genetic set-point that you are born with. Some people are naturally more optimistic than others as a result of their set-point. An additional 10 percent of your happiness quotient is determined by external factors and circumstances in your life.
However, the other 40 percent of your happiness quotient is completely within your control, regardless of your genetic set point or external factors. Intentional happiness practices include taking time to count your blessings, displaying positive character traits such as friendliness and kindness, focusing on the present moment, and by keeping a daily gratitude journal where you express joy for all of the good things that happened to you that day.
Interestingly, this is not new information. The Stoic School of philosophy advocated a very similar perspective beginning 2400 years ago in ancient Greece. Many Stoic philosophers, including Zeno, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, developed a practical philosophy for increasing happiness and virtue, which they called The Art of Living.
Stoicism is way of life involving constant practice and introspective training, not just a set of philosophical beliefs. Stoics try to live happily and gratefully, regardless of external good fortune. They also aim to take control of their own inner natures, to know themselves, and to root out their destructive emotions in the pursuit of virtue, using a process of introspection or spiritual exercises loosely refered to as Stoic reflective practice.
Growing in Goodness
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