Roman Calendar

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stoic Week Late-Evening Meditation - Day 1

Here is an excerpt from the Stoic Week handbook concerning the Late-Evening Meditation:

Late-Evening Meditation

Epictetus and Seneca both allude to the use within Stoicism of a form of contemplative, philosophical self-analysis, practised regularly, each evening, which was borrowed from Pythagoreanism. For example, Epictetus quoted the following passage from the Golden Verses of Pythagoras to his students:
“Allow not sleep to close your wearied eyes,
Until you have reckoned up each daytime deed:
‘Where did I go wrong? What did I do? And what duty’s left undone?’
From first to last review your acts and then
Reprove yourself for wretched [or cowardly] acts, but rejoice in those done well.”
Epictetus, Discourses 3.10.2-3
For Epictetus and his students the students of Epictetus, the evening meditation was apparently composed of three key questions:
1.              Where did I go wrong in matters conducive to serenity and personal flourishing? (What errors of judgement did I make?)
2.              What did I do that was unfriendly, or antisocial, or inconsiderate? (Where did I act foolishly?)
3.              What duty was left undone in regard to my personal serenity and social relationships? (What could I do differently next time?)
Seneca described a slightly different set of questions:
1.              “What evils have you cured yourself of today?”
2.              “What vices have you fought?”
3.              “In what sense are you better?”
We can probably assume that a Stoic whose self-analysis and review of the preceding day leads him to conclude he has erred in his judgement, acted badly, or failed to follow his principles, would seek to learn from this and act differently the following day. On awakening the next day, you’ll probably find it natural to base your morning meditation, in part, on your reflections made before going to sleep the previous night. These meditations therefore appear to combine to form a “learning cycle”, planning how to live and act more wisely, putting it into practice during the day, and then reflecting upon the outcome afterwards, which leads to the same cycle the following day.
For our purposes, at night, before going to sleep, take 5-10 minutes to review the events of your day, picturing them in your mind if possible. It’s best if you can do this before actually getting into bed, where you might begin to feel drowsy rather than thinking clearly. You may find it helpful to write notes on your reflections and self-analysis in a journal, documenting your “journey” as you learn to apply Stoic practices in daily life. Try to remember the order in which you encountered different people throughout the day, the tasks you engaged in, what you said and did, etc. Ask yourself the following questions (or questions similar to these):
1.              What did you do badly? Did you do allow yourself to be ruled by fears or desire of an excessive, irrational, or unhealthy kind? Did you act badly or allow yourself to indulge in irrational thoughts?
2.              What did you do well? Did you make progress by strengthening your virtues?
3.              What did you omit? Did you overlook any opportunities to exercise virtue or strength of character?
4.              Consider how anything done badly or neglected could be done differently in the future – do this by criticising your specific actions rather than yourself generally as a person.
5.              Praise yourself for anything done well.
In doing this, as Seneca put it, you are also rehearsing the role of a friend and wise counsellor, toward yourself.
The advice from modern psychotherapy would be that you’ll need to be cautious to avoid reflection turning into morbid rumination. Don’t dwell too long on things or go around in circles. Rather, try to keep a practical focus and arrive at clear decisions if possible; if not then set your thoughts aside to return to them in the morning. There are many hidden aspects to this exercise, which will become clearer as you progress in your studies of Stoicism. For example, bearing in mind that the past is beyond your ability to control, as a Stoic you should arguably use this “review” to practice acceptance and Stoic “indifference” toward your own failings, in a sense forgiving yourself while resolving to behave differently in the future. Hence, as Seneca emphasises, when describing his use of the same evening routine, we should not be afraid of contemplating our mistakes because as Stoics we can say: “Beware of doing that again, and this time I pardon you.”
You can download a free video and audio exercise on the Stoic Evening Meditation from the main Stoic Week 2013 page below:

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