Meditating is a natural part of a Stoic’s routine. Its peculiarity resides not so much on the “how” they meditate, but on the “why”. Do stoics meditate to clean up their minds? Do they meditate to focus on something? Do they meditate to reach enlightenment? These are some of the questions we will explore.
The Practice of Meditating
Meditation for a Stoic doesn’t have the same understanding as we are used to. When we think about meditation, what comes to mind is a person sitting crossed-legged, with their eyes closed and their hands on their knees, and what they are doing is wiping all thoughts from their mind to achieve complete mental silence.
Although this is a real and valid form of meditation, it is not what we are talking about when it comes to Stoic meditation. The goal of Stoic meditation is the exact opposite of silence; it requires us to delve into our thoughts and impressions in order to better understand them. So, let’s drop the picture of someone sitting crossed-legged in absolute silence.
To meditate is to spend time in quiet thought in order to reflect, plan, and consider our lives carefully. In one word, to meditate is to reflect. But what does that mean? Reflect comes from Latin: Re (back) and Flectere (to bend). So, we are talking about bending back. But, what exactly are we bending back and why? The answer is our thoughts. When we reflect on something, we bend a thought back upon itself in order to undo our predetermined conclusions and consider it differently.
Now that we understand what meditation is, we must understand why a Stoic meditates, what the benefits of this practice are, and what topics they reflect on.
What Stoics Meditate About
Stoicism is a school of philosophy focused on several topics (ethics, logic and metaphysics) and the way a Stoics meditates varies depending on the subject. However, their meditation predominantly revolves around anticipation and control.
One such topic for meditation is death. In reference to the phrase memento mori (remember you must die), Stoics suggest we imagine our death in order to reflect on our lives. This meditation is not about how or when we will die, but about reflecting upon our current lives and whether we are fulfilling our purpose.
Another suggested subject is negative visualization, which involves picturing your life without the things or people you love or take for granted. Meditating on a life without these things will help you define what really matters and teach you to be grateful. It can also show you parts of your life that need improvement.
Although many subjects of Stoic mediation are focused on their ethics or logic schools, Stoics also meditate on the nature of things and the law that rules the universe. The benefits of this meditation teach us to understand and accept the life we are presented with.
Most often, meditation is an exercise of recognizing feelings, behaviors, emotions, habits, and evaluating which ones are good (and should therefore be kept and developed) and which ones are not so good (and must be improved or discarded). It is an exercise on discovering and improving upon our identity.
How Does a Stoic Meditate?
For a Stoic, meditation starts by analyzing the difference between what we can control and what we cannot control. We must explore the circumstances of our lives and realise all the things we have no control over. After that, a Stoic accepts their lack of control and reflects upon what they can control.
One must be able to look at their inner self and recognize that they are not the feelings, emotions, habits and behaviors they experience; they are the product of their reaction to such things. For example, a lazy person has two options: giving into their laziness and doing nothing (because they believe that feeling controls them), or rejecting that feeling and doing what they should be doing.
The most valuable tip if you want to see the benefits of Stoic meditation is to make a journal of your thoughts and discoveries. The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius is the greatest example of this advice, as his philosophical journal became his most famous text, Meditations. At the time, it was not written for anyone but himself, but it has offered invaluable inspiration and wisdom to its readers.
Writing is a very effective way to benefit from meditation, because it can help tie your thoughts together and help you find better understanding. The other great aspect is that you can go back to your journal and examine your development.
Meditating is not only useful for helping us reflect on ourselves, it is also incredibly helpful in teaching our minds not to deviate from a subject or task. It doesn’t have to take much time out of your day, even if you only spend a few minutes in reflected thought. You will soon discover the benefits for yourself.