“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius
I recently finished reading the fantastic book A Guide To The Good Life by William Irvine, about the ancient Greek philosophy called Stoicism, and immediately knew that AuthenticGrowth readers would benefit from what this book has to offer.
Stoicism has many goals, with its main one being to maintain a constant state of tranquility through the practice of various cognitive techniques and re-frames.
The stoics believed that it was not the events in life that had the power to hurt us, but our reactions to those events that caused us pain. In essence, all events in life are inherently neutral, and it is from our own minds that we attach and procure meaning to everything around us. With this rational in mind, the stoics developed a handful of techniques which they practiced as often as possible to cultivate a constant state of tranquility and peace. Some of these ideas may sound odd or even downright gloomy at times, but I encourage your to give them a shot when you get the chance- they really have the ability to change your perception of the world.
A favorite tool of stoics was something called Negative Visualization, where they would practice visualizing and feeling the loss of everything that was important to them.
Phew! If that doesn’t stop you from reading this post, congratulations! You are strong. At first glance, this sounds like something that none of us would ever want to do, but let me get into the idea behind this practice and why it is so valuable. Its a part of human nature to adapt and become used to everything that we have in our lives. We grow accustomed to the way things are, and rarely do we ever contemplate what life would be like if these things were to be removed from our life. Practicing negative visualization takes us out of our human fantasyland and helps us to see that everything in life is transitory. By doing this- we become grateful for the things that we have now.
The stoics believed that the constant desire for new things in life was one of the reasons we were so unhappy. Through the practice of negative visualization, they grew to appreciate all of the things they already had.
Another one of the goals of Stoicism is to be consistently happy with how things are in the present. Through practice of negative visualization, coupled with a gratitude practice daily, Stoics began to harness and counteract the never-ending desires that filled them. In appreciating things the way they were, the Stoics’ desire for new things diminished and they found happiness and joy in the peace that followed. Stoics wanted to be always-present to the fact that things could disappear at any time, and literally trained themselves to realize this fact, to the point that even if something bad did happen- they could be unaffected by it.
Stoics were highly-aware that their life on earth was temporary. It contemplating this frequently, they gained the ability to enjoy each and every moment in more depth, color, and appreciation.
With a daily practice, or as often as possible, of contemplating their own passing from this earth- Stoics came to terms with reality and were well-prepared to live their lives to the fullest. Rather than making them getting depressed or gloomy at contemplating their death, they were true rationalists- relishing in the fact that they were at one with a law of life. Rather than deny to ourselves that each of our experiences on earth will come to end, the Stoics accepted exactly that- and were content if it should come at any time. This is such a powerful idea, I’ve begun implementing it in my life. The fact that we think we are going to live forever, that each day will just continue to roll by, is nothing but “being too busy to see life going by”.
The stoics also believed that if something happens to us, it is best for our tranquility to accept that it happened and let it pass. There is a hint of fatalism here, such that rather than complaining about the way things were, we are much better off accepting them as a temporary fate.
They believed there was a lesson to learn in each and every experience we have in life, and that every obstacle that comes our way leads to more growth in our lifetimes. Rather than sulking and complaining, the stoics asked themselves “What have I learned from this experience? How have I become a better person?” These are truly empowering questions, which leads me to say that Stoics were truly growth-minded individuals. With each obstacle they faced, rather than being defeated- they looked for the positive seed of growth that could lead them to a better life. Through the practice of Negative Visualization, realizing that events in themselves are neutral, being grateful for the positive aspects of our present moment, and understanding that each event in our lives is there for our growth- the Stoics developed a philosophy that could truly bring peace to your life.
Stoicism, though almost 2 millennia old now, is just as applicable today as it was in Ancient Greece. There is an incredible amount more to this philosophy than can be written here.
I’ve began a weekly practice of contemplating the transitory nature of the world, of negative visualization, of accepting aspects of reality as fate towards my growth, and of seeing the neutrality of all events around me. This is no easy task! But one that is guaranteed to enhance my perception of the world. Try it out for yourself, and I’m sure you’ll find benefits for your Authentic Growth.
Resources For Learning More About Stoicism:
-Anthony from AuthenicGrowth.com