I just finished reading this (draft) article by John Sellars, “Philosophy as Medicine: Stoicism and Cognitive Psychotherapy”. It’s a good read even as a draft, and came to me at an opportune time. I don’t think this counts as a citation in his notes, but I will point you to the original publication link. He begins by touching on the history of philosophy as a therapeutic, not for philosophy itself by for our minds, souls. This is be written for a non-Stoic audience, and will probably touch much ground that we have covered here, and I would suspects all my readers have covered elsewhere.
The core part of the article extracts three practices of Stoic therapy:
I: Assigning Value
II: Assuming the Worse
III: Good out of Bad
I won’t steal his’ thunder by going into depth here, but these must surely look familiar to the practicing Stoic as The Discipline of Assent, Premeditatio Malorum, and … well, most of Seneca. The paper is twenty-five pages long, and also briefly touches on some Epicurean doctrine. There are a few things I might take issue with at nit-picky level, but considering it’s for a non-specialized audience it’s very good. One such thing being, “The ideal Stoic life is thus not one completely devoid of emotion, but it is one free from unpleasant emotions.” This does a good job at refuting the misconception that Stoics are Vulcans, but doesn’t quite get us to “virtue is the only good.”
I would like to share one short but excellent pull quote, however (with the smallest of editorial license):
“[I]n life, it is only through apparent adversity that we get to prove our character.”
Then, in some great hour of your life, when you stand face to face with some awful trial, when the structure of your ambition and life-work crumbles in a moment, you will be brave. You can then fold your arms calmly, look out undismayed and undaunted upon the ashes of your hope, upon the wreck of what you have faithfully built, and with brave heart and unfaltering voice you may say: “So let it be—I will build again.”
— William George Jordan, “The Majesty of Calmness”
From Self Control, Its Kingship and Majesty, 1905
Seneca gives us the advice to teach, coach, and gently chide ourselves as we would a cherished but sick friend and not as a taskmaster. I’ve been trying to do this lately, and luckily, this site has helped me to do it. I have been re-watching a select few of the Ask a Stoic series. It has been a long enough time since I made them, that it really is like getting advice from someone else. So, in the ebb and flow of life, and amidst the actual advice received from several friends, I’ve been coaching myself.
I’m calling myself back to a daily practice. Relearning to note impressions, to gauge them, test them, and judiciously accept or deny them. I have this opportunity in this body work to re-read my own words from a time when I was more fully steeped in the practice of our School.
If you’ve been on the fence with philosophical journaling, let me point you here as an example why. You may only have an audience of one, yourself. But you my find that you heartily need that advice at some time.
For a little more on the “good passions,” see this older post here: https://mountainstoic.com/2017/06/22/good-passions/