When discussing Stoic practice, we often are at point of reconstruction. We have several words for these types of actions (meletáō) meaning contemplation or meditation, ἀσκέω (askeō) meaning practice or training, and more. We have lists from Philo of Alexandria and others as to the types of training, and they are expounded upon by Musonius and Epictetus. Hadot and Buzaré have written in some depth about these, and I have also contributed some work on new-old practices as well:
- Lectio Divina Stoica
- Socratic Meditation
- The Rule of Musonius
- Philosophical Eating
- you know, the majority of posts on this blog….
In that vein, I’ve been working on another tool to aid to the Stoic Toolkit:
I’ve had experience using several prayer/meditation aids in the past from several traditions, some I’ve studied as an adult and one was a core practice of my religious upbringing. It is interesting how it seems we often circle back to core parts of our early indoctrination, even if other core parts are set aside. I’ve had the opportunity to sit as a neutral observer in related services and religious functions, and I’m always struck by how far away my path has taken me from some of those concepts and beliefs, and how close others still are.
To that point, a few years ago I repurposed japa prayer beads as counters for a Stoic meditation of keeping certain precepts and phrases πρόχειρον (procheiron or ready to hand).
If you’re not familiar with japa beads or mala, they are a string of typically 108 beads traditionally made of rudraksha seeds or other materials and used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Shintō as a meditation or prayer aid. I kept mine in a pouch into which I inserted my hand, and used it as a counter as I repeated certain phrases, like my personal Stoic Μνήμη (memory exercise or mnḗmē).
Regarding earthly things:
Nothing unexpected has happened,
Nothing evil has occurred, and
Nothing eternal has been lost.
However, even though the intent was similar, it felt a little strange to use a tool that’s decidedly formalized like this from another tradition wholesale. It felt a little disrespectful, and just “not quite right.” For instance, I don’t think I would have used a rosary this way.
At some point, after a month or two, I stopped using them, and as a result stopped using this practice.
It did seem helpful to me, however; and I have recently taken it back up. I previously came up with a counting method using the knuckles of my fingers. I would use my thumb of my right hand, and begin at the large middle knuckle for “1,” move to the small end knuckle for “2,” and the end of the finger for “3.” Once I had completed all of the knuckles of my fingers of my right hand in this fashion, being a count of 12, I would mark one knuckle of my left hand in the same fashion.
In this way, I would have a count of 144 with one full “round” of both hands, each knuckle of the left hand being a 12-count. This was good when I didn’t have a counter or a tool, and since it was a motor-function, and not a cognitive one per se, I could do it without thinking and focus on my meditation practice. It is nice to be able to do this with a tool, and you can do it practically anywhere and almost totally incognito.
However, I liked having the tool, as well.
Recently, I discovered a tool used to pass the time in Greece and Cyprus called κομπολόι (kompoloi). These are used in a “quiet” and “loud” fashion as a sort of “fidget-device” and are really devoid of any current meditative or religious practice.
Being a cultural practice of the inheritor of the culture from which our School originated, it feels “closer to home” as it were. I’ve been doing some reading, and it’s likely that japa and κομπολόι actually have a common ancestor tradition, which is interesting.
So, I have ordered a κομπολόι, with the intent of restarting my repetitive Stoic mantra or μνήμη practice. I am not quite sure if I will make use of either method, as it’s not quite conducive to the “counting” function that I’m doing. I may use them more like the japa beads above. I thought I would share this, as I haven’t seen many other using a similar meditation or spiritual exercise.
Neither 144, 108, or any of the variant numbers of κομπολόι have any particular meaning for Stoics that I can think of, and I do have a mind towards symbolism. So, I wish that we could devise a meaning full number-symbol for this use. If you have a similar practice, or use a similar set of tools, I’d be interested in learning about it. Feel free to discuss in the comments. If you have a suggestion for a number-symbol for the beads for a Stoic meditation practice, I am 100% open to hearing it.
Some time ago, I pre-ordered a reprinting of Musonius’ lectures and sayings, which is now available. The Cora Lutz translation is one of my favorites, and the versions available online are bi-lingual in Koine and English. I assumed that would be the case with this reprint, but I was quite disheartened to find it is English-language only. Lutz was a monster of 19th century translation work, and all modern Stoics are indebted to her.
I am pleased to have this translation in print. The hardcover format is nice, as I tend to be a bit rough on books. They go many places, get tossed in bags, etc. My Loeb copy of Meditations has been in four countries, had flowers and leaves pressed between its pages, and been banged around quite a bit.
I suspect that Musonius will get a similar treatment.
The price has already been reduced from its pre-order and new-sale price, coming in at just under $20 USD. I would recommend this to you for no other reason than a physical version of Lutz’s work is nice to have, with the caveat that is English-only.
Longtime readers will remember that I’ve written about Socratic Meditation in the past. I recently came across this paper, and am in the process of reading it. I can’t speak to its conclusions or methods (as I haven’t read them yet) but I thought I would share it with you in case you’re also interested in this avenue of exploration.
Here’s the paper: “Socratic Meditation And Emotional Self-Regulation: A Model For Human Dignity In The Technological Age,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 24 (2013): 1-29. (with Paul Carron). This link may require registration to download, but should be readable without logging in.
I would like to devote more time in the coming weeks to developing a meditation practice. While I wrote about it previously, I haven’t done much of it of this sort. I’ve been reading a bit about different meditation types, and this hint about Socrates’ practice keeps nagging at me, and really merits some further investigation.
If any readers of the blog have a formal meditation practice, I’m interested in your findings experiences, and thoughts in this regard. Please let me know in the comments or privately as you choose.
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After reading the paper, this isn’t too much here as far as non-technical information that I didn’t cover in my first description. It was nice to see some of my conclusions and inferences supported. I don’t have the technical background to speak to the section on research and brain states, but it was interesting.
My overall conclusions remain the same: that this is a practice which merits further exploration.
I don’t always agree with the content of the thinkers highlighted by The School of Life, nor indeed with their interpretation of those thoughts. However, this video came across the transom recently, and I thought it was a well-handled take on what is one of the more contentious aspects of Stoicism.
Epictetus’ reminder that the door is always open is probably the most meme-like distillation of the Stoic position on suicide. There are few others positions which get such a heated debate by newcomers to the school and outsiders alike. I spoke about this once before, and it still holds I think.
It is difficult to carefully handle such a topic, when emotions are high and the results seems to affect others sharply as they do the subject. There is an opportunity to whitewash this position for the modern, and I think The School of Life did a good job of avoid that.
I wasn’t intending on writing this review for some time. My plan was to read the Daily Stoic reader, and use the journal for the better part of a year before making a review. I’m most of the way through January, however, and I believe I have enough of a feel for the two books to review them adequately.
I liked that the journal meshed with the daily reader, that’s a nice touch. The journal is three prompts and a short space to write what you’d like related broadly to the reading for the day. It was a little disappointing that each day is mostly just a re-hash of the previous days. I was expecting some else, but it is what it is.
For the Daily Reader itself, I cannot any longer recommend it. I had previously described some of these style books as fine introductions, the shallow end of the Stoic swimming pool. However, in reading through the Daily Reader, there are recurring … misinterpretations of core Stoic doctrines. Most of these are fine business practices and mindsets for the self-help go-getter. But Stoic positions, they ain’t.
I’ll be removing the Daily Stoic from my list of Stoic Books, which wasn’t something I was really ever imagining I’d do.
I don’t wish the author any ill well, or anything like that. But it seems to me as if when his work adopted the Daily Stoic brand, it jumped a shark. These works are not Stoic works, they are business oriented self-help and mindset training programs. As such, I do not recommend them to the practicing Stoic.
The traditional festival culminating in the winter solstice is upon us. Massimo, my friend Yannos, and a few others have shared this article, and I thought you might like to see it also. I would recommend Yannos’ post especially, (you may need to use FB’s translate function) for a more in-depth look at the festival than the linked article provides.
Yannos is a wealth of knowledge, and the online Stoic community is fortunate to have him.
The Three Τόποι of Epictetus are a recurring theme here, and I want to draw your attention to several episodes of Chris Fisher’s “Stoicism on Fire” podcast.
Specifically, his discussion here:
Episode 7 – Stoic Spiritual Exercises
Episode 8 – The Theory of Assent
Episode 9 – The Discipline of Assent
Episode 10 – The Theory of Desire
Episode 11 – The Discipline of Desire
Episode 13 – The Theory of Action
Episode 14 – The Discipline of Action
These are part of the larger “Path of the Prokopton” series on the Podcast.
I recently read “The Cynic,” by the Pseudo-Lucian. This work is a dialogue between Lycinus and an unnamed paragon of Cynicism. The dialogue has a Socratic feel, being mostly one of questions and answers. Also, Lycinus begins with the (mistaken) belief that he already knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Our Cynic, however, proves to him that he holds contradicting beliefs, which cannot stand with each other with integrity upon examination.
There is a marked difference, in my estimation, to the Socratic dialogues, in that the Cynic also believes he knows something. These sorts of essays written under the auspices of other philosophers, often have a proselytizing component, as most of the Cynic Epistles did. For this reason, it’s not surprising then that our Cynic is in fact teaching explicitly.
The Cynic explains after Lycinus’ first question, that he is no condition of want, his needs are fulfilled, and he is healthy. Lycinus then jumps into a description which I think lines up well with the modern person’s misconstruing of preferred indifferents (προηγμένα) in Stoicism. I’ve seen folks who seems to think the Stoic position prompts the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, and other things which a Cynic would call typhos (τυφώς), and then make similar arguments. This is not the case, by my reading, although it may allow for projects in these realms secondary to virtue. Yet, I still prefer that these projects ought to be built so as to train us for virtue, a point to which we will return shortly.
Lycinus’ position is wrapped up in a strange theological argument; that to deny the bounty of nature and the ability of our bodies to take pleasure in these things which are provided is in fact a sort of impiety. Immediately after, however, he gets to the meat of it: he doesn’t like to go without the things he like.
“To live without all these would be miserable enough even if one could not help it, as prisoners cannot, for instance; it is far more so if the abstention is forced upon a man by himself; it is then sheer madness.” Lycinus says.
The Cynic responds with a point which is well at home in the world of Stoicism, that the manner in which we use these things is not in and of itself valuable, but only instrumentally so. The things are indifferent, but our intent and actions can have a moral component for our own virtue. We cannot inculcate σωφροσύνη (moderation, sort of [Wiki], [MS on food] ) if we don’t actually act out the virtue.
The Cynics makes his point with a metaphor that should not be novel to a student of Stoicism. We also see it in Epictetus: the dinner party:
Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus and others like them, deservedly became, and were called, divine.
— Epictetus, Enchiridion 15
The Cynic takes it a bit further, expounding on the idea and pulling back the curtain on the illustration which in the Enchiridion is hinted at.
… [T]he hospitable entertainer is God, who provides this variety of all kinds that each may have something to suit him; this is for the sound, that for the sick; this for the strong and that for the weak; it is not all for all of us; each is to take what is within reach, and of that only what he most needs.
All of this goes to underscore the point that the Cynic’s goal is “enough” not a surfeit. He explains that his cloak meets his needs, his feet fulfill their function unshod, his body is adorned as a man’s ought to be, and the needs of his stomach met easily.
It’s important that we also note a difference here between the Cynic school, our mother school, and the Stoic. Cynicism was descended from the Cyrenaics, where pleasure is held to be a good. It might seem strange at first that a school which held up ἡδονή (pleasure) as a good would chose to live as the Cynics did. Yet we see a parallel in the Epicureans, who espoused a more meager sort of pleasure, a simple kind. At this point our schools diverge, on the underlying moral values. The reasoning, though, is similar as it’s presented here. How we handle material, external, indifferent things has a moral component and matters in the practice and progress of our own virtue.
The Cynic then proceeds to attach several luxuries in succession, pointing out the same rule, that a lack of want and glut are not the same. Afterwards, he turns Lycinus’ false piety on its head, and discusses the same purple dye we see from Zeno through Epictetus to Marcus: the murex and its blood. He states that to misuse this creature, not as food, but to color their clothes for aesthetic reasons is an impiety.
It’s interesting to me how this little shellfish dances through the Stoic canon and related works. If future Stoics are looking for an emblem of sorts, this little guy might make an interesting one. An interesting spin on Epictetus’ be the purple, maybe? I’ve chosen my own icon, but there is room for others.
After this, we get another look at one of Seneca’s Sages, Hercules. In many ways, next to Socrates, Hercules is the patron of both the Cynics and Stoics, and Pseudo-Lucian shows us why. He closes with a long monologue, no longer fielding questions, but teaching as if a lecture, or public pedagogue.
These externals that you pour contempt upon, you may learn that they are seemly enough not merely for good men, but for Gods, if you will look at the Gods’ statues; do those resemble you, or me? Do not confine your attention to Greece; take a tour round the foreign temples too, and see whether the Gods treat their hair and beards like me, or let the painters and sculptors shave them. Most of them, you will find, have no more shirt than I have, either. I hope you will not venture to describe again as mean an appearance that is accepted as godlike.
Most of this discourse would be at home in the lectures of Musonius or Epictetus. The Cynic heritage which Zeno introduced into his philosophy continues to be of relevance. To me, this pieces asks us to examine the externals of our lives and weight them against our moral training. The manner in which we eat, dress, sleep, and comport ourselves is training: but it is training us towards virtue? That is the operative question. You may not need to wear a thread-bare and simple cloak (τρίβων) or lion’s skin. You may not need to subsist on lupine beans (which are expensive where I live, but were cheap for Diogenes). You may not need to live without home, spouse, or work. But you may need to address how you do those things in light of our philosophy’s ideals. I certainly do, and the Cynic seems to know that as well:
… [T[he fact being that you in your own affairs go quite at random, never acting on deliberation or reason, but always on habit and appetite. You are no better than people washed about by a flood; they drift with the current, you with your appetites.