Philosophy, for the deep thinkers, was a daily discipline that put an end to the anxiety and suffering.
Great men like Socrates, the many Stoics, Epicureans and many others knew about the fundamental flaw in our judgement that is the reason for our misery: Valuing superficial things like money, prestige and material comforts.
We all have a mistaken belief that happiness can be bought by money, and that more is always better, or that success at the cost of integrity is a great bargain.
Living well means shifting our focus from external stuff we feel will bring us happiness, towards our own behaviour, judgements, pursuit and preferences. Working over our own inner worlds and behaviour is a kind of inner engineering which is deeply fulfilling, and is beyond material wealth or popularity.
Shifting our focus from the external to the internal is no easy task, and this was anticipated by ancient philosophers. Many of them understood that living in accordance with this philosophy requires continuous effort.
Like the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, one has to mentally prepare themselves for the challenges that might be faced by them each day. This can be done by certain spiritual exercises, guidelines that ready the mind and encourage an attitude of compassion.
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious and unsocial. All of this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own…
Ancient writings describe varied spiritual exercises that encourage behavioural change, promote good habits, and generally change one’s way of thinking.
Example: Set a period of some days or weeks in which you will be content with very little food of the cheapest variety, along with coarse, uncomfortable clothing.
These exercises prepare us for a sudden change in fortune, and remind us to not be too attached to the superficial luxuries of life. We are subsequently encouraged to adopt an attitude of gratitude.
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