Spiritual Exercises Of The Ancient Philosophers

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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MORE IDEAS FROM THE ARTICLE

  1. Changing Handles: Everything has two handles and you can choose which one to grasp. If your brother has wronged, you, you can look at it in two ways: 1) He wronged you. 2) He is your brother.
  2. Adding Or Subtracting: If you want to make someone rich, do not add more to what he has, but remove his desire to want more.

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…

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.

The Daily Discipline Of A Lifetime

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.

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.

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RELATED IDEAS

Ancient Greek Philosophy
  • Ancient Greek philosophy extends from as far as the seventh century B.C. up until the beginning of the Roman Empire, in the first century A.D.
  • It distinguishes itself from other early forms of philosophical and theological theorizing for its emphasis on reason as opposed to the senses or the emotions.
  • During this period five great philosophical traditions originated: the Platonist, the Aristotelian, the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Skeptic.
  • Favorite themes include the principle of reality, the good; the life worth being lived; the distinction between appearance and reality, etc.

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What is within our control

Stoicism asserts that we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Cafeteria Stoicism

Stoicism is made up of conflicting writings, especially around God, determinism vs free will, happiness vs avoidance of pain etc. Today most Stoic fans are practicing a cafeteria approach: picking up the few useful bits, modifying others, discarding the rest. 

But it’s important to know that this is what we’re doing. Because to the extent that we’re taking this approach, we’re not practicing Stoicism. We are abandoning it and relying implicitly on different (and often unidentified) philosophic ideas.

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