Inner calm is a rare quality — and a true blessing — in this chaotic world. Much of our belief system has a bearing on how we face life, handle problems, and experience inner peace in the midst of harsh realities.
Did you know there’s a school of philosophy that’s created for those who want to live a good life and survive reality?
It’s called Stoicism, and today, we will talk about important Stoic exercises we can all utilize to help us enjoy inner calm.
What is Stoicism?
First, let’s have a brief overview of this philosophy. It was founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC and had three primary forerunners:
- Marcus Aurelius — a Roman emperor
- Seneca — a power broker and playwright
- Epictetus — a crippled slave
Stoicism asserts that virtue is when you find happiness, judgment must be based not on words but behavior — we cannot rely on nor control external events but only ourselves and our response.
Its major teachings center on reminding us of how unpredictable the world can be, how fleeting our moment in life is, and how to be strong, in control of yourself, and steadfast. It shows us that man’s dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reactive senses rather than logic. Stoicism is the kind of philosophy that’s not concerned about complicated theories of the world or about endless debate. Its central concern is helping us overcome destructive emotions and it is a philosophy built for action.
Exercises in Stoic Discipline
Stoic discipline is similar to a pre-game warm up or a yoga session that stretches your muscles. You prepare for a philosophic life in which the right state of mind is the most crucial part. Stoics practice a spiritual regimen and draw upon it for daily strength.
Here are stoic exercises that will help us get into the right state of mind which will ultimately lend us inner calm.
1. Practice Negative Visualization
The premeditation of evils (premeditatio malorum) is an exercise where you imagine the worst things that could happen or things that could be taken from you. It helps you prepare for life’s inevitable blows and disappointments.
Aurelius (the Roman emperor) said, “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness –all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil.” By combining realistic negativity and an accepting attitude, he regulated his expectations and shielded his soul from trouble and misery.
You may have heard a more modern version that takes a similar approach, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
2. Practice Self-Control
To experience inner peace, it is critical to focus our attention on things we can control. Stoics work to distinguish between things they can and cannot control:
"Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command and in one word, whatever are not our own actions."
The key to this exercise is strengthening only the things within your control — which takes practice and repetition.
3. Practice “I Don't Care” Attitude
Another’s opinion is something that’s beyond our control, so stop caring about them. This may seem easier said than done because the need to belong and the fear of social ostracism are so deeply ingrained in us. After all, we are social beings. But try to pause and seriously think about this: what they think about you does not really hurt you.
Writing down your day’s events, observations, thoughts, and feelings has a cathartic effect on the soul. Aurelius the Emperor habitually wrote personal diaries which are now published as a book called “Meditations.”
Seneca explained to a friend, "When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that's now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I've done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by." Then, he’d go to bed finding that “the sleep which follows this self-examination” was particularly peaceful.
For Stoics, it’s nothing like a simple diary. Reflecting on the day that passed is a daily practice of philosophy. These are reminders of wisdom from teachers, readings, and personal experiences. Instead of simply listing the events that happened throughout your day, try to write down thoughts you had or lessons learned.
5. Memento Mori "Remember Thou Art Mortal"
Seneca said, "Let us prepare our minds as if we'd come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life's books each day....The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time."
Reflecting on the fact that we are going to die (and not know when) will put our life in perspective. Thinking about death should not evoke fear but gratitude for the life that has been gifted to us. Life is indeed ticking away second by second and we shouldn’t waste it on trivial things and unhealthy emotions.
6. “View From Above”
Ponder on how small you are compared to the vastness of life and of the universe. When you do, it’s much easier to let go of the many trivialities of man’s discomforts: the overbearing mother-in-law, that annoying office coworker, the guy who cut you off in traffic.
Marcus Aurelius explained, “How beautifully Plato put it. Whenever you want to talk about people, it’s best to take a bird’s-eye view and see everything all at once — of gatherings, armies, farms, weddings and divorces, births and deaths, noisy courtrooms or silent spaces, every foreign people, holidays, memorials, markets — all blended together and arranged in a pairing of opposites.”
Don’t look at each tree, look at the forest.
This exercise of envisioning the entire universe and our smallness is humbling and puts a lot of things in perspective.
7. Amor Fati “A Love of Fate”
This intersects with Taoism’s flow philosophy: “don’t resist the current of life but be aligned with the natural workings of the universe.” Epictetus expressed it beautifully, “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”
It’s not nihilism but rather an exercise — and a mindset — where you make the best out of anything that happens. No matter how challenging or how dry and dreary, treat each moment as something to be embraced, not avoided; something not only to be “okay with” but something to love and be better for.
Ambitions, goals, and plans are fine as long as you remain detached from the outcome. For instance if you’re an athlete, you practice every day and you do your best each time to develop your skills, muscles, endurance and strength, but don’t do it ALL for the goal at the END. Instead, give it your best shot and see where it goes. Whatever the future brings, embrace it.
By following the natural course, you’ll most likely end up in situations and places that are more in line with your own nature. Stop striving and let go. When you flow along with life’s natural direction, you’ll find that many good things come to you without much effort or stress.
Whether you want to be a Stoic or not, these seven exercises are sure to help you enjoy that ever evasive inner peace.
8. Take Time to Reflect
It’s important to take time out of each day to slow down and examine things more closely. One great way to do this is by taking a bath or long, hot shower. There’s something about being surrounded by water that allows one’s mind to wander away from the irksome trivialities that seem to bounce around in our minds.
After spending time in the bath or shower, make sure to grab one of Wise Towl’s luxury bamboo Ensō bath towels to wrap yourself up in while your body dries. All of our towels are made from chemical-free OEKO-TEX® rayon bamboo and GOTS organic cotton because we believe in promoting an organic lifestyle. By practicing mindful living, you will find your worries slide off your shoulders like water.
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