A key Stoic practice is the Contemplation of the Sage.
Donald Robertson and R. Trent Codd III describe this practice as "considering the virtues of real or imaginary role models or how they would behave in specific situations." They note that it's similar to modeling techniques in cognitive behavioral theory.
This strategy is suggested by Epictetus:
When you are going to meet with any person, and particularly one of those who are considered to be in a superior condition, place before yourself what Socrates or Zeno would have done in such circumstances, and you will have no difficulty in making a proper use of the occasion.
Here's one practical way you can put this into practice.
- Find somewhere you can meditate, take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes.
- Set a purpose: Start by reminding yourself why you are meditation.
- Set expectations: how do you think this session will go?
- Prepare for adversity: you may become distracted. If this happens, return to the meditation.
- Commit to following through: you have a purpose, follow through!
- Bring to mind a role model. Someone who is virtuous, who you want to emulate.
- Imagine the role model took your place and lived out your day. What decisions would they make? What thoughts would they have? Visualize this precisely, with as much detail as you can.
- Imagine the same situations again, but this time it's you who is living virtuously.
- Remind yourself that you have the power to act virtuously. You've done it before and can continue doing it.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Open your eyes.
As you do this, you may find it helpful to visualize specific moments where you think you may miss the mark. Imagine the sage and yourself acting virtuously, if you will. You may also find it useful to focus on specific goals you'd like to accomplish or specific virtues you'd like to cultivate.
When choosing a model, it's worth remembering that no one is perfect. It's ok to experiment with choosing people who you want to emulate in some ways, even if not in others. Focus on what you want to emulate.
Remember to be objective and realistic, if you notice yourself continuing to act with vice lower your expectations or think of a creative workaround.
Of course, there are many other ways to practice the contemplation of the sage. This is just one.
- Stoa: Stoic Meditation, includes guided contemplation of the sage exercises.
- Donald Robertson and Donald Robertson and R. Trent Codd III's paper.