Stoicism is 90% action and only 10% theory. One way to ensure that we get action right, is to practice Stoicism in a smaller domain, such as meditation or exercise. Deliberate practice in an isolated domain much easier and you progress you’ll be able to generalize the skill to other domains.
Following up on How to Meditate, this post is on how you can use meditation to train in the Stoic disciplines.
Discipline of Desire
The discipline of desire is about relegating your desire to only what is in your control. Accept what is out of your control and change what you can.
Meditation can help in two ways here.
First, with meditation we practice the ability to accept things. Once we're able to separate a sensation from the value judgement about the sensation, we can be happy with whatever is out of our control. If we practice nonjudgemental awareness, we can be better at seeing things as they are without judgment.
Second, meditation can help us stay focused on the present present. Determining what is under our control requires vigilant attention. With meditation you can build this muscle.
Here’s a specific way you can practice this: While you're meditating, it can be useful to label what is and what is not under your control. If something is under your control, act on it. You may grab ear plugs if your neighbor is noisy for example.
If something isn't under your control, such as a noisy neighbor who you can still hear despite wearing earplugs, see if you can just be aware of it without judgement.
Discipline of Judgement
The discipline of judgement (also called the discipline of assent) is all about seeing the world as it is. Representing the world accurately, devoid of unnecessary value-judgements.
To practice this, while you're meditating:
- Notice when you flinch away from experiencing particular thoughts or sensations. After your meditation session, reflect on whether you scared of the truth.
- Notice the value judgements you make about pain. After your meditation session, reflect on whether they are true. Often we experience pain with the implicit belief that it will last forever -- with meditation you can experience the falsity of this belief.
- Notice value judgements you make concerning how well you are meditating. Let them come, let them be, and let them go.
- If you become distracted, simply note what happened and then return to the meditation. Becoming distracted is great because it's so easy to start spinning stories about how *you shouldn't become distracted* -- these stories are unnecessary value judgments and make you even more distracted. Distractions are a great opportunity for practice.
As you continue meditating you'll begin to experience the truth of Epictetus' maxim:
Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.
Discipline of Action
The discipline of action is about acting purposefully with virtue.
There are two ways you can apply the discipline of action to your meditation practice. First, be clear about why you are meditating before every session and then commit to follow through. Act with purpose and fulfill your purpose. Second, set up a system to build the habit of meditation. If you've judged that meditating is a good use of your time, exemplify self-control by following through and meditating regularly.
These are just a few of the ways you can connect Stoicism with your meditation practice. Let me know if you find other important connections.
It's important to be intentional about using meditation as a tool to become more Stoic, improving won't happen on its own.