Restarting the blog after its summer break is, Matt Van Natta, aka the Immoderate Stoic, who considers how Stoicism can help us start the day the best possible way….
How to Meet the Morning
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, “I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
I am a fan of warm blankets. Place a cup of coffee nearby and a good book in my hand and I will stay cozy as long as possible. Of course, I can’t do that 24/7 without my life unraveling. So, like Marcus, I have to get up and face the day. I shouldn’t complain about this, that wouldn’t be very stoic after all. But how am I to prepare my mind for the day ahead? Well, thankfully we Stoics have a means of warming up our mental engines. It’s a form of early morning reflection called premeditation.
The longer form name is the premeditation of evil but I had just mentioned cozy blankets and didn’t want to shock your system. I think premeditation of ills is actually more fitting, but now I’m on a tangent. Premeditation is the act of mentally rehearsing the potential difficulties of the future so that you are better prepared when they actually arrive. We Stoics can take premeditation pretty far. We will mediate on the loss of loved ones, for instance. But let’s start our day a bit less intensly with a general reflection that Aurelius used himself.
Begin each day by telling yourself : Today I will be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness–all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and what is evil.
This premeditation is a way to orient your mind towards the realities of the day. When you step out into the world, you can simply recognize that no one has the exact same agenda as you. I find it helpful to mentally recite the quote a few times, in the stillness after waking. Premeditation is an exercise, effort is required to adjust your thinking. It’s way too easy to assume you’re going to approach the morning stoically and then get instantly upset at morning traffic (which is never a stoic response).
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that the premeditation is asking you to intentionally start your day off on the wrong foot. I can see how Marcus’ quote could be viewed as, “there’s a bunch of jerks out there, be ready for them,” and, yes…it kind of does say that. But first, let me point out that all the things mentioned, ingratitude, disloyalty, selfishness, etc…are considered non-stoic. So you certainly can’t justify treating an ungrateful person ungratefully yourself. Second, Stoics are always quick to point out that bad actions come from bad thinking or, as Marcus puts it, “ignorance of what is good and evil.” We’re expected to soften our stance towards people who act poorly because we’d do the same with the same information and point of view. What I’m saying is, we do not prepare for the day in order to steel ourselves against the world. If your stoicism is walling you off, you’re doing it wrong! Instead, we’re preparing ourselves to embrace the world as it truly is, so that we can act meaningfully within it.
The general premeditation is a simple but potent morning routine. If you want to switch up the subject matter, you can always use Seneca’s version (I’ll end with it) or develop your own. Just remember that the point is to prepare yourself to live the day well. Recognize that unfortunate events will occur, then decide that you can accept them and respond artfully. By having a good morning, you can have a good afternoon, until it’s time to say good night. Night time is a whole different article though, so I’ll leave you with Seneca’s premeditation on change. No matter when this finds you, have a great morning!
The wise will start each day with the thought, “Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own.” Nothing, whether public or private, is stable; the destines of men, no less than those of cities, are in a whirl. Whatever structure has been reared by a long sequence of years, at the cost of great toil and through the great kindness of the gods, is scattered and dispersed in a single day. No, he who has said ‘a day’ has granted too long a postponement to swift misfortune; an hour, an instant of time, suffices for the overthrow of empires. How often have cities in Asia, how often in Achaia, been laid low by a single shock of earthquake? How many towns in Syria, how many in Macedonia, have been swallowed up? How often has this kind of devastation laid Cyprus in ruins? We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die. Mortal have you been born, to mortals you have given birth. Reckon on everything, expect everything.
More about the The Immoderate Stoic: “I’m not good at moderation. My wife and I have a motto,”It’s never too much, it’s only not enough.” This puts me at odds with stoic teaching, where moderation is one of the virtues. So I’m trying to find my way into a more stoic mindset. I’ve found nothing but joy and contentment through Stoic practices, so I don’t doubt the benefit of a bit more self-discipline. Still, I know my faults. I’m the Immoderate Stoic and this is my blog.”