An Experiment in Stoicism and Psychology

Zeno of Citium. Founder of Stoicism.

This blog is not specifically about the Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism but I have been influenced by Stoic philosophy and it has a significant place in my writings here about Agathos (what is “good” or worthy in life).  I discovered I’m certainly not alone in feeling that Stoicism has more to offer than is often considered.  Once very popular, for a long time Stoicism went into decline and eventually became misunderstood altogether.  It incorrectly became synonymous with a lack of emotion, just keeping a stiff upper lip.   In recent years there have been a growing number of books, articles, groups and online forums devoted to the Stoic school and how its lessons can be applied to our lives today.  There are some very good reasons for it to make a comeback.  Its teachings of a life in harmony with nature, a reasoned existence and its highly practical advice for ethics and the conduct of life can be a valuable guide for living.

So, I was interested to run across this upcoming experiment in Stoic living.  According to their blog, a group of academics and psychotherapy professionals recently conducted a group workshop at the University of Exeter on the modern uses of Stoicism.  I’m familiar with the work of some of the participants and have seen their contributions to forums on the topic.  This coming week they have proposed a week of Stoic living with participants invited to give feedback via the web.

There is a limited amount of material from Greek and Roman sources on the practices and exercises of the Stoics.  Some Stoic teachers never wrote anything while others did but their works failed to survive.  Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was simply keeping a journal and never intended for his thoughts to be passed on as instruction to future generations.  We also have to look at what other writers in the Greek and Roman world had to say about the practices and teachings of Stoic philosophers.  Even with those limitations there is enough to have a good idea what they were doing and saying.  So it is interesting to see this attempt to put together a kind of Stoic practice and then experiment with its effectiveness.  It has the potential to be helpful in one’s daily life and also in the practice of psychotherapy.

The group states on its blog that this will be a one week experiment of living daily with a series of practices taken from the Stoic sources.  Some of these are clearly stated in the sources while others seem a bit more like possible interpretations.  That doesn’t really matter as the goal is to see if Stoicism has useful modern applications and not to engage in historical recreation.  Happily, one gets to choose amongst a range of these exercises.  People are invited to submit some questionnaires at the beginning and end of the week (anonymously if you like) to help gather some data about the psychological impact of the experience.  These are not required but I plan on participating anyway just to support the effort.

Some of the week’s practices are things I more or less do anyway so I am not expecting this to be any great hardship.  It may provide a little more structure and focus and should be interesting.  I’ll report on the results and my impressions.

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