The Mindful Stoic

Stoicism and Mindfulness have both become increasingly popular in recent years. Both approaches focus on the present moment and the cultivation of inner peace and calm, but there are some essential differences between the two that can aid in the practice of either. 

Whilst mindfulness has nothing to do with philosophy and is all to do with becoming aware of and disentangling ourselves from the thought patterns that rule most of lives, it can certainly tie in closely with Stoicism too.

Stoicism emphasizes the importance of living in accordance with reason and virtue and teaches that although we don’t have control over what happens, we always have control over our attitude to what happens. In the eyes of a Stoic, no event has the capacity on its own to make us suffer or be unhappy, we have to be compliant for it to be so. In other words, we need to become aware of the thoughts that appear and that we imbue with belief to make our suffering a seeming reality.

Helping us get there, mindfulness is a practice that involves bringing one’s attention to the present moment and all of its content and allowing it to be exactly as it is. The present moment not being a singular point of time sandwiched between the past and the future. Rather, the present moment being all that there is, has ever been and ever will be. All change happens within the eternal present moment. There are not lots of consecutive ‘nows’, there is only ever one Now. This is why the present ‘moment’ is at the core of most spiritual, religious and philosophical traditions. It is life itself.

Mindfulness is a break from the disruption of our compulsive thought patterns and obsession with wanting to fix, change and avoid whatever life presents us with. There is often a misconception that the Stoics advocated for directly controlling thoughts and emotions. However, any attempt to control thoughts or emotions immediately suggests an agenda that we have with them. Any agenda that we have only results in suppression and the perpetuation of the same thought patterns and feelings. The ‘control’ that is suggested by the Stoics is not applied to the things themselves, but to our reaction to these things. Or ideally with enough practice, our indifference to them.

Mindfulness allows us to practice seeing these difficult thoughts and emotions at a distance. Allowing them to be there, to have their own space, but not getting involved with their energies anymore.

 When we are no longer trying to control life – both inwardly and outwardly – everything is permitted to happen as it does. Unsurprisingly, our actions naturally align with the Stoic virtues when we are no longer burdened by whatever may arise, inside of us or outside of us. 

So…

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotion, attempt to distance yourself from your feelings and watch them as they pass through the conveyor belt of your awareness. A great entry point into mindfulness is breathing exercises that can also help to reset your mind in times of emotional or psychological turbulence.

Try the 3-2-4 method to ground yourself once more in your body. Breathe in deep for three seconds, hold for two, and then breathe out for four seconds. Focusing your attention towards your breath is a great way to escape the magnetic pull of strong thought patterns and emotions.

The Stoics, who borrowed many of their philosophical ideas from other belief systems and traditions, weren’t exclusive to a specific set of ideas. They believed that anything you can do to ease your own suffering and negative thought pattern can be beneficial. 

Practice these mindfulness techniques to aid in your capacity to live in accordance with the Stoic virtues.