Stoic Spiritual Exercises
Review by Donald Robertson
Elen’s short book focuses on the practical psychological (or “spiritual”) exercises employed in ancient Stoicism, drawing mainly upon the seminal work of the French scholar Pierre Hadot. She succeeds eminently in providing a very clear and concise account of a great many Stoic exercises. These are described in such a way as to allow the average reader to make use of them. However, those more familiar with Stoicism will undoubtedly find much of value within these pages.
The central part of Stoic Spiritual Exercises contains a superb description to a variety of Stoic techniques, including premeditation, physical definition, contemplation of impermanence, self-expansion, the view from above, action with reservation, and others. It concludes with a section attempting to reconstruct a Stoic meditation based on the account of a Christian spiritual practice influenced by Stoicism, and drawing on analogies with Buddhist meditation.
According to the account preserved by Stobaeus, Zeno and the other Stoics said that the wise and virtuous “have an affinity to composing books, which can help those who encounter their writings”. Elen’s book will undoubtedly be of tremendous help to those who encounter the writings of the ancient Stoics and wish to benefit from the Stoic art of living in their own daily lives.