The Stoic Week 2015 Handbook

How to get the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook.

Stoic Week 2015The Stoic Week 2015 Handbook will be available in the next few days, in HTML, PDF, and EPUB formats.

Register to participate in Stoic Week on the Modern Stoicism website to receive your copy.  You’ll be able to read it online and also download it to mobile devices and read offline.  It contains the following sections:

Stoic Week 2015 Handbook

Modern-day Meditations Insprired by Marcus Aurelius

mondayMonday: LifeStoic Week 2015 Handbook Cover
Life as a Project and Learning from Other People

 

tuesdayTuesday: Control
What is in our Control and Wishing with Reservation

 

wednesdayWednesday: Mindfulness
Stoic Mindfulness and Examining your Impressions

 

thursdayThursday: Virtue
Virtue and Values-clarification

 

fridayFriday: Relationships
Relationships with Other People and Society

 

saturdaySaturday: Resilience
Resilience and Preparation for Adversity

 

sundaySunday: Nature
Nature and the View from Above

 

Stoic Week 2015: Modern-day Meditations Inspired by Marcus Aurelius

Memes for Stoic Week 2015.

Do not act as if you were going to live for a thousand years… while you are alive, while it is still possible, become a good person.


Visit Modern Stoicism today to register for Stoic Week 2015!


Courtesy of Alejandro ed Valcarcel.


Courtesy of Alejandro ed Valcarcel.

Why Stoic Week Matters

Why does Stoic Week matter?

Stoic Week 2015

‘Do not act as if you were going to live for a thousand years… while you are alive, while it is still possible, become a good person.’ — Marcus Aurelius

[Enrol now for Stoic Week 2015 on the Modern Stoicism e-learning site, using the key “Marcus” without the quotes.]

Stoicism Today

Stoic Week is now in its fourth consecutive year.  It runs around the same time each year, and this year it’s Monday 2nd — Sunday 8th November.  The event is free-of-charge, international, online, and open to everyone.  It’s organized by the Stoicism Today team, of which I’m a member.  We’re a multi-disciplinary group, composed of classicists, philosophers, psychologists, and psychotherapists, with an interest in applying ancient Stoic concepts and practices to the emotional and behavioural challenges of living in the modern world.

The Stoicism Today team currently consists of several experts and authors on Stoicism who have come together to help others learn about how Stoicism might be applied in daily life.  The group is organized by Prof. Christopher Gill, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter, and includes: Jules Evans, Gabriele Galluzzo, Gill Garratt, Tim LeBon, John Sellars, Patrick Ussher, Tom McConnell, and my good self.  Stoicism Today is a completely philanthropic and non-profit project.  We came together because we were interested in meeting other people with an interest in Stoicism, and trying to put it into practice instead of just talking about it.

We’re completely open to anyone taking part.  For example, our Stoicism Today blog, hosted by the University of Exeter, includes hundreds of articles on Stoicism from guest authors, who come from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds.  We’ve also tried to engage with critics of Stoicism by inviting them to speak at our conference and to contribute articles to our blog.  A collection of these articles, edited by Patrick Ussher, was published as Stoicism Today: Selected Writings, vol. 1.

Stoic Week

The success of the initial Stoicism Today events took us by surprise and Stoic Week has consistently grown in size, year on year.  Last year, over 2,650 people took part online.  Registration is already underway for Stoic Week 2015.  You can create an account right now on our Modern Stoicism e-learning site, if you don’t already have one, and enrol at the page below, using the key “Marcus” without the quotes.  Over 1,100 people have enrolled in advance, at the time of writing, and we’re still two weeks away from the start of the event.  (If you want to help us surpass last year’s numbers, share this article to any friends or groups you think may be interested in Stoic Week – growing Stoic Week each year increases the probability we’ll be able to continue running it.)

Stoic Week consists of a handbook and a set of audio recordings.  There’s a regular daily routine but also the chapters contain readings and different exercises for each of the seven days.  We’ve gathered data from previous participants, using established psychometric measures employed in similar studies.  These appear to provide tentative statistical evidence for a range of psychological and emotional improvements reported by people after using the exercises and readings.  We also run a longer, four-week, version of the course, which is more intensive, and therefore led to more substantial benefits for the participants.  The results of our analysis of quantitative and qualitative data is published online for anyone to inspect.

This year, the Stoic Week Handbook 2015 will be available in EPUB, PDF, HTML and other formats, and the audio downloads will be available as MP3 files.  The topics being covered all relate to the theme of Marcus Aurelius and The Meditations, and they are titled:

  1. Monday: Life
    Life as a Project and Learning from Other People
  2. Tuesday: Control
    What is in our Control and Wishing with Reservation
  3. Wednesday: Mindfulness
    Stoic Mindfulness and Examining your Impressions
  4. Thursday: Virtue
    Virtue and Values-clarification
  5. Friday: Relationships
    Relationships with Other People and Society
  6. Saturday: Resilience
    Resilience and Preparation for Adversity
  7. Sunday: Nature
    Nature and the View from Above

STOICON 2015

In addition to the online event, which is international, there’s also a conference held in London, which is now in its third year.  The conference will take place during Stoic Week, on Saturday 7th November, at Queen Mary University in London.  See below for more information:

Stoicon Conference

This year, the theme for Stoic Week is The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and we’ll be asking participants to emulate Marcus by writing their own daily Stoic maxims and reflections down, and giving them the opportunity to share them with others.

Why Stoic Week Matters

First and foremost, Stoic Week is an opportunity for people interested in Stoicism, all around the world, to get together as a community, and actually work together on putting Stoic concepts and techniques into practice in daily life, with support and feedback from each other.  It makes a big difference to many people to read about the obstacles others have encountered, and how they overcame them.  The questions people have and difficulties they face, often have common themes, and we can benefit enormously from the chance to communicate with each other, while working on the same project, even if it’s only one week.

Some people stress that Stoicism is meant to be a lifelong practice, and not just something you dabble in for a week or so.  That’s unquestionably true.  However, by giving people a chance to practice Stoicism, along with thousands of others, as part of an online community, for one week, we also create a foundation for lifelong changes.  You have to start somewhere.

Stoicism isn’t for everyone, of course.  Stoic Week gives people an opportunity to evaluate what living like a Stoic might be like, so that they can decide to what extent they agree with it.  Most of our participants end up reporting very favourable findings about Stoicism but there may be some who just want to take away a few aspects and combine it with another philosophy of life.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

My own background combines academic philosophy and cognitive psychotherapy.  I studied philosophy at university, and my masters degree was in philosophy and psychotherapy.  I then went on to write five books on philosophy and psychotherapy, and various articles and book chapters in other publications.  So my special interest has always been in the relationship between ancient Stoic philosophy, as a way of life, and modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), the leading evidence-based psychological therapy.  Stoicism is important to me for many reasons but one of them is, of course, that it offers a much broader perspective than psychotherapy.  CBT and other therapies can only offer strategies and techniques, many of which happen to have been historically derived from Stoicism.  (Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, the two main pioneers of CBT both explicitly stated that their ideas and techniques were influenced by ancient Stoicism.)

Stoicism is not just a therapy, although it did explicitly contain therapeutic strategies.  It’s a philosophy.  So, perhaps ironically, my interest in Stoicism is that it overlaps with modern CBT, but transcends and surpasses it, by offering something much broader in scope, and far deeper insofar as it contains a challenging set of values and world view.  Although there have been some vocal criticisms of the attempt to compare Stoicism to CBT over the years, we found at our conferences that far more people were concerned that we needed modern psychological evidence to support the value of Stoicism in daily living.  They recognized that evidence was most likely to come, at least initially, from the parallels between Stoicism and CBT, which has an enormous body of research supporting its efficacy as a psychological treatment for a range of different emotional and behavioural issues.  So we can say that, arguably, many familiar aspects Stoicism are likely to be effective because they resemble, and indeed inspired, similar strategies and techniques in CBT, which have been proven effective by numerous scientific studies.

Stoic Week is important, therefore, because it allows people to learn more about Stoicism and to meet and collaborate with others who share their interest.  It’s also important because it gives us an opportunity, albeit in a tentative way, to gather data about the actual beneficial effects of Stoic strategies, which we hope will inspire larger and more carefully controlled follow-up studies in the future.  (We only have the resources to carry out relatively informal pilot studies at the moment but that’s typically seen as an important precursor to doing more intensive research in the future.)  Overall, though, I believe the most important thing is to get people thinking, and talking about practical philosophy.  Stoicism Today and Stoic Week have certainly succeeded in doing that, far more than we could ever have anticipated.

Register now for Stoic Week 2015

Details of registration procedure for Stoic Week 2015.

Stoic Week 2015

 

Do not act as if you were going to live for a thousand years… while you are alive, while it is still possible, become a good person. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


Enrol Now…

You can now enrol for Stoic Week 2015 at the website below, using the enrolment key “Marcus” (without the quotes).

Modern Stoicism

Follow our Twitter account @Stoicweek or see our Facebook group for more information.  See below for further contact details.

See this article on the Stoicism Today blog for more information.

 

Seneca and the Stoic Hercules

Some quotations from two plays by Seneca about the Stoic hero Hercules.

Commodus-Hercules.jpg
Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, dressed as Hercules

Seneca wrote two plays about the Stoic hero, Hercules.  It’s sometimes claimed that his plays seem totally divorced from his philosophy and portray violent scenarios, with little philosophical content.  However, these two plays, set just before the twelve labours began, and just after he completed the final one, both contain clearly philosophical remarks and focus on well-known Stoic themes.  We find obvious references in both plays to the notion that the external consequences of actions are morally indifferent, only our intentions can make us virtuous or vicious.  We also find a number of other philosophical remarks, quoted below.

The Madness of Hercules (Hercules Furens)

Hercules is driven temporarily insane by the goddess Hera (Juno) and kills his wife and children, an awful tragedy he must somehow learn to live with.  A major Stoic theme in this play is therefore the notion that we cannot be blamed for the unintended consequences of our actions, only our intentions are morally relevant.  We learn from Hercules that even the most tragic act must be forgiven if it’s been done by mistake.  Hercules consulted the Oracle of Delphi to discover how he could atone for this atrocity and this led to him undertaking the famous twelve labours, spanning the next twelve years of his life.

Chorus: Known to but few is untroubled calm, and they, mindful of time’s swift flight, hold fast the days that never will return.  While the fates permit, live happily; life speeds on with hurried step, and with winged days the wheel of the headlong year is turned. [159]

Megara: What the wretched overmuch desire, they easily believe. [313]

Megara: Who can be forced has not learned how to die. [426]

Amphitryon: … things ’twas hard to bear ’tis pleasant to recall. [654]

Amphityron: What man anywhere hath laid on error the name of guilt? [1237]

Hercules on Oeta (Hercules Oetaeus)

This is the story of Hercules’ death.  Having completed the twelve labours, and overthrown King Eurytus, he seeks to take the slave girl Iole as his wife.  However, his existing wife, Deianira, becomes jealous and tricks him into wearing a cloak imbued with what she mistakenly believes is a love potion.  It turns out she was herself tricked, and the potion contains the Hydra’s blood, which poisons Hercules and kills him.  Again, this story touches on the Stoic theme that the consequences of our actions are morally indifferent, and that our intentions alone determine our moral character.  In this instance, it’s Deianira, though, who’s actions result in an unintentional catastrophe.

Chorus: Happy is he whoever knows how to bear the estate of slave or king and can match his countenance with either lot.  For he who bears his ills with even soul has robbed misfortune of its strength and heaviness. [225]

Deianira: He has scorned all men, who first has scorn of death; ’tis sweet to go against the sword.

Chorus: Whoever has left the middle course fares never in path secure. […]To our undoing, high fortunes are by ruin balanced. [675]

Hyllus: Why dost drag down a house already shaken?  From error spring wholly whatever crime is here.  He does no sin who sins without intent. [884]

Hyllus: Life has been granted many whose guilt lay in wrong judgement, not in act.  Who blames his own destiny? [900]

Hyllus: But Hercules himself slew Megara, pierced by his arrows, and his own sons as well, shooting Lernaean shafts with furious hand; still, though thrice murderer, he forgave himself, but not his madness.  At the source of Cinyps ‘neath Libyan skies he washed away his guilt and cleansed his hands. [903]

Deianira: […] sometimes death is a punishment, but often ’tis a boon, and to many a way of pardon has it proved. [929]

Hylus: Give o’er now, mother, I beseech thee, pardon thy fate; an error is not counted as a crime. [982]

Hercules: Whate’er in me was mortal and of thee, the vanquished flame has borne away my father’s part to heaven, thy part to the flames has been consigned. […] Let tears for the inglorious flow; valour fares starward, fear, to the realms of death. [1963]

At the conclusion, it’s explained that Hercules bore his death with a countenance “such as none e’er bore his life”, and that “joyous did he mount his funeral pyre”, with indifference to the flames.  Like a Stoic then: “How calmly he bore his fate!”

Marcus Aurelius in Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1952)

The novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck mentions The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and literary critics have found Stoic themes throughout the narrative.

East of EdenThe Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is mentioned in East of Eden (1952), the novel by John Steinbeck.  Brian Bannon discusses the literary and philosophical relationship between Marcus’ Stoicism and Steinbeck’s narrative in the article ‘A Tiny Volume Bound in Leather: The Influence of Marcus Aurelius on East Of Eden‘.  Steinbeck once said that The Book of Ecclesiastes and The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius were the two books that had most profoundly influenced his own outlook on life.  Some literary critics have found Stoic themes throughout the novel.  We can also find the following direct reference:

[Lee] lifted the breadbox and took out a tiny volume bound in leather, and the gold tooling was almost completely worn away—The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in English translation.

Lee wiped his steel-rimmed spectacles on a dish towel. He opened the book and leafed through. And he smiled to himself, consciously searching for reassurance.

He read slowly, moving his lips over the words. “Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.

“Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change things which are and to make new things like them. For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.”

Lee glanced down the page. “Thou wilt die soon and thou are not yet simple nor free from perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things, nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place wisdom only in acting justly.”

Lee looked up from the page, and he answered the book as he would answer one of his ancient relatives. “That is true,” he said. “It’s very hard. I’m sorry. But don’t forget that you also say, ‘Always run the short way and the short way is the natural’—don’t forget that.” He let the pages slip past his fingers to the fly leaf where was written with a broad carpenter’s pencil, “Sam’l Hamilton.”

Suddenly Lee felt good. He wondered whether Sam’l Hamilton had ever missed his book or known who stole it. It had seemed to Lee the only clean pure way was to steal it. And he still felt good about it. His fingers caressed the smooth leather of the binding as he took it back and slipped it under the breadbox. He said to himself, “But of course he knew who took it. Who else would have stolen Marcus Aurelius?”  He went into the sitting room and pulled a chair near to the sleeping Adam.

Stoicism and Love: Conference Workshop Notes

Notes from my conference workshop on Stoicism and Love, from the Stoicism Today conference in London, 2014.

Stoic_Week_2014These are my rough notes for the “Stoicism & Love” workshop I did at the Stoicism Today conference in London, 2014…

To recap from earlier: Christopher Gill mentioned that some modern commentators, such as Richard Sorabji and Martha Nussbaum, question whether there’s much room for love in Stoicism, which they describe as involving “detachment” from other people.  He notes that this was not a criticism that was commonly levelled against Stoics in the ancient world, though.  The Stoics saw themselves, and I think were generally seen by others, as a philosophical school advocating a kind of affection for the rest of mankind, bound up with what is often called a philanthropic and cosmopolitan attitude.  Chris notes that the Stoics do challenge us nevertheless to love others in a way that is brutally honest and realistic about their mortality and our own, the transience of our relationships, and our lack of control over others.

So, on the one hand, many people, and possibly even a few academics, assume that Stoicism and love are somehow incompatible or at least in conflict.  On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius, in the very first chapter of The Meditations, describes the Stoic ideal as being “free from passions and yet full of love” – meaning irrational and unhealthy passions.  I think he later uses a similar expression to describe his own goal in life as a Stoic.  Marcus actually says he should love other people, not just superficially, but from the very bottom of his heart (Meditations, 10.1).  He seems pretty serious about the whole idea of loving mankind as if they were his brothers.  Likewise, Cicero explicitly says of the Stoic concept of love:

The Stoics actually both say that the wise man will experience love, and they define love itself as the effort to make a friendship from the semblance of beauty. (Tusculan Disputations, 4.72)

I’m pretty sure that by “the semblance of beauty” he means here inner beauty or virtue, as Socrates and the Stoics understood it.  So the Stoic Sage definitely experiences love, and presumably loves the virtuous in particular, although the “seeds” of wisdom and virtue are within everyone.  So he potentially loves all mankind in that respect.

Indeed, to start with, I’d just like to point out that philosophy, of course means “love of wisdom”, and that it seems to me the Stoics were very aware of that meaning and took it fairly literally.  Wisdom is more or less synonymous with virtue in Stoicism and love of wisdom is therefore synonymous with love of virtue, which is something the Stoics certainly appear to advocate.  Indeed, the supreme “healthy passion” they describe, rational “Joy” (chara), is basically a kind of rejoicing in the presence of virtue.  So ancient Stoicism entailed rejoicing in virtue and, literally, loving wisdom – and I think those themes are pretty clear in some of the texts, especially Marcus Aurelius.

In the translations of Marcus Aurelius I checked, incidentally, the word “love” is used about 40 times, far more than “virtue” for instance.  He talks about love all the time.  The Stoic literature is actually full of positive references to love, friendship, affection, and similar concepts.  Some of them very emphatic about the central role of “love for humanity” in Stoicism.  For example, Seneca wrote:

No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good.  (Seneca, On Clemency, 3.3)

Big Questions from Thursday’s Stoic-Week Discussion

  1. What does Marcus mean by being full of love, or natural affection, and yet free from (irrational or unhealthy) passions?
  2. To what extent does love or natural affection seem to play a role in Stoic philosophy?

Although some people perhaps read the Stoics in different ways on this point, Pierre Hadot thought Stoic philanthropy and cosmopolitanism were very similar to the Christian notion of brotherly-love:

It cannot, then, be said that “loving one’s neighbour as oneself” is a specifically Christian invention.  Rather, it could be maintained that the motivation of Stoic love is the same as that of Christian love. […] Even the love of one’s enemies is not lacking in Stoicism. (Hadot, 1998, p. 231)

There are many Stoic passages that support this, e.g., Marcus wrote:

It is a man’s especial privilege to love even those who stumble.  And this love follows as soon as you reflect that they are akin to you and that they do wrong involuntarily and through ignorance, and that within a little while both they and you will be dead; and this above all, that the man has done you no harm; for he has not made your “ruling faculty” worse than it was before. (Meditations, 7.22)

So the Stoic loves others because they are his kin, as citizens of the cosmos, and rational beings.  What if they don’t love us back, though?  The Earl of Shaftesbury wrote that Stoic love was “disinterested” and not dependent on reciprocation from the people loved:

Come on, let us see now if thou canst love disinterestedly.  “Thanks my good kinsman (brother, sister, friend), for giving me so generous a part, that I can love though not beloved.” (Shaftesbury, 2005, p. 108)

There’s a nice passage in Seneca (Letters, 9) where he says that the Stoic wise man naturally prefers to have friends but that he doesn’t need or crave them, and he is perfectly contented within himself if fate denies him the company of other people.

Big Questions from Thursday’s Stoic-Week Discussion

  1. How does love for others in Stoicism compare to the idea of love for others in Christianity, compassion in Buddhism, or brotherly-love in other philosophical or religious traditions?
  2. Also: How does Stoic love compare to the way romantic love tends to be portrayed in Hollywood films or in romantic novels?

The Stoics emphasise the concept of “natural affection”, the kind of love a parent has for their children, as the basis of their ethics.  Shaftesbury calls this attitude, extended to everyone as fellow citizens of the cosmos, Stoic “philanthropy” or love of mankind:

What is it to have Natural Affection?  Not that which is only towards relations, but towards all mankind; to be truly philanthrôpos [philanthropic, a lover of mankind], neither to scoff, nor hate, nor be impatient with them, nor abominate them, nor overlook them; and to pity in a manner and love those that are the greatest miscreants, those that are most furious against thyself in particular, and at the time when they are most furious? (Shaftesbury, 2005, p. 1)

Shaftesbury compares this Stoic attitude of natural affection for mankind to the loving attitude of a mother or nurse toward a sickly child.  The Stoics often sought to emulate Zeus, as their ideal, and the paternal affection Zeus was supposed to have for mankind, his children.  Musonius Rufus therefore describes the Stoic Zeus as the patron god of friendship and familial affection.  For the Stoics, to be philanthropic, to love mankind as one’s brothers and fellow world-citizens, is to be godlike, in a sense.

Musonius famously argued that women as well as men should study Stoic philosophy.  He claimed that Stoicism would actually make women more able to properly love their children, rather than somehow repressing their affection for them.  “Who, more than she [a female Stoic] would love her children more than life?” (Lectures, 3).  Indeed there are several places where Stoics suggest it would be fundamentally unnatural to suppress feelings such as parental love, and therefore irrational to do so.  Epictetus actually says that “when a child is born it is no longer in our power not to love it or care for it”; it’s natural for parents to care, for instance, if their child is hurt (Discourses, 1.11; 1.23).  We actually have a whole Discourse (1.11) from Epictetus dedicated to the topic of “Natural Affection” or philostorgia.

This natural affection, though, is clearly to be somehow transformed in Stoicism.  Epictetus asked his students: “How, then, shall I become loving and affectionate?” (Discourses, 3.24).  His answer was that Stoics should become affectionate in a manner consistent with the fundamental rules and doctrines of their philosophy.  In particular, we’re to love while bearing in mind the distinction between what’s up to us and what is not.  He also suggests that if what we’re calling “love” or “affection” makes us enslaved to our passions and miserable, then it’s not “good” for us, and that’s a sign something is wrong.   Put another way, this presumably means that Stoics should love in accord with the “reserve clause”.  So we should wish that others flourish and become wise and virtuous, but we should do so lightly, completely accepting that our wish may not be realised – accepting them as they are, in other words, warts and all.

Exercise: Love as Acceptance versus Well-Wishing

The Stoics wanted others to flourish, become wise and virtuous,

  1. Repeat the word “love” to yourself.
  2. Contemplate first, the attitude of love as acceptance, accepting yourself despite your imperfections, seeing your current situation as the only one possible given your nature and your past environment and experiences.
  3. Next contemplate the attitude of love as one of wishing yourself well, wanting yourself to flourish and attain goodness, virtue, and wisdom, now and in the future, fate permitting.
  4. Now try to do the same for another person, begin by contemplating love as acceptance of their flaws, even their follies or vices, etc.
  5. Now try to contemplate love as wishing for them to flourish and attain goodness, virtue, and wisdom, fate permitting.

So where does that leave us?  A good summary is in the article “Epictetus on How the Stoic Sage Loves”, by William O. Stephens, in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 14, 193-210, 1996.

The Stoic loves other people in a very free, giving way.  His love is not at all conditional upon its being reciprocated by the person loved.  The Stoic does not compromise his own moral integrity or mental serenity in his love for others, nor is his love impaired by his knowledge of the mortality of his loved ones.  Rather, the Stoic’s love and natural affection are tempered by reason.  His love and affection serve only to enrich his humanity, never to subject him to [psychological] torment.

Some of the key concepts here:

  1. The Stoic ideal of wisdom and virtue definitely included loving other people – the Sage loves others and seeks friendship.
  2. The Stoic Sage’s love is unconditional; it doesn’t require reciprocation, which would be an “indifferent” for Stoics because it’s not up to us.
  3. The sort of love the Stoic Sage experiences is neither unhealthy nor excessive but healthy and consistent with virtue.
  4. This sort of love is inherently realistic about the transience of external things and the mortality of those loved.
  5. The love of the Stoic is fundamentally rational, meaning it’s consistent with reason and doesn’t lead to irrational behaviour.

Exercise: Hierocles and Metta Bhavana

The Stoic philosopher Hierocles, a contemporary of Marcus Aurelius, described psychological practices for expanding oikeiôsis, our sense of “affinity” for others.  He says our relationships can be represented as a series of concentric circles, radiating out from ourselves and our closest kin.  Stoics should attempt to “draw the circles somehow toward the centre”, he said, voluntarily reducing psychological distance in their relationships.  He even suggests verbal techniques, not unlike calling acquaintances “friend” or calling close friends “brother”.  Hierocles elsewhere recommends treating our brothers as if they were parts of our own body, like our hands and feet.  Zeno’s saying that a friend is “another self”, perhaps likewise encourages us to take others deeper into the circle of our affinity and natural affection.  Hierocles’ comments about oikeiôsis might be turned into a contemplative exercise.

There’s a popular Buddhist meditation exercise called metta bhavana, which means “expanding loving-kindness”.  We might use this as a basis for developing Hierocles’ advice into a modern contemplative practice.

  1. It helps to prepare by choosing your examples in advance to visualise in a moment: yourself, a loved one, an acquaintance, an enemy,
  2. Close your eyes; take a few moments to relax and focus your attention inward.
  3. Picture a circle of light surrounding your own body and imagine that it symbolises a growing sense of rational self-love or affection toward yourself as a being capable of wisdom and virtue.  If you like, repeat a phrase such as “May I flourish and be happy” to yourself, to help focus on this attitude.
  4. Now imagine that circle is expanding to encompass a member of your family, a loved one or close friend, whom you now project natural affection toward, as if they were somehow part of your own body.  Focus on the seeds of virtue within them, and wish them well, perhaps repeating a phrase like “May you flourish and be happy”, while accepting that this is beyond your direct control.
  5. Next, imagine that circle expanding to encompass an acquaintance you encounter in daily life, toward whom you normally feel more neutral, perhaps colleagues you work alongside, and project feelings of natural affection toward them, as if they were members of your own family.
  6. Again, let the circle expand further to include even someone you dislike, perhaps someone who sees you as an “enemy”, and focusing as much as possible on their positive qualities or virtues, wish them well, picturing the sphere of your affection spreading to include them.
  7. Now let the circle encompass all of you together, allowing your feelings of affection to spread over the whole group.
  8. Imagine the circle now progressively growing to envelop your surrounding area and finally the entire world and the whole human race as one, allowing your feelings of rational affection to spread out to every other member of the human race, developing a sense of kinship with them insofar as they possess reason and therefore the capacity for progressing toward wisdom.

Try to continue this attitude throughout your daily activity.  Seneca argued that expanding natural affection into a philanthropic attitude that encompasses the rest of mankind teaches us to love more philosophically, without over-attachment to any specific individual.  He goes so far as to say: “he who has not been able to love more than one, did not even love that one much” (Letters, 63).  The Sage is not infatuated with anyone.  He loves everyone as much as he is able, while accepting that they are changeable and that one day they will die.