Script for a Stoic Mindfulness Exercise

This is a draft version of a modified CBT mindfulness script, for an audio recording, that’s been adapted to incorporate Stoic maxims, based on the exercise known as premeditation of adversity.

Stoic Mindfulness Exercise

Script for Audio Recording of Mindfulness-Based Stoic Exercise

Zeno-Poster-British-MuseumText copyright © Donald Robertson, 2012-2013. All rights reserved.  Image incorporates Stoic jewellery depicting Zeno of Citium, from photo copyright © Trustees of the British Museum.

[This is a draft, still being edited and updated.  I’ve put it up so that others can provide feedback.  It’s a mindfulness-based CBT exercise, involving imaginal exposure, that I’ve modified so that centres on the use of Stoic dogmas, based on the classical exercise called praemeditatio malorum.  Stoicism is a complex system, however the Enchiridion of Epictetus provides simplified guidance on psychological exercises, which he specifically describes as being for use in the first instance, presumably by novices.  So the Stoic maxims employed here are based as closely as possible on my reading of the original Greek Enchiridion, although they need to be phrased slightly differently for our purposes here, of course.]


Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes, and allow yourself to pause for a while and become more mindful, self-aware, and centred in the present moment… Take time to settle down and get comfortable before we begin.  Notice what’s going on in your body and mind, right now, in the present moment…  Your goal in this exercise is to learn to face troubling situations patiently in your imagination, rehearsing and strengthening a Stoic or “philosophical” attitude toward apparent adversities… You’re going to do so longer and more carefully than normal to develop greater mindfulness, or awareness of the role of your own thoughts and judgements…  viewing them with calm, rational, detachment…   You’re not trying to control or eliminate any of your feelings but simply to stay with them for a while, letting go of any struggle against them. You may find by doing this exercise that anger, anxiety or other unpleasant feelings tend to reduce naturally over time, but that’s not your immediate purpose, and initially you may even find that you actually become more conscious of uncomfortable feelings. Your goal in this exercise is simply to learn how to observe your own thoughts and separate them from external events…

For now, with your eyes still closed, just be aware of what you’re currently experiencing, from moment to moment, without evaluating it, analysing it, or interpreting it any further… If your mind wanders, that’s fine, just acknowledge the fact and bring your awareness patiently back to the exercise you’re doing… You’re going to choose a scene to picture throughout this exercise… You can start by working through a mildly upsetting event and then, in later sessions, progressively working on more challenging ones… So pick a situation to imagine yourself in, if you haven’t already… Employing all of your senses, as if it’s actually happening right now, and you’re seeing things through your own eyes… Make it as realistic as possible and pay close attention to the most upsetting parts of the scene rather than trying to avoid them… Turn it into a brief sequence of events, like a video clip, and imagine going through it as realistically as possible… Beginning…  middle… and end…  Don’t try to change anything… Just observe things in a detached way and allow yourself to accept and fully experience your internal reactions so that any novelty or surprise gradually wears off and events begin to seem more and more familiar as you get used to contemplating them…

Keep imagining yourself in that situation, right now…  but throughout this exercise, also have the following advice from the ancient Stoics constantly in mind…  “People are not upset by events but by their opinions about events”, especially their value-judgements…  Keep reminding yourself, as you picture that scene before you…  There are many alternative ways to view external events and so different people feel differently about them…  Your attitude toward events is the most important thing in life rather than the events themselves…  Keep guard constantly, therefore, over your judgements and intentions, and watch them closely.  When automatic thoughts or feelings cross your mind, you always have the freedom to suspend your response…  withholding your agreement from your initial impressions, rather than allowing yourself to be carried away by them…  so pause for a moment and observe your thoughts…  Say to yourself in response to them: “You are just an impression, a mental representation, and not at all the thing you claim to represent.”  Take a step back from your initial impressions, rather than allowing yourself to be swept along by them…  Instead, silently examine whether they’re about things that are “up to you”, under your direct control, or not…  Remember that sovereign precept of Stoicism: That only things that are “up to us” are intrinsically good or bad, and that bodily and external things are “indifferent” with regard to our ultimate wellbeing… neither helping nor harming our character in themselves, but only through the use we make of them…

[Repeated Premeditation of Adversity]

You’re going to review that whole sequence of events very patiently, a few more times, from beginning to end… Start at the beginning right now… going through things slowly and with mindfulness… Remind yourself that it’s not events that upset you but your opinions about events, especially your value judgements…  So don’t try to change anything…  Instead, as you go through events, practice taking a step back from your thoughts and actively accepting your feelings as harmless and indifferent… As you continue to go through those events slowly, allow your mind to become more absorbed in the scene, using your senses, as if it’s happening right now… Notice what you see… Notice any sounds you hear… Notice what you’re saying or doing, and how you experience that… Notice any thoughts, images, or associations that go through your mind… Notice your feelings and the sensations in your body… Just allow yourself to acknowledge each experience as it arises… not trying to get rid of or change anything…  Patiently going through the whole event, using all of your senses, as if it’s happening right now… Stay with your feelings for a while, as if you’re creating a space around them, giving them the freedom to come and go naturally… Now gradually draw the scene to a close in your mind, and rate the level of discomfort you felt… From 0-100% how distressing was it to imagine? Just make a mental note of that number. [Pause]

Okay, now patiently go through the whole experience once again… from just before you noticed the earliest signs… through the peak or middle… to the end, once the scene is over… Remind yourself: it’s not events that upset you but your opinions and value-judgements about events…  Again, patiently watching your thoughts from a distance… while you radically accept your feelings… Don’t try to change anything; don’t try to stop anything from changing… Just take your time… Notice any sounds you hear… Notice what you’re saying or doing, and how you experience that… Notice any thoughts, images, or impressions that go through your mind… Notice your feelings and the sensations in your body… Just allow yourself to acknowledge each experience as it arises… Notice your automatic thoughts and feelings but don’t allow yourself to be carried away by them, pause and take a step back from them instead… Patiently going through the whole event, using all of your senses, as if it’s happening right now… [Pause] Now gradually draw the scene to a close… Make a mental note of your how distressing it was this time, from 0-100%. [Pause]

You will probably find it helpful to repeat this exercise daily, reviewing the same situation in detail in your imagination, several times, and visualising things more vividly and for longer than you normally would… You can use this time as an opportunity to practice both distancing from your thoughts and actively accepting your feelings… It will often help if you carefully observe and note down what effect the exercise has upon your problem, both immediately and over time… As your distress reduces, and you begin to feel more confident, you can also consider how you might solve problems and cope differently with similar situations in the future… However, the most important thing for a Stoic is to calmly evaluate whether the thoughts and feelings that you experience in response to apparent “adversity” refer to things that are “up to” you or not.  If they’re about external things, the Stoic practice is to remind yourself that these are neither good nor bad, but ultimately indifferent with regard to your moral character and wellbeing.  Over time, begin to ask yourself how a perfectly wise and just person, with complete self-control, would respond when faced with the same situation you’re imagining.  What would the Stoic Sage do under these circumstances?  Let that be your role-model and guide in this and similar situations…


Now let go even of the scene you were imagining… and gradually begin to expand your awareness throughout your whole body… and into your current environment… Continue to be aware of your breathing and any internal experiences that you’ve been attending to but, in addition, allow your awareness to begin spreading through the rest of your body… throughout the trunk of your body… your arms… your legs… your neck and head… your hands…  your feet… your face and eyes…  Become aware of your whole body as one… Now gradually spread your awareness out further beyond your body and into the environment around you, where you are and what you’re doing right now, in the real world… Continue to notice how you’re using your body and mind as you slowly open your eyelids and look around you… As you finish the exercise and begin interacting with the external world or other people, continue to be mindful of the way you’re using your body and your mind… and aware of how you relate to environment and any tasks at hand… becoming more focused on the real world around you and the way you’re interacting with life, right now, in the present moment, as you move forward into action…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: