I mentioned in a previous post, covering part II of Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, the idea of Stoic exercises of (mild, as Irvine specifies) self discomfort and self control, which Seneca, Musonius, Epictetus and Marcus advise to practice in order to achieve two goals: i) prepare oneself for possible adversity; ii) develop a more keen sense of appreciation of one’s current circumstances.
Here are a couple of excerpts from Irvine:
“Musonius takes this technique one step further: He thinks that besides living as if bad things had happened to us, we should sometimes cause them to happen. In particular, we should periodically cause ourselves to experience discomfort that we could easily have avoided. We might accomplish this by underdressing for cold weather or going shoeless. Or we might periodically allow ourselves to become thirsty or hungry, even though water and food are at hand, and we might sleep on a hard bed , even though a soft one is available.
Besides periodically engaging in acts of voluntary discomfort, we should, say the Stoics, periodically forgo opportunities to experience pleasure. This is because pleasure has a dark side. Indeed, pursuing pleasure, Seneca warns, is like pursuing a wild beast: On being captured, it can turn on us and tear us to pieces. Or, changing the metaphor a bit, he tells us that intense pleasures , when captured by us, become our captors, meaning that the more pleasures a man captures, “the more masters will he have to serve.””
That chapter of the book (#7) goes on to discuss the benefits of this sort of Stoic practice. With this in mind, I’d like to come up with a list of Stoic exercises in self discomfort and/or self control. Here is the beginning of such a list:
- leave part of your meal on the plate
- go without drinking alcohol for a day
- go hungry for a day
- go outside underdressed for the whether
- sleep on an uncomfortable bed
Care to add your own?