This year I joined up with the New York City Stoics lead by Greg Lopez to do a full year group practice of Stoicism, using Epictetus's Three Disciplines as a framework. Here I will attempt to outline what that practice looked like on a month to month basis, along with my own notes on how well I think the practice went each month. I kept relatively detailed notes on how each month went throughout the year and will be drawing upon those, but as these notes are by no means perfect, I will be using my memory to fill in some of the gaps.
The practice each month usually lasted anywhere from 3 - 6 weeks depending on our monthly meeting schedule, but to keep it simple I will outline everything as if it lasted exactly 4 weeks each month. We would meet once a month for two hours talk about how our practice went the previous month, as well as how we were going to approach our practice for the following month.
Written out in this way, the practice may look very well structured and systematic, and at some points it did work out that way, but at other points I was very much "flying by the seat of my pants" so to speak. The general structure of the practice along with a number of resources was laid out for us by Greg, but it was up to us as individuals to determine what exactly we would work on and how. I will also admit that there were many times where I did not follow through with my practice as I initially intended, or as often as I could of, so take all of the notes here with a grain of salt. I attempt to be honest with what exercises worked for me, which ones didn't, and which ones I failed to follow through with based on what I can recall.
The primary goal here is to provide myself with an opportunity to reflect on what I have done over the entire year, see what progress I have made, highlight practices that I found particularly helpful, and to share this information with others in the hope that they find something that can benefit them and their own philosophical practice.
The focus for this first month of practice was on learning basic Stoic theory. This included having a basic idea of what Epictetus's "Three Disciplines" are, developing arguments for and against virtue being the highest good, and understanding the dichotomy of control.
- Read through a summary of Epictetus's "Three Disciplines", which are the Discipline of Desire and Aversion, the Discipline of Action, and the Discipline of Assent.
- Wrote three individual essays on what it would potentially be like to make progress in each of the three disciplines.
- Read through a section of Plato's Euthydemus that argues why wisdom should be considered the highest good.
- Wrote a mini essay trying to reproduce Socrates's argument from memory in my own words without using any external documents as a reference.
- Brainstormed at least least three potential challenges to wisdom/virtue being the highest good. Identified potential flaws in Socrates's argument.
- Attempted to answer the challenges that I generated to the question of wisdom/virtue being the highest good.
Weeks 3 & 4
Every night for at least 4 nights during the week, I thought of a problem or troubling experience that I had during the day. If the day went smoothly, I instead thought about an issue I had in the past.
For each issue I answered the following questions:
- Describe the topic using objective language, and avoiding value-laden language.
- From 0-100%, how much control did I have over the situation?
- Why didn't I have 100% control? These are factors that are probably not under your control.
- Why didn't I have 0% control? These are factors that are probably under your control.
- What would be the practical consequences if I cared mainly about the factors I had control over, and less on the factors I did not have control over?
This month's practice was helpful in clarifying what the three disciplines actually were, and how they might affect my behaviors when implemented correctly. It also allowed me to take both a charitable and critical view of the Stoic's concept of virtue/wisdom being the sole good. I was also able to take a first step into directly applying the dichotomy of control on a day to day basis to typical life problems.
The practice for this month contained and increased focus on Stoic theory, studying Epictetus's idea of "preconceptions of good and bad", and really trying to think about what we mean when we use the terms "good" and "bad".
- Read through 5 different assigned sections of Epictetus's Discourses that all dealt with the idea of prolepsis (preconceptions of good and bad).
- Answered 14 short answer study questions about the readings and the idea of prolepsis.
- Each night this week, I examined my own applications of the preconception of "good". I looked back at 2-3 of my actions through out the day to ask "Why did I do that? What was I hoping to achieve?", all in an attempt to generate a list of things I implicitly apply the preconception of "good" to.
Weeks 3 & 4
- Spent a day or two coming up with a list of what I consider to be the necessary and sufficient conditions of "goodness". For something to be "good" it needs properties X, Y, and Z.
- Each day, took an item that I examined back in week 2 and "put it on the scales", writing a short analysis on it to determine whether it contained all of the necessary properties of "goodness" as outlined earlier.
The idea of prolepsis (preconceptions) is a helpful reminder that all people have this idea of "good and bad" in their mind, and that we all seek what is "good" and avoid what is "bad", but that when we go and apply the label "good" or "bad" to different things we often do so differently from other people, and perhaps even do it haphazardly. We often use the word "good" in a variety of different ways, and paying conscious attention to how you use the word "good" on a day to day basis can be an insightful exercise.
Coming up with necessary and sufficient conditions for what we might mean by "goodness/ultimate goodness/moral goodness" is an interesting and tricky exercise. When defining something like this, it is difficult to not create something that is circular, or that sounds tautological. Overall it seems to of been a helpful exercise in actively considering what it is truly worth calling "good" or "bad", and to attempt not to use those terms frivolously.
The practice this month started the Discipline of Desire and Aversion with a specific focus on aversions related to the future (i.e. things about the future that tend to make you worry or give you anxiety).
- Every day for a maximum of 15 minutes, I spent time reading through passages from Epictetus's Discourses, Marcus's Meditations, or Seneca's Letters to Lucilius, with the goal of identifying a passage that discusses future worries, and how to deal with them. I wrote down the relevant passage to have as a reference, and wrote a paragraph describing what the passage meant in my own words.
- Every day I spent around 5 minutes thinking about and writing down a general situation where I commonly felt anxiety about the future. I then used the passages identified in week 1 as a reference to create an "at hand phrase" that could be used in that particular situation.
- Every day I spent 5 - 10 minutes taking one of the future anxiety based situations that I identified in week 2, and answered 3 questions about that situation. What would happen if the worry actually came to pass? How could I potentially deal with those consequences? Taking a step back, are the consequences of that worry really so awful?
- At the beginning of the week I identified a future worry that I felt comfortable doing a controlled exposure therapy exercise with, and attempted to directly expose myself to the worry in the real world periodically throughout the week. Also every day I reviewed one entry related to a specific future worry, and re-read all of my notes related to that worry.
This month clearly identified the potential power of at hand phrases for me. An "at hand phrase" is essentially a short and easy to remember phrase that you can recall at any moment to remind yourself of important principles or idea during a challenging moment. Usually the phrase is kept short, and is based off of some larger passage or idea that provides additional context. The "at hand phrase" that I found most helpful I had created from Seneca's Letters, "If it comes, so what?" with the intent being that "if whatever I am worried about comes to pass, so what? I will find a way to deal with it. It is trivial compared to the many things I have faced in the past, and what others have faced in the past as well".
Another may say, “perhaps it won’t come”; for yourself say, “If it comes, so what? We will see which of us wins. Perhaps it is in my interests for it to come, and such a death will bring honor to my life.” It was the hemlock that made Socrates great. Wrest from Cato his sword, his guarantor of liberty, and you take away the greater part of his glory. - Seneca, Letter 13.14
This at hand phrase, along with the exposure therapy exercises in the final week helped me to essentially eliminate a future worry I often had, a worry of "arriving late" to any sort of event. This would typically manifest itself as anxiously waiting for the NYC Subway to arrive, wondering if I would make it to my destination on time. Now I can say this is actually no longer an issue for me. Potentially the most helpful components of this was the exposure therapy, in that I forced myself to be late to a few different events, was able to reflect on how it was not really a big deal, relate it back to my answers to the questions from the previous weeks, and using the at hand phrase as a succinct reminder of all of this. I still use that at hand phrase "If it comes, so what?" as a helpful tool to this day.
The practice this month continued the Discipline of Desire and Aversion with a focus on aversions related to the present i.e.) something you don't like is occurring in the present.
- I Spent around 5 minutes each day writing about something I am averse to, why I am averse to it, and what would really happened if I encountered my aversion.
- I Spent around 10 minutes each day looking for passages in Stoic literature that talked about dealing with present aversions, developed an at hand phrase from the passage, and assigned it to a relevant aversion I had journaled about in Week 1.
Weeks 3 & 4
- I Planned to do at least one thing I was averse to each day as an exercise, using my journal writings and at hand phrases as support.
I ended up taking largely the same approach that I took in the previous month, since it seemed to work fairly well. The final two weeks of practice were pretty ambitious, doing one thing I was averse to every day for two weeks, and I do not recall effectively sticking to that schedule, but I do remember tackling all the aversions I listed out at least once.
I tested a number of pretty standard endurance based aversions like taking cold showers, sleeping on the floor, eating plain food all day, eating only liquid food all day (soylent), etc... I don't feel like working with these aversions is very transferable to improving your character overall if I am being honest. Practicing these things seems really just to help you directly with those specific issues, and progress with these types of aversions does not transfer much to other wider aversions (taking cold showers literally only made it easier for me to take cold showers), at least in my case, since the goal is to see a significant positive behavioral change. They have their place for sure, but it seems to me that there are probably more important things for us to work on, unless you have an issue with one of these things specifically and encounter it frequently.
The present aversion that I feel I made the most progress with was feeling uncomfortable in large crowds, or unfamiliar social situations. One example is being stuck on a very crowded subway. Another example is going to a social gathering like a party or a Meetup where I don't know anyone (or very few people). The at hand phrase that helped me in these situations was "It's a festival". This phrase helped me in two different ways, the first way is to shift my perspective to view the situation as a joyous occasion (even if it was currently just a bunch of people stuck in an underground subway car). The second way was to remind myself to actually enjoy what I was doing, and not worry about what other people might be thinking too much.
Whereas in fact, if you’re living alone, you should call that peace and freedom, and view yourself as being like the gods; and if you find yourself in the company of a mass of people, you should call that not a mob and a source of uproar and vexation, but rather a feast and a public festival, and so accept everything with contentment. - Discourses 1.12.21
The practice this month continued the Discipline of Desire and Aversion with a focus on moving aversions from external to internals. For example, if you are averse to getting stuck in traffic and it frequently upsets you, that is an aversion to an external. To improve on that aversion, instead you would flip it and attempt to develop an aversion to being the kind of person who gets upset because they are stuck in traffic. Asking yourself the question "do I want to be the kind of person who is averse to X?" is a good starting point.
- I spent 5 minutes each day writing about an external I am averse to, and how I can transfer it to an internal aversion.
- I spent around 10 minutes each day looking for passages in Stoic literature that talked about developing internal aversions, developed an at hand phrase from the passage, and assigned it to a relevant aversion I had journaled about in Week 1.
- Alternatively, if no relevant passage could be found, I came up with an implementation intention that could help with that aversion i.e.) If I notice an urge to comment on social media, immediately set a timer for 15 minutes, only make the comment if it still seems prudent to do so after the 15 minutes have passed.
- I attempted to use the at hand phrases and implementation intentions to develop the correct internal aversions over the course of the week.
- I did a Seneca style journaling exercise where each day at the end of the day, or in the morning the next day, I spent 5 minutes writing about what I felt like I did poorly that day, and how I could improve next time.
Compared to previous months I feel like I made the least amount of progress here. The "at hand phrases" did not work nearly as well for me in this category. Implementation intentions seemed to have the most effect but the practice during week 3 was not focused, I should have chosen one or two implementation intentions to work with the entire week instead of juggling all of the at hand phrases and implementation intentions at the same time.
The Seneca style journaling exercises seemed beneficial in the moment to do, but did not have any observable effect on my behavior after thr exercise, so it is difficult to say if they are actually effective at all. I didn't put a ton of effort into the journaling practice, maybe more time and focus with that exercise is required for it to work for me?
A clarifying note on what implementation intentions actually are, or at least how I have used them. They are basically simple if -> then propositional statements that you use to modify your behavior in specific situations. So essentially you declare your intention that "If I find myself in situation X then I will do Y". A helpful example of an implementation intention is the one I mentioned in week 2 above, which I actually used with a decent amount of success.
The practice this month continued the Discipline of Desire and Aversion with a focus on reducing or limiting your desires. Up front to a lot of us this specific practice might seem a little strange or even off putting, but I think there are some pretty good reasons behind it. The biggest reason from the Stoic perspective is that desires often get in the way of ethical behavior. We often do not desire what is beneficial for us (it is easy to think of how this could play out simply using food as an example). I may desire to eat 4 sleeves of Oreos in one night, but that is not beneficial for my health. Desires like this extend in many directions beyond food, and ideally we should be coming up with ways to remove or at the very least limit them.
- I spent 5 minutes at the end of each day during the week writing down the various desires that I encountered through out the day, with the intention of finding patterns or themes between the desires to help decide which ones I wanted to work on for the month.
- I spent 5 minutes each day identifying some desire I could potentially work on, and developed either an at hand phrase or an implementation intention that I could use in either a generic sense or a very specific context.
Weeks 3 & 4
- I attempted to use the techniques identified during week 2 to limit my desires throughout the rest of the month.
- I spent 5 minutes journaling at night time in an attempt to keep track of how well I was doing on a day by day basis. Specifically I asked myself "What did I do well?", "What did I do poorly?", and "What could I change to make things work better next time?".
Using the at hand phrases in the moment helped with limiting the desires, but were even more helpful when I decided to review them first thing in the morning, in-order to set the tone for the whole day. Other helpful techniques were recalling that desires themselves are temporary, and that they often dissipate if you can just sit with them for a while. Also really thinking about the potential long term consequences of repeatedly engaging in the desire, and if I really wanted those kinds of long term consequences.
I did not actually end up doing the night time journaling as much as I should have, and frequently made up excuses on why I did not have time or was too tired to do it, even though it is only a quick 5 minute exercise. Part of it was probably an aversion to confront my failures for those days in particular, as it is often uncomfortable to take a head on look at your own failures.
I also found that if I was not really committed to lessening the desire, it was very easy to rationalize myself out of practicing it. Making up "cheat days" or "rewarding myself" was a common theme to avoid a committed practice here in some respects.
Like Epictetus says, you should habituate yourself towards things you want to do, and not habituate yourself towards things you do not want to do. This is obviously all easier said then done though. A helpful and motivating way to think about this I found though, is that your actions turn into habits, and your habits turn into your character, and your character becomes your fate (since it essentially defines how you react to everything), so be careful with your actions.
The practice this month continued the Discipline of Desire and Aversion with a focus on increasing desires for internals, which really just means trying to increase your desire to emulate positive or virtuous character traits.
Weeks 1 & 2
- Each day in the morning, I spent 5 - 10 minutes writing out a positive character trait that I wanted to emulate from others. I would typically choose a family member, friend, or even a fictional character, write about a character trait that I admired in them, as well as how I could attempt to emulate that character trait in the day ahead. The goal was to keep that specific character trait in mind throughout the day and emulate it as much as possible.
- I created an implementation intention, that if I found myself being frustrated in a desire, I would try to re-frame it as a way to practice a character trait I wanted to emulate (i.e. if I was stuck waiting for the NYC Subway, I would instead re-frame the situation as an opportunity to practice patience).
- At night time I spent 5 minutes journaling about what I did well with regards to my character that day, as a way to recognize my successes and encourage myself to continue that specific behavior.
Weeks 3 & 4
- I changed my morning exercise to one that I developed based off of a passage from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations.
- I continued with my implementation intention exercise and the night time journaling as well.
Meditations: Give yourself a Title Exercise
- Ask yourself, what title related to your character could you give yourself right now? Write out what it means to hold such a title.
- Ask yourself, what title do you not yet have, but wish to have? What would it mean to attain such a title? How might you have to change in-order to attain this title?
- As you act throughout the day, ask yourself, with this action that I am taking right now, am I exchanging a good title for a bad one? Or am I getting closer to a title that I want to have?
When you have given yourself these titles, good, modest, truthful, prudent, sympathetic, high-minded, make sure that you never exchange them for others; and if you should ever lose these titles, return to them with all speed[...]so if you preserve the right to give yourself these titles, without wishing too strongly that they should be awarded to you by others too, you will be another man and will have embarked on a new life. - Meditations 10.8
These exercises worked particularly well for me. Being able to focus on character traits I wanted to emulate, or a title I wanted to give myself for the day, and keeping it in mind throughout the day actually caused a positive change in how I behaved and reacted throughout the day.
The implementation intention did help on various occasions, but was somewhat difficult to constantly keep in mind along with the character trait I wished to emulate throughout the day.
The night time journaling was a helpful and encouraging way to end the day. Just focusing on the positives of my actions through out the day, and encouraging myself to do that more often, seems to of been more beneficial for me than the journaling exercise where you list out the pros and cons of your actions for the day, I am not sure exactly why this was the case for me though.
The practice this month started the Discipline of Action with a focus on playing the role of a human being. For the Stoics, humans are define by both their rational nature and their pro-social nature. The Stoics think that we live best when we fulfill these two natures.
Weeks 1 & 2
- I continued with the daily Meditations based exercise of "give yourself a title" in the mornings, except I focused on giving myself "pro social" titles, this exercise only took about 5-10 minutes.
- I created an implementation intention, to always take a minimum of a 5 minute pause before responding to someone on social media (for me this would be Facebook and Reddit), with the goal of giving myself space to question why I wanted to comment, and if the comment was actually beneficial in a pro-social context.
- At night time I wrote in a journal, categorizing my behavior for that day as "sheep", "beast", or "human". Sheep like behavior is where one overly gives into ones desires, beast like behavior is where one acts malevolently, and human like behavior is when you act rationally or pro-socially. This exercise is based off the following entry from Epictetus's Discourses.
For what is a human being? ‘A rational and mortal creature,’ someone says. First of all, what does the rational element serve to distinguish us from? ‘From wild beasts.’ And from what else? ‘From sheep and the like.’ Take care, then, never to be like a wild beast; otherwise you will have destroyed what is human in you, and will have failed to fulfil your part as a human being. Take care that you never act like a sheep; or else in that way, too, you will have destroyed what is human in you. - Discourses 2.9.1
Weeks 3 & 4
- I swapped out the morning Meditations based exercise to instead try out Metta Meditation (Compassion Meditation) with a distinct Stoic theme (for details check out the Hierocles and Metta Bhavana exercise noted here).
- I continued with the same implementation intention and night time journaling exercises from the previous weeks.
By this point I had gotten pretty comfortable with my practice taking the form of one morning exercise, one exercise to keep in mind through out the day, and one night time review style exercise.
The morning exercises went particularly well for me, as I noticed myself behaving in a more kindly and compassionate manner towards everyone I encountered throughout the day. The implementation intention was also helpful on occasion.
The night time exercise seemed helpful initially, but again, as with many of the other review style journaling exercise it was difficult for me to see any causal relationship between the exercise itself and my behavior the following day. Because of this, I definitely slacked on following through with the exercise during the last two weeks of the month, skipping it more often than not.
The practice this month continued the Discipline of Action with a focus on role ethics. Epictetus specifically thought it was very important for a person to fulfill their roles in various ways, both natural and acquired. He also thought that we as individuals had specific roles we could fulfill better than others based on our personal proclivities. You can potentially derive ethical actions based on the roles you have, as long as they do not conflict with your primary role of a human being (pro-social and rational).
Weeks 1 & 2
- I spent around 10 minutes every morning writing down a role that I had, what was required of me for the role, and brainstormed ways I might be better able to fulfill the role. (Some examples of roles I noted were: Son, Brother, Friend, Employee, Software Engineer, U.S. Citizen, etc...)
- If I found an actionable item that allowed me to better fulfill a role, I set a reminder on my phone to encourage me to follow through with that action at the appropriate time.
Weeks 3 & 4
- I spent five minutes in the morning thinking about what roles I would need to fulfill throughout the day, using the list from the previous weeks as a guide.
- I set a daily periodic reminder on my phone to prompt me with the question "What role are you fulfilling right now?" so that I would be able to question my actions at that moment.
- I also just tried to periodically remind myself of what role I was attempting to fulfill moment by moment whenever I could.
As I wrote down the requirements of all my specific roles, I noticed that many of them had a large overlap in that their requirements essentially boiled down to being a "pro social human", being kind, compassionate, understanding etc...
The periodic reminder of roles did seem to help me focus more on various tasks through out the day, and to be less distracted. I ended up not taking on as many tasks that were not related to the specific role I was looking to fulfill at that moment.
A more concrete practice instead of "periodically remind yourself of your roles" would of potentially been more helpful. Probably some sort of journaling about roles and if I fulfilled them well or not would of been a helpful exercise, but journaling exercises had been of questionable help in the past, so I skipped that this month.
Overall it did feel like I could of done something more here for the practice this month, it felt as something essential was missing here...
The practice this month started the Discipline of Assent with a focus on desire and aversion. The general idea behind the disciple of assent is that you take the original training from the previous disciplines and crank the frequency and intensity up to 11. With the discipline of assent you are supposed to have your precepts on hand at all times.
Epictetus makes the idea a little more clear here:
There are three areas of study in which someone who wants to be virtuous and good must be trained....[The third]...relates to the avoidance of error and hasty judgment, and, in general, whatever relates to assent...The third belongs to those who are already making progress, and is concerned with the achievement of constancy in the matters already covered, so that even when we’re asleep, or drunk, or depressed, no untested impression that presents itself may catch us off guard. - Discourses 3.2.1
Weeks 1 - 4
- Every month we typically received 2 - 3 pages of pre-selected sections of source text readings related to the particular discipline we were focusing on. I decided to hand copy onto paper sections of the source text each morning in-order to set the tone for the day.
- I set an implementation intention, so that whenever I received an impressions that something was good or bad, I would question the impression using the dichotomy of control as a filter. i.e) Impression: "I have to stay very late at work today because there is a lot to do, this is bad". Dichotomy of Control: The fact that you have a lot of work to do is outside of your control, so it is not bad. Only how you act in relation to this is either good or bad.
- I also set the implementation intention to limit my use of the words good and bad as much as possible, unless it was applicable to my character i.e.) I cannot say "That movie was good" but would instead say "I liked that movie".
Writing out and copying the source text onto paper by hand was helpful in setting the tone for the day and allowed me to more easily keep in mind what exactly I was practicing this month. Since I did this every day the whole month I eventually ran out of pre-selected source material to copy, and diverted to using the chapter on "The Discipline of Assent" from Pierre Hadot's "The Inner Citadel" since he quotes relevant source material in there as well.
For the dichotomy of control exercise, I was initially skeptical of how well this would work but found it to be fairly helpful in focusing me on what I could do in the moment, and helped me to ignore distracting worries related to what I had no control over.
For the exercise where I attempted to not use the words good or bad, I found it to be very difficult, and often failed in this. It is actually very difficult to not use these words in day to day conversations, searching for alternatives, while simultaneously not seeming like a very strange person during a normal conversation with anyone. Instead of literally not using the words good or bad, I often found at the very least I was able to be more conscious about how I was using the words in the moment, was able to reflect on what I actually meant when I used the word good or bad, and remind myself that I usually meant something more like "preference" when I used to term good or bad.
The practice this month continued the Discipline of Assent with a focus on how it related to the Discipline of Action, more specifically on how we might go about keeping our roles in mind as often as possible.
- I decided again to focus on my pro-social role as a human, as that is where I felt I needed the most work compared to other more specific roles. I set an implementation intention where if I noticed an anti-social inclination, using a counter app, I would be required to take out the app, click to increment the counter, and then decide how I would now best act in a pro-social manner. The idea with the counter is to give yourself some distance from your initial thoughts. It is important to note that the actual number on the counter was not important, using itself as a trigger to slow myself down was the important part. An example of how I implemented this would be if I was leaving my apartment to go somewhere, and I noticed that my neighbors were also out and about in the building, instead of simply ignoring them because I was in a "hurry" I would at the very least smile and say hi to them, staying open to engaging in a quick friendly conversation. This also played out at my workplace where there are currently a lot of new employees being hired. Instead of avoiding the new hires due to being "too busy" or because they were "not in my department" I would again use the counter as a way to pause, then go over to the new employee, say hi, and introduce myself in a friendly way.
- As a general way to start the day, I decided to pull from my growing list of Stoic passages and write one out every morning to set the tone for the day, it did not necessarily have anything to do with the discipline of assent or action, and was typically just a passage I was fond of.
- I also decided to read one letter per night from Seneca's Letters to Lucilius as a way to end the day. I had already read all of the letters multiple times before, so this was more of a relaxation activity than anything.
I found using the counter to be a very helpful exercise, and noticed a change in my behavior throughout the day because of it. This is always a main goal from me with the practice each month, to try something out and to see if it actually causes any kind of positive behavioral change or not. The counter exercise seemed to help me generally cultivate a more pro-social demeanor, and change my more typical behaviors.
The morning and night time exercises, while not directly related the practice topic this month did feel helpful in keeping me on track with actually executing my implementation intentions. Again it seems as if my practice works best went I start off with some exercise to set the tone for the day, followed by some exercise to practice through out the day when possible, and to finish up the day with some sort of contemplative exercise.
Towards the end of this month and going into the next month I also participated in Donald Robertson's SMRT(Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training) course. This is a four week course that was fairly intensive using modern mindfulness and CBT(Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) concepts in combination with Stoic philosophy. Typically during the course you would need to spend about 1 - 2 hours at the beginning of each week reading through material for what exercises you were expected to complete through out the week, and each day you would spend anywhere from 15 - 45 minutes actually completing the exercises. Taking Donald's course at the same time as my actual practice proved to be too difficult for me to consistently maintain with the proper level of attention as the focus of my own personal practice was frequently different than the focus of Donald's course, and so I stopped taking the Donald's course after completing the first two weeks worth of exercises.
There was no actual practice scheduled for this final month. Due to the holidays we decided to meet rather early in the month to do a final review of how our practice went during the previous month, as well as how we felt it went throughout the entire year. At the time we also celebrated the completion of one full year of Stoic practice. If you have actually read this far then I think you can agree that there was much for us to celebrate here.
For my own part I have tentatively continued November's practice into this month, with less of a focus on the implementation intention, while continuing the morning and night time exercises in various forms.
Overall I am very glad that I participated in the NYC Stoic practice group. This long listing of practices, exercises, and notes does not convey one thing however, and that is the benefit of doing these sorts of exercises in a group. It was very helpful meeting up each month with a small group for a number of reasons. One reason is accountability, you are more likely to follow through on a practice like this if you need to report in to a group on how everything is periodically progressing, as opposed to going it alone. Another reason is that other practitioners can provide their own personal insights and ideas on how they have practiced, what has worked for them, and can assist in problem solving various issues that you may run into.
Going through all of these exercises has shown me a number of ways that one can practice a life philosophy (specifically one based on Stoic philosophy) through out the year. It seems like a lot of work, and in one sense it is, but in many other senses, it is not. On a day to day basis, on average, I probably only spent around 15 to 30 minutes of dedicated time for this practice, along with a two hour group meeting once per month (Many of the exercises I was able to directly integrate into my day, without needing to cordon off a specific time for them). That is not actually a lot of time, most people should be able to spare 15 minutes or more out of their day for a practice like this, which I think can have real tangible benefits.
I am not too sure what my practice will look like in the upcoming year. I have become interested in Secular Buddhism recently, and have been playing around with the idea of doing a deep dive into that, to see if I can develop a structured practice with a similar format to what I did this year. Regardless of how that works out, I am sure that what I have learned through this year of Stoic practice will live on with me in one way or another. It is my hope that some of the ideas here will help someone else in developing their own Stoic practice, so that they may try it for themselves, and see how well it works for them.
I hope you all have an excellent new year.
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