Let’s discuss the virtues of Stoic Philosophy. How can negative visualisation help us improve our lives in the modern world?
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy which originated over 2000 years ago. Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium, Socrates also had a huge influence in the Philosophies birth, as well as the Cynics.
Epictetus was also a Stoic philosopher who spent the first part of his life in Greece and later relocated to Rome (55-135 AD.)
Seneca and Cicero of Rome discovered Epictetus and this eventually leads to him being welcomed with open arms by Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor.
For some reason, Stoicism seems to be hidden away from our mainstream.
The fundamental principles of this philosophy have provided large contributions to modern ethics and Christianity. It has affected our military strategy and society through until the present day.
As a Greek kid, I grew up understanding the significance the ancient world had on our modern civilisation. I want you to grasp the substance of what I was taught as a child.
History is not stuck in the past, it carries and transcends us into the present moment and beyond.
The discoveries, minds and thoughts that existed before us shape who we are today and least they be forgotten.
Understand and appreciate the merit in learning about the ancients, not only in this writing but in life. To ignore our foundations will disadvantage you.
The East has Buddhism and the West has Stoicism. My point is that Stoicism goes much deeper than having a few morals to live by, it goes further beyond some sort of analysis on emotion. It is an analogy for life, teaching us the complex nature of our physical, daily reality.
Stoicism seems to have a reputation for being cold, distant and a practice that places the attitude of negativity in a positive light.
This stereotype is far from the truth and misrepresents the good Stoicism gives to its students. Stoicism isn’t an ‘opinion on emotion’, rather is a form of therapy, it is a tool to shape the perspective of the world in the most favourable light possible.
With this philosophy, you can live the best life by making the right decisions to face challenges in life head on, in a world which is mostly unfair.
Let’s explore how we can avoid bad habits, build your body and mind through mastering the sought after state of mind the Stoics referred to as ‘tranquillity’.
Stoicism is centred on pursuing what is honourable, virtuous all in pursuit of brilliance. The Greeks focused on honour, while the Romans focused on tranquillity.
Tranquillity is a word the Roman Stoics used to describe a state of emotional resilience and calm.
Tranquillity to a Stoic is a state of mind where your consciousness becomes impenetrable to negative emotion. Jealousy, anger, anxiety become easy to repel.
It’s not necessarily the idea that these emotions cannot enter the mind, rather tranquillity means they have no negative effects on the conscious mind.
Joy, freedom, no inhibitions, these are the traits characterised by the mind when a Stoic is able to accept negative thoughts for what they are, rather than for what they mean.
Over time Stoicism in Greece adopted the teachings of Tranquillity from the Stoics of Rome.
This made the overall prospect of their philosophy more alluring to Epictetus and Musonius Rufus
As the Greeks adopted this new Stoic principle it allowed the Greeks to develop the ability to detach themselves from cravings to good things.
The teaching of tranquillity enabled them to separate from the Cynics and students of Epicureans.
These Stoics were able to establish their freedom from cravings to what controlled the Cynics and Disciples of Epicureans. They were able to face the challenges of life directly, instead of cowering away and withdrawing from what may oppose and provoke a negative headspace.
Arguably the greatest Roman emperor of all time, Marcus Aurelius commended these morals and it shows through his victories and accomplishments.
Hopefully through this brief introduction to the teachings and ideals of Stoicism you can start to understand that there is a deeper meaning behind it instead of just being a cold, emotionless human being.
Negative energy fuels the positive, it is merely a tool for achieving the opposite—the negative isn’t the goal.
The power of Stoicism was noticed by statesmen (leaders) thus well-regarded Stoics of the ancient world aided leaders various communes and conquests.
How did the Stoics achieve tranquillity? What were the methods and mindsets they cultivated to actualise the ability to accept negative emotion and not get tangled in its web of deception?
Negative visualisation is the meditative practice of intentionally bringing the worst, negative contemplations into your mind. The Stoics’ would focus and meditate on the loss of loved ones, assets and basically they manifested the antonyms of what makes them happy.
This sounds counterproductive, but what this ‘negative visualisation’ achieved was a larger gratitude and appreciation for what one already has.
Stoicism suggests to us that people in general continually seek happiness and good emotion from what they don’t already have.
We are always chasing what we don’t have to make us happy and of course, that’s not how life works. The Stoics understood this and created a ‘hedonic adaptation’ to counter this flawed societal consensus.
The use of negative visualisation was in many ways ‘the cure’ to peoples’ paradigm for what happiness really is.
You may consider there being more power in focusing on nothing but the positive and maybe this works for you, great! However, try to understand that nature works in the inverse.
Having a life philosophy is something everyone needs. It’s important to adopt one that fits your deepest, instinctual beliefs of what works and what is true.
Treat it like a personal code that must never be broken.
If you haven’t found your life philosophy, you must find one as soon as possible.
It wasn’t until I adopted the doctrine of Stoic philosophy that the changes I wanted for myself actually become reality.
People just get used to what they already have and these ‘things’ only produce value in hindsight. These ‘things’ I speak of aren’t only inclusive to our physical possessions.
Most self-help information out there has given us a clear manifesto on why cultivating a positive reality for ourselves comes down to focusing on the good.
Such one-sided belief must be questioned.
Don’t get discouraged about having some sort of desire, this is healthy and will motivate you to take action and improve.
However, focusing on the contrary and constantly looking at what you don’t have is wrong. By doing so you are subconsciously creating synapses in your brain that no matter how fit you get, no matter how much muscles you gain, or how much money you make, there’s no contentment.
You will lack the ability to be satisfied with the present, which is where life is lived.
No matter what your situation the stoics teach us to be content right now by looking at what you have rather than what you don’t.
As previously mentioned, most self-help literature rejects the notion of negative visualisation and claims that positivity is the only way. It appears their idea of ‘negative visualisation’ constitutes worry, anxiety and contemplation about these visualisations actually happening.
There’s a clear distinction between the negative (health of our body, job losses) and actively focusing on the anxiety this would bring.
It is a cognitive exercise, a psychological and intellectual weapon for you to use to appreciate your current situation.
We should not become frustrated with ourselves if we don’t succeed at first. Furthermore, we can learn from our early failures to improve our chances of success next time.
Use negative visualisation as a tool to face life’s difficulties. Use it to grow your capacity as a human being and recognise that our demand for more is fleeting.
Centre your attention and appreciation on what you currently have, not what you lack. Everything that you have right now could be lost instantly. Use this notion to fuel your desire to live.
The idea that you must always focus on the positive thoughts to become more positive is idle.
I will leave you with a wise message from Marcus Aurelius.
Life is more like wrestling than dancing. Ultimately we either make decision to avoid the bad and only focus on the good or we face what appears bad to build integrity.
The real winner remains the most engaged and yet the least attached.