Sunday, June 07, 2015

Ideal Stoic Adviser Meditation - Script

The Ideal Stoic Adviser Meditation  – or how not be like Basil Fawlty

Coming soon
Recording and cartoon via Stoicism Today

In the meantime, here is a script you can read through and reflect upon. Hope it proves useful.

Let’s begin with some slow breathing to help you prepare for this Stoic mediation.  Close your eyes if you are happy to do so, and breathe a little slower than usual. Breathe through your nose, deep down to your belly and then breathe slowly out through your nose.  Continue to breathe a little slower and a little deeper than usual. I’ll count from one to  three and it might help you to follow my count on your inbreath and then your outbreath. [1, 2. 3  repeat a few times]  [pause] You might now like to count silently to 3 or even 4 to yourself on your inbreath and outbreath. I’ll keep quiet and allow you to establish your own rhythm of calm relaxed soothing breathing. [pause for 1 minute].

Now I’d like you to recall  in your mind’s eye an image of Basil Fawlty thrashing his car. He’s such a vivid reminder of  how an absence of Stoicism can get us into  difficulty. When we are overly concerned with things outside our control we become  vulnerable to getting angry, anxious and  upset and to be frank can end up looking rather silly. So bring to mind now just how silly Basil looks when he is thrashing his car.

So how could Stoicism have helped Basil?
Seneca advises us to bring to mind an ideal Stoic adviser.  “Cherish someone of good character , and keep them always in your mind. Then live as if they were watching you , and order all your actions as if they saw them”.
Basil’s ideal Stoic adviser might begin with some Stoic wisdom “Don’t try to control what you can’t control – for instance whether the car starts or not. Learn to accept what is outside your control with serenity.  Focus only on what you can control. The main thing you can control is yourself and whether you act like a person of excellent character. There are four cardinal virtues that make up an excellent character – wisdom, self-control ,  justice and courage so lets think about how you could develop them.

Unless you are a perfect Stoic sage, which frankly you aren’t Basil, you need self-control to overcome the desire to change things outside your control. Slow calming breathing like we just practised can help you calm down enough to postpone action until you can think more clearly and be more self-controlled.
You also need  a sense of justice to take into account the interests of other people and to be fair – so think for a moment about the other parties affected by you, and try to see things from their point of view.
You may need another sort of wisdom, practical wisdom to  work out the best option, using your experience and asking questions such as “what would I advise a friend in this situation?”
Having decided the right thing to do you may still fear carrying out this action, so you also need the courage to get out of your comfort zone and do the right thing.

Let’s think about how you can apply this, Basil.
At the moment you are trying to control whether the car starts. Clearly you can’t control this, so just focus on what you can control, which is being a good person. I  sense that you feel like giving the car a damn good thrashing. Summon up  self-control by taking a few deep breaths and postponing any action until you calm down. Think about other people involved and what a just solution might be. Might it be a good idea to recompensing your customers for the inconvenience of them not getting their dinner, perhaps by reducing their bill and giving them a free drink? But I sense that you feel like bluffing your way out of it rather than explaining what has happened to them. So you also need the courage to apologise sincerely to them.  Moving on to practical wisdom, what would you advise a good friend to do in your predicament? [pause ]Maybe it would be to get a taxi to deliver the food to the  hotel whilst calling the garage or AA to recover your car.
Do you think that  all this would be good advice.? You can nod if you think it would be.

If Stoicism could help even Basil maybe the same ideas could help all of us. Bring to mind  a recent occasion when you’ve let yourself get unduly upset or angry or anxious.   It doesn’t have to be a drama of Fawlty-esque proportions, just a time when the best version of yourself would have responded differently.
At this stage don’t try to take a wise or Stoic view because this is about increasing your awareness of what makes things go wrong.. Play back in your mind’s eye your scenario as if you were watching a video and in particular get in touch with the troubling emotions and adverse consequences of what happened

Now I’ll offer my version of a Stoic advisor, to see if this can help you as well. Imagine yourself in your challenging situation with your ideal Stoic advisor saying this to you:
“Don’t try to control what you can’t control –- notice any aspects of the situation outside your control and accept them with serenity. [pause] You can’t control the past, so let that go. You can’t control other people or what they think, so let them go. The main thing you can control is yourself and whether you act like a good person. So ask yourself what a more self-controlled, just, wise and  courageous, version of yourself would do in this situation in the future.
If its helpful you might like to do some slow breathing. Decide to postpone hasty action over-influenced by powerful emotion. Think about other people’s interests  and what would be the fair thing to do.  What would you like to happen if you were in other peoples’ shoes?
Next ask yourself: What does my experience tell you would be a wise thing to do in these circumstances. Finally  summon up all your courage to do the right thing even if that takes you out of your comfort zone. To be courageous it might help to imagine having to report back what you did to someone you admire, like your ideal Stoic advisor.
Spend a few moments imagining yourself in your past challenging situation playing back this advice [pause]
Nod if it helps

As with any other skill, like learning to drive or learning a language, Stoicism requires practice so it will help to listen to this recording regularly. You might also like to think about future challenges you face and how the ideal Stoic advisor would respond. In time, you will find yourself automatically responding like an ideal Stoic advisor.
So well done, and to end today’s meditation it’s fitting to end up with some wise words from  a real ideal Stoic advisor, Marcus Aurelius

"Waste no more time arguing about what a good [person] should be. Be one."

When you a ready, take a few more slow breaths and open your eyes.

A recording of the Ideal Stoic Adviser  will be made available soon, watch this space amd Stoicism Today