I would like to share with you a Stoic evening meditation that I’ve come across and found very interesting. Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) gives an account of this meditation, initially promoted by an other Roman philosopher called Sextius (fl. 50 BC).
So it goes like this:
”Every day, we must call upon our soul to give an account of itself. That is what Sextius did. When the day was over and he had withdrawn to his room for his nightly rest, he questioned his soul: “What evils have you cured yourself of today? What vices have you fought? In what sense are you better?” Is there anything better than to examine a whole day’s conduct? What a good sleep follows the examination of one’s self? How tranquil, deep, and free it is, when the mind has been praised or warned, and has become the observer and secret judge of its own morals! I make use of this power, and every day I plead my cause before myself. When the torch has been taken away and my wife, already used to my habits, has fallen silent, I examine my entire day and measure what I have done and said. I hide nothing from myself, nor am I indulgent with myself.” [Seneca, in Hadot, 2002, p. 200; in: Robertson, 2010]
As the author of the book in which I’ve found this piece points out, this so-called meditation has similarities with the spirit of modern cognitive behavioural therapy: It cultivates a rational, objective and balanced attitude in observing and evaluating ourselves. It encourages us to reflect both on the pros and disadvantages of our everyday actions, so that we can plan our next day and future with these conclusions in mind.
I really like this, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for every day practise. Especially for somebody who can find it difficult to withdraw to his room for his nightly rest and fall asleep fast. I would recommend other ways for overcoming sleep issues. But periodically, doing this meditation can definitely be beneficial. So for example looking back at the past week or month with these attitudes of analyising ourselves in such a balanced, objective way and coming up with some useful conclusions for the future is valuable for sure.
I hope you’ve found this interesting as well. And share with me your thoughts on that.
If you’re interested in a wider, historical and philosophical context of modern psychotherapy, I highly recommend this book:
Robertson, Donald (2010). The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy. Karnac Books.