December 30th, 2017

In the final chapter of his book, How To Be A Stoic, Massimo Picliucci offers 12 practical spiritual exercises. In the coming year I’m going to devote one month to each of these exercises. For January I begin with:

Examine Your Impressions. “So make a practice at once of saying to every strong impression, ‘An impression is all you are, not the source of the impression.’ Then test and assess it with your criteria, but one primarily: ask, ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control? And if it is not one of the things you can control, be ready with the reaction, ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’” —Epictetus. p.206

From How To Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy To Live A Modern Life by Massimo Picliucci

Picliucci uses impressions here to mean: our initial reactions to events, people and what we are being told. He counsels that we ought to step “back to make room for rational deliberation, avoiding rash emotional reactions, and asking whether whatever is being thrown at us is under our control (in which case we should act on it) or isn’t (in which case we should regard it as not of our concern).” He does not mean to suggest that Epictetus has given us permission to fiddle while Rome burns, but rather that we ought to consider whether or not we can take actions that will reduce our stress and unhappiness with any particular impression.

In the age of President Donald John Trump, this last is vital. Reacting viscerally to the latest news tweet from our president or from one of his minions isn’t healthy. But stepping back and then acting as we are able is.

Counting to 10 when we’re face-to-face has always been good advice, but in the age of social media and emails, I would suggest that 10 seconds is insufficient. I think that 24 hours is a better cooling off period when responding to a strong impression.


Found in my electronic chapbook.

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