Seeing For The First Time
The essence of Stoic mindfulness, revisited
Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.
Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.
The Stoic philosopher, Seneca encouraged us to see things as if we were looking at them for the first time.
There’s a sense in which this captures the essence of Stoic mindfulness.
Forget your narratives, assumptions, and baggage. Look at things as they are.
Visiting a new place is often exhilarating. The new sights, sounds, and smells are seared into memory. After a few weeks, the place becomes familiar. As you extend your stay, it takes effort to recall the original wonder.
But what has changed? If the world is a joy to perceive, why does that joy fade? We experience the same process with desires. The objects and status we crave lose their enchanting power as soon as they are acquired. Once we get what we want, we want something else. Our expectations are reset.
There’s a natural tendency for humans to become unsatisfied with riches and bored with beauty. Resisting both of these dispositions requires something that only philosophy and art can provide.
When we shift to view reality as it is, we get a better sense of the detail of individual things and how they fit together as a whole. This is made clear in one of my favorite passages from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:
Here, how things fit together reminds the Roman emperor and philosopher of their beauty. He reclaims this sense through careful contemplation of Nature.
We cannot look at the world like beginners every waking hour. But we can pay attention to it carefully. Learn about the world. Notice something new in the familiar. The world is incredibly detailed. Zoom into the details. Step back and look at how the whole fits together. Be present. See things, as they are.
See one thing, as if you saw it for the first time today.
📗 Brittany Polat’s piece on Stoic Transcendence emphasizes the importance of perspective:
🧘 In case you missed it, read the earlier letter on what makes Greco-Roman mindfulness different.
What did you think about today's letter?