A Technique For Taking The Stoic Step Back

Athenodorus's meditation technique

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Today’s letter in on a simple technique for pausing. Hit reply if you enjoy it, have any questions, or feedback – it’s always good to hear from readers.

🏛️ Theory

One of the essential Stoic virtues is self-control.

If you’re able to keep your cool in any circumstance, you’ll live a better life. 

As a poet once urged his son:

Keep your head about you, when all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.

This is the lesson that the Stoic philosopher Athenodorus gave to Caesar Augustus – but he also gave him a technique to do it:

Whenever you get angry, Caesar, do not say or do anything before repeating to yourself the twenty-four letters of the alphabet.

It’s simple. Before immediately acting, pause. Rehearse a mantra, count, or go over the letters of your alphabet. The purpose is to keep your head and avoid making decisions out of anger, anxiety, or any other negative passion. 

Notice negative feelings, then stop. Simply do that by counting. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the alphabet or numbers – pause.

As Viktor Frankl is often quoted as saying:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

If we can pause, a space opens up to us. A life of free choice, instead of immediate reactions, is waiting.

🎯 Action

Before immediately reacting to events today, use Athenodorus’s technique. Simply count to 20 or rehearse the alphabet. Then act well.

🏛️ We just shared a new course, Stoic Mindfulness, which guides you through Athenodorus’s technique and many more in the Stoa app.

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