A Stoic’s Daily Zen-like Self-Review

Our spiritual health demands 
that we let go of anger, 
or else it will never let go of us.  

– Seneca

Seneca, to judge by his self-presentation in his writings, was a self-reflective and inward-looking man. He describes, in one of the passages translated below (3.36), his Zen-like nightly reviews of his own ethical choices  tranquil meditations conducted in the quiet of his bedroom…

‘All our senses must be brought to a stable condition. They are by nature resilient, if the mind – which needs to be called to account every day – ceases to undermine them. Sextius [i.e. a Roman Stoic philosopher of the first century BC] used to do this, when at the day’s end, as he prepared himself for night-time rest, he would ask his own mind: “Which of your offenses have you cured today? Which fault have you blocked? In what area are you better?” 

Anger will abate and become more temperate if it knows that it must come before a judge every day. What could be finer than this method of shaking off all that the day has brought? What a sleep follows after this inspection of oneself; how peaceful, deep and free of care – after the mind has been either praised or scolded, and the observer and hidden justice of the self has searched one’s character! 

I make use of this resource; I plead a case every day in my own private court session. When the daylight has faded from view, and my wife, who knows well this custom of mine, keeps quiet, I become an inspector and reexamine the course of my day, my deeds and words; I hide nothing from myself, I omit nothing. There’s no reason my mistakes should give me cause to fear, as long as I say: “See that you don’t do that any more, but this time I forgive you. 

You spoke too combatively in that quarrel, so from now on don’t spend time with the ignorant; if they haven’t learnt by now, they don’t want to. You scolded that fellow with less restraint than you should have, and thus gave offense rather than helping him improve: next time consider not the truth of what you say but whether the one you say it to can endure the truth; good folk like to be chastised, but the worst sort find their preceptor very grating.”

How to Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management 
By Seneca, selected, translated and introduced by James Romm

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