Clearing Out Your Perceptions

Our perception is our field of vision. It is what we see, and what we see shapes what we do.

That’s why the Stoics spend so much time and energy thinking about and trying to master their perception—because that will end up shaping their behavior. But for many of us, our perceptions are clouded, colored with ephemera and nonsense and the fleeting judgments and actions of people we don’t like or don’t respect. Sometimes we need a radical change to clear all this out.

Arguably the most famous example: Henry David Thoreau leaving his life behind and building a cabin at Walden Pond. In truth, Thoreau didn’t leave everything behind—he was only a few miles from his family’s home, and he would go there for meals and company. But he did remain isolated for long stretches, and the writing that emerged from that time remains one of the best monuments to clarifying your perception that’s ever been written:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Thoreau wasn’t Stoic in his broader beliefs, but the earliest days and times at Walden smack of the exercises that Stoics use to train themselves. Maybe you won’t run out into the woods and leave all your worldly possessions behind. But what if you could sharpen your focus to “only the essential facts of life”? Would you be able to see past your ego, your ambition, your jealousies, your problems, your vices? What would your version of escaping to the woods be?

Do that, and see what you learn.