Set This Before Your Eyes Every Day

We talk about the importance of positive thinking. Of making sure we are surrounded by good vibes and good energy. Of cutting out the negative influences of social media and the news. Of looking for the good in everything we see.

And, of course, that is important. But it can also be dangerous. Because it sets us up to be disappointed, even horrified, when our bubble is pierced. When we are forced to come face to face with the fact that the world is not a positive place. There are things that go bump in the night. There are bad people and tragic events.

That’s why Epictetus’s advice—in his version of premeditatio malorum—was to do the opposite. “Set before your eyes every day death and exile and everything else that looks terrible,” he said, “especially death. Then you will never have any mean thought or be too keen on anything.” You will also never be disappointed, you will never have your illusions shattered or your expectations gone unmet.

In fact, if you keep this darkness in mind, you might just be surprised by all the light you find in the world. You’ll be grateful for each day you wake up, still alive. You’ll appreciate each moment you’re not in exile. You’ll be glad each time Murphy’s Law turns out to be wrong.

Indeed, just as there is no hot without cold, there is no light without dark. Today, spend some time with the dark. Become familiar with it, set it before your eyes, so that you do not mistake it for blankness and set yourself up, once you walk out of it, for the light to be blinding.

P.S. This was originally sent on November 22, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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