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Prosochē

by Chris Fisher.

Prosochē, the practice of attention, is the fundamental spiritual attitude necessary to practice Stoicism as a way of life.[1] It is the practice of consistent, vigilant attention to impressions, assents, desires, and actions, for the purpose of creating excellence (virtue) in one’s inner self and thereby experiencing a good flow in life (eudaimonia).

We cannot over-emphasize the importance of paying constant attention to our desires, aversions, and intentions in our Stoic practice. In Stoicism, the past and future do not exist, but each moment ‘belongs’ as a small extension of the immediate past and future moments.[2] Therefore, Stoicism teaches us to let go of worries and concerns about the past and future, and focus or ‘attention’ (prosoche) on the present moment.

The Stoics teach us that we live our lives moment-by-moment as if each moment is our last. Marcus encouraged himself to,

“perform every action as though it were your last, freed from all lack of purpose and wilful deviation from the rule of reason, and free from duplicity, self-love, and dissatisfaction with what is allotted to you. You see how few are the things that a person needs to master if he is to live a tranquil and god-fearing life; for the gods themselves will demand nothing more from one who observes these precepts.” (Meditations 2.5.2)

As Pierre Hadot points out in his chapter on ‘The Discipline of Desire’,

“Most people are not alive, because they do not live in the present, but are always outside of themselves, alienated, and dragged backwards and forwards by the past and by the present. They do not know that the present is the only point at which they are truly themselves and free. The present is the only point which, thanks to our action and our consciousness, gives us access to the totality of the world.”[3]

 


References:

[1] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: spiritual exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold Ira Davidson (New York: Blackwell, 1995), p. 84

[2] Jacques Brunschwig, “Stoic Metaphysics,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, ed. Brad Inwood (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 206–32. p. 215

[3] Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel: the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998). p. 135


Chris Fisher was exposed to the military version of “stoicism” while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a graduate of the Stoic Essential Studies course and Marcus Aurellius School by The College of Stoic Philosophers. Chris now serves as a mentor for the Stoic Essential Studies program and as a tutor for the Marcus Aurelius School. In early 2015, Chris joined with a small group of like-minded traditional Stoics to form the Society of Epictetus, a religious non-profit designed to train Ordained Stoic Philosophers to serve as chaplains and religious officiants. Chris’ website can be found at www.traditionalstoicism.com. This article originally appeared as a post on the Traditional Stoicism Facebook page, reposted here with permission.