Journal Prompts for Greek and Hellenistic Wisdom

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Choose two of the following prompts for your Greek and Hellenistic Wisdom journal. Journal entries should reflect an accumluation of details from a one to two week period of observation and reflection.

1. Stoic practice: things under our control

Epictetus advises us to develop a discipline and practice of distinguishing what is up to us from what is not up to us. He writes, for example, "Make it, therefore, your study at the very outset to say to every harsh external impression, "You are an external impression and not at all what you appear to be." After that examine it and test it by these rules which you have, the first and most important of which is this : Whether the impression has to do with the things which are under our control, or with those which are not under our control; and, if it has to do with some one of the things not under our control, have ready to hand the answer, "It is nothing to me." Sec. 1 of Enchiridion. And, in Section 2, he advises us to separate ourselves emotionally from things that are not under our control. For more images and ideas about the "separation strategy" in stoicism, see the first two sections of Book 1 of the Discourses.
Identify at least 3 examples of situations in which this distinction is (was) at issue in your experience or your past. Over a period of a week or two, collect as many examples as you can of situations in which you can notice the difference between things under and not under your control.
Explore this distinction in your journal writing Do you make the distinction in the way Epictetus does? What is the appropriate attitude to take toward things outside our control? How important is this distinction to your theory of wisdom?

2. Stoic practice: Reversing wish and outcome.

In Section 8 of the Enchiridion Epictetus writes: "Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and your life will be serene."
For this journal exercise you are looking for examples (whether in your life or among people you observe) of cases in which this maxim is either observed or not. Use these examples as occasions to develop your own view of the applicability of the maxim.

3. Stoic practice of restraint.

Epictetus writes, "Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand and take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth ; and then some day you will be worthy of the banquets of the gods. But if you do not take these things even when they are set before you, but despise them, then you will not only share the banquet of the gods, but share also their rule.;. For it was by so doing that Diogenes and Heracleitus, and men like them, were deservedly divine and deservedly so called.
The overall goal of your journal on this topic will be to evaluate this point of view, but first you should look for occasions to explore the view experientially. Is there value to cultivating restraint of desire? Is there more than good manners at stake here? Choose items in your own life -- treats, beverage entertainment, portions -- and experiment with taking less, delaying, foregoing. Notice effects such as heightened pleasure, diminished desire. Notice how you feel when you pass over something.

4. Epicurean and Aristotlean experiments in desire

Aristotle tells us that we need to observe the golden mean to attain virtue, even the mean between excessive and insufficient desire for pleasure. While we tend toward intemperance concerning emotion, Aristotle is also concerned about an inability to experience pleasure. When we get to Epicurean hedonism, pleasure is presented as the highest good, but the specific pleasures we choose and the manner in which we choose them, makes the difference between wisdom and and unhappiness. As you know from your reading, Epicurus is generally skeptical of the attachment we have to physical pleasures. He emphasizes the pleasure that comes from the state of being in which one is free from anxiety and desire. The main goal of this inquiry to become more aware of the phenomenology of desire by experimenting with and observing our relationship to desire in our daily experience.
Begin exploring the question of your relationship to both kinetic and katastematic pleasure by observing your day to day experience of desire and satisfaction. Consider some of the following "experiements" or similar ones of your own design:
  • Passing up or delaying a regular treat (such as a routine latte or desert).
  • Try "over-satisfying" or undersatisfying (eating a large or small amount, sharing something you usually eat yourself)
  • Notice when you are in state of boredom and try to self-consciously change your state to one of engagement (malleability of desire)
  • Try a savoring experience: deliberate and mindful experience of a sensual pleasure.
  • Make an inventory of kinetic and katastematic pleasures in your life. Make some comparisons from your immediate experience.
  • Compare at least two social events in terms of the kinds of pleasure you experience from each.
In your journal, discuss the outcomes of some of the specific experiments you tried. Is our relationship to our desires fixed or malleable? What is involved in "training desire"? How does desire and satisfaction work together? Can greater satisfaction sometimes come from lower levels of consumption? How does your attentiveness to pleasure and desire help you understand the place of pleasure in the life of a wise person?