Transforming your mind with stoicism: the power of writing, rewriting

When you explore the depths of Stoicism, you discover a fascinating lineage that goes back not only to the eminent figures such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, but also to the early Stoics who laid the foundation for their thought. Figures such as Cleanthes, Posidonius, Panaetius, Aristo, Antipater and Chrysippus, although less mentioned, played a crucial role in shaping the Stoicism we're concerned with today. This historical development underscores a crucial aspect of Stoicism: its nature as a living practice that evolves through the act of writing and rewriting, much like the remixing process in music that breathes new life into old melodies.

This tradition of repetition and reformulation has been the crucible in which Stoicism has been refined over the centuries. Each generation of Stoics who grappled with the teachings of their predecessors brought new insights and perspectives, constantly reshaping Stoicism.

This process of writing, reflecting and personally adapting Stoic principles is comparable to Blaise Pascal's perspective on innovation: what matters isn't the novelty of the insights themselves, but the new arrangement and application of these time-tested truths.

How does writing relate to Stoicism and why is it so important for those exploring its depths? Many who explore Stoicism are advised to keep a journal. For you, journaling may be a simple exercise, but its importance in practicing gratitude, one of the most important Stoic values, cannot be overstated. If you can identify with keeping a journal, you should take it up. Personally, I find it very valuable to review Stoic teachings; it's a way to distill my comprehension and ensure that I've deeply internalized the essence of Stoicism.

The core of Stoicism is a deep understanding of human nature and the cosmos that goes beyond mere philosophical musings and touches the very essence of our existence. To achieve this transformative understanding, one must reformulate — a practice that embodies the deep connection between writing and Stoicism.

Reformulating: Goals

Rephrasing is a dynamic learning strategy in which you articulate the same concept in different ways, and it serves several purposes:

- improving comprehension: You dive deep into the subject matter by translating concepts into your own words and grappling with their meaning and implications. This depth of processing promotes a nuanced understanding of Stoicism.

- Encourages active learning: Active engagement, as opposed to passive learning, greatly increases retention and understanding. It forces you to apply higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

- Increases memory: Reformulating information creates new cognitive pathways that facilitate the retrieval process. This technique, also known as elaborative rehearsal, strengthens long-term memory far more effectively than mere repetition.

- Promotes personal connection: When you connect new knowledge to your personal experiences, learning makes more sense and is more interesting. By taking the teachings of Stoicism personally, you improve both comprehension and interest.

- Identifies gaps in understanding: Trying to express Stoic concepts in new terms will uncover misunderstandings that will stimulate further thought and learning.

The writings of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius didn't need academic validation to recognize the value of these practices.

His meditations, an intellectual and personal exploration, aren't only for reflection, but are exercises in soul transformation and emphasize the imperative of Stoicism: to live its teachings. Aurelius' writings emphasize a central Stoic conviction — that wisdom isn't just acquired knowledge, but a state achieved through tireless practice: true insight comes through the application of its principles and leads to experiences as profound as they're fleeting. To sustain these insights, Aurelius turned to repetition, using writing exercises as catalysts to reinforce his Stoic commitment.

This practice of repetition goes beyond its historical origins and is a response to the universal challenge of preserving philosophical insights amidst the chaos of life. The meditations suggest that the repetition of core Stoic ideas, especially in one's own words, anchors these principles more deeply in our consciousness and transforms abstract concepts into a guiding philosophy, which as such is a powerful method for mental and emotional cultivation.

Marcus Aurelius’ approach emphasizes the importance of meditation in Stoicism — not as mere contemplation, but as an active engagement with the teachings. This conscious practice deepens understanding and enables a Stoic response to the challenges of life. The transformative potential of Stoic practice lies in its ability to change thought patterns through neuroplasticity (1). Regular engagement with stoic exercises not only deepens understanding but also reshapes the brain, promoting a stoic mindset. Marcus Aurelius' meditations thus confirm the continued relevance of Stoic practice; they are an example of how Stoicism is not just a philosophy to be studied, but a way of life to be embraced. By embracing Aurelius' reflective practice, you too can undergo a profound transformation and make Stoicism a living philosophy that leads you to peace and fulfillment.

This is a journey of personal transformation

Just as you can't become the best dancer at the party without dancing in the shadows on and over again for years, you can't practice philosophy without practicing sincerely.

This is a journey of personal transformation, where Stoic principles are not just ideas you read about but vital forces that shape your character and worldview.

By actively engaging with Stoic teachings, you don't just understand Stoicism — you embody it.By writing down the Stoic principles, reflecting on them and rephrasing them, you not only deepen your understanding but also change your thought patterns.

The practice of rewriting and reformulating, that some refer to as journaling, goes beyond a mere exercise: it is a meditative act, a form of mental wrestling that prepares us for life's sudden assaults. The analogy of the philosopher as a wrestler, which goes back to Panaetius (2) and was taken up by Marcus Aurelius, illustrates this very well. Stoicism is therefore not just about the passive absorption of wisdom, but about actively engaging with these insights and transforming them into mantras for daily life.

This is not just about grasping Stoic concepts intellectually; it's about internalizing them so profoundly that they become part of who you are ; a process transforms Stoicism from a distant philosophical theory into a tangible, living practice that guides your actions, decisions, and reactions. Active engagement means that Stoic teachings inform your daily life, influencing how you respond to challenges, setbacks, and the unpredictability of life. It's about adopting a Stoic mindset that helps you maintain equanimity in the face of adversity, see obstacles as opportunities, and practice gratitude for the present moment. 

Your engagement with Stoicism today should reflect this practice.

Whether you're translating stoic quotes on social media into your language, discussing these ideas with your family, posting reminders on your phone, or using our app mmmarcus, the act of writing and rewriting is crucial. It's not just about preserving Stoic philosophy, but making it a living, breathing part of your daily life. It's about picking up the philosophical "ball" and playing with it in your own unique way.

If you embody stoicism, you'll realise

> How you perceive and interact with the world around you.
   > Challenges that once seemed insurmountable now become manageable because you approach them with serenity and clarity of thought.
     > Relationships are enriched when you practise stoic virtues such as empathy, patience and understanding.
       > Your inner dialogue changes, becomes more constructive and focuses on what you have under control.

And finally, embodying stoicism through rewriting becomes the skill that increases your joy and satisfaction.


(1) When you engage deeply with Stoic teachings by writing down your reflections, rephrasing key concepts in your own words, and actively applying these ideas in your everyday life, you are not just passively absorbing information. Instead, you're taking part in an active learning process that stimulates your brain and encourages the formation of new neural connections - a process at the heart of neuroplasticity. This means that every time you think about a stoic principle, try to understand it from a personal perspective or apply it to a challenge in your life, your brain adapts and creates pathways that make these stoic responses more accessible in the future. The Stoic practice of continuous reflection and personalization of philosophy can lead to real, lasting changes in your thinking and response to the world around you.

(2) Panaetius of Rhodes was an ancient Greek Stoic philosopher. He was a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus in Athens, before moving to Rome where he did much to introduce Stoic doctrines to the city, thanks to the patronage of Scipio Aemilianus. After the death of Scipio in 129 BC, he returned to the Stoic school in Athens, and was its last undisputed scholarch. With Panaetius, Stoicism became much more eclectic. His most famous work was his On Duties, the principal source used by Cicero in his own work of the same name. (adapted from Wikipedia)