What if you lost the things you take for granted?

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

Epicurus

I have recently discovered stoic philosophy. In my 20’s,  just the word philosophy would have been enough to make me roll my eyes and, although I’m finding stoicism fascinating, I still have little appetite to delve into the depths of philosophy as a subject. That may come in time but for now, I’m playing with thoughts, ideas, and concepts.

Stoicism has captured my attention and my imagination. The more I read, the more hooks I find upon which to hang thoughts and feelings I already had but didn’t know how to use. I’ve spent several years trying to take control of my habits (of both thought and action) so they make stronger, more deliberate contributions to my happiness and Stoicism seems to offer a handbook of just such habits.

The habit I’ve been playing with this week is ‘negative visualisation’.

At face value, its goals appear to be similar to those of the modern day practice of gratitude. Where most of us tend to focus on the things we’re missing in our lives, the Stoics believed it was best to focus on how we might feel if the things we currently were suddenly taken from us. For me, I might contemplate the loss of my husband, children, sight, hearing, home, possessions and a very long list of other things.

It sounds horrendously morbid yet the goal behind it is quite positive. The point isn’t to depress ourselves but rather to realise quite how many blessings we stand to lose – and therefore would do well to enjoy while we have them. For me, this practice feels more powerful than gratitude on its own, perhaps because I can be quite pessimistic – and have already experienced the devastation of the sudden loss of loved ones.

The morbidity of the practice feels odd but when I tried it this week, I got interesting results. I found it a much more helpful practice for recalibrating my priorities. That’s a strange phrase but I couldn’t think how else to put it. What I mean is that I say my family is my priority but I live as though work is my priority. When I practiced gratitude it made me think positively about my family but negative visualisation made me behave towards them in a positive way. It made it easier for me to value today more highly than tomorrow and value what I already have more highly than what I’m trying to achieve.

The power of this practice makes it run deeper than gratitude, with the ultimate goal being to question or curb our desires for more – but that’s for another blog.

We spend so much time aiming for the next thing and pay little attention to what we stand to lose. As you look around your life, what do you stand to lose? If this were to be your last day enjoying those things or people, how would you spend it? What would you pay attention to? What small stuff would you overlook?

These are the questions I’m pondering today as I walk away from my writing, forget about my business and head off to enjoy a day in the sunshine with my family.

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