Prosoché (attention)

“The soul is like a vessel filled with water; and impressions are like a ray of light that falls upon the water. If the water is disturbed, the ray will seem to be disturbed likewise, though in reality it is not. Whenever, therefore, a man is seized with vertigo, it is not the arts and virtues that are confounded, but the spirit in which they exist; and, if this comes to rest, so will they likewise” Epictetus

Prosoché is the attitude and the practice of attention, also mindfulness. Observing our sensations, emotions and thoughts, focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. To be able to maintain tranquility (Ataraxia) and peace of mind in any given situation. It is the fundamental Stoic spiritual attitude for the prokopton (the stoic student making progress). This presence of mind and vigilance is a very important part of the Stoic practice. If we are able to observe our anger growing inside us, we are one step closer to be able to put it in its right place, that in many cases is a misunderstanding of the real situation, or in any case, an impediment for taking a right decision and action.

Elen Buzaré in her book Stoic Spiritual Exercises describes Prosoché as “the exercise of self-attention or mindfulness. It is a form of mental development by which we progressively learn to be attentive to every single action, thought or sensation we may have or feel at the very time they appear.

Of course, developing this ability requires some training using adequate tools. Indeed, whether you are walking, sitting down, standing up, crouching, sleeping, eating, drinking, etc., you should be fully conscious of what you are doing. This means that you should live in your present action.

This does not mean that you should forget about the past and the future. On the contrary, you have to think about other times, but in relation to the present, and your present action, and when it is necessary. This idea is well rendered by one of the Stoic conceptions of present, where the present is defined in relation to the human’s consciousness which perceives it and the degree of attention applied to it.

From this point of view, the present has a certain duration, a certain ‘density’ which may be more or less large (kata platos). Prosoché does not means that you should actually think: ‘I am doing this’ or ‘I am doing that.’ The danger in thinking ‘I am doing this’ arises when you become conscious of yourself and, consequently, you do not live in the action but in the idea of ‘I am’.

The same attention should be applied to every feeling or sensation you may have. In fact you should be able to observe yourself as a scientist would. It is strange to note that a person who gets angry usually does not realise that she is angry.

As soon as someone makes her realise her emotion, she becomes quieter and often 8 somewhat uneasy. Attention to thoughts and sensations is, I think, the most difficult to practice.”

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In this short essay, Elen Buzaré examines ancient sources for clues to how Stoics of the Roman era used psychological techniques for turning doctrine into practical daily living, securing for themselves lives that flourished, free from troubles, enjoying an unshakeable peace of mind. With the help of this short guide, modern readers can similarly train themselves to live as Stoics, making progress towards the same ‘good flow of life’ and serenity, and develop a mindfulness that is immune to all harm, joyous in response to all that fate might bring. Especially suited to those who have already introduced themselves to the basics of Stoic doctrine, this little book will serve as inspiration and guide for anyone wanting to advance further on the Stoic way.

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