Life is not presented to us in ideal conditions. We all are prone to face adversities or even misfortune during the course of our life’s journey. Tragedies occur, all the time, around us, and we are completely aware that such misfortune can also happen in our life. Life is complex, unpredictable, and highly vulnerable.
Despite doing our best, such adversities may arrive at our doorstep. In fact, these are the ‘testing times’ when we may either break or come out bravely. We have been seeing both kinds of cases around us. These are really the tough times because we are generally unprepared for such types of eventualities. We mostly get overwhelmed and carried away by emotions. It’s only our attitude, mindset, and mental toughness that help us in overcoming such challenging times of our lives.
To handle such types of life situations, Stoicism is the best philosophy. How to handle real problems of life, this philosophy works very well. It teaches us how to handle real problems that we often face in life such as emotional disturbances, distressing thoughts, pain and suffering, failures, fear of death, misfortunes, and adversities. Stoicism has few central doctrines and the most important one is that the world is unpredictable and we must prepare ourselves for it.
It also teaches us that we are not disturbed by events, only how we respond to them. Further, there has been no control over things other than our own thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, and actions. Even in the modern age, this philosophy is highly practical and useful for common people.
Stoicism was founded around 300 BC by Zeno of Cilium, the ancient city of Greek, now Cyprus. Subsequently, Stoic philosophy became one of the most prominent philosophies of Greece and Rome and was widely practiced by people from the soldiers of ancient Greek and Roman empire and up to the level of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius himself.
During those times, there was widespread suffering due to external events such as atrocities, diseases, war, famine, and extreme poverty. For such extreme living conditions, this philosophy worked very well and that’s the reason it’s still popular across the world. There were three most prominent Stoic philosophers namely Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, Lucius Seneca, and Epictetus. Their writings are widely read.
In Stoicism, the subject of adversities and misfortunes has been elaborately touched. Stoic philosophers believed strongly that we can’t escape from adversities. So, learn to accept them as part of your path.
Acknowledge that adversity is necessary. Seneca wrote in consolation to Helvia that
“Look around you at all the throng of those you know and those you do not, you will find everywhere men whose sufferings have been greater; legend has not granted exemption from misfortune even to the gods”.
Stoic philosophers have given many solutions for handling adversities in our lives. One of them is negative visualization, through which we can prepare ourselves well in advance.
What is Negative visualization?
Negative visualization is a practice that was widely used by the Stoic philosophers like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca around 2000 years back. It’s still used by many of us. Those who practice negative visualization feel that they could prepare themselves well in advance for any eventuality which is likely to be happy.
By expecting the negative outcome of any adversity, we are mentally ready and we are not caught unaware or unprepared. Think about – meeting a serious accident, spouse leaving the home, getting a serious illness like cancer, sudden financial loss, and getting bankrupt and such list can go on. There is no end to such disastrous outcomes.
Since we contemplate eventuality in advance, so we will be surprised when that eventuality or adversity really arrives in our life. According to Stoic philosophers, negative visualization can lessen the impact of the adversities you’ll face.
“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.” – Seneca
“Prepared for failure, ready for success”, well said by Ryan Holiday, author of “Lives of the Stoics’.
Though people would always say to be positive and never think of failure before any event. However, stoics are more realistic in such matters. We should keep in mind the worst-case scenario. We are putting ‘failure’ in perspective.
Seneca further remarked, “Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune”. Instead of desiring a better outcome, we should be fully prepared for failure.
According to Stoic philosophy, instead of desiring things we don’t have, we desire what we already have, and we also accept that we can lose them. So, when we lose those things, we will not feel bad. Seneca advised people to ‘visualize loss’. You are losing what you love. Isn’t it a ridiculous idea of advising others to ‘visualize your car getting stolen? However, this contention was once you visualize losing something you love, you would overcome the fear of losing something close to your heart.
Seneca used to go one step further, if visualizing is not enough to conquer fear then live as if the thing of importance is already lost. And then we can appreciate more about the thing which we possess.
Bad things can happen to anyone. Uncertainty always prevails in our life. Every day we come across examples of similar nature. People get caught unaware. So, why not prepare yourselves through this technique. Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote on this subject like this:
Do this for every act, so that if any hindrance does emerge, you can think: I did not prepare myself only to undertake the act, but also for this hindrance that has occurred, and also to handle this hindrance virtuously & keep my will conformed to nature — and this will be impossible if I become vexed.
Negative visualization teaches us we can never be sure about our future. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to embrace whatever is presented to us. We should try to enjoy every moment of life because life can take an unexpected turn at any time during our life journey.
Though present-day motivational and spiritual teachers will say that we should always think positively because the ‘law of attraction works only when we think positively. If we think negatively about some event then the same law will more likely attract that negative event in our life.
This is not a scientifically proven fact but this is widely believed among the masses. I feel we need to maintain a balance. In any case, negative visualization on many occasions do help us in getting ourselves prepared well for any adversity
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