A Guide to the Good Life Book Review
I recently read a wonderful book titled A Guide to The Good Life by William Irvine. As an ardent student and practitioner of the “inside game,” the title caught my attention. Within the book lies wisdom about the human condition and specific techniques and practices one can deploy to increase tranquility and peace. What follows is my attempt to distill a major point and insight I took (there are others, but this post would be super long) from its pages in hopes that you may benefit in some way.
The book is essentially a layman’s introduction and guide to the philosophy of Stoicism. Prior to reading the book, I had heard of people like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. I was not aware of the Stoics’ philosophy of life and specifically how one can practice this philosophy. The central tenant in this philosophy is that the most valuable thing we can pursue in this life is tranquility (you can replace the word tranquility with words like peace or contentment).
Thousands of years ago, the Stoics noticed that there were certain realities about the human condition that can lead to an interruption of ones experience of tranquility and peace. Chief among them are the following:
1) It is helpful to keep in mind that all things are perishable. If we fail to recognize this, we will find ourselves in considerable distress when the things that we value are taken from us (health, wealth, friendship, the approval of others, social status, loved ones, etc.).
2) All that we have is on loan from fortune who can take it away at any time without our permission. Indeed, without even advanced notice.
3) There is no guarantee you will have comfort, loved ones or possessions forever and no guarantee you will have them for long.
Essentially, the Stoics were pointing out, as others have throughout history, that to live is to lose. They recognized that loss in all its forms comes with sorrow and pain and can certainly interrupt ones tranquility and peace. The Stoics advocated instead of running from this realty to stare it down and prepare yourself for it. This preparing is the practice of which two benefits emerge:
1) Massive appreciation for the experiences, people and things you have in your life (instead of taking these things for granted and always focusing on what you don’t have).
2) A deep recognition of the impermanent nature of this life.
A technique offered by the Stoics to accomplish the above mentioned benefits is what they called Negative Visualization. Essentially, it is to contemplate losing our material possessions and/or people in our lives. The way I have implemented this technique into my “inside game” is periodically, while enjoying the comfort of soft sheets, the feeling of the air conditioning on my skin or a moment with my famly, to gently remind myself:
“There is no guarantee I am going to have this forever. No guarantee I am going to have this for long. ”
I find that when practiced, I feel MASSIVE appreciation and a vibrancy that comes with full contact.
The ultimate goal of this technique is to allow you to appreciate people, places and experiences without clinging to them. My experience is that appreciation is something that I need to cultivate. It does not just happen. I am finding Negative Visualization to be a specific tangible way to do just that.