In my most recent post about Stoicism, I talked about a seeming lack of very effective exercises, within Stoicism, for cultivating a Stoic love for humanity or “philanthropia.” I have, however, found a fairly good exercise for this. Although it’s from outside Stoicism, just as Seneca thought Stoics could benefit from various Epicurean principles and practices, so should Stoics be able to use this traditionally Buddhist exercise.
You may be familiar with the exercise. It is usually called metta, or loving-kindness, meditation. Here is one simple explanation of how to do it by teacher Sharon Salzberg.
There are variations on the specific verses employed. The video linked to above gives one variation. Here is an even simpler variation, which you’ll find in many sources including Martine Batchelor’s book Meditation for Life:
May I be healthy
May I be happy
May I be at peace
(The “I” in the verses then changes, as the intention’s object shifts and expands.)
There are also much longer versions of the verses. I personally have used mostly shorter variations, as I find these easier to remember and focus on. I’ve also found that when I practice this sort of exercise, it does help me with what my Stoic “lens” recognizes as philanthropia. It’s worth mentioning too that there is growing scientific evidence regarding this type of exercise, although it’s of course not framed in terms of the Stoic philanthropia concept.
Who’s had experience with metta / loving-kindness meditation? Do you also practice Stoicism at all?
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5 thoughts on “A non-Stoic exercise for Stoic philanthropia”
My practise usually follows some simple breathing exercise before moving onto loving kindness then I finish by meditating on death – both my self and my loved ones. Few things sober me to the present as well! I like simplicity like you seeker – But I find if you use your own words that works well too. Provided you say it with meaning and presence instead of simply going through the motions – I think that matters most. 🙏
Thanks AP2. I agree, it seems if an exercise is to cultivate a type of intentional state, then mere motions will not do.
What an interesting tie you’ve provided between Stoicism and the loving-kindness practice. I have used that meditation for many years and find it especially helpful when I’m struggling to settle down. I appreciate it even more now that I’ve read this and it grounds me further. Thanks!
Thank you for sharing. My connection to Stoicism is attached to the ideal I set for myself – trying to maintain self-control (especially under stress) and managing expectations. For me, loving kindness meditative practices are connecting threads to Stoicism as I try to focus on positivity and affirmations that ground – happy, healthy…and being at peace most of all. Your post was JUST the reminder I needed today. 🤍