You’ve probably read that meditation and having a morning routine can both be quite beneficial to your mental and physical health. These daily Stoic meditations to start your morning can help you begin the day on the right foot and ensure that you stay tuned into the main Stoic principles.
Stoicism is gaining popularity for good reason– it helps you waste less time, remember what’s in your control, and reduce your anxiety. Ultimately, Stoicism is a time-tested path to a good, virtuous life.
If you love the ideas behind Stoicism, it’s important to remember that it is a practical philosophy. This means that you apply it to your day-to-day life. What better way to do so than by starting the day off with a Stoic meditation?
We commonly associate meditation with Buddhism, but it’s also an important practice for people who are guided by the Stoic school of philosophy. In order to be a Stoic, you need to be able to gain awareness of your impressions– whether these are your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, or sensations. It is essential to be able to see things as they actually are in order to live a virtuous life, and the first step in this path is self-awareness.
The way you spend your first few moments after waking can have a big impact on how you feel and what you do during the day. Waking up and engaging in an intentional practice can allow you to be more present during the day and more capable of remembering your Stoic values as the day progresses.
Having a morning routine, whether Stoic or not, can improve your productivity during the day as it helps to set a tone. If you struggle with procrastination, a morning routine can be a game-changer.
“Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.” – Seneca
Morning routines can help you:
It’s easy in our modern world to fall into a rhythm that looks something like this: roll out of bed, go to work, eat dinner, veg out, go to sleep, repeat. A Stoic morning routine can help you break out of this cycle and really grab the reigns in your life. You can become who you want to be, but you won’t get there if you don’t seize the day. Waking up to a morning routine can set the right tone for a day spent mindfully and purposefully living with your Stoic values in mind.
There are a lot of different ways to spend time meditating as a Stoic. If you’re new to Stoicism, you might consider starting with “Early Morning Reflection,” “Stick With the Situation at Hand,” or “Tap Into the Present Moment.” However, feel free to experiment with any of these to supplement your Stoic practice.
One of the simplest Stoic morning meditations, and perhaps a good place to start for people new to the practice, is an early morning reflection meditation.
"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." – Marcus Aurelius
When you wake up, take some time to be grateful for the fact that you, once again, woke up. By the mere act of waking up, you are gifted with another day in this world. You might contemplate the countless people around the world who won’t have this privilege on any given day.
You can then think about the virtues you want to use to guide your thoughts and actions as well as the vices you want to avoid. It can be useful to choose a specific personal strength or philosophical idea that you want to focus on today.
Lastly, give yourself the all-important reminder that there are only certain things you can control as you go through your day– namely, your thoughts and your actions. This can help prepare you for whatever the day brings.
If you struggle to get out of bed, consider meditating on the words of Marcus Aurelius:
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” – Marcus Aurelius
Do you dream of dropping everything and spending the rest of your life island hopping in Southeast Asia? Do you spend your free time scrolling through Instagram feeds of digital nomads or travel junkies desperately wishing you could get away from it all? Millennials are more likely than previous generations to make travel a priority in their lives, even when they have substantial debt stressing their finances.
The desire to travel the world and see new sites isn’t a 21st-century phenomenon. The Stoics were skeptical of the wanderlust bug, though, to be fair, they weren’t entirely opposed to it.
The ancient Stoic philosophers noticed that travel was often used as a form of escapism rather than as a way to challenge oneself, learn, or expose oneself to new cultures and experiences.
“Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.” — Seneca
One important practice you’ll want to pick up if you are cultivating a Stoic mindset is the reality that you have absolutely everything you need right now– inside yourself.
Rather than buying a plane ticket to escape the mundanity of your life, explore the fascinating and perhaps uncharted territory of your own mind. Some people say they travel to find themselves, and maybe there is some merit to that. But the reality is that you can work to find yourself wherever you are right now.
People seek retreats for themselves in the countryside by the seashore, in the hills, and you too have made it your habit to long for that above all else. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself whenever you please; for nowhere can one retreat into greater peace or freedom from care than within one’s own soul, especially when a person has such things within him that he merely has to look at them to recover from that moment perfect ease of mind (and by ease of mind I mean nothing other than having one’s mind in good order). So constantly grant yourself this retreat and so renew yourself; but keep within you concise and basic precepts that will be enough, at first encounter, to cleanse you from all distress and to send you back without discontent to the life to which you will return.—Marcus Aurelius
If you aren’t used to spending quiet time looking inside yourself, this practice can be incredibly uncomfortable at first. You might find that you are fidgety and that you are inclined to almost unconsciously stand up and start moving, pick up your phone, or otherwise disengage from the task at hand.
This can be a good opportunity to think about what you’re up to in life and why. It’s important to cultivate Stoic indifference and view things objectively without getting caught up in defending yourself, deluding yourself, or beating yourself up based on your emotional reactions.
Ultimately, there are a lot of different ways you can approach this meditation. The point is to recognize that there is an inner world of the soul inside you and that you can go there whenever you please. You have inner resources you don’t know about yet, and you can benefit greatly if you go on an exploratory mission to find them.
Are you dealing with a difficult situation right now? Are you overwhelmed by what you see as a world gone to hell? Do you feel like you simply can’t go on?
Maybe nothing, in particular, is ailing you but you are completely overtaken by anxiety.
Here’s a Stoic meditation just for you. All you have to do is follow the advice of Marcus Aurelius:
“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.” – Marcus Aurelius
While this might seem to be in contrast with our next exercise, “Negative Visualization,” it actually pairs with it quite nicely. In this exercise, you are simply focusing on one circumstance or source of anxiety and really analyzing it. This can give you the opportunity to see it for what it really is, which is likely not as bad as you have been imagining.
Another morning exercise is praemeditatio malorum or the premeditation of adversity. While maintaining Stoic objectivity, indifference, and a love of fate, you will imagine different things that could go wrong in your life.
This practice can help you realize the things that you currently have in life and their impermanence. You can meditate on small misfortunes or enormous catastrophes– it’s up to you.
“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
You might choose to focus on a big presentation you are having today and all of the things that could go wrong, or you might picture a close family member passing away. A classic choice is to imagine losing all of your possessions, wealth, and status. You could also work to appreciate the most basic senses we tend to take for granted by visualizing what it could mean to lose hearing or your sight.
“Here’s a lesson to test your mind’s mettle: take part of a week in which you have only the most meager and cheap food, dress scantily in shabby clothes, and ask yourself if this is really the worst that you feared. It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead, for when fortune is kind the soul can build defenses against her ravages. So it is that soldiers practice maneuvers in peacetime, erecting bunkers with no enemies in sight and exhausting themselves under no attack so that when it comes they won’t grow tired.” – Epictetus
It might seem strange to start the day off focusing on the potential negative occurrences in life. In fact, it likely isn’t healthy to do this if you aren’t able to tap into a Stoic mindset. This isn’t an opportunity to cultivate self-victimization, fear, or anxiety– it’s a chance to appreciate what you do have while accepting that you don’t have control over much of what occurs in life.
At the same time, it can help you realize that the things you fear most actually might not be nearly as bad as your imagination leads on.
As modern people, we seem to always want more, more, more. We all want to be happy, and we have a tendency to think that our happiness is out of reach until we get that new job, new house, new romantic partner, etc. No matter how easy our lives are compared to historical norms, we seem to always find ways to complain about what we lack.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus
This is a great morning exercise for anyone that is trying to cultivate a Stoic mindset. The idea here is to turn our usual perspective on its head– instead of taking what we already have for granted and desiring that which we don’t have, you’ll want to really contemplate what you do have in order to cultivate gratitude and happiness.
One of the ways you can do this is to think about something that you have. This might be an object, a job, a relationship, a retirement account, a house– anything that you currently possess.
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." – Epictetus
Take some time to examine what you chose to focus on– how does this possession make you feel? What emotions or memories does it stir up? Why is it important to you?
Then, imagine losing it (or him or her). Find the grief you would feel if this aspect of your life was gone. Picture the regret you might feel for not appreciating it more while it was yours. Sit with this feeling for a little while.
Then, return to the present where you haven’t actually lost this treasured item. Feel the gratitude flow through you and think about how you will nurture and cherish it after this exercise. At the same time, recognize that this thing that you hold so dear could leave you at any time and that this isn’t something that is in your control. The point of the exercise isn’t to make yourself more psychologically attached to external objects and relationships, but instead to help you be grateful for what you have while they are present in your life.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the details of our own lives and forget just how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things. This isn’t meant to be a meditation on the pointlessness of your life or a bus ticket to nihilism-town, but instead a mind-clearing exercise that helps you recognize what really matters.
You might choose to do this using guided meditation or on your own.
If you’re not quite sure what we’re talking about here, this Marcus Aurelius quote in which he reflects on something Plato once said can help you understand the visualization practice:
“One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds, armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamor of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.” – Marcus Aurelius
It can be incredibly useful to zoom out and see things from a different, broader perspective. Something that has really been bothering you might expose itself as ultimately unimportant, or something you’ve been ignoring thinking about might actually make itself known as very important in your life. You might find that the conflicts you have with family members are seen in a new life and that your sense of what you want to do with your life shifts toward a more virtuous purpose.
This is a classic, simple meditation that can do anyone a world of good. There are a lot of great Stoic quotes about the fact that happiness is found by tapping into the present moment rather than fixating on the past or the future.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” – Seneca
We tend to project our happiness into the future– setting ourselves up to always move the goalposts and never fully enjoy life. We tend to procrastinate on things that could be done right now and justify it one way or another.
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” – Seneca
Tune into the present moment in your morning meditation and you’ll likely find that you are better able to be mindful as the day goes on. This can keep you in better shape to remember to analyze what you can and can’t control, to be grateful for what you have, and to take action in the present rather than escaping into ruminations or fears regarding the past and the future.
It might sound morbid to think about your death when you first wake up, but it can be surprisingly life-affirming to reflect on your own mortality with some regularity.
To contemplate death like a Stoic, you will want to cultivate a perspective where death is seen as both natural and inevitable.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius
No one knows when they will die, whether a freak accident will take them out today or they will pass of old age some many decades down the line.
In this morning meditation, sit quietly and think about the possibility that today (and every day after that) has the potential to be your last day on earth. Imagine yourself at the end of your life looking back on your experience-- did you accomplish what you wanted to in life? If you want to create an evening meditation on the other end of the day, you can reflect on the day as if it were your last.
When engaged in this practice, try to connect with the present moment and recognize that this is all your truly have. If you want to do something with your life, the present is the medium through which you can create your desired outcome.
Remembering that you're going to die (a concept known as memento mori) can have a radical impact on how you live your life. If you fail to recognize that your life is finite, you could end up looking back on your deathbed to only see countless hours spent worrying about things that don't matter or engaging in activities that you don't find meaningful.
Think about something terrible that has happened to you– or something wonderful that you wanted that never came to be.
"Welcome every experience the looms of fate may weave for you." – Marcus Aurelius
When you look at it in the grand scheme of your life, you’ll likely find that there were unexpected positive outcomes from this occurrence. Even if the event was impossibly difficult, you will probably be able to see that you experienced personal growth as a result.
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” – Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics believed in fate, in a grand order to the entire universe. This means that the things that happen to you aren’t random and are, in fact, a part of a greater system.
To love one’s fate (or amor fati) can feel like a real struggle when you are dealing with a painful situation. However, if you can zoom out and see yourself as a part of a larger whole, and recognize that there are jewels hidden in adversity, it can change your entire perspective for the better.
If you really want to live a virtuous life, it is helpful to visualize the ideal person– the sage or the wise man. What are the qualities that make up the ideal person? What virtues would this person hold, how would they act in different circumstances, and how would they spend their time?
"These are the signs of a wise man: to reprove nobody, to praise nobody, to blame nobody, nor even to speak of himself or his own merits." – Epictetus
It can also be useful to visualize the opposite– what would the character of the least ideal person look like? What would they do with their time and how would they act in the same situations you set up for the ideal person?
"No man was ever wise by chance." – Seneca
You can additionally build a list of people that you view as role models and take some time to look at what you admire about them. Of course, being a full-on sage is something that most people won’t achieve in their lives no matter how hard they try– the Stoics themselves recognized that truly wise men are rare. When you’re writing down your list of role models, remember that they are human and they likely have some characteristics you believe to be negative. That doesn’t take away the virtuous qualities they have exhibited, so focus on these for the time being.
You don’t need a dedicated meditation room to engage in a morning Stoic meditation practice. That being said, there are things you can do to create a more conducive meditation environment.
Here are some tips to help you find some space for your practice:
All that being said, it can also be good to learn how to meditate in less-than-ideal circumstances. This is particularly true for the “Inner Exploration” meditation– you want to cultivate the potential to retreat into your inner self no matter how distracting your environment is.
If you find yourself feeling out of touch with your Stoic principles, there are plenty of places out in the world where you can find the space to engage in your meditation. You can meditate in your car during your lunch break, on public transportation during your commute, or seek out a local park bench.
When you're first working to incorporate Stoic ideas into your life, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Depending on your previous experience, some of the Stoic ways of thinking can feel very counterintuitive. It can be useful to pick a Stoic quote to focus on during your meditation and consider how it applies to your own life.
At StoicQuotes.com, we have an ever-expanding library of articles full of inspirational and thought-provoking Stoic quotes as well as information about ancient and modern Stoicism. Feel free to wander around until you find a quote that really strikes a chord and then spend some time in the morning contemplating its meaning and relating it to your own experience.