This is an account of day 19 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 19 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to pick one Stoic passage to memorise. Research suggests that modern technology is having profound effects on our memories (particularly the short-term, or working, memory). It is altering and, in some cases, impairing them. Through a process called “cognitive offloading” – or relying on external devices to do what we previously used our memories for – our ability to recall information, to learn new information, and to problem-solve are all being depleted. By regularly memorising information, my exercising that muscle, we can combat the cognitive impairment caused by technology.
And, as today’s email from the Daily Stoic says, what better information to memorise than a Stoic passage:
Today, pick one Stoic passage to read and memorise. To know again, as the Greeks would say.
We’re going all the back to the very beginning of how our ancestors acquired information. Before all the world’s information sat inside our pockets. Before all the world’s information sat in libraries and bookstores. Even before books, before ink and paper—when the only way to preserve a thought or an idea was to store it in the hard drive between your ears. Before day planners, calendar alerts, phonebooks, GPS devices, photo albums, search engines, and the cloud. Before all the technological crutches that displaced our own natural memory, giving us no reason to know by heart mom’s birthday and dad’s phone number.
Whether it’s a passage from Marcus, Epictetus, or Seneca—in memorizing their words, your conscious mind has no choice but to take them in and index them, while your unconscious mind connects them to all the other things you know and feel and care about. These words will not simply linger in your head like they once did in the heads of those ancient masters. They will sink into the soil that makes the garden of your mind, and they will wait to be watered–possibly even with more of those ancient words and thoughts–so that they might grow into knowledge, into wisdom, and then ultimately into their rightful space between stimulus and response.
It may take longer than one day to memorise a passage, but today I was at least able to pick one, read through it a few times, and write it out to get me started. The passage I picked is from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and focuses on the notion that it isn’t things or events that disturb us, but our judgements about those things or events:
Erase the impressions on your mind by constantly saying to yourself: ‘It is in my power now to keep this soul of mine free from any vice or passion, or any other disturbance at all: but seeing things for what they are, I can treat them on their merits.’ Remember this power which nature gives you.Meditations 8.29
In the challenge’s group Slack channel, I liked seeing how fellow participant Carol kept her choice of passage simple:
What is your vocation? To be a good person.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11.5
What more does one need to remember?
For a while now I’ve been creating phone wallpapers as a means of memorising Stoic quotes – the quote gets seen every time the phone is unlocked and eventually gets embedded in memory. It’s a decent counter to the thinking that technology only has a negative impact on cognitive function, however there’s still no substitute for memorising something while fully “offline”. Committing a longer passage, not just a short quote, to memory once a month is a good exercise to keep flexing that memory muscle.