Morning Preview

As is well known, there are various references in the ancient Stoic (and other) texts to performing a morning preview to set the scene for the day, and then an evening review to round it off. The aim of the next two posts is to collect these passages together in order to provide guidance and a basis for these daily practices. I am indebted to Malcolm Schosha who cited most of these passages, as well as others from non-Stoic sources, in a related post. My aim here is to focus on the application to Stoicism, so I give only Stoic sources or those referenced by them (Pythagoras). I begin with the morning preview, and continue with the evening review in the next post.

Morning preview

Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius both note the importance of “booting up” in the right frame of mind each morning, that is one that is in accordance with nature and prepares you for the work of the day. The job begins as soon as you awake:

In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm? (MA, Meditations 5.1)

When thou risest from sleep with reluctance, remember that it is according to thy constitution and according to human nature to perform social acts, but sleeping is common also to irrational animals. But that which is according to each individual’s nature is also more peculiarly its own, and more suitable to its nature, and indeed also more agreeable. (MA, Meditations 8.12)

Inquire of thyself as soon as thou wakest from sleep, whether it will make any difference to thee, if another does what is just and right. It will make no difference. (MA, Meditations, 10.13)

Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away. (MA, Meditations, 2.1)

Return to thy sober senses and call thyself back; and when thou hast roused thyself from sleep and hast perceived that they were only dreams which troubled thee, now in thy waking hours look at these (the things about thee) as thou didst look at those (the dreams). (MA, Meditations, 6.31)

There is an emphasis here on a reluctance to getting started, and on the need to counteract these barriers by reminding yourself of Stoic principles, especially that you are made for cooperation with other people and that their lack of cooperation or reciprocation is nothing to you.

Epictetus also refers to the need for a morning “reboot”. In this passage he contrasts the right and wrong ways to start the day:

He who has risen in the morning seeks whom he shall salute, to whom he shall say something agreeable, to whom he shall send a present, how he shall please the dancing man, how by bad behavior to one he may please another. … But do you, if indeed you have cared about nothing else except the proper use of appearances, as soon as you have risen in the morning reflect, “What do I want in order to be free from passion, and free from perturbation? What am I? Am I a poor body, a piece of property, a thing of which something is said? I am none of these. But what am I? I am a rational animal. What then is required of me?” (Epictetus, Discourses, 4.6.32-36)

Marcus says we can take inspiration from the wider cosmos:

The Pythagoreans bid us in the morning look to the heavens that we may be reminded of those bodies which continually do the same things and in the same manner perform their work, and also be reminded of their purity and nudity. For there is no veil over a star. (MA, Meditations, 11.27)

Apparently the Stoics were heavily influenced by the Pythagoreans, so it is worth looking at Pythagoras’ advice:

He advised special regard to two times; that when we go to sleep, and that when we awake. At each of these we should consider our past actions, and those that are to come. We ought to require of ourselves an account of our past deeds, while of the future we should have a providential care.
… On rising:
‘As soon as ere thou wakest, in order lay
The actions to be done that following day’ ”
(Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 40)

Such were some of his precepts: They were to get up before sunrise…They were to adore the rising sun. Pythagoras ordered them never to do anything without previous deliberation and discussion; in the morning forming a plan of what was to be done later, and at night to review the day’s actions, which served the double purpose of strengthening the memory, and considering their conduct. If any of their associates appointed them to meet them at some particular place and time they should stay there till he came, regardless of the length of time, for Pythagoreans should not speak carelessly, but remember what was said and regard order and method.” (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, 35)

As well as rejoicing in the sunrise, the morning preview includes a plan for the day (and according to Porphyry, a review of past actions). There is a general emphasis on careful and methodical consideration before going through with an action. Both Porphyry and Iamblichus’ accounts also include advice on the evening review, which I’ll come to in the next post.

Additional sources

Complete Pythagoras, including Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, and Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras
Guthrie translation reproduced in the Complete Pythagoras