Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Mortem Praeveniam - A Winter Solstice Stoic Observation

As practicing Stoics for many decades, Pamela and I have evolved a series of observations and celebrations tied to the cycles of life and nature. We've given them grand sounding names, more as a mnemonic than any desire for ostentation or ceremony. The thinking behind these practices supports our desire for our Stoic practices to evolved into Stoic habits, with reminders in place to do occasional 'course corrections' and get us back on track.

Winter Solstice, which is coming up next week for those of us in the northern hemisphere, is one of the arbitrary external events we have chosen to connect our Stoic practice to. In so doing, we have conciously chosen to adopt or adapt existing cultural practices, though viewing them in a Stoic light.

The Solstice has long been associated with the themes of birth and death. Christmas, the celebration of the New Year in western society, the ancient and present practices of the death and birth of the sun, and many, many more, have lent layer upon layer of practices and traditions to this time of year.

In keeping with this focus, Pamela and I have created/adapted the Stoic daily practice of Memento Mori (remember death) to a formal observation we have called the Mortem Praeveniam, (prepare for death.) [For clarity - this is an observation we have made up, and you won't find it in the literature.]

I have a blog post somewhere that goes into detail on the thinking behind it, but the gist of it is this:

Behave and prepare as if you knew that there was a good chance that you would die on December 21st. 

A few people in our lives have had the fact of their mortality brought into stark relief, usually due to some incurable illness or near-death experience. We see in them a sudden change in behaviour, as all the things they had been putting off now take on an urgency. That is the point of the Mortem Praeveniam.

The Memento Mori is meant to be a reminder that all the little things in our life don't really have the huge impat they seem to in the moment. It is used as a way to gain higher perspective, almost a distancing effect.

The Mortem Praeveniam, takes a similar approach, but magnifies it, paradoxically creating a feeling of engagement, of closeness. It does so by reminding us that though we will die, our lives have impacted others, and thus so will our deaths. We should recognize and celebrate the former, and prepare for the latter.

To practice the Morten Praeveniam, the period leading up to the Solstice (or thereabouts) can include getting your last Will and Testament in order, paying off debts and fulfilling obligations, making arrangements for longer term obligations, completing or updating funeral arrangements etc. The idea is to be ready to slip away at any moment with as many of the responsibilities you have already taken care of.

On the more 'pleasant' side, it can also act as a reminder to get in touch with the most important people in our lives. It is a chance for us to express our love and admiration for them, recognize their impact in our lives through thoughtful words and gifts, or just meet together to share a meal, a drink and a laugh.

As an annual celebration, the Mortem Praeveniam is both a celebration and a solemn occasion, reconnecting us both to each other and to the universe into which our energies will eventually disperse.

It is a practice that I know a few people in our circle of friends have adopted, and they report being more serene for it.

Let us know if this is something that appeals to you, or if you plan on trying to practice it this year.

Do you follow any Stoic-based observations during this time of year? Feel free to share and comment.