Stoic Object Deconstruction Meditation: Managing Cravings and Desires

The technique can be summarized as follows: break down the object of your attachment into simple elemental parts, free of pedestal and positive framing.
Stoic Object Deconstruction Meditation: Managing Cravings and Desires

🧘‍♀️ Listen to the guided meditation here:

📕 Read through the exercise:

Understanding Attachment

The Stoics understood that our attachment to possessions follows a simple logic. If something makes us feel good or benefits us in some way, we tend to elevate it in our minds. This elevation leads to attachment, linking our emotional well-being to something beyond ourselves. Consequently, we suffer due to our fear of losing that thing, or from actually losing it.

Often, we overestimate the true value of things and waste time and energy on pursuits that lead nowhere. To free ourselves from this deluded attachment and the suffering it brings, we can practice clear seeing of our attachments and our relationship to them. This practice helps break the spell and liberate us.

Epictetus reminds us, "Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants." With this wisdom, let’s begin our practice to train the mind gradually.

Exercise: Object Deconstruction

We start with small things and work our way up to the things we care most about in life. The technique can be summarized as follows: break down the object of your attachment into simple elemental parts, free of pedestal and positive framing.

  • Coffee: An attached mind might think, "Flat whites are heavenly. Expertly crafted, steamed milk poured over two shots of the finest beans, and finished with delicate Rosetta art." A Stoic might break this down to, "I am fond of a drink consisting of water, milk, and caffeinated beans."
  • Sex: An attached, lustful mind might say, "This person is divine. They are so beautiful and exquisite. If I could just have them, my life would be complete." A Stoic mind might reframe this as, "I am fond of fantasizing about rubbing my body against another person's body."
  • Home: An attached person might think, "I love my home. The theme in each room is unique, and the decoration is jaw-dropping." A Stoic might say, "I am fond of a concrete building filled with different materials but mostly consisting of empty space."

Marcus Aurelius said, "The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts." Use this practice to color your thoughts with clarity.

Practice Steps

  1. Describe the Attachment: Ask yourself, what would someone who is very attached to this describe it as? Imagine someone more attached than you, how would they describe it?
  2. Break it Down: Now go the other way. What is this thing made of? What are the basic elements? Describe it in plain language, deconstruct it all. It might sound silly or unusual—that's the point. We are trying to see this thing with a neutral mind, free of the positive framing we ordinarily put around it.
  3. Contemplation Questions:
    • Do you think there are people in the world who wouldn't be attached to this thing? Try to imagine what they perceive and experience when they look at this thing.
    • Imagine an alien scientist investigating this thing. How would they write about it in their textbooks?

These questions help us realize that our view of things, especially when we are attached, isn't completely objective. As a practicing Stoic, it is okay to enjoy life to the fullest, but the goal is not to get swept away in our strong emotions and passions that we lose touch with reality.

Seneca said, "He who is not a slave to riches, shows more wisdom than he who holds the whole world in subjection." Use this to guide your detachment process.

Balanced Perspective

When we watch a movie, for example, we can be both lost in the story, enjoying it fully, but also able to realize at any moment that it is fiction. We might cry at the end of the movie, but we won't let it negatively impact our life for months afterward. That would feel too extreme.

It's okay to indulge in joy, luxury, and the spectrum of emotions, provided we don't lose touch with the true nature of what is going on. We stay in touch with reality through exercises like this, reason, rational thinking, tranquility, and calmness.

Gratitude and Closure

As we conclude this meditation, carry with you the wisdom of the Stoics. Let the awareness of life's true nature guide your actions and decisions. Be kind, be present, and make the most of this precious moment.

Marcus Aurelius said, "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts." Let your thoughts be filled with clarity and gratitude.

Take one final deep breath in, hold it, and exhale slowly.