Anytime an impression comes into focus (an impression being anything from a random thought to a situation occurring right in front of you) it’s typically and quickly followed by a judgement about it.
-Random thought – I have a lot of chores to get done and not much time to do them
-My day is going to be so stressful, leading to feelings of frustration and anxiety
-Situation occurring right in front of you – Someone just cut me off on the highway
-This person is an asshole, I almost hit them, leading to feelings of resentment and possibly taking your emotions out on others because of it.
What the Stoics taught was that these impressions are not good or bad, they just are.
They exist outside of us, they may knock at the door of our mind, but it’s ultimately on us to decide what they mean to us. We can actively choose to view them indifferently, as nothing more than a thought or situation coming into our awareness in real time.
Marcus Aurelius once said, “The only thing that changes and stirs the mind is the mind, and when external objects are presented to it, it has them conform to the judgements that it deems itself justified in making about them.”
A deep understanding of this can enable us to slowly weaken the detrimental impulse of judging each and every impression that we become mindful of.
We can bend and reshape our perception of reality by starting to recognize the incoming impression and deciding that we don’t want to let this lead to negative emotions and feelings.
We can ask ourselves, “What is this impression of?”, and define or describe it so that it loses its power.
If your judgement comes into play and you feel emotions arise, you can begin to see the story that your mind creates to justify the reaction.
This mental chatter is normal, but it’s imperative to comprehend that you are not this bickering.
Detach from it and just observe the judgmental thoughts as if they were being projected on a screen in front of you.
Each time a judgement about indifferent impressions comes to light, remind yourself as soon as you can that your chief aim is to live in a cheerful and peaceful state and that being caught up in these intruding mental objects prevents you from doing so.
“The first thing is not to be carried away by the intensity of an impression. You should say: Hold on a moment, impression. Let me see what you are and what you are an impression of. Let me put you to the test.” – Epictetus