Zeno of Citium, the Greek philosopher who first formulated Stoicism in 300 B.C., said that as you advanced in your Stoic practice, you would be transformed in certain ways. He claimed, for example, that there would be a change in your dream life. For years after I started practicing Stoicism, though, I could detect no change in my dreams. And then, about a year ago, I had a dream that was indisputably Stoical.
In the previous essay in this series, I mentioned that I have been trying to withdraw from the "social hierarchy game" and that, as part of this effort, I have been trying to reduce the extent to which I engage in self-promotion in conversations and e-mails. In my Stoical dream, I was walking to meet a friend for lunch. While I walked, I thought about some good news I had just received: "It will be fun sharing this with my friend." But then I realized that my primary motive for sharing this news would be to make myself look good in the eyes of my friend. It amounted, in other words, to a fairly blatant form of self-promotion. "Better to keep the news to myself," I concluded.
That was when I awoke and realized, with some delight, that I had just had a dream in which I was putting my Stoic practice to work. In other words, my conscious practice of Stoicism had apparently succeeded in altering the subconscious portion of my mind that serves as screenwriter for my dreams. This phenomenon, although surprising, was only one of the surprising side-effects of my practice of Stoicism. Allow me to describe some of the others.