Stoicism has called to me for a long time, as has being a slave. There’s a lot of overlap between them for me. I want to explore some things I commonly practice, how I think they relate to both, and why they’re beneficial for me.
Sleeping on the Floor
There are several reasons I personally sleep on the floor at night, but I think it’s frequently considered a Peak Item of slavery and Stoicism both.
From the slave side, I think of it as a place defined by Mistress’ place—on the floor at the foot of her bed—with (especially given the leash), but not equal. From the Stoic side, it fits into asceticism, the self restraint and confrontation of discomfort (cultivating the cardinal virtue of fortitude).
You’ll probably find that many of the practices I’ll explore here come back to asceticism and fortitude (we’ll come back to most of them towards the end of this post).
For me, the ultimate purpose in some of these seemingly masochistic practices is not actually to be unhappy—quite the contrary. They are also not really meant to remain unpleasant long term. They’re things that are kind of meant to be overcome, things I’m meant to become indifferent to. They make me appreciate the little things more. If someone sleeps in a bed every night, they probably rarely think anything of it, but if they slept on the floor for a night, they’d likely find it actively miserable. But on occasions when I do sleep in the bed, I appreciate the joy in it, and when I do sleep on the floor, I rarely think anything of it. Deprivation makes me want less. These practices make my happiness less fragile and more versatile. In the words of Epictetus: “Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.”
Of course, it’s better to be healthy and safe and alive. But the point is that life is going to happen. Bad things are going to happen. But wouldn’t it be better to stay happy when they do? And that’s a skill, a virtue, that needs to be cultivated in advance.
(Note: there’s a lot of confusion and disagreement when it comes to Stoicism and determinism. Bad things are going to happen is deterministic, but the ability to control ourselves and our reactions implies free will. Personally, to simplify, I see Stoicism as proposing a largely deterministic universe/external world, and a largely autonomous individual/inner world, though we are, I think we almost all agree, influenced by our past. In a way, we can change a lot—say, we can invent the airplane—but ultimately, we have to build them according to the natural laws of physics.)
Study and Reading
In many religions and philosophies, study of specific core texts or the system’s key principles in general features strongly. In Stoicism especially, I see virtue and intelligence/study conflated frequently.
From the kink world, to quote Laura Antoniou, “A slave’s life is mostly composed of patience and study.”
Continual learning has some obvious benefits for everyone. Practical knowledge that is gained can be applied. But deeper philosophical understanding that might not lead directly to an action item also has quite a bit of value. A better understanding of—even a new way of phrasing—why I do what I do helps me prioritize, do it with intention, be happier doing it, do it better.
For this reason, I include monthly reading goals, and have always included plenty of study in general in my life.
A lot of Stoicism is about the inner world (given that deterministic universe thing), and many Stoic practices you’ll find listed out anywhere are primarily mental exercises. Meditating on accepting death and mortality, negative visualization (imagining catastrophic events in order to decatastrophize the reality—free with every anxiety disorder!), mindfulness, reflecting on the near past and looking ahead to the near future, meditating on recent study, the ideal version of yourself, your desired virtues, what you do and don’t have control over—all of these have their place.
I also frequently pitch meditation as a beneficial practice for slaves (and everyone else). Especially, some kind of mindfulness is necessary for smooth, even anticipatory service, and adhering to high protocol. And meditating on what you do and don’t have control over? I think the applications there are rather clear.
I include various opportunities for assorted types of meditation throughout my day and the rest of my schedule. It’s calming, and I find getting my mind in order a crucial first step towards any action. (And ultimately, in Stoicism, though much of it may seem mental, it is all a first step towards our actions.)
A lot of journaling is just putting mental meditations on paper, and the benefits are similar. Externalizing those thoughts forces you to examine and clarify them, helps ingrain them in your mind (or let go of undesirable ones), makes them easier to track over time, to come back to and be reminded of later, perhaps to draw further inspiration from them. The practice of consistent journaling itself is an exercise in self discipline. This can also help with the value of prudence (by gathering, storing, and reviewing information in a logical manner).
Journaling—sometimes phrased as keeping a philosophical journal—is often taught as a key Stoic practice. Meditations is a very famous Stoic text, though it was actually the private journal of Marcus Aurelius, and was likely not intended for publication.
Keeping a slave/submissive journal is a common first task for an s-type. Whether it’s meant for communication (as shared with a partner) or to be a private item, the same above benefits apply.
I keep a daily (slave) journal that I share with Mistress (I’m required to bring it to her once a week). It’s often brief and event focused, but it can also be a place for more when I have more to say.
My philosophical journal is probably moreso my blogs, including this one. In a way, it shows up in my fiction, too. Those, I share publicly in the hope that others find some benefit in them. I’ve always been a writer, so that helps.
I’ve also recently started keeping a daily dream journal. As someone who has a very active mind in my sleep, apparently, I find a lot of the same benefits in it as I do in journaling about my waking hours. (As someone with maladaptive/dissociative daydreams while awake, I also note key themes of my waking dreams that day.)
Discipline of the physical form—fitness—features in many Stoic practices, with a combination of physical and ultimately mental aspects. Fortitude and self discipline are still key here. Voluntary exposure to discomfort, depending on the exact extent of the exercise, can also feature. Stretching and walking are often part of meditative practices as well. And, of course, there are physical health benefits here.
As a slave, practicing self discipline (and maintaining my physical health) is key, and combining this with meditative practices is a bonus.
As part of my routine first thing every morning, I do some stretching, maybe some bodyweight exercises, and go for an at least one mile walk as required (sometimes with sections of running), with no music/audio/whatnot, no exercise buddy, no fancy gear—just my mind to watch. I also enjoy hiking in nature and other similar activities.
I admit I don’t wake particularly early, but I do rise at the same time every day, which is enforced, and it’s a small stretch for me, right around 8 AM.
Marcus Aurelius wrote:
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I am rising to do the work of a human being. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
(…) You don’t love yourself enough. For if you did, you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it.”
(Temperance, another cardinal virtue, is on display here—as much sleep as you need, not more.)
I’ve written before that as a slave, although ultimately I don’t get a choice, I do have to choose to serve, over things like (asking permission for) sleeping in. To prioritize it, to seize the opportunity every morning.
If submission is in my nature, if my purpose is to serve—if I love it—I will wear myself down doing it.
As said, a lot of these Stoic practices will come back to fortitude and confronting discomfort, such as deprivation.
Beyond deprivation of the desired, beyond discomfort, we have pain.
Pain can also play an important part in slavery, though it’s not necessary, as an expression of power.
Personally, we have weekly maintenance discipline in our dynamic, which current contains ritualistic pain (a spanking with the discipline wand, and, incidentally, cornertime, a form of deprivation and meditation). For me, it’s a headspace event, not a behavior modifier or a sexual thing. Overcoming the pain to focus on counting obediently (some at the beginning and some at the end, usually ten—”One, thank you, Mistress; please may I have another?”) is a discipline practice.
We also practice what I call lifestyle masochism, which includes a lot of what I’ve touched on above, and also what looks like random violence/mimicking physical abuse—things I don’t want in the moment, but overcome, building resilience (fortitude).
Another example largely of more of the same. I don’t stick strictly to cold showers, for practical purposes, but they do feature frequently in the forced masochism, and I try for at least a cold rinse in every shower.
Many famous Stoics used voluntary exposure to the cold, especially cold water, as a practice. And many people praise various health benefits of this practice as well.
Eating Simply, Fasting
This one is a mixed bag for me. As someone who struggles with symptoms of anorexia, I am actually currently trying to lean further away from this, though, as I’m including it here, I do see some virtue in it in moderation, and I don’t want to eliminate it entirely (see also: exercise). Mindful eating, at least, not overindulging, and the occasional fast can all be healthy and Stoic practices. As a slave, I find that moderation (temperance), self control, and anything with physical health benefits are all pros.
This features in many other philosophies and religions—fasting for spiritual purposes, advising against gluttony (one of the seven deadly sins), etc. In fact, my first experiences with fasting—middle school—were tied to Jewish holidays.
Okay, so no one was talking about this in 300 BC, but it definitely fits many Stoic principles. It is hard to be mindful of the present moment, undistracted, while constantly glancing at your phone, and to go without, digitally, is to practice deprivation in our modern society, and many things one might be doing online are distractions from the other pursuits Stoicism praises.
Personally, I’m a digital minimalist. My only Internet connected devices I use are my laptop and phone; my laptop remains powered off for over twelve hours per day, and there’s very little available on my phone (some of the apps that came on it, maps, and music). Even at other times, I frequently put my devices aside/turn them off/turn the WiFi and cellular off. I don’t have accounts on any major social media platform. I don’t have (virtual) games. We don’t have a television (and I very rarely watch anything on other devices that could be called television). So on.
And, at least once a month, I do a digital detox—not using my laptop, and using my phone only without WiFi/cellular (airplane mode), for at least thirty-six hours. Sometimes I don’t use the phone at all, either, if possible (though as I use it for alarms and such, I usually allow the device itself), and sometimes I combine this with a media detox (which eliminates books and such).
This can be good for everyone, but particularly as a slave, this helps keep my attention on what matters (like Mistress). In fact, the night we first met, I watched her confiscate someone else’s phone when they were paying attention to the device instead of her.
Clothes feature in a few common Stoic practices (and other spiritual/religious endeavors). Whether it’s under dressing to expose one’s self to the cold, dressing modestly, dressing simply, or dressing poorly (exposing one’s self to ridicule), clothes come up.
Personally, I wear only one thing—my slave uniform. It’s relatively simple and modest, admittedly cute, but not eye grabbing. I own a few copies of it, and that’s pretty much it. (I’m also a minimalist in my possessions in general—sticking close to what you truly need, and wanting less, being a Stoic practice.) As part of it, I leave my hair unstyled, I don’t wear makeup, the only jewelry I wear is my wedding ring and my collar. Mistress finds it pleasing, it eliminates my getting a choice in fashion/expresses her control, and it allows me to focus on other things, like my service.
While it may sound submissive, eliminating decision fatigue from this small thing to focus on the bigger issues has also helped many powerful people—like presidents, CEOs, and Mistress.
Silence can be a key aspect of meditation, necessary to look inwards, necessary to be mindful (are you listening, or listening to respond?), and a form of deprivation.
As a slave, silence can also be key, especially in high protocol. Personally, I have the rule of speak when spoken to when it comes to Mistress—there if she wants me, seen but not heard if not—and I regularly take a full silence vow of a day or two to reset, in a way (I did two this year). When I was in high school, I took my first silence vow for a week (as part of an assignment related to the book Siddhartha), and learned a lot, and wanted to continue the practice.
Those are probably my top twelve practices that are a beneficial part of Stoicism and slavery both. I look forward to incorporating more as time goes on.
3 thoughts on “The Stoic Slave”
This article really moved me. Might be odd writing about an emotional response to an article about stoicism, but so be it. It was written first of all but more importantly it had immense depth. So often when people write about stoicism, or ethical principle it comes across as preaching from a hollow pulpit. Your article did not feel like a self help article, nor did it feel hollow. Everything read as a personal experience as to why this is important and how it has helped you. You’ve done a brilliant job of holding philosophy together with practicality. Distant ideals were brought to daily life in a very real way. Great job, I look forward to reading more of your work.
Thank you so much! Any irony aside, I appreciate hearing about what you felt.