Contemplating Seneca #90 Their Work, My Benefit

Who are my most influential philosophers?

From the Greco/Roman world are the Stoics. I love reading the words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. The core tenets are simple in their message but often challenging to uphold. Most everything comes down to our perception. What is in our control and what is not? If it is in our control, we should handle it. If it is not, we should not let it bother us. For those looking to live a virtuous life, their writings should be a staple in their personal libraries.

Then came the transcendentalists of the 1800’s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and James Allen are some of my favorites in this group. In its simplest form, I call these the believers and achievers. If we can dream it, we can accomplish it.

Next, came the ones from the last hundred years to our present day. I’ll call them the Self-Helpers. My favorites in this group are Dale Carnegie, Jim Rohn, Jocko Willink, and Jordan B. Peterson. They came along in an age when their works could be digested in other media forms than only books. We can listen to their speeches and watch their videos (at least the more modern ones). Their works are more accessible than any in history who came before them.

Pick up the list of the philosophers; that very act will compel you to wake up, when you see how many men have been working for your benefit.

Seneca, Letter #39: On Noble Aspirations

Our list of favorite philosophers/influencers may be different, but they also have one great similarity. They have all been working for our benefit. Their combined works spans thousands of hours of research and wisdom, and all of it created for our benefit. We would be foolish to let their works go unrealized.

Legacy

What is value?

It is what something is worth. When we pay for an item, we expect the value to match or even exceed the price.

What does it mean to provide value?

I would like to think my words provide value. I do not charge a fee for my services (yet), but I respect the time you invest in visiting my site. Your time is just as valuable if not more valuable than money. Money is something that can be lost and then recovered. Time, once spent, can never be recovered. If I cannot provide value in the time you spend with me, it would be better for you to go somewhere else. Your time is too valuable to waste it on something that offers no return on your investment. Therefore, I write from the heart and to the best of my ability to provide equal value for your time.

Someday, I hope my services will increase in value. My goal is to give more to the world than I ever take. This is the legacy I wish to leave my family and those within my community (my community being as large or small as I choose it to be). My legacy is not for me. I cannot reap the rewards of future generations that may be inspired by the remnants of my words and deeds. They receive the benefits of my legacy, not me.

In a conversation one evening with my son, we spoke about success. He told me if he ever made it big, he was going to buy me a beach complete with a house and a shed for all my stuff. I told him this was a very kind gesture and how much I would love that. But I also told him that I would never want it if it came at the cost of his happiness. If he did not love what he was doing, then he would not be successful. There is no amount of money or possessions that could give him happiness. I then asked him where we could find our happiness. He said, “Love.” Yes! I told him he was right. The happiness we desire in this life comes from loving ourselves and others.

Loving Ourselves

This is a must. If we do not love who we are, we can change it. We can become better. We can aspire to greater things and work on making those aspirations a reality. If we hate what we do and only do it to “make a living,” then we are not loving ourselves. If this is our current situation, we can either resign ourselves to our fate or take the steps to make a change.

Loving Others

In Matthew 22:39*, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I love myself so much that I am willing to do everything I can to become the best version of myself. But that is not the commandment Jesus gave us to love others. Therefore, I will become the best version of myself to better serve you. And I love you so much that I will do my best to help you become the best version of you. This is my love for you, not to give you the fish but to teach you how to fish.

Great lives never go out; they go on.

Benjamin Harrison

This is legacy. All of us will die. Many of us will be no more than an afterthought upon expiring. Some of us will go. That is, the great ones among us will go on and even the grave will not have the power to stop it. The only way we can go on is to provide lasting value to the world. This is done through love, love for ourselves and love for others.


*Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Emperor’s Log #42: Utter Stillness

I spend a good amount of my time planning. When other obligations prevent me from executing my plans, then my mind will continue the planning process while the rest of my being is on autopilot. The planning is good. It increases my productivity and reduces wasted time.

When is the planning mind not wanted? When I am meditating.

Meditation is not a time for me to spend planning. Granted, I do a little each session since I have adopted a new meditation strategy. Here is my current practice that I learned from Ben Greenfield:

  • 2 minutes breathing
  • 2 minutes of gratitude
  • 2 minutes of visualizing my day (planning)
  • 1 minute of breathing.

This is a short and sweet practice that I have programmed on my Insight Timer app. Though this is an easy meditation to follow, I still struggle with it. The first two minutes of breathing should be easy. All I need to do is relax and follow my breath. In and out and nothing else on my mind. Two minutes is not that long, yet I consistently lose focus and allow my mind to wander. If I don’t check it quick enough, I will forget my breathing altogether and allow my thoughts to run rampant for the duration of the session. Rather than mastering my thoughts, I allow my thoughts to master me.

Shrug it all off and wipe it clear -every annoyance and distraction and reach utter stillness.

Marcus Aurelius

Achieving stillness is a practice.

This is my goal: utter stillness. The only way I can get to it is to wipe away the distractions. It is a practice I struggle with. But by continuing to practice, I hope to one day achieve mastery.

Practicing stillness is also an art. I must be aware of my mind and what I am thinking. My mind wants to wander. This is its nature and one I must be cognizant of. I cannot allow it to upset me. I cannot go to war with my mind and attempt to force it into submission. This is not stillness but internal turmoil. When a thought is generated while meditating, I must receive it, appreciate the fact that I am still able to generate new thoughts, and then let it go back to the ether. The good thoughts can be retrieved later without disturbing the meditation session.

Clearing the muddy waters requires stillness. When our own minds are not clear, we are not at peace. Only in stillness can we clear our minds.

Bruce Lee, from the book Be Water, My Friend by Shannon Lee

If my mind is the muddy water, then I cannot continue to stir it. To clear the water, or my mind, I must find stillness. To do this, I will go back and heed Marcus Aurelius’ words: shrug it off and wipe away the annoyances and distractions. Therefore, my only choice is to continue practicing.

Every Meal Is…

I walk into the closet and over to the safe. I punch in the numbers on the keypad, turn down the handle, and open the door. The heavy stuff at the bottom is the gold. On top of it is a wad of cash. These are mostly small bills and are not neatly stacked. On the top shelf is a few scratch-off lottery tickets.

The gold is the long-term currency that I won’t touch. This is the foundation upon which I build.

The paper money is nice to have, but in time I will burn through it. It is the fluff in the safe. It takes up more space than necessary.

The lottery tickets are even more volatile than the cash. Most likely, they will end up in the trash. But they also provide a nice rush of dopamine. Though the chances are slim, there is always the possibility of the hitting the big winner.

[Note: The above is only an illustration. There is no safe in my closet. It is not currently in my budget.]

Every meal is… A short-term investment in how you feel and perform, a mid-term investment in how you look, and a long-term investment in your freedom from disease.

Alan Aragon

Every meal and snack you eat is the currency in which we operate. Our bodies are the safes.

The short-term investment is the calorie-dense, nutrition deficient food we consume. This is the fast food, processed foods, desserts, and high calorie beverages. They are designed to be visually appealing, exceptionally tasty, and engineered to keep us coming back for more. Like the old Lay’s commercial, “No one can eat just one.” These short-term investments are the culinary roller coasters taking us through the metabolic highs and the inevitable lows. They are the lottery tickets in the safe.

Our mid-term investments are the foods that can help us get to where we want to go. They provide a stable fuel source. This is the cash in the safe. We can trade the cash for more lottery tickets or exchange it for gold. As we go, the fuel gets burned. If it doesn’t get burned (action), the body will find a way to store it (fat). If we only hold onto the cash, it will be like the fluff in the safe taking up more real estate than we desire.

The long-term investments are the well-balanced and nutrient dense foods we consume. They will be used by the body to improve the foundation and infrastructure. The body will not waste this but use it to its advantage. There is no roller coaster and no burn through with this. This is our gold.

Buying lottery tickets is a risky investment. Maybe during the high, we will hit on something big. But remember, most lottery winners will eventually end up where they began if they don’t end up worse off. The cash is nice but holding onto it forever does us no good. What we want to do is resist the urge to buy the lottery tickets and trade our cash for gold. Acquiring gold requires discipline. It means we must forego the urge to invest in the short-term and minimize our mid-term holdings. The gold is a precious metal that will hold its value and give us a stable foundation for the future.

Every meal is an investment. How much we get on our returns is up to us.

Two Minds

Little Minds

It starts with a wish:

  • Want more money.
  • It all to be easier.
  • More comfortable.
  • Worry-free.

Sometimes wishes are acted upon:

  • Go back to school to hopefully get a higher paying job.
  • Take the steps to become more efficient or to reduce the workload.
  • Check out from the adventures that life has to offer and watch more television and play more games.
  • Don’t let responsibility be a cause for stress.

Most wishes are well-intended. Who doesn’t want a better life? But for the little minded, it never goes beyond the wish. They are perpetual dreamers without the ability to turn their wishes into reality. As soon as adversity comes their way, they come to a full-stop. Their dreams get derailed, and they find themselves in the same place if not in a worse one.

Great Minds

We have all heard stories of heroes who overcame adversity. They hit the wall, but they didn’t let the wall end their journey. Instead, they found a way to get over, go around, or push through. How were they able to do this when so many around them stopped?

The heroes also had dreams and wishes, but these dreams and wishes evolved into something greater. They have a purpose. As the great yogi Paramanhansa Yogananda once said, “ A wish is a desire without energy.” Actionable purposes are the engines that get us to our intended destinations. Without them, we do not move in the direction we want to go. We remain stagnant.

An obstacle makes us think smarter and work harder. Overcoming it makes us stronger and more resilient to future obstacles. There will always be detours, snares, and pitfalls along the way. Great minds realize this and don’t let it hinder them. Rather, they embrace the challenge it presents. If the purpose is great enough, nothing short of death will deter it.

Great minds have purposes; others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.

Washington Irving

Since this post ultimately ends with action, here is your call to action:

No doubt you have a dream. Is it only a dream or has it become a purpose? If it is not a purpose yet, then it is well past the time to get up and get moving. Put action into the dream and go beyond those with the little minds. To be a great mind, we must have a purpose that will not get derailed by the obstacles in our way.

Examining Epictetus #38: Inward Beauty

A somewhat fit body, clothes that fit well, good hygiene. When I am out in public, this is the way I want to present myself. I don’t want to look like I am indifferent and have little regard for my external appearance. Some may consider this vanity. I consider it appropriate and professional. It is not easy making good first-impressions and opening new networks when your appearance causes others to shy away from you.

But wait you say. Shouldn’t we focus on the inside more than the outside? Why should we be judgmental of another’s appearance? They cannot help what they look like. To this, my response is that I do not judge the things that are outside one’s control. And though I am responsible for what is within my control, I try not to judge what is within another’s control. After all, one’s choices are appropriate to them and right in their eyes. Therefore, I will do my best not to judge them at all. But regarding my own person, I will continue to do my best not to be repellant to others.

Give me beauty in the inward soul; may the outward and the inward man be at one.

Socrates

My true focus is on the inward soul. This is the part of me that is eternal. The outward shell will eventually succumb to the ravages of age and dis-ease. The body will break down and be no more. I can do my best to delay the process, but ultimately time will be the victor. Death is inevitable, and I will return to the dust from whence I sprang.

If  I want to be beautiful, then it is to the inward soul I must turn. This is the true beauty I seek. So, how do I make myself beautiful? It begins with choice.

You are not your body and hair-style, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too you will be.

Epictetus

Inward beauty is the pinnacle of virtue. And to be virtuous, one must continually make good choices. Let us look at the four cardinal virtues.

Wisdom

Wise choices are well thought-out. They are often made through good counsel and with the best intentions for not only the individual but also for those around them. A fool does not do this. Their choices are both rash and irrational. A fool will repeat his mistakes because he fails to learn from his poor choices.

Discipline

Those lacking discipline fail to see the big picture. They might have an idea of the greater rewards to come, but they choose immediate gratification available to them now. They choose not to wait. Rather than keep working, they make the choice of least resistance.

Discipline is a matter of staying the course unto the end. Small, fleeting rewards pale in comparison to the greater treasures that come to the persistent, pro-active, and patient.

Justice

Do the right thing. The righteous will do this consistently. The wicked will not.

I can’t say I have always been consistent, but I do my best. I’m reminded of these words from the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers:

Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi

I can strive for perfection and who knows, maybe I’ll catch excellence along the way. I can protect my inner citadel with filters on the things my mind consumes. I can think before I act in a way that is beneficial to more than only myself. When I see fraud, I can call it out lest I too become fraud.* These things are within my control. This is the path of the righteous.

Courage

About 30 centuries ago, King Solomon gave us this proverb:

The lazy man says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!”

Proverbs 22:13

Lions are fearsome creatures that can wreak havoc on a village. If everybody barred their doors and hid inside what would happen? Back in Solomon’s day, there was no doorstep delivery by drones, no indoor plumbing, or electricity to power the refrigerator and streaming services. 3, 4, and 5G was unheard of. Cabin fever wasn’t the worst problem one faced. However, starvation, dehydration, and sanitation were. It would be preferable to deal with the threat of a lion outside than to stay locked down within the confines of one’s home. The heroes back in the day courageously went about their business. And if there was a lion walking down the street, they dealt with it.

Threats to our existence forcing us to stay within the safety of our homes have been around long before anything we have seen over the last couple of years. Predators, cosmic impacts, plagues, and war have taken its toll on our species, yet we have survived. Humanity is resilient, and it was not by hiding. It was not by staying in place. It was through action. And that takes courage.

Courage is a beautiful choice. Where others seek shelter, the bold go forth. They move themselves, their communities, and their species toward progress. We can either be stagnant in our evolution, or we can take the required steps for growth.


Socrates understood that beauty starts on the inside. Epictetus, who undoubtedly studied Socrates, further elaborated on this concept because the world still preferred external beauty over the internal. Today, things have not changed. We continue to chase after the fleeting and ignore the eternal.

We may live in this world, but we don’t have to do what the rest of the world does. We can look inward and create a beautiful soul. We can make our inner lights shine so bright that others will admire the beauty we possess. This beauty we can take with us into the next life.


*If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud. -Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Finding Love

“Nobody loves me!”

How many times have you heard someone say that? How many times have you felt that way in your own life? The feeling of not being loved weighs deeply on the mind. It brings on feelings of moroseness, frustration, and depression. Everybody wants to be loved. And when you don’t feel it, the emptiness within grows and eats away at your very being.

The truth is that most people are loved. Maybe they haven’t found that special someone to spend the rest of their lives with yet, but they are still loved by others in their network. The problem is they don’t recognize it. They do not feel as if they are loved. And the words, “nobody loves me,” is usually expressed to those they trust, to those that do love them.

And in the off chance that nobody really loves them, they must ask themselves why. Why does nobody love them? Hopefully, the answer to that question leads to more questions. Hopefully, it leads back to the one asking it. With a little digging we can find out the reason. We can get to the root of the problem and find ways to correct them.

If you would be loved, love.

Hecato of Rhodes

This is maxim that stretches back through the ages. If you want to be loved, you must be willing to love first. We must go beyond the selfish mindset of “nobody loves me.” We must first learn to love and freely give our time and devotion to that pursuit. If we want to receive, me must give.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

We have grown up with tales of giants. Cultures around the world claim they once existed. And even today, tales of hidden giants and their remains surface in the media. Did they exist? Are they still out there?

I have never seen a giant, nor have I seen firsthand their skeletons. I have seen structures that look like they may have been built by giants, but who can say for sure? And though literature throughout the ages have covered their existence, I have never read anything written by an actual giant.

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Sir Isaac Newton

Newton gives credit to the giants whose shoulders he stood upon. Who were they? Was it Goliath, Loki, or the big man living at the top of the beanstalk? No. Newton’s giants were of ordinary stature but of extraordinary talent. His list of giants included Aristotle, Descartes, Galileo, and Kepler. In time, Newton himself became a giant upon whose shoulders others stood upon. And if I want to see farther, whose shoulders will I stand on? Of course, I have my own giants that I look to, individuals who have lived exemplary lives leaving behind works and words that have survived the ages. By studying them, I can stand on their shoulders and see a little farther. Who knows, there may even come a day when others may be able to stand upon my shoulders to increase their vision. I don’t want to let them down or cause them to not see  as far as they can.

To stand upon the shoulders of the greats who have come before us is a privilege that can only come through a lifetime of learning and personal growth. It is available to all who wish to see a little farther.

Examining Epictetus #33: Trials, Character Development, and the Way

Trials

It doesn’t matter what it is. When I see my son struggle in any endeavor, I feel bad for him. I wish he didn’t have to go through the ordeal. I wish it was easier for him.

Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.

Jim Rohn

This wish for him is a very tiny wish, and it only lasts for a few seconds. Reality quickly sets in, and my moment of weakness is gone. As a father, it is not my job to remove his obstacles. Instead, it is my job to make sure he goes through them and to help him navigate them to the best of his abilities. I hate it when he loses, but the losing is necessary. Better to lose now and learn from the experience than to learn it hard way later in life. It is preferable to lose a game or fail a test now than to do so when the stakes are higher. Learning the lessons from his trials puts him on a path to winning (consistently) in the future.

The trials we go through expose our weaknesses. They show us where we need to improve. They create the path to strengths we never knew possible.

Character Development

One of the greatest joys in life is accomplishing a difficult goal. Thoreau said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals .” Our destination is important. Even more important is who we become along the way. This journey is critical to the development of our character.

This is the ultimate game. It is one that is dear to our hearts. Cheating or cutting corners in our personal endeavors diminishes our returns. Short-sighted and shallow goals will do us no good. We cannot play small in a game void of consequences. Doing so provides no benefits.

We must be willing to play big if we want the lucrative rewards that comes from both the process and accomplishment.

The Way

How do we go big and win? We put it all on the line. Look at the winners around us. Championship teams don’t hoist the trophy by luck. Gold medalists  don’t get to the podium by happenstance. They make their goals, and then they fully immerse themselves in the quest. They make it their top priority.

This is the way. We must make it the most important thing in our lives. We can either make our journey into a reality, or we can keep it as a wish.

Give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.

Epictetus

Give 100%. Develop your character like it is your birth right. Find your strengths.

Proverbs 18:15 The Heart and the Ear

Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”  Can you really learn anything if your heart is not in it? Your mind can want it, but it is your heart that provides the motion. To be properly educated, get your heart into it.

“When you talk,” said the Dalai Lama, “you are repeating something you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” If you want to learn something new, you must listen.

The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Proverbs 18:15