Contemplating Seneca #39

There is a quote I heard several years ago that has really stuck with me. Gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer said, “If you want to be a stud later, you have to be a pud now.” This is excellent advice for anybody wanting to develop their levels of physical fitness. A stud is obviously the top of the echelon. To become the stud means you have attained mastery. You are the best. And the pud, well the pud is the opposite, far from mastery. The pud is the novice way down at the bottom of the chain. In the real world there are only a few studs, many pretending to be studs, and then a large majority of puds.

In the world of physical fitness, the only thing preventing us from embracing our “pudness” before we become studs is vanity.  A pud may sound like a bad thing, but is it really if you are on the path to studhood? Being on the path means you are learning, developing, and gaining mastery of your own body. We all have to start somewhere, and we can’t compare ourselves to others. All we can do is compare ourselves to who we were the day before. The goal is to make progress, to become better today.

Consider for a moment, the mental and spiritual studs of the world. They too had to start somewhere. They too were at one time a mental and spiritual pud. They had to progress daily to get where they are today. They too had to travel the path. The road to studhood for them was not necessarily a smooth paved road. It was wrought with difficulties and challenges. They had to overcome their own set of obstacles to get where they are today. One foot in front of the other, they continued along their journey to mastery.

The potential for greatness lies before all of us. The only way to get there is to travel the path. It is a difficult journey but well worth it. Body, soul, and spirit. Imagine what could be accomplished if we work to develop these every day.

Contemplating Seneca #55

Do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? Me neither. All we have is today. So what will you do with it? Will you bemoan the fact that tomorrow is unknown, or will you get on with life’s purpose?

I’ve started reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It has been over twenty years since I last read this book, but I remember the story as if I just read it. Even in fiction there are always hints of truth, and this book is no exception.

The book begins with the main character, Edmond Dantes, coming into some of the great fortunes life has to offer. He just got promoted. He is about to marry the woman of his dreams. For him, life is going great. On the day of his wedding, soldiers come to arrest him on false charges. He is sent to an island prison having received no trial. All the good in his life is suddenly gone with no explanation.

It reminds me of Job in the Bible. A good life, a good family, and well-respected in the community. He couldn’t ask for anything more. But on a whim, or rather a wager between God and Satan, everything is taken from him. Everything is not an understatement here. His wealth, his health, and even his family is gone. Everything that man would place value in has been taken from him. Satan believes that Job only follows God, because he has been blessed. Satan thinks if God takes away the blessings, Job will curse Him. The average man would do so. Job does not. He stays faithful until the end.

In my life, I have gone through some enormous trials. Some of them, I did not think I would ever survive. None of them were on a scale with an Edmond Dantes or a Job, but all of them in their own way taxed me mentally, physically, and spiritually. In Dumas’s book, Dantes survives his internment, becomes a better man, and eventually finds his justice. In the Bible, Job escapes his trials and goes back to the good life. Could I do that if all were taken from me? Could I not curse God if I lost health, wealth, and family? I don’t know. I have never been tried on that scale.

The little trials make us stronger. They prepare us for an uncertain future where the possibility for even greater trials exist. We don’t know what lies in the future, or whether the portents are good or ominous. Since the future has not yet come to be, it does us no good to be anxious about it. We will cross that bridge when we get there. What we have now is today. Here, we can live immediately.

The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

Contemplating Seneca #68

Storms come and go. Like everything else, they have their seasons. What was good yesterday could be bad tomorrow. And the bad times, they won’t last forever.

On the good days, make your preparations. Do the work. Ensure that your ship is tight and in top shape. Of course you should enjoy the sunshine and the pleasant breeze, but to squander a good day will bite you in the end.

Sometimes we have to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass. It is not fun, but it is a part of life. There is no need to be anxious about the future. You did what you could. You did the work and now all you can do is ride out the storm.

Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom; for though she has no chief, no commander or rule, she procures her food in the summer, stores up her provisions in the harvest. –Proverbs 6:6-8

Solomon said to look at the ant and learn. The ant that no one sees in the winter, yet it still lives. The ant knows the seasons of life. In the good times, it does the work so that it may survive in the hard times. Such a valuable lesson.

Contemplating Seneca #36

Maybe we can’t enjoy our friends and family the way we want to now. Maybe the best we can hope for is a text or a phone/video call. Make the most of it. We are fortunate to live in a time when this is possible.

And when we get back to normal, let us not forget what is was like to be separated from the ones we love. Let us embrace our friends and family and enjoy their companionship. When it is once again available to us, remember it is a privilege and one not to be taken for granted.

Chang Duong
Photo by Chang Duong courtesy of Unsplash

Contemplating Seneca #12

Ice Ages. Volcanic Eruptions. Earthquakes. Plagues. Famine. The Fury of Mother Nature. The Cosmic Forces of the Universe.

As humans, what can we control?

We can remember the past and learn how to possibly cope with the unavoidable.

We can be present in the moment monitoring our perceptions, controlling our emotions, and acting with intention.

We can look to the future and prepare the best we can. We can hope for the best but realize that our greatest plans are still at the mercy of powers greater than us.

Humans are resilient. They have survived the calamities of the past. They can overcome the threats of tomorrow.

Contemplating Seneca #63: Your Motive

When you exercise, who are you exercising for? When you go to the gym, are you there to get in shape or to impress others?

This was the discussion I had last week with several colleagues.What is the motivation behind some of the antics seen in the gym? Too often, we see some ridiculous feat and wonder if it is really necessary. Is this act in line with the person’s fitness goals or is it to show off to people who are most likely not even watching?

When you’re 20 you care what everybody thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place. –Winston Churchill

As I wonder about these oddities, I have to question my own actions. How many times have I been out running and stood a little taller or ran a little faster because I thought someone might be watching? I should be running for myself and for my own fitness. Why do I care what others may think? I am not running for them.

Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the faults of others. –Seneca

What is my motivation for studying philosophy? When I study the virtuous life, who am I studying for? Of course, I want to share with others all the fabulous lessons I am learning. But at the end of the day, I study the virtues so that I may become more virtuous.

As I increase in my learning, the temptation is to judge others who are marching to a different tune. What difference does it make to me? They are accountable to themselves, and I to myself. I should willingly help them if they wish, but I should not judge them. The study of philosophy is for me to grow and improve as a human. It is not for me to flex my intellectual muscles in front of all those who come near me. Chances are, they are not even watching.