Contemplating Seneca #6   How Much Is Enough?

Nature’s Provisions

There was a time when food was just food. If you were hungry, your goal was to satisfy it. It didn’t matter if it was meat, vegetables, or bread. What mattered was removing the emptiness in the belly.

Nature had a way of providing what we needed. Granted, we had to work for it, often barely making do. But as a species, we survived. We took what we could get in the season we were in.

He who has much desires more—a proof that he has not yet acquired enough; but he who has enough has attained that which never fell to the rich man’s lot—a stopping-point.

Seneca, Letter 119: On Nature as Our Best Provider

Going Beyond

Somewhere along the timeline, we changed. No longer were we content with what Nature gave us. We wanted more. We wanted to fill our plates to overflowing going back for seconds and thirds. We wanted every day to be a feast day gorging ourselves beyond what Nature intended.

There is therefore no advice—and of such advice no one can have too much—which I would rather give you than this: that you should measure all things by the demands of Nature; for these demands can be satisfied either without cost or else very cheaply.

Hunger is not ambitious; it is quite satisfied to come to an end; nor does it care very much what food brings it to an end.

Seneca, Letter 119: On Nature as Our Best Provider

We became pickier. No longer was it enough to just have food, we had to have it on the Fine China so our guests could see how well-to-do we were. We insisted on the delicacies, the fancy pastries, and the decadent desserts. Nature provided what we needed; it gave us a limit. Yet we broke the limit and went from need to want. And when nature no longer provided what we wanted, we in our arrogance said we could do better. Therefore, we added to it, we modified it, and even politicized it. That which was natural became unnatural. And the consequences? One doesn’t have to look far. The planet suffers just like our bodies suffer.

There was a time when we worshipped the sun. Now, we eschew it for artificial light.

A time when the cures for our illnesses was found in plants instead of the pharmaceuticals we use today.

A time when God was at the forefront rather than science.

How Much is Enough?

Our appetites extend beyond food. When it comes to money, are we content with what is enough or do we want more? The same with our houses, cars, and gadgets. Seneca answered the question to what the proper limits to one’s wealth by stating, “First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.”

The Builder of the universe, who laid down for us the laws of life, provided that we should exist in well-being, but not in luxury.

Seneca, Letter 119: On Nature as Our Best Provider

Is our planet and our bodies beyond saving? No. Not if we start correcting our course. Saving the planet will be a collective effort most likely not seen in for generations. But for our bodies, we can begin today. We can make better choices. We can establish the proper limits going back to what we need and limiting what we want.

Feature photo by Dana Luig on Unsplash

Contemplating Seneca #96: Subtract Desire

Here is a universal piece of advice that spans across cultures and times:

Desire Less

Starting with Solomon in the Judeo-Christian world: Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. –Ecclesiastes 5:10

From the Buddhist and the Second Noble Truth: All suffering comes from desire.

And then from the Greeks and Romans:

The man who overcomes his desires is braver than his enemies. –Aristotle

Wealth consists in not having great possessions, but in having few wants. –Epictetus

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire. –Seneca

I have to watch myself. There seems to always be a desire to possess more, but what’s the point. Do I really need these things? Will they make my life better?

In terms of possessions, I have to look at the value of the item. Not necessarily how much it costs financially today, but how much it will cost me in the future. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Benefits would be an improvement to my life. Cost would be a subtraction such as time and money. A good example would be a free game on your phone. The cost today might be minimal, or in this case nothing, but what it would cost you in time and money (which you are not making while playing the game) could be enormous. Is that free game worth it? Is it really free?

When it comes to looking at the benefits versus the costs, there are some areas where I try to reduce budgetary limitations. If it benefits mind, body, and soul, should I be concerned about how much I desire in terms of possessions? For me, it is a tough question. Will the cost of a formal education be worth it in the end? Can I justify spending X amount of dollars on a book authored by someone who spent a lifetime working in that subject? [The answer has to be YES] Is that piece of exercise equipment really worth that much and do I really need it? [Only if I use it]

I need to desire less when it comes to possessions. It is a tough dichotomy. I need to become a minimalist in owning trivial things. But the things that truly add value to my life and may help me add values to the lives of others, I can’t be afraid to go after.

Philosophically throughout the ages “to desire less” is the right thing to do. How to balance it is still something that I need to figure out. In time, I will get there.

“If you wish,” said he, “to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.” Attributed to Epicurus in Seneca’s 21st Letter to Lucilius: On the Renown Which My Writings Will Bring You

“Old Blood and Guts” 3 Keys to Becoming Great

Temperance 10/29/2019

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be great? It is possible to be great in specific areas like a sport or in your job. It is also possible to be great at life in general. When they say anything is possible, this is what I want my son to know. It is something I need to constantly to remember:

Anyone can be great!

Are you willing to do what it takes to become great? After all, that is the great question you have to ask yourself. Greatness will not fall into your lap. You will not inherit it from your parents. No one can gift greatness to you. If you want it, you have to go out and get it for yourself. So how do you become great? Let’s take a look at one of the truly great leaders from our nation’s past.

By perseverance, study, and eternal desire, any man can become great. –General George S. Patton

Perseverance. There are many requirements needed to become a general, and time is one of them. For Patton, it took 31 years to get his first star as a Brigadier General and another five years on top of that to become a 4-star General commanding over 200,000 soldiers in World War II.

To build up to that level takes time. It takes perseverance. There is no giving up along the way. You have to keep going, both in good times and in bad.

There are many new employees I come across who aspire to greatness, yet very few make it through the first few years. The excitement falls off. They become stagnant in their progress. Eventually, they get distracted by other pursuits. What they once wanted to be great at no longer seems important, and they end up moving on in life. To be the best in your field, you have to stay focused and continue the pursuit.

Study. We want to put leaders on pedestals and expect them to be flawless. Look at our current leaders today. We have zero tolerance for their mistakes, yet at the same time, we dismiss our own shortcomings.

Old Blood and Guts (Patton’s nickname) didn’t have a perfect track record as an officer. On top of that, he was far from perfect in his formative years before receiving his commission. He wasn’t very good in school and had trouble reading and writing. At West Point, he struggled with his math as well and had to repeat his first year. How could a struggling student finish in the top half of his class? He studied. He continued working on his craft and became a lifelong student.

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. –Harry S. Truman


If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. –General Jim Mattis

I often ask people what they are reading. I’m curious, and I’m looking for like-minded souls who may have a good book recommendation. There are two reasons why people tell me they don’t read. First, they say they aren’t very good readers. Well, I am afraid there is only one cure to that problem. Read more. Insider tip: Start by reading things you are interested in. Develop your skill set, and then you can move on to more difficult topics. The second reason why people tell me they don’t read is time. They don’t have the time to read. There is always time. You just have to make it. You have to prioritize what is more important in your life. Did you have time to see what all your friends are doing on Facebook? How’s your progress on consuming the complete Netflix catalog? We have time enough if we want it.

In your field, you cannot become complacent. General knowledge of your subject will not take you very far. If you are not the expert at what you do, someone else will be. Depending on your job, this means you are replaceable by someone has who is willing to learn. You have to know your field. You have to study and stay current on the subject.

Desire. Or as Patton says it, eternal desire. You have to want it. Nobody gets to the top unless they want to get there. You can’t want it today but not tomorrow. It has to consume you to do what it takes to be the best. If that means millions of free-throws, then so be it. They say practice makes perfect. Really, it should be said continuous practice over the course of a lifetime and you may find perfection. To practice for the rest of your life, you have to have eternal desire.

The keys to greatness according to Old Blood and Guts, the great General George S. Patton are:

  1. Perseverance
  2. Study
  3. Eternal desire

Good luck on your quest!

Spark the Desire

You could wish upon a star, make a request to the universe, or even pray to the deity you serve. But none of it will make a difference, unless you put some energy into the thing you desire.

A wish is a desire without energy.  –Paramanhansa Yogananda

What is energy? It is action.

And what does acting on a desire look like? You have to make a plan on how to bring that desire born of the imagination into reality. And then once you have that plan, you have to breathe life into it by executing the plan.

Action. It is the key every time. But like everything else in life, you have to make the choice to act. Will that wish be a forgotten remnant of a memory or will you touch a spark to your desire and manifest a new reality?