Contemplating Seneca #100: Pick One

What are some ways one can avoid poverty?

  • Stay out of debt
  • Spend less than what was made
  • Have multiple streams of income
  • Draw passive income from investments
  • Work hard and work smart
  • Become a person of value offering something the world wants

There are many ways to avoid poverty. Does that guarantee people from ever experiencing it? No, but considering the ways to avoid it and putting those ways into action can reduce one’s chances of poverty.

How about death? What can we do to protect ourselves from it?

This is an interesting question. We know the man with the sickle is going to reap his harvest. No one escapes death, but how many of us will die long before we ever take our last breath?

Here are one’s best protection against dying before one’s soul truly departs from the body:

  • Exercise
  • Sun
  • Reduction of bad stress
  • Consumption of real food
  • Mental resilience
  • Emotional control
  • Growing the heart. Not the ticker that is a part of the strong, healthy body one is creating, but the one known as the soul. This can be achieved by practicing bravery and kindness.

Outside of poverty and death, there are other misfortunes that can cross our lives. Some in and some out of our control. How do we deal with relationships gone wrong, bad luck, bad draws, and injustice? We must find the things in our control and work on them. And for the ones outside of our control? We must learn to navigate those waters as well and work around them the best we can.

Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes, as well as after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day. -Seneca

There is so much we must do to fortify ourselves against the hardships of life. We don’t have to solve them all today. But for true peace of mind, we must figure out what they are.

Today, I am going to take a moment and think about this. When I have gathered my list, I am going to pick one and work on it. Just one at a time is enough. Done daily, I may be able build a nearly impregnable fortress.


Feature photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Contemplating Seneca #93: He Still Lives!

In other words, I have noticed many who deal fairly with their fellow-men, but none who deals fairly with the gods. We rail every day at Fate, saying “Why has A. been carried off in the very middle of his career? Why is not B. carried off instead? Why should he prolong his old age, which is a burden to himself as well as to others?”

Have you ever thought this? I have a grandfather that died when my father was just a small boy. Boys need their fathers to teach them how to be a good man, a good husband, and a good father. The reverberations of my grandfather’s death have been felt across three generations.

Beyond my grandfather, I think about all the others that I felt died way too early, ones that I loved and the ones that had so much more to teach me.

And with a bit of shame, I think of those that have lived beyond their usefulness. I think about the ones that no longer, or in some cases have never, given back to society. Why do they get to go on living when the good ones have died?

And what difference does it make how soon you depart from a place which you must depart from sooner or later? We should strive, not to live long, but to live rightly; for to achieve long life you have need of Fate only, but for right living you need the soul. A life is really long if it is a fulllife; but fullness is not attained until the soul has rendered to itself its proper Good, that is, until it has assumed control over itself.

They, whose death hit me the hardest, were the ones who lived a good life. They fulfilled their purpose and moved on. Of course, I wish they were still around, but that is only my selfish desire. Whether I live another day or forty more years is irrelevant. What matters is what I do with the remaining time I have on this earth. If I can live rightly, if my soul is in the right place, then my purpose is fulfilled. I can peacefully go at any time knowing that I did the best I could with the time I had.

What benefit does this older man derive from the eighty years he has spent in idleness? A person like him has not lived; he has merely tarried awhile in life. Nor has he died late in life; he has simply been a long time dying. He has lived eighty years, has he? That depends upon the date from which you reckon his death! … Nay, he has existed eighty years, unless perchance you mean by “he has lived” what we mean when we say that a tree “lives.”

Am I living, or do I merely exist? There are two questions I must consider daily:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What good have I done this day?

Answering these questions keeps my perspective where it needs to be.

Let us measure them by their performance, not by their duration. Would you know wherein lies the difference between this hardy man who, despising Fortune, has served through every campaign of life and has attained to life’s Supreme Good, and that other person over whose head many years have passed? The former exists even after his death; the latter has died even before he was dead.

Merely existing is dying well before your last breath. Is this what our Creator had in mind when He brought us into this world? A person who dies in this manner will surely be forgotten as soon as they are dead and rotten.*

Why do you ask: “How long did he live?” He still lives! At one bound he has passed over into posterity and has consigned himself to the guardianship of memory.

The ones I loved, the ones I miss, are they really dead? Their bodies may not be here, but their memories still are. Even more importantly, their lessons live through my actions. They are a part of me. As I pass their teachings onto the next generation, they will continue to live.

Age ranks among the external things. How long I am to exist is not mine to decide, but how long I shall go on existing in my present way is in my own control.

Control what we can control. There are people who lived thousands of years ago that we still remember. Their deeds have not been forgotten. There are others whose memory ended as soon as they passed. We cannot control the length of our lives, but we can impact the length of our legacies. What will I do in my life to affect the generations after me?

And what, you ask, is the fullest span of life? It is living until you possess wisdom. He who has attained wisdom has reached, not the furthermost, but the most important, goal.

Wisdom is the ultimate goal. How true this is! Wisdom calls all of us. She does not discriminate who hears the calling. It is our responsibility to heed the call. If any has ears to hear, let them hear.

It is by no longer an interval than this that we precede one another. Death visits each and all; the slayer soon follows the slain. It is an insignificant trifle after all, that people discuss with so much concern. And anyhow, what does it matter for how long a time you avoid that which you cannot escape? Farewell.

Death comes for all of us. Let us make peace with this fact and do everything in our power to truly live and not merely exist. Remember the great ones that made a lasting impression in our lives and preserve those memories for future generations. Seek the ultimate goal of wisdom and do the wise one’s work so that someday you too may join the ranks of those who went before you.

In memory of those whose deaths we felt were untimely. For more see:

Hey Google, Set Timer to 14 Months

Okay Google, Stop Timer

All words in italics come from Seneca’s 93rd letter to Lucilius: On the Quality, as Contrasted with the Length, of Life

*If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing. -Benjamin Franklin

Contemplating Seneca #2: Perfected through Trials

The Cleaning Process

I watched as the blacksmith brought the blade to the grinder. He turned on the motor and touched the metal to the belt. A shower of sparks flew to the ground. As the smith worked, the metal in his hand began to shine. The imperfections on the surface slowly disappeared. What was once a raw chunk of steel transformed into a beautiful blade void of flaws.

Of course, this is not called the cleaning process, but that is what it reminded of. With heat and friction, the impurities were removed.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials. -Seneca

Gems mined from the earth do not look like the ones seen in the jewelry stores. They must be cut and then polished. If the impurities are not removed, then they won’t attain their higher value.

When we come into this earth, we are but uncut gems. To attain our highest value, we too must be refined. This can only happen through heat and friction. It can only happen through trials and testing. The beautiful phoenix only rises from the ashes. Like the phoenix, we too must rise from the challenges presented to us in this life.

For many of us, we live in a world full of abundance. We have more food, comfort, and security than the generations that went before us. Yet somehow, we have become weaker and more susceptible to disease. Our abundance has created more imperfections. And when the real trials come, the same trials man has faced since the beginning of time, how will we be able to overcome them? Will we be able to rise from the ashes?

We do not know what obstacles we will face in the future, but we can start preparing now. We can begin the cleaning process in our lives. We can search out our impurities and remove them. Today, I challenge you to consider your weaknesses. What are the things you don’t like to do because they make you feel uncomfortable? Is there something you can do today to help you overcome these issues? If you can create your own trials, you will be bettered prepared to face the real thing when the time comes. Friction and fire to create the shine and remove the impurities. Trials to bring you closer to perfection.


Feature photo by C D-X on Unsplash

Contemplating Seneca #42: Someone as a Standard

Cato? Cato, can you hear me? I need to do better in this life. I need to become a better man. Too often, I have given in to my own selfish desires. I have become too attached to my possessions.

Stop! Why bother me with this request. Your heart is in the right place, but you do not have the will to follow me. My discipline is too strict for you. You would not last an hour walking my path.

When you are ready to be my disciple, I will be here waiting for you. Until then, find someone else to assist you. Go seek out the one they call “The Wise.” Go find Gaius Laelius. -Cato

Laelius? Are you there? You came from nothing and built yourself into a great general. Cicero called you “The Wise” and Cato sent me to you. Like you, I came from humble beginnings. But unlike you, I have yet to fulfill my destiny.

Cato sent you? To me? Does he not know my road is also a difficult one to travel? Destiny does not find you. You must find it for yourself. It is the mission of a soldier. You must define it and create a strategy for achieving it. Those you can do yourself. That is the easy part. But you must also execute your plans. That is not so easy, and you are not ready for it. For that takes work. It takes more work than you are currently willing to do. When you are ready to give it your all, to make your objective the driving force in your life, then come back and find me. But until then, go find yourself another who can assist you. -Laelius

Cato’s discipline is too severe. And the discipline of Laelius is only a little less severe. Yet, it is still more than I can handle. Who else is out there?

Fortunately, this list is extensive. It doesn’t even matter if I pull one from history or from one that is still among the living. I can pick one or I can pick several. But the key is to pick somebody I can use as a role model and mentor. If there is not a complete person, that is fine also. I can take the good parts and emulate them to the best of my abilities. The rest, I can discard.

So choose yourself a Cato–or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make crooked straight.

Seneca, Moral Letters 11:9

Contemplating Seneca #52: Wandering Outdoor Walks

Last week, Alec and I took our first hike in quite some time. As we walked along, I marveled at his enthusiasm and curiosity. Every rock, flower, and tree was the object of his admiration. We crossed streams, traversed logs, and hopped from boulder to boulder. We were out in nature breathing in the fresh air and connecting deeply with the earth. There was no cell phone signal and no technological distractions.

We spend so much time indoors. In the morning, we leave our house, get in our cars, go to school or work, back in our cars, and finish it all up secure in our homes. It is all the trappings of a modern life, yet far removed from the way our ancestors lived.

In Alec’s case, he does the above and then goes to the gym three days a week. How much sunshine and fresh air does he get? Not enough!

We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing. -Seneca

I need more time outdoors. Alec does too. This year, I have made a commitment to myself to make a change. I wish it could be every day. But for now, I am going to start on the weekends I don’t have to work. We are going to hike more. We are going to get out in nature, breathe in the fresh air, and nourish our bodies.

Pulliam Creek Trail. Flatrock, NC
Green River Narrows, Flat Rock, NC
Brief summary.

Contemplating Seneca #16: The Happy Life

From Seneca’s On the Happy Life, his 92nd letter to Lucilius:

What is the happy life? It is peace of mind, and lasting tranquility.

We all want a happy life, but do we know how to obtain it? Happiness does not come in the acquisition of more and more possessions. Often, we think those trifles will bring us happiness, and they may for a fleeting moment. But in the end, they will leave us wanting more.

This will be yours if you possess greatness of soul; it will be yours if you possess the steadfastness that resolutely clings to a good judgment just reached.

What does greatness of soul mean? Whenever I think of the word soul, I think of the word heart. It is the inner substance within you. It is the emotional part that often acts independently of the mind. Greatness of soul is courage and bravery. It is honor and fidelity. It is not thinking about laying down your life for a friend but doing it. It is doing the right thing without giving it a second thought, because you have developed the proclivity to doing such noble endeavors.

We have heard the ancient stories of men and women who possessed greatness of soul. If you look around you, you will see that it still exists. But it is not enough to witness it in the lives of others, we must also seek to possess a great soul.

How does a man reach this condition? By gaining a complete view of the truth,

The ways to getting it starts with a complete view of the truth. Truth is not always what we were told by our relatives or friends. It might not even be what we learned from our teachers and civic leaders. As George Berkeley said, “Truth is the cry of all, but the game of few.” But as correct as this statement is, it needs to be a game for all of us. We must dispose ourselves the embrace the truth, wherever it may be found (John Locke). It might bring us into an uncomfortable place, but we must go there anyway no matter how painful. We must challenge our assumptions, gain a complete view of the truth, and embrace it.

by maintaining, in all that he does, order, measure, fitness,

Or in other words, we must become disciplined in all aspects of our lives. It is a daily process that must be practiced daily.

and a will that is inoffensive and kindly,

This is a tough one today where we might be viewed as soft and weak by our peers. But the reality is that it has always been tough, which subsequently is the opposite of soft and weak. To deny yourself requires sacrifice. To do it for another, who may not be inoffensive and kindly, is an act of humility. There is strength in humility, and the incredibly strong ones are those who can remove biases, hurt feelings, and indifferences from their interactions with others and treat them in an inoffensive and kindly way.

and that is intent upon reason and never departs therefrom, that commands at the same time love and admiration.

The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.” Even softly spoken, the most powerful words are the ones spoken in wisdom. You cannot force people to bend to your way of thinking, but you can persuade them if you are tactful and willing to listen to both sides of the issue. This will not only help in forming a resolution but will gain you respect from others.

In short, to give you the principle in brief compass, the wise man’s soul ought to be such as would be proper for a god.

The Roman emperor Caligula, like many other rulers before and after him, thought he was something super special. So much in fact, that he considered himself a god. He was a mad sadist and most likely insane, hardly the proper credentials for a god.

Imagine you are a pagan living back then. * Who would you want for a god? Hopefully, someone who would have you (or mankind) in his best interests. You would want one that is just, honorable, and wise. You would want one that is loving and merciful. And if that is the kind of god you would want to follow, then it would only make sense that you would try to emulate that god and have such a soul as that. In short, you would strive to live a virtuous life and set yourself to the highest standards possible.

The happy life is possible for all of us. If that is what you want, then Seneca has a solution you should consider trying. What do you have to lose?

*This is paragraph is not about religious beliefs, only an imaginary thought experiment.

Contemplating Seneca #23: Considering Vampires

In childhood, we hear of the monsters that come out at night. And for some reason, these monsters always prefer to come out at night, where they prefer the cover of darkness. And because of their predilection for the night, we must remain in the safety of our beds.

When we grow up, we forget about the monsters. We tell ourselves that the night is safe and that because we are adults, we can handle the things that go bump in the night. In doing so, we lose our fear and stay out later and later. In Seneca’s 122nd Letter to Lucilius, he talks about these people who sleep during the day and stay up throughout the night. Check out this description he gives of them:

Moreover, the bodies of those who have sworn allegiance to the hours of darkness have a loathsome appearance. Their complexions are more alarming that those of anaemic invalids; they are lackadaisical and flabby with dropsy; though still alive, they are already carrion. But this, to my thinking, would be among the least of the evils. How much more darkness there is in their souls! Such a man is internally dazed; his vision darkened; he envies the blind. And what man ever had eyes for the purpose of seeing in the dark?

From his words, you would think he is talking about vampires, the ones who drink the blood of their innocent victims. And these men who prey on the weak and the helpless, they are still men, though Seneca would describe their actions more closely to those of monsters.

When we read about vampires or watch them portrayed in movies, we learn some interesting facts about them.

  • They come out at night. If we are not out at night, we drastically improve our chances of never seeing them.
  • They cannot come into our homes unless we invite them in. This is a key step. We know vampires are evil, so why would we let them in? Yet somehow in the stories, they always get the invitation to come in. One would think this would be a good practice for any type of evil that exists in the world. We cannot invite it into our homes where it could work its destruction.
  • They do not like holy water, crosses, wooden stakes, or garlic. Reminders of our faith is offensive to them. This first line of protection makes it harder for them to work their evil. And why the garlic? I am not sure, but a little extra seasoning never hurt.

If you do those three things, you might have a chance. Unless the vampires try to change the rules.

  • A vampire that can come out during the day and tries to blend in is a very scary vampire indeed. I am reminded of the Blade movies where they experiment with sunscreen. A vampire that can come out during the day is a much greater challenge to overcome. We would really have to be on our guards against these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
  • Equally dangerous is the one who can get into our homes without an invitation. Doors and windows are no longer the only access points to our homes. Now we have different gateways (television, phones, personal assistants that may be watching us and have access to the door locks and alarm codes, etc.) that need to be protected from evil.
  • And let us not forget about the ones that can take away the reminders of our faith, that which keeps our minds on nobler things. We should think twice about the ones that say the Ten Commandments should not be taught, crosses and other religious items are offensive, and that traditional family values are archaic and no longer a necessity in our modern society. A strong family is one of the greatest protections against the spread of evil. To break it apart is to weaken it allowing the monsters a better opportunity to perform their nefarious deeds. Vampires do not go after the strong and prepared. No, they are like any other predator and would prefer to go after the weak and the frail. We would be wise to not give them that opportunity.

Vampires are supernatural beings found in the fairy tales. But all fairy tales have some form of truth about them. There are evil people in this world who are the real vampires and monsters. They may not have preternatural abilities, but they have evil within them. We must be vigilant and guard ourselves and our families against them. We must not allow the evil to come into our homes and into our minds perpetuating the cycle. We must prepare our children so they may have a chance against this evil.

Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. -C.S. Lewis

It all starts within us and within our choices. If we lead by example, we can show others what a good life is. The 12th century abbot St. Bernard said idleness is the root of all evil. It starts by getting up early to do the activities of the day, staying productive, and wearing ourselves mentally and physically out in order to get a good’s night sleep.

But indeed to one who is active no day is long. So let us lengthen our lives; for the duty and the proof of life consists in action. Cut short the night: use some of it for the day’s business. -Seneca

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

Contemplating Seneca #77: Learn While You Teach

I went down another rabbit hole of reading Seneca’s Letters when I got to the seventh, On Crowds. It is a good one that speaks much of what is going on in the U.S. today. For example, this gem:

To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.

But unfortunately, this is not where I am going with today’s selection from the Stoic philosopher. Instead, my mind is on this piece that comes later in the letter:

Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.

Are you associating with those who will make you a better person? Are you giving back by making those around you better?

Today is a call for us to consider our “crowd.” They should elevate us to be better humans. We should return the favor and in doing so, one small drop in the world becomes a better place.

I especially love the last part of the above quote: for men learn while they teach. It might be one of the greatest ways to learn. It has helped me over the years. Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” There is no better way of involvement than in being able to teach others.

Farewell.

Contemplating Seneca #50: Righteousness

One of my all-time favorite books that I love to refer to is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. For some reason, the imagery of that story will never leave my mind. It is a book about walking the path. To make it to the end, Christian cannot deviate to the right or to the left. He has to keep going. Whether you are a believer in Christ or not, this book has a universal appeal that is still relevant 345 years after it was written.

The image I am calling to mind today is that of Christian at the beginning of his journey. He is carrying a large weight on his back, and there is no respite from this burden. It isn’t until Christian comes to the cross that he can unload the weight of sin from off of his back.

The most important contribution to peace of mind is never to do wrong. –Seneca, Letter #105: On Facing the World with Confidence

Far from perfection, I have felt the burden of my wrong-doings. Like a stone laid upon my conscience, the weight has been so great that even my posture has been affected. The only way to gain relief is to make amends. To put the skeletons in the closet is to increase the pressure on the mind. By confessing our sins and seeking forgiveness, we can release ourselves from the yoke of our transgressions.

Wouldn’t it be better to never have to carry this weight at all? How much taller could we stand if we were never held down by our own mistakes? It might be an impossibility to never do wrong, but it is something we can certainly strive towards.

How?

Let’s start with the minor mistakes, the accidents. Things happen. Life happens and accidents are a part of life. Give them the attention they deserve and then move on. Don’t let it bog you down.

But the conscious decisions to do wrong, they are the ones we need to look out for. The conscience is like a muscle. You can put a strain on it, and it will feel the burden. Continue to add a greater and greater weight, and soon you will become immune to the weight (the ominous hardening of your heart).

Guard your mind. Mind your actions. Refrain from wrong-doing and you can become righteous. Not only is this an honorable pursuit, but you will have the freedom and peace that can only be achieved by a mind free from the weight of guilt