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

Emperor’s Log #4: What’s Really There

Let us pretend for a moment. Let us pretend we are enemies.

If I was your enemy, what would you do? Would you openly attack? Attempt to publicly shame me? Would you go out of your way to do me harm?

And as for me, if I was your enemy, what would I do? Well, after careful consideration, I would employ the tactics of the devil. I would smile and let you believe that I am your friend. I would try to direct you in the direction I would want you to go using subtle persuasion and humility. Shoot! I might even try to tell you the devil’s greatest lie: That I don’t exist. It is hard to fight an enemy if you don’t know he is even there.

Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Sun Tzu

If I were your enemy, my goal would be to break you without ever fighting. But thank the Light, we are not enemies.

Viruses

Manipulation by those in power

Fake news

Et cetera, et cetera

Not what your enemy sees and hopes that you will, but what's really there. -Marcus Aurelius

Oftentimes, we don’t know we have enemies. We don’t know we are in a battle. We are not even aware of our adversaries’ existence. Yet, they are there. They are trying to direct us where they want us to go. They are trying to break our resistance without fighting.

What can we do?

We must seek out what is really there, not what is easily seen on the surface, not what our enemies want us to see.

How can we do this?

We must become our own fact-checkers. We must listen to our hearts. And when our hearts tell us something is amiss, we must do the research and solve the riddles dressed in plain sight.


Feature photo by Tengyart 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

Emperor’s Log #30: Escaping the Ranks of the Insane

“If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

I heard this question often as a child from well-meaning adults. I hated being asked this. The problem was that I liked jumping off bridges. There was a hint of danger wondering if a train would come down the tracks before I got to the jumping-off point. There was a question of whether the water was deep enough. And of course, there was the question of if I could swim back to shore. In truth, I would jump off the bridge, I just doubted everybody else would.

And if everybody was doing something, would I do it? Well, the majority is not always bad or wrong. And if what they were doing made sense, then why not? I might do it as well. But I haven’t always sided with the majority. In fact, I have found myself usually going against the grain. I don’t eat like everybody else. I don’t find enjoyment in wasting away on the sofa watching television. I may occasionally post to social media, but I abhor the endless scrolling that many prefer to while away the time. And though it often draws the ire of some, I think differently. Rarely do I find myself aligned with the majority. My goal isn’t necessarily to be different, yet here I am.

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. -Marcus Aurelius

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. -Aurelius

Some, even family and friends, have considered me insane. And though their perception of my way of life might suggest so, I believe our definitions of insanity are rather different. To me, insanity is:

  • Eating cheap and overly processed food with little nutritional value based on the merit of it being tasty and loaded with sugar.
  • Drawing breath and not actually living.
  • Constantly watching the lives of others and being triggered by their opinions.

If I can escape that type of insanity, I feel I made the right choice.


Feature photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Emperor’s Log #28: The Strength of a Calm Mind

The fictional character Rand al’Thor was a hero in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. In the books, he wielded tremendous power, but he also had a problem. He couldn’t always control it. To tap into the source of power, he had to enter a mental void. To practice control and to refine his ability to utilize this power, he practiced staring into a flame. This practice would allow him to empty his mind of all distractions. Simply put, he meditated.

When I am angry, I lose control. My defenses are weakened, and I open myself to attack. All the ground I have covered is lost. Confucius said, “When anger rises, think of the consequences.” In the moment, it is difficult to think of the consequences. Wise words indeed, yet not so easy to apply.

Little effort is required to get angry. And once angry, control is lost. Power becomes unwieldy. In truth, anger is weakness.

"The nearer a man comes to a calm mind the closer he is to strength. -Marcus Aurelius

The key is meditation. Even if it is a moment to gather yourself and your emotions before acting. When the conflict arises, take a step back. Don’t allow your ego to gain control. Instead, calm yourself and determine what you should do and the possible outcomes. Nobody wants to be weak. So, if you want to be strong, find a way to calm your mind.

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow.

Chinese Proverb

Feature photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

Emperor’s Log #46: The Art of Living

The music begins. Dancers line up with their partners and begin going through the rehearsed movements. They have heard this song countless times. They have practiced their steps until it became second nature. When the music concludes, everything went according to the script. Everything was perfect.

The wrestler steps onto the mat. Hours of preparation leads up to this moment. Everything that could have been done has been done. The only thing left to do is take on the challenger. The challenger has also prepared for this moment. Here, there is no script. The wrestler has an idea of his opponent’s capabilities, but who really knows what is going to happen when the match begins. All he can do is hope that he can meet the demands of the task at hand. It won’t be perfect. It could be messy. Hopefully, the preparation was sufficient.

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing. -Marcus Aurelius

We want life to be the dance. We want it to go smooth and unfold exactly as we imagined it. But this is not the case. And if you think about it, this will make for a boring life.

Instead, life is more like wrestling. You train, you prepare, and you hope your efforts were enough to meet the demands thrown at you. You know things rarely go according to the script. In fact, you count on them going off the rails at any moment. A dancer slipping on a wet spot would consider it unlucky. The wrestler expects the wet spot to be there. He expects the obstacle.

The only way to really win in this life is to overcome the obstacles. Train, prepare, and put yourself in the best position possible. The obstacles are coming. This is life. How effectively and quickly you overcome them will determine your success.

The art of living. The true artists in life are like the wrestlers.

Rarely will you ever see their preparations. What looks like grace and style on the stage was developed in the darkness when nobody was looking. They don’t know what obstacles will be thrown at them, but it does not matter. They will meet them head on and do what it takes to get to the next challenge.


Feature photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash

A Formula for the Impossible

Examining Epictetus #30: A Formula for the Impossible

In The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performer’s Primer, Steven Kotler suggests there is a formula for achieving the impossible. And as preposterous as achieving the impossible sounds, consider how many impossibilities were overcome just in the last few years. Apparently, impossible is really “not possible yet.”

Start with the end in mind.

To achieve the impossible, we must start with the end in mind. The end is what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. This is your massively, transformative purpose (MTP). MTPs include curing cancer, solving world hunger, and other types of world-changing goals. In other words, the things that seem impossible now but can be conquered in the future.

To find your MTP, start by creating a list of 20-25 items you are interested in. These are items that you might be interested in learning about over a free weekend. Review your list and find out how they intersect with another. Spend time in those intersections and see how they relate. Learn the history and jargon on the subjects you are interested. As you work through your list, a purpose might come to you. Maybe this purpose is massive and transformative.

Segment your MTP

Next, you must create milestones. These are the high, hard goals (HHG). An example would be writing a book in your newly found niche. Your HHGs may take years to complete. That is okay. The HHGs are the milestones along the road to your purpose in life.

Work daily on your HHG

You have your MTP. You have your first HHG. What’s next? Now is the time to break down your HHG into clear goals. These are the small daily tasks that need to be completed each day. If you are writing a book, this would be to complete a certain number of words daily.

Clear goals need to be in line with your HHG. If you honestly believe in your MPT, then the clear goals are the most important tasks you can do in a day. Therefore, it is best to go after them first and get them done.

What about tasks that are not a part of your clear goals? They must be eliminated or pushed back as much as possible. If they are not a part of your MTP, how important are they? And if it can’t be avoided, then you will need to schedule your clear goals around it. The objective is to complete the clear goals.

Epictetus said, “Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and then proceed to greater.” I doubt Epictetus was speaking about your goals and massively transformative purpose, but the principle still holds true. Every day practice the little things (your clear goals) and create a series of daily wins. Stack up enough clear goals, and you will find yourself moving closer to your major milestones (HHGs). Keep stacking and in time, you might find yourself achieving the impossible.

Examining Epictetus #13: Becoming Beautiful

Question #1: What makes a human being beautiful?

Is it the filter on your Instagram picture? Is it the cosmetics, the surgeries, the nips, tucks, or lifts? Those things may change perception aligning you closer to society’s beliefs of what is beautiful. But does this really make you a beautiful human being? And in the end, will time not eventually prevail? Our outer shell is going to deteriorate. It is going to succumb to the ravages of nature. Our bodies are destined to return to the earth.

We might find attraction in pretty things, but pretty things do not last. And they do not make a human being beautiful.

Question #2: Shouldn’t it be the excellence of a human being?

If you cultivate the spirit and the soul, it will not deteriorate. Unlike the body, it will last forever. How do you make this excellent? Not through riches, fame, or the number of social media followers. No. If we would be excellent, then we must be good. We must find virtue. Only through wisdom, discipline, justice, and courage can we attain unto excellence. Only through virtue can we truly have faith, hope, and love. This is what we must strive for. This will make us excellent human beings.

What then makes a man beautiful? Is it not the possession of the excellence of a man? And do you, then, if you wish to be beautiful, young man, labour at this, the acquisition of human excellence.

Epictetus, Discourses 3.1

Emperor’s Log #22: Five Rules

The words of the emperor Marcus Aurelius…

Rule #1: In your actions, don’t procrastinate.

The message: Loud and Clear. The execution: well, that is another story. Like a door that turns on its hinges, I used to be the sluggard that turned on my bed (Proverbs 26:14). I would like to say those days are long behind me, but the truth is that every now and then I have that day where I get bogged down in the mire without a branch of motivation to pull me out.

It is on those days, that I must remember my purpose. How will I get to where I want to go if I am refusing to move? If I waste away these hours and days, then I will never get ahead.

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that other’s waste. -Henry Ford

Rule #2: In your conversations, don’t confuse.

There was some concern on my team that I would be too technical in my speech and too wide in my vocabulary. That is an issue I see with others. When they speak or write, I have no clue what they are trying to communicate even though I am trying my best to understand. I know there have been times when I took that path and drove on despite the glazed over eyes and confused brows.

What is the point of all this knowledge and understanding if it cannot be used in a way that improves the lives of others? If we cannot communicate the things we know then we are not helping anybody. But if simplify our language and communicate clearly, we can be effective in helping others to understand. Friedrich Nietzsche could have easily confused us all, but listen to this gem that he gave us:

Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity.

Rule #3: In your thoughts, don’t wander.

The practice of meditation. Oh man, this is something that I really need. It is something I must practice daily, even several times a day. It is not an easy task to sit still in mind and body. Once my mind strays down into the catacombs, it gets tangled and confused. Time will tick away, and I will still be looking for the way out. But then there is meditation, an internal GPS, which centers me and helps me to regain a sense of direction.

We all have the tendency to wander. The question we must ask ourselves is how long before we can regain the path. We are the masters of our minds. We are supposed to be the ones in control of the direction of our thoughts. Buddha was considered to a master of the art of meditation. Ponder these words attributed to him:

As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.

We must harness this energy and direct it where we desire it to go. We must be the masters over our minds.

Rule #4: In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive.

The heart is a muscle. If you train it, it will get stronger. If you don’t use it or even abuse it, you will eventually lose it. If you push it too hard, it will give out on you. You must train the heart, train it -just right.

Your heart is your soul. It is where your courage and intuition reside. It must be trained. Condition it by testing the boundaries. Don’t be too soft and don’t be too hard.

I sometimes test the upper limits of the organ. I want to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It is a good practice as it also tests my soul. It can be scary going there sometimes, but the fear is good, even healthy. We just need to remember these words:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -not absence of fear. -Mark Twain

Rule #5: In your life, don’t be all about business.

I must catch myself sometimes. There is a relentless pursuit to catch the potential rewards at the end of my goals. The pursuit is exhausting. Am I able to recover from one workout to the next? Am I able to digest my studies before I gorge myself in the next lesson? Are there breaks in between milestones and projects? I might not be going full throttle the whole time, but I do need to stop and refill. The occasional stop won’t prevent me from completing my journey. It may even speed up the process.

The Book of Exodus instructs the children of Israel to rotate their crops (23:10). It is an ancient practice still in use today. And though Seneca is not in the Bible (however his brother does get a mention), he makes a good analogy:

The mind must be given relaxation -a good break. Just as rich fields must not be forced -for they will quickly lose their fertility if never given a break -so constant work on the anvil will fracture the mind.

Take a break, recharge, and get back on your journey.

Marcus Aurelius wrote these rules in his private journal over two thousand years ago. True wisdom holds the test of time.  

Feature photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

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.