Letters from Seneca

Very recently I finished reading an amazing book that gathers some letters written almost two thousand years ago by Seneca. This is a great lecture that helped me dig a bit deeper into Stoic philosophy. The way of life explained by Seneca and the description of a wise man is very close to my personal view of a meaningful life, so it was great to read that those ideas are far from new.

Before I talk about specific ideas that I found interesting in the book I want to mention that it is very surprising, at least for me, how people in Roman Empire were similar to those that live in the 21st century. The problems and way of thinking described by Seneca in his letters to Lucilius reflect modern society so well that I don’t see any major differences with people that surround me both in Australia and in Poland. Seneca was obviously a brilliant person ahead of his time. When I read his comments, if I swapped some details about the technology, I would totally believe he talks about modern societies. This is amazing how little changes in the human mentality and how we are wrong when we think that our times are so special.

There are many quotes in the letters that I highlighted. I will be putting them one by one and adding my comments.

Anyone entering our homes should admire us rather than our furnishings.

I find it super important to focus on my own growth rather than the growth of my possession. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get nice things and make our homes and clothes to be attractive, but this shouldn’t be the end goal. It is way more important to be admired for who we are rather than what we have. What we have comes in parallel, but I strongly believe that it should be just a side effect of our activity.

It is this, if you wish to be loved, love.

Simple and very powerful. I find it similar to the Christian rule that we should love one another as we love ourselves. It goes both directions, we should love ourselves as we love others, so we need to care for ourselves. Kinda simple but we tend to forget about it. We need to treat ourselves as we treat somebody we care about and also we shouldn’t expect somebody will treat us better than we treat them.

You will die not because you are sick, but because you are alive.

One of the pillars of the Stoic philosophy is the meditation on death. Firstly it was a bit scary to me to openly think about it. Death to be a natural part of life and the realisation that nobody will run away from it is both terrifying and relieving. It is very in line again with a Christian point of view. We are all going to die and we don’t really know when it happens. Life is not measured by its length.

What else can you expect, seeing that you always take yourself along with you when you go abroad?

When I was in my early twenties I believed that changing the surrounding will help me find myself and I will be able to automatically grow because of the place I’m in. I felt that I will only have to find the right place and the right people and then I will reveal my full potential and of course, live happily ever after. That is a very naive way of thinking. Always when we travel we take ourselves with us, and most likely, if you have a problem the problem is in you. So the solution to some existential crisis very likely is not in travelling to a foreign country, but to ourselves. From my own experience, if you run away from something that bothers you and you start fresh somewhere else, you will most likely end up in the same situation but in different scenery.

A guilty person sometimes has luck to escape detection, but never to feel sure of it.

I’ve heard Jordan Peterson saying that in his work he has never seen anybody getting away with anything. Everything you do will eventually kick you back. It might feel unfair that people doing bad things are living a comfortable life, but unfortunately, this is how the world works. I strongly believe we shouldn’t complain about it. Everybody has the right to choose in between his conscience and comfort. Personally, I prefer to be loyal to my beliefs and I consciously refuse to do things that I find unfair or simply evil, accepting the fact that I won’t get short term gratifications. If some people decide to do the opposite it is their choice and I’m sure it will kickback. I don’t want to be kicked back in the future just to get something I desire now.

For those who follow nature everything is easy and straightforward, whereas for those who fight against her life is just like rowing against the stream.

Again an obvious observation that is often overlooked. We live in a world that is based on some natural rules. We do not have to obey, but if we don’t we need to be prepared to struggle. It doesn’t mean to just accept everything without saying, but to recognise the natural way of life and to not fight against it, because in the long run there is no point doing it.

In summary, the `Letters from Stoic` is an amazing book and it will definitely be on my bookshelf once I have one.



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