In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 24 Seneca describes Death, Routine and Suffering.
Suffering – life is full of it. And pain can be just around the corner. You don’t know what each day will bring. Some of these issues are real and some are imaginary. My advice is if problems are real, then you’ll endure them soon enough. If they are not then you’ll cause yourself unnecessary suffering and stress which will lead to unhappiness. Why be unhappy now because you’re worried about being unhappy about something which may never occur in the future?
What you could do is to try to estimate if the anticipated future event which is causing you to worry will actually happen. You’ll find that in most cases there’s nothing to worry about. As part of this estimation exercise, ask, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You’ll always find that there is something even more terrible that could occur but won’t. Take comfort in this. There are always people who have had to suffer more than what you think you will have to. And what’s more, they act in a virtuous and noble way when they are actually suffering. Look to their actions and behaviours for guidance.
Death should not scare you. This is especially true if you have lived a life that aligns to your values. Death is outside of your control and if you accept this as a truth then why worry about something that you can do nothing about? You’ve been dying since the day you were born. Believe it or not but even death can have positive outcomes. For example, it can ease the burden of sickness, or pain. Of course, I acknowledge the thought of death, of the unknown, is scary. But when you do die, then this is just the completion of an activity that has been happening continuously, every second of every day.
The key thing is not to dwell on the final moment that you are alive. You should live your life when you have the chance of doing so. Thinking about the time and manner of your death all the time and fearing this, is a waste of your life
Living can become a routine grind. And even activities which you perceive to be good can have adverse effects. Take eating some delicious food for example. You could over consume and experience the suffering of indigestion. Life follows a familiar cycle: wake, work, eat, and sleep. Day follows night. Week after week, season after season. The same things happen. When you follow this routine then life has less meaning. But strike a balance. Be mindful of dying and be thankful of your life. Don’t forget about death and don’t dwell upon it day in and day out. Think about it, reflect on it, and use it to empower your life. After all the days are long but the years are short.
If you’re bored then consider if you have pitched your expectations at the wrong level, and this is affecting your attitude. Always think about the worst case, then be thankful this this never happened.
I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.
Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.