In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 28 Seneca describes no matter how much you travel, you won’t be able to escape your thoughts.
Lots of people travel to shake off gloomy thoughts. But you’ll find that no matter how far you go your thoughts will always travel with you. So even though you may see different lands and see different cities and people you’ll still be yourself. You can’t escape what ‘s running through your mind.
What you need to do is to try to take a detached view of your thoughts. Then by using reason you can distinguish truth from fallacy. Remember though that your senses receive lots of inputs. You try to make sense of these and they leave an impression in the imagination (phantasia). Use your mind to judge (synkatathesis), to approve or reject the impression. This will allow you to distinguish a true representation of reality from one that is false. You can assent to some impressions immediately. To others give a degree of hesitant approval. Label it a belief or opinion (doxa). It is only through reason that we achieve clear comprehension and conviction (katalepsis).
Once you do manage to think in a more helpful way, then you’ll begin to enjoy the real reason for travelling. The change of scenery, no matter if it’s not all wonderful, will seem hospitable. And once you think in a helpful way then you may decide not to travel as much, exchanging one place for another. Once you master your thoughts then you can live contentedly anywhere.
Finally, I’ll remind you that even when you’re in a crowd full of people you can find moments of quiet. But if you have the opportunity to make your own arrangements then you should seek solitude. Some places (and people) are not optimal for a healthy mind.
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.