“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.” ~ On the Shortness of Life, Seneca
Pressure me much Seneca?
Last week I offered up a Seneca quote that I rediscovered through the blogosophere. The author gives a great ‘quick read’ version as well as posts the entire letter, which focuses on Seneca urging Paulinus to consider what it means to truly live well.
As I took my time through the text, letting it wash over me, I found a strange peace.
A realization that through the storms and battles and buffeting and continued unknown this year has brought me, I’m much closer to Seneca’s advice than at this time last year – where you would’ve found me staring at a grey speckled cubicle wall exploring the vast reaches of internet GIFs.
I’m slowly living into understanding Seneca’s main point: that the present “is an everlasting and unanxious possession.”
There are so many reasons humans fault, as “You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals,” but there is no reason to despair. Rather than become exhausted by the famous seven, Seneca urges us to value time itself.
“I am often filled with wonder when I see some men demanding the time of others and those from whom they ask it most indulgent. Both of them fix their eyes on the object of the request for time, neither of them on the time itself; just as if what is asked were nothing, what is given, nothing. Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing—nay, of almost no value at all.”
To realize that within the offer and taking of time, we are ultimately deciding our lives. Seeking balance of knowledge, doing good, and true enjoyment (as opposed to lustful, fleeting pursuits) is where one can truly live – as oppose to prepare to live.
As Seneca bluntly states:
“Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!”
This ancient Stoic resonates perfectly with our modern struggles, asking us what (for me) is most difficult: turn away from the value of others’ opinions or external value; learn to deeply and honestly cherish your own time and self. And to do this now.
“The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day. You dispose of that which lies in the hands of Fortune, you let go that which lies in your own.”
A special postscript for all my philosopher/theologian friends:
“Of all men they alone are at leisure who take time for philosophy, they alone really live; for they are not content to be good guardians of their own lifetime only.”
Dispatch this week to Blake, in honor of starting his PhD, I offer Seneca’s academic niche BURN:
“It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar.”