I’m sure you have experienced that when you teach something it accelerates your own learning. Could it be the students, or the preparation studying the material, or maybe a combination of both.
Seneca also says to associate with those that make you a better person, and welcome those who you can improve. You could interpret this as associate with people you can learn from, and share your knowledge with those that can learn from you.
Maybe today we seek out opportunities to share knowledge with others; not to bolster our ego, but to give back in some way. It might be as simple as sitting with a child and talking about letters or numbers. Maybe you show someone in your family a yoga pose that will relieve back pain. The opportunities are endless, and your reward includes the enhancement of your own knowledge.
Listen I know you are busy, worried, and a bit overwhelmed, but would 10 or 15 minutes to share some knowledge with a friend or family member really be that difficult. Hell do it for yourself if you must, even if it’s just to make you feel good about helping someone.
So that’s it for today. Your challenge is to impart some useful knowledge to someone. No fucking excuses!
One might equate gain to desire and avoid to fear in this quote from Epictetus. The very fact that you desire something whether it be a position, money, or some material thing indicates something or someone else is now in control. I liken this to Buddhist teachings about cravings. Something outside of ourselves becomes our master, and suffering ensues.
Of course our master may not be revealed by craving alone. Fear can as easily result in a loss of control. What we seek to avoid may not even come to pass, but this makes it no less real in our minds.
I don’t like to dwell upon current events too much as they are often portrayed as negative, and I just don’t want to invest my limited energy in them. Put another way I don’t watch the fucking news!
With that said, please don’t let this pandemic make you so fearful that you allow it to be your master. If you seek to gain anything from this moment have it be knowledge; this will allow you to remain the master of your domain.
Stay calm, stay safe, and be nice to everyone. You may be wise and strong, but there are many others who are not, and they need reassurance that all will be well.
This really resonated with me, as I am often the victim of my own thinking, making mountains out of mole hills if you will. I assumed what needed to be done would be difficult, or a situation came up that I perceived to be negative caused suffering. My monkey mind went into overdrive and I took the normal shit that happens and turned it into a nightmare. What the hell!
Sure the Buddha was right; life has more than it share of dukkha (pain and suffering), but how much of it is self imposed? As I have been studying stoicism recently I begin to notice certain parallels with Buddhism. Could the assumptions we make about things, that Marcus Aurelius is talking about be yet another cause of dukkha, much like craving, desire, and attachment?
At the moment you start to say this is difficult, or I hate this situation, you are making assumptions and most of these are what will happen in the future. In fact in retrospect you find that most of your assumptions were bullshit.
Maybe the answer is in dealing with things as they occur in the present, without assumptions, expectations, and above all withholding judgment.
A bit of stoicism, Buddhism, and lots of yoga and meditation might help too.
What is Seneca really saying here? I think he is saying as a philosopher you will be different in the way you think and understand the world, but in public you should not appear different. Stoic philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius were certainly people who focused on finding meaning in life, figuring it out if you will, but they for the most part did not look down upon the masses. I don’t think what I’ve read about Seneca that he wanted to call attention to himself. He had a relationship with philosophy as a personal study with a few selected students. I think there was also the realization that even though he was a very educated and enlightened person in many ways, he was still part of humanity and did not want to come off as superior, at least when in public.
I really enjoyed this stoic quote by Epicurus as it covers three important areas including gratitude, fear, and not being present. Epicurus defines the fool as someone who is not grateful for what they have, is consumed by fears, and thinks only about the future. Talk about a path to misery. Do you know people like this? These people do not appreciate what they have, fear just about everything that is out of their control, and instead of living in the present they are focused on the future. You often here them say someday when I get that new job, buy that expensive house, have some free time I will be happy. Always looking towards the future for contentment and missing out on what is happening today.
Then there is this lack of gratitude expressed by so many people. They will say my job sucks, the people I work with are morons, the government is inept, and on and on; clearly never seeing all the wonderful things going on in their life. A fool wastes their life by not being present, not appreciating what they already have, and seeking something better that may or may not happen. We are all guilty of this from time to time, but we don’t turn it into a life philosophy. The fool just doesn’t know any better, they stay stuck in this mindset, and because they are a fool they don’t even know it.
You my friend are not a fool!
It starts out innocent enough, a few drinks with your friends and later on it escalates into full blown addiction. Have you seen this whether it is alcohol, smoking, drugs, or over eating? These vices become a habit and habits are hard to break. Seneca seems to be saying it is easier to slow it down than to stop it. This is the power of our vices, in some ways they make us feel better, and we pattern our existence around them, making them so very potent. Rather than put yourself through the painful process of trying to stop, it is a wise person that never starts. Next time you tell yourself it won’t hurt to have that drink, try that drug, smoke that one cigarette, or eat that crap you know is clogging your arteries; think how easily these little missteps turn into a powerful self destructive habit.
How can this happen? Why am I so disturbed by what is said to me or what goes on around me? Why do I give away my peace of mind so easily?
One of the big reasons we so easily become disturbed is that we care about what other people think. You make a mistake and are called out on it, and you begin questioning yourself. How could I be so stupid? I’m always fucking up. Epictetus is telling us that it is so easy for us to allow our circumstances to rule our thinking. If you are letting some perceived failure disturb your piece of mind consider this quote:
“Remember that failure is an event not a person.” Zig Ziglar
Listen, I mess shit up all the time, in fact it’s almost comical. With the intense frequency of screwing things up that I experience by now I would have been insane.
Another good example is someone institutes a new process that you think is extremely ill conceived. Most likely this process is out of your control, but instead of just forgetting about it, you spend countless hours being resentful, or feeling that you know better. Now because you are so much smarter than whoever came up with this process, you make yourself miserable. You begin to disengage at work, because they are just so stupid; what a bunch of morons.
Stop it! I mean you need to stop it right now. Your expectations of everyone acting or doing things that you want is completely messing you up. Stop reacting and start protecting your mind from all these outside influences. Seriously this shit that you let bug you will not even be on your radar a year from now, but you let it bug the hell out of you anyway. It’s not the problem that is disturbing you, it’s your reaction to the problem.
In our goal driven, hamster on a wheel, hedonistic life we look to the future for happiness, while all the time ignoring the present moment. Any happiness or satisfaction that life offers is now. There is nothing but the now.
Wake up, stop wishing for something that doesn’t exist. If you want to start a business, learn something, love someone, do it now. Your life is marching on and you are not present or aware; instead of living, you are dreaming about who you will be in the future. Accept it or not, the fact is there is no guarantee of the future, and sitting on your ass pondering it accomplishes nothing.
I thought this was incredibly appropriate as I spent part of last evening looking at vacation homes on Zillow. Now in my current job I can barely take a Friday off, so even if I could afford a vacation home, I would rarely get a chance to enjoy it.
Time to take some advice from Seneca, and not want what I don’t have, and appreciate what I do have. We have been raised in a hyper consumer oriented society, where money and stuff rule. This is where philosophy is needed to do battle with what we call life. Of course all this consumption and destruction of the earth does not have to be a mandatory part of your life.
Don’t let advertisers tell you you need a new car, a nicer home, more shit that you never use, or any other material thing. Be happy with what you have and stop craving more stuff.
Reading this quote this morning from Marcus Aurelius reminded me that there are few limits on us, except for those we impose upon ourselves. It’s not that we can’t do something, in fact it’s often a matter of desire.
Look around you to those that you consider are doing great things and have become successful. Are they smarter, more driven, better educated, or luckier than you? Hell no, you are just as capable as they are. The only difference is they believed they could do it, and so can you. It is rarely the case that we can’t do something, but instead it is our belief that holds us back.
Stop sabotaging your life and start believing in yourself.