I am neither learned enough nor, yet, committed enough to declare myself an adherent to any one school of philosophy. One of my objectives through constant learning, and in exploring philosophy is to discern for myself my values, views, and convictions. This comes by being open to many views and philosophies, and of course, experience. A work in progress.
I am, therefore, not a Stoic. However, I do draw so much from the Stoics at this point in my journey. Currently, I am for a second time, working my way through Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations – this time with a highlighter. One of Aurelius’s Stoic predecessors, Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger (Seneca), was my first introduction to the Stoics when I was handed his book Letters from a Stoic some years ago. That was a slower read than Meditations, but it has led to so many more explorations of Stoicism and philosophy.
To help guide today’s post let me share this simple definition of Stoicism derived from Wikipedia:
It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world.
Also from Wikipedia, I find this excerpt from Epictetus helpful in contextualizing Stoicism, and more broadly, philosophy:
Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.— Epictetus, Discourses 1.15.2, Robin Hard revised translation
To focus on the living of each person’s own life. There are so many ways and rabbit-holes I could approach this. I prefer to go about it this way today.
Seneca On Living Well
There is a Seneca quote I will share shortly, which had caught my attention some time ago. I realize upon reflection that it has influenced so many of the decisions and paths I’ve traveled of late. It is a quote that keeps creeping back into my consciousness daily, and which I would like to share and explore a little today.
In looking for context, and in trying to better understand Seneca and his philosophy, I have come across numerous similar and related quotes which will equally consume me. And not just Seneca, but others from whom I have stumbled upon with similar themes. For example, a quote I have had in my Instagram bio has been guiding me through COVID, my current health journey, my ‘say yes and show up’ mantra, and how I attack each day. That quote I am referring to, by Ashley Montagu, is thus:
“The idea is to die young as late as possible.”
Similarly, a friend this past week forwarded me a quote by Michael Caine, which I absolutely relate with:
“When you die you should come into the cemetery on a motorbike, skid to a halt by the side of the coffin, jump in and say: ‘Great I just made it.’”
Honestly, that sounds like the best fucking end possible. I have to figure out how to make that happen!
Life can be short. Life can be long. Both statements are true – at times, under certain circumstances, at different points in your life. Here is Seneca on this sentiment:
“Life, if lived well, is long enough.”
I imagine Seneca standing on a platform holding some microphone from antiquity, taking a long look at his audience before dropping his mic and leaving stage right with: “Dwell on that bitches! Peace, out.”
In a more Shakespearean tone he offers:
“Life’s like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.”
However, the quote that got my attention and that I haven’t been able to shake is this one:
“Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.”
That hits hard. This is such a central theme for me as I work to ensure I live my story; one packed with so much living and so many experiences, with so many amazing people that none can even conceive of mourning the life I have lived, nor my inevitable death (yup, there’s the Stoic in me).
I believe I am on track – and I am very fortunate, and grateful to feel that way.
Eternal Recurrence And The Golden Rule
Without trying to come across too Pollyanna, I want to offer gratitude today . Let me thank you, my readers, for joining me on this journey. Let me thank you who are active participants in my current story. Thanks to you who have been earlier a part of my story; I promise you I have been influenced by you. Every person, every circumstance, every adversity, every victory, every hug, every scolding, everything, everyone, has made me who I am today, right now. Thank you. Someone introduced me to Seneca, someone else showed me love, another taught me an error in my ways.
Nietzsche gave us the idea of Eternal Recurrence. I paraphrase: if you had to live your life over again, for eternity, without the ability to change a single thing, how would this influence how you are living your life.
For me, to ensure that I am deliberate in living, trying to find the right and ethical way to be, and to :
“Do everything as in the eye of another.” – Seneca
This last quote is really just another way of invoking The Golden Rule (have of read of this analysis of the good and bad, positive and negative of the Golden Rule). * (Let me share here that this perspective on the Golden Rule is exactly why I love writing and reading and learning so much. I had thought to start this post with a conviction I thought I held somewhat firmly about the Golden Rule. I won’t be quick to disregard and bail on my views on that rule. However, coming across pieces like this analysis, which offers negative aspects to counter the positive, is what I hope to discover on my journey. Only in this way can I better inform, challenge, and reconsider my convictions; which will lead either to a firmer conviction, a modified conviction (ah, growth), or a completely new perspective to explore.)
Finally, one more from Seneca to guide our interactions with our fellow humans and in trying to live well:
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”
A Fitting End
I am not yet, maybe never, declaring myself a Stoic, but I keep stumbling upon them as I try to be a better person with each day, and to live each and every moment as if it were my last. A journey I shall never complete. I offer though that I would be very satisfied to conclude it on a skidded motorcycle at the edge of my grave; and better yet, if I am one minute later than the Reaper intended.