I began to reflect how completely we forget or ignore our failings, even those that affect the body, which are continually reminding us of their existence, – not to mention those which are more serious in proportion as they are more hidden. – Seneca (Letter #53)
Seneca starts this letter by telling a story about not listening to his gut that told him not to travel by sea. I’m sure we all can identify with not listening to our own intuitions, which in hindsight almost always proves to be a bad idea. In the story, Seneca gets sea sick which reminds him when we ignore our intuitions, we also choose to ignore physical ailments as well. We all preach to not ignore those nagging injuries but what always happens? We bask in our own hypocrisy and we ignore those exact ailments. The good news is for most of us, when we have a nagging injury turn into a severe injury we learn our lesson. We never ignore the little ailments again. We learn to attack every little ache or nagging injury with everything we have it. Did I lose you yet? Did I lose you with Seneca talking about ignoring physical ailments and injuries? To be honest, I almost stopped reading this letter because it almost lost me. Why would Seneca be talking about this? Well I’m glad I kept reading because there was something very profound in this letter and here it is.
Why will no man confess his faults? Because he is still in their grasp; only he who is awake can recount his dream, and similarly a confession of sin is a proof of sound mind. – Seneca (Letter #53)
Just like we do not want to let an injury beat us, we do not want to admit to ourselves that we may have other faults that reside between our ears. Just like those injuries we ignored, we ignore our anxiety or our anger. We let these things fester in our minds before they come bursting out. We’ve all had that happen before. Where we keep our own thoughts deep within our minds. Why don’t we allow these feelings to be fleeting just like the moments that caused them? Think about it. When we get cut off while driving that moment might last less than two seconds but the anger can linger for minutes if not for hours. Why do we let happen? It’s very easy to see when you are ready to see it.
The opposite holds true of diseases of the soul; the worse one is, the less one perceives it. – Seneca (Letter #53)
It’s all about perception. It’s all about developing your perception. Yes, you have to develop your perception. You have to recognize the feelings both psychologically and physically. Have you ever felt your heart race when you were angry or anxious? I know that’s my main way that I can pull myself out of those feelings. I recognize my heart racing and then start to think my way out of those feelings. I’ve written about this before and how I nurtured my perception mostly from my meditation practice. Tim Ferriss likes to call meditation a “warm bath for the mind”. I like to visualize mediation just like that and stoicism has only enhanced its effects on me. The more I read Seneca’s letters, the more I’ve realized how much better my self-awareness has gotten. How much my own perception has grown. I feel more in control during those moments of anger or anxiety. Stoic quotes have had a similar effect on my mind which I like because they’re like little doses of mental antibiotics. The more reading I do about stoicism the better my perception gets. The more my perception becomes tuned. But why you ask? I’ll let a stoic master answer that for you.
Philosophy wields her own authority; she appoints her own time and does not allow it to be appointed for her. She is not a thing to be followed at odd times, but a subject for daily practice; she is mistress, and she commands our attendance – Seneca (Letter #53)
Have you ever thought of philosophy like this? I know I have never thought of it like this until I started reading and writing about it. The more times I read this letter the more it hit home for me. This letter made me realize that reading and writing of stoicism has had such a similar effect on my self-awareness and perception. Now, let’s turn this on you. Have you meditated before? If you haven’t tried it before now is the time to start. If you have tried it then you probably have been in agreement with me and Tim that meditation feels like “a warm bath for your mind”. So then if we need mediation to be a daily practice then why don’t we read stoicism on a daily basis? Well for some of us that have seen the benefit of reading stoicism, we do read it every day. It doesn’t have to be long winded, like this post. It can be just quick little quotes on Instagram or other social media. Again, to me, stoic quotes are like antibiotics for our mind and soul. If meditation isn’t up your alley, which it wasn’t for me either at first, then I strongly recommend you reading some stoicism. It will literally change your day. Then day after day it will change your self-awareness and maybe even your soul. If you’ve made it this far, great work! Now I’ll leave you with more one quote before you go:
Turn to her, therefore, with all your soul, sit at her feet, cherish her; a great distance will then begin to separate you from other men. You will be far ahead of all mortals, and even the gods will not be far ahead of you. – Seneca (Letter #53)
Other quotes I liked from Letter #53:
The wise man’s life spreads out to him over as large a surface as does all eternity to a god. There is one point in which the sage has an advantage over the god; for a god is freed from terrors by the bounty of nature, the wise man by his own bounty
What a wonderful privilege, to have the weaknesses of a man and the serenity of a god! The power of philosophy to blunt the blows of chance is beyond belief.
No missile can settle in her body; she is well-protected and impenetrable.
There is pain in the foot, and a tingling sensation in the joints; but we still hide the complaint and announce that we have sprained a joint, or else are tired from over-exercise. Then the ailment, uncertain at first, must be given a name; and when it begins to swell the ankles also, and has made both our feet “right” feet, we are bound to confess that we have the gout.
For he whose sleep is light pursues visions during slumber, and sometimes, though asleep, is conscious that he is asleep; but sound slumber annihilates our very dreams and sinks the spirit down so deep that it has no perception of self.
If you were ill, you would stop caring for your personal concerns, and forget your business duties; you would not think highly enough of any client to take active charge of his case during a slight abatement of your sufferings. You would try your hardest to be rid of the illness as soon as possible.
Philosophy wields her own authority; she appoints her own time and does not allow it to be appointed for her. She is not a thing to be followed at odd times, but a subject for daily practice; she is mistress, and she commands our attendance.
Philosophy likewise keeps saying to all occupations: “I do not intend to accept the time which you have left over, but I shall allow you to keep what I myself shall leave.”