Friday, March 4, 2016

Letters From A Stoic – Seneca

Letters From A Stoic - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

How to Live a Happy Life, One Stoic Moment at a Time

It’s not how much you make, it’s how you live. Letters from a Stoic is a first-person look into how an experienced Stoic applies philosophy to ordinary life and the world around him.

From it you not only learn the core tenets of Stoicism, but get to witness the intellectual practice of someone who’s who’s wholly devoted to cultivating his mind, mastering philosophy, and achieving long-lasting happiness.

The Stoics are not out to banish the emotions; they are out to reduce, to the extent possible, negative emotions, such as feelings of anger or grief that will disrupt our tranquility. They value positive emotions, with feelings of joy being at the top of their list.

Seneca’s thoughts on the human condition seemed like they could have been written today. Except for some dated Roman references, here is a man trying to define how to live, in what we today would call “the secular society.”

He was priveleged, ego-centric, and all too aware of the fleeting nature of life. He was also a tutor of Nero, a dramatist, philosopher, slave owner, etc. But his essay-like letters reveal a man struggling to make sense of a world of power, wealth and abundance, oestensibly ruled by reason, suffused with uncertainty and enveloped in paganism.

Seneca’s Stoic doctrine of nature is remarkably close to that of Emerson or modern American environmentalists.The wise man (sapiens) will never be bored when contemplating the simple things of nature. The natural beauty of the countryside and the healthful action of the waves can have a calming effect.

The basic message of Stoicism that Seneca presents here is profound and vital. The key to a happy life is to live in accordance with nature. This is accomplished by training yourself not to desire more than you have and to learn to be content with what comes to you.

Freedom from attachments

Govern your emotions with reason, resign yourself to fate, and free yourself from the attachments of your desires.

This includes not only the extravagance with which society distracts us from nature, or the obviously harmful excesses of food and drink, but even the attachment to your own life. Only by conquering your fear of death can you experience true freedom and live a life of quality.

This book offers an expansive selection of Seneca’s letters to his friend Lucilius. These letters are a treasure of practical wisdom on how to live and enjoy life. Essentially Seneca tells his friend (and us) that freedom and tranquility result from our inner character and not external circumstances.

A change in our well being is therefore more a question of an improvement in our character than a move of physical place or circumstances. Those who build character will endure life and attain wisdom, inner peace and tranquility.

Why you should read this book (again.)

Certainly this is a book that will make you think, however it is not just for the casual read. To get the most from this book you need to set aside the time to fully digest exactly what it is saying. It is certainly easy to read and with each chapter representing a separate letter and topic following along is easy.

Like most books of this genre, it is something that will have to be read more than once to get the full benefit from. This won’t be a real concern since the book is truly timeless.

“Your greatest difficulty is with yourself; you are your own stumbling-block.”

In his Letters we discover how to remove that stumbling block with the wisdom of this remarkable man.

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