I’ve had the recent pleasure of spending a few days with a professor of literature and philosophy. These are subjects I enjoy. Fortunately, I have recently dedicated a portion of each day to studying what great thinkers have written. I do this because I am looking for the right way to live. Because of this valuable habit, I could step into the depth of his knowledge and consider my current circumstances and station in life with different lights of perception.
In reading the older philosophical writings, I have found Seneca the Elder and Marcus Aurelius to be extremely valuable. With the both of these thinkers, the realization that our time alive is finite and all things we create are temporary is the underlying theme that all other views flow. I’m sure this is debatable, but I will pass this over.
Seneca said, and I paraphrase, that we should not look to the future because the all the faculties we have now for the present will be available then. That we should not look the present because it is forever fleeting. But that we should look to the past and to not be afraid of what we will find. Have the strength to look at what you have done and reason best how to proceed on. Also, look to those great thinkers that have come before you. In this way, you make the greatest of thinkers the best of friends and call upon them whenever you wish. By studying the past you can learn how to live. This is my interpretation and I find it extremely interesting. Focusing on the now is a current cultural phrase and I do not find this thinking to be at odds with it.
Seneca also talks about being “engrossed” and “busy” with no time for “leisure”. The two former meaning spending time on the demands of others and the latter meaning studying and focusing on how to live rightly. In this same vein, Seneca mentions how quickly we come to guard our land or possessions, but how we leave our mind and time completely open to others to tread upon with time not ever being recoverable. How completely true this is and how sadly ironic. The things that will most surely leave us and are completely temporary are where our focus goes and the acquisition of wisdom is neglected and our most valuable possession is left out for any to take.
By being critical of our own past actions and gleaning from the great thinkers, we can choose how to spend our most precious possession, time. In this way, one can focus on the present and enjoy the company around us without concern. This time can be fully enjoyed. This is my interpretation.
More on Marcus Aurelius later.
When searching for the writings of Seneca the Elder, I found “On the Shortness of Life” was available on the Iphone via the App Store for free. If you use this device, just search for “Seneca” in the App Store. I am not affiliated with the application or it’s developers in any way.