13. Why we suffer Fear !

The touchstone of a true spirit; must be tested & as often as they fall, rises again with greater strength; For boldness, gains much strength by being challenged.

We suffer more often in imagination than in reality; It is likely that some troubles will befall us; Even bad fortune is fickle, perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not; So look forward to better things.

On Groundless Fears

For our powers can never inspire in us implicit faith in ourselves, except when many difficulties have confronted us, & have occasionally, even come to close quarters with us.

It is only in this way that the true spirit can be tested, – the spirit that will never consent to come under the jurisdiction of things, external to ourselves.

This is the touchstone of such a spirit; no prizefighter can go with high spirits into strife, if they have never been beaten black & blue; the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists, is the person who has seen their own blood, who has felt their teeth rattle beneath their opponent’s fist, who has been tripped & felt the full force, of their adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body, but not in spirit, one who as often as they fall, rises again with greater defiance than ever.

Fortune has often in the past got the upper hand of you, & yet you have not surrendered, but have leaped up & stood your ground still more eagerly.

For boldness, gains much strength by being challenged; nevertheless, if you approve, allow me to offer some additional safeguards by which you may fortify yourself.

There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us;

we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled, as if they were threatening you will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come.

Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; & some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all; We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating sorrow.

Do me the favour, when people surround you, & try to talk you into believing that you are unhappy, to consider not what you hear, but what you yourself feel, & to take counsel with your feelings & question yourself independently, because you know your own affairs, better than anyone else does.

Ask: “Is there any reason why, these persons should condole with me?, Why should they be worried, or even fear some infection from me, as if troubles could be transmitted?, Is there any evil involved, or is it a matter merely of ill report, rather than an evil?”

Put the question voluntarily to yourself: “Am I tormented, without sufficient reason, am I morose, & do I convert what is not an evil, into what is an evil?”

You may retort with the question: “How am I to know whether my sufferings, are real or imaginary?”

Here is the rule for such matters: We are tormented either by things present, or by things to come, or by both.

As to things present, the decision is easy; Suppose that you enjoy freedom & health, & that you do not suffer from any external injury.

As to what may happen to it in the future, we shall see later on; To-day there is nothing wrong with it.

You say, “something will happen to it.”, First of all, consider whether your proofs, of future trouble are sure.

For it is more often the case, that we are troubled by our apprehensions, & that we are mocked by that mocker, rumour, which is wont to settle wars, but much more often settles individuals.

Yes, my dear Lucilius; we agree too quickly with what people say.

We do not put to the test those things which cause our fear; we do not examine into them; we blench & retreat just like soldiers, who are forced to abandon their camp, because of a dust-cloud raised by stampeding cattle, or are thrown into a panic, by the spreading of some unauthenticated rumour, & somehow or other, it is the idle report that disturbs us most.

For truth has its own definite boundaries, but that which arises from uncertainty, is delivered over to guesswork, & the irresponsible license, of a frightened mind.

That is why no fear, is so ruinous, & so uncontrollable, as panic fear; For other fears are groundless, but this fear, is witless.

Let us then look carefully into the matter; It is likely, that some troubles, will befall us; but it is not, a present fact.

How often has, the unexpected happened!, How often has, the expected never come to pass!

Even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?

You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things.

What shall you gain by doing this? Time.

There will be many happenings meanwhile, which will serve to postpone, or end or pass on to another person, the trials which are near or even in your very presence.

Even bad fortune is fickle;

Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not;

So look forward to better things.

The mind at times fashions for itself, false shapes of evil, when there are no signs that point to any evil; it twists into the worst construction, some word of doubtful meaning; or it fancies some personal grudge, to be more serious than it really is, considering not how angry the enemy is, but to what lengths, they may go, if they be angry.

Life is not worth living, & there is no limit to our sorrows, if we indulge our fears to the greatest possible extent; in this matter, let prudence help you, & contemn with a resolute spirit even when it is in plain sight.

If you cannot do this, counter one weakness, with another, & temper your fear, with hope.

Accordingly, weigh carefully your hopes, as well as your fears, & whenever all the elements are in doubt, decide in your own favour; believe what you prefer.

If fear wins a majority of the votes, incline in the other direction anyhow, & cease to harass your soul, reflecting continually, that most mortals even when no troubles, are actually at hand or are certainly to be expected, in the future, become excited & disquieted.

We let ourselves drift, with every breeze; we are frightened, at uncertainties, just as if they were certain.

We observe no moderation; The slightest thing turns the scales, & throws us forthwith into a panic.

Let another say: “Perhaps the worst, will not happen.”

You, yourself, must say: “Well, what if it does happen?

Let us see who wins!, Perhaps it happens for my best interests; it may be that such a death will shed credit, upon my life.”

Now, to close my letter, I have only to stamp the usual seal upon it, in other words, to commit thereto some noble message to be delivered to you:

“The fool, with all his other faults, has this also,

– he is always getting ready to live.”

Reflect, my esteemed Lucilius, what this saying means, & you will see how revolting is the fickleness of people, who lay down every day, new foundations of life, & begin to build up fresh hopes, even at the brink of the grave.

Look within your own mind, for individual instances; you will think of old men who are preparing themselves, at that very hour, for a political career, or for travel, or for business.

What is baser, than getting ready to live, when you are already, old?


Seneca, StoicTaoist.

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