18. Why do Fasting & Flames of Anger !

Fasting & Flames of Anger

It takes greater courage refusing to withdraw oneself, neither making oneself conspicuous nor part of the crowd.

Toughen the soul, & set aside days to test oneself against conditions one fears; accordingly train before it comes, so as not to flinch when crisis comes.

It is not how big a fire you can cast, it matters upon where the flames land; as many a great trees have repelled fire, yet the smallest spark can ignite on a bed of straws & sticks; Flames of anger, derives their fire from the source it ignites.

On Festivals and Fasting

It is the month of December, & yet the city is at this very moment in a sweat; Licence is given to the general merrymaking.

I should be glad to consult you & find out what you think should be done, – whether we ought to make no change in our daily routine, or whether, in order not to be out of sympathy with the ways of the public, we should dine in cheerful fashion & remove the garments.

I am sure that if I know you aright, playing the part of an umpire you would have wished that we should be neither like the liberty-capped crowds in all ways, nor in all ways unlike them; unless, perhaps this is just the season when we ought to lay down the law to the soul, & bid it be alone in refraining from pleasures just when the whole mob has let itself go in pleasures; for this is the surest proof which a person can get of their own constancy, if they neither seeks the things which are seductive & allure them to luxury, nor is led into them.

It shows much more courage to remain dry & sober when the mob is drunk & vomiting; but

it shows greater self-control to refuse to withdraw oneself & to do what the crowd does, but in a different way, – thus neither making oneself conspicuous nor becoming one of the crowd;

For one may keep holiday without extravagance.

I am so firmly determined however, to test the constancy of your mind that drawing from the teachings of great teachers, I shall give you also a lesson:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest & cheapest fare,

with coarse & rough garments, saying to yourself the while:

“Is this the condition that I feared?”

It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, & it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against its violence.

In days of peace the soldier performs maneuvers, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, & wearies themselves by gratuitous toil, in order that they may be equal to unavoidable toil;

If you would not have a person flinch when the crisis comes, train them before it comes.

Such is the course which those people have followed, who in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.

Let the pallet be a real one, & the coarse cloak; let the bread be hard & grimy; Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby.

Then, I assure you my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, & you will understand that a person’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry it grants enough for our needs.

There is no reason however, why you should think that you are doing anything great, for you will merely be doing what many thousands of servants & poor souls are doing every day.

You may credit yourself with this item, – that you will not be doing it under compulsion, & that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time.

Let us practise our strokes on the “dummy”, let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard, We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.

Do you think that there can be fulness on such fare?, Yes & there is pleasure also, not that shifty & fleeting pleasure which needs a stimulant now & then, but a pleasure that is steadfast & sure.

For though water, cereals & crusts of bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, & to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away.

So begin, my dear Lucilius to follow the custom of these people, & set apart certain days on which you shall withdraw from your business & make yourself at home with the scantiest fare.

Establish business relations with poverty

Dare, O my friend, to scorn the sight of wealth, & mould thyself to kinship with thy Divinity.

For One alone, is in kinship with the Divine, who has scorned wealth,; Of course I do not forbid you to possess it, but I would have you reach the point at which you possess it dauntlessly; this can be accomplished only by persuading yourself, that you can live happily without it as well as with it, & by regarding riches always as likely to elude you.

Here is a draft on Epicurus:

“Ungoverned anger begets madness”

You cannot help knowing the truth of these words, since you have had not only servants, but also enemies.

Indeed this emotion blazes out against all sorts of people; it springs from love as much as from hate, & shows itself not less in serious matters than in jest & sport; It makes no difference how important the provocation may be, but into what kind of soul it penetrates.

Similarly with fire; it does not matter how great is the flame, but what it falls upon; For solid timbers have repelled a very great fire; conversely, dry & easily inflammable stuff nourishes the slightest spark into a conflagration.

So it is with anger, my dear Lucilius; the outcome of a mighty anger is madness, & hence anger should be avoided, not merely that we may escape excess, but that we may have a healthy mind.


Seneca, StoicTaoist.

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