22. What Ambition & Business of Rewards

Be content with the business into which you have lowered yourself, There is no reason why you should be struggling on to something further.

When One sees the dangers & hazards, One will withdraw, not turning their back to the foe, but falling back little by little to a safe position.

People leave their advantages with reluctance; they love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves.

People complain about their ambitions as they complain about their lovers; if you penetrate their real feelings, you will find, not hatred, but bickering.

Nobody can swim ashore & take their baggage with them.

People do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every person to live nobly, but within no One’s power to live long.

On the Futility of Half-Way Measures

You understand by this time that you must withdraw yourself from those showy & depraved pursuits; however you still wish to know how this may be accomplished.

There are certain things which can be pointed out only by someone who is present; The physician cannot prescribe by letter the proper time for eating or bathing;

One must feel the pulse.

There is an old adage about gladiators, that they plan their fight in the ring; as they intently watch, something in the adversary’s glance, some movement of their hand, even some slight bending of their body, gives a warning.

We can formulate general rules & commit them to writing, as to what is usually done, or, ought to be done; such advice may be given, not only to our absent friends, but also to succeeding generations.

In regard however, to that second question, when or how your plan is to be carried out, no one will advise at long range; we must take counsel, in the presence of the actual situation.

You must be not only present in the body, but watchful in mind, if you would avail yourself of the fleeting opportunity.

Accordingly, look about you for the opportunity; if you see it, grasp it, & with all your energy & with all your strength devote yourself to this task, to rid yourself of those business duties.

Now listen carefully to the opinion which I shall offer; it is my opinion that you should withdraw either from that kind of existence, or else from existence altogether.

Hence I likewise maintain that you should take a gentle path, that you may loosen rather than cut the knot which you have bungled so badly in tying, provided that if there shall be no other way of loosening it, you may actually cut it.

Nobody is so faint-hearted, that One would rather hang in suspense for ever, than drop once for all.

Meanwhile, & this is of first importance, do not hamper yourself; be content with the business into which you have lowered yourself, or, as you prefer to have people think, have tumbled.

There is no reason why you should be struggling on to something further; if you do, you will lose all grounds of excuse, & people will see that it was not a tumble.

The usual explanation which people offer is wrong: “I was compelled to do it; or Suppose it was against my will; & I had to do it”, yet nobody is compelled to pursue prosperity at top speed; & it means something to call a halt, even if you do not offer resistance, instead of pressing eagerly after favouring fortune.

Now I suppose, you are looking for a Stoic motto also, There is really no reason why anyone should slander that school to you on the ground of its rashness; as a matter of fact, its caution is greater than its courage.

You are perhaps expecting the sect to utter such words as these:

“It is base to flinch under a burden,

Wrestle with the duties which, you have once undertaken,

Nobody is brave & earnest if One avoids danger, if their spirit does not grow with the very difficulty of their task.”

Words like these will indeed be spoken to you, if only your perseverance shall have an object that is worth while, if only you will not have to do or to suffer anything unworthy of a good person; besides, a good person will not waste themselves upon mean & discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy.

Neither will One, as you imagine, become so involved in ambitious schemes that you will have continually to endure their ebb & flow.

Nay, when One sees the dangers, uncertainties, & hazards in which One was formerly tossed about,

One will withdraw, not turning their back to the foe, but falling back little by little to a safe position.

From business, however, my dear Lucilius, it is easy to escape, if only you will despise the rewards of business.

We are held back & kept from escaping by thoughts like these: “What then?, Shall I leave behind me these great prospects?, Shall I depart at the very time of harvest?, Shall I have no servants at my side?, No retinue for my litter?, No crowd in my reception-room?”

Hence people leave such advantages as these with reluctance;

they love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves.

People complain about their ambitions as they complain about their lovers; in other words, if you penetrate their real feelings, you will find, not hatred, but bickering.

Search the minds of those who cry down what they have desired, who talk about escaping from things which they are unable to do without; you will comprehend that they are lingering of their own free will, in a situation which they declare, they find it hard & wretched to endure.

It is so, my dear Lucilius;

there are few whom servitude holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to servitude.

How can the whole company of Stoic thinkers fail to approve your course?, Zeno, Chrysippus, & all their kind will give you advice that is temperate, honourable, & suitable.

Yet if you keep turning round & looking about, in order to see how much you may carry away with you, & how much money you may keep to equip yourself for the life of leisure, you will never find a way out.

Nobody can swim ashore, & take their baggage with them.

Take anyone off their guard, young, old, or middle-aged; you will find that

all are equally afraid of death, & equally ignorant of life.

No one has anything finished, because we have kept putting off into the future all our undertakings.

“Nobody, leaves this world in a different manner from one who has just been born.”, That is not true; for we are worse when we die than when we were born; but it is our fault, & not that of Nature.

Nature should scold us, saying: “What does this mean?, I brought you into the world without desires or fears, free from superstition, treachery & the other curses; Go forth as you were when you entered!”

A person has caught the message of wisdom, if One can die as free from care as One was at birth; but as it is, we are all a-flutter at the approach of the dreaded end.

Our courage fails us, our cheeks blanch; our tears fall, though they are unavailing; Yet what is baser than to fret at the very threshold of peace?

The reason however, is that we are stripped of all our goods, we have jettisoned our cargo of life & are in distress; for no part of it has been packed in the hold; it has all been heaved overboard & has drifted away.

People do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every person to live nobly, but within no One’s power to live long.

Farewell

Seneca, StoicTaoist.

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