How should we worry about what will happen ? & What is within your power & where true power lies?
On Despising Death
You write me that you are anxious about the result of a lawsuit, with which an angry opponent is threatening you; & you expect me to advise you to picture to yourself a happier issue, & to rest in the allurements of hope.
Why, indeed is it necessary to summon trouble, – which must be endured soon enough when it has once arrived, – or to anticipate trouble & ruin the present through fear of the future?,
I shall conduct you to peace of mind by another route: if you would put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen will certainly happen in any event; whatever the trouble may be, measure it in your own mind, & estimate the amount of your fear; You will thus understand that what you fear is either insignificant or short-lived.
If you lose this case, can anything more severe happen to you than being sent into exile or led to prison?, Is there a worse fate that any person may fear than being burned or being killed?
Consider these times of ours, whose enervation & over-refinement call forth our complaints; they nevertheless will include people of every rank, of every lot in life, & of every age, who have cut short their misfortunes by death.
Believe me Lucilius; death is so little to be feared that through its good offices nothing is to be feared.
Therefore when your enemy threatens, listen unconcernedly;
Remember however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs & confuses, & to see what each is at the bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.
What you see happening to children happens also to ourselves, who are only slightly bigger children: when those whom they love, with whom they daily associate, with whom they play, appear with masks on, the children are frightened out of their wits.
What ?, have you only at this moment learned that death is hanging over your head, at this moment exile, at this moment grief?, You were born to these perils;
I know that you have really done what I advise you to do; I now warn you not to drown your soul in these petty anxieties of yours; if you do, the soul will be dulled & will have too little vigour left when the time comes for it to arise.
Remove the mind from this case of yours to the case of people in general; Say to yourself that our petty bodies are mortal & frail; pain can reach them from other sources than from wrong or the might of the stronger.
Our pleasures themselves become torments; banquets bring indigestion, carousals paralysis of the muscles & palsy, sensual habits affect the feet, the hands, & every joint of the body.
For every day a little of our life is taken from us; even when we are growing, our life is on the wane; We lose our childhood, & then our youth.
Counting even yesterday, all past time is lost time; the very day which we are now spending is shared between ourselves & death; We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way.
Above all, One should avoid the weakness which has taken possession of so many, – the lust for death.
For just as there is an unreflecting tendency of the mind towards other things, so, my dear Lucilius, there is an unreflecting tendency towards death; this often seizes upon the noblest & most spirited people, as well as upon the craven & the abject; The former despise life; the latter find it irksome.
Others also are moved by a satiety of doing & seeing the same things, & not so much by a hatred of life as because they are cloyed with it; We slip into this condition, while philosophy itself pushes us on, & we say: “How long must I endure the same things?, Shall I continue to wake & sleep, be hungry & be cloyed, shiver & perspire?
There is an end to nothing; all things are connected in a sort of circle; they flee & they are pursued; Night is close at the heels of day, day at the heels of night; summer ends in autumn, winter rushes after autumn, & winter softens into spring; all nature in this way passes, only to return.
sooner or later one sickens of it all.”
Farewell, Seneca, StoicTaoist.