We Be Quiet!
O Words distract me more than noises, because words demand attention, however noises merely fill the ears, & an intermittent noise upsets me more than a steady one.
As I force my mind to concentrate, and keep it from straying to things outside itself; provided that there is no disturbance within, provided that fear is not wrangling with desire, provided that meanness & lavishness are not at odds, one harassing the other.
For of what benefit is a quiet neighbourhood, if our emotions are in an uproar?, For no real rest can be found when reason has not done the lulling.
Sometimes quiet means disquiet; So with greed, & ambition, you may be sure that they do most harm when they are hidden behind a pretence of Soundness.
When no noise reaches you, when no word shakes you out of yourself, whether it be of flattery or of threat; You are at peace with Yourself.
On Quiet & Study
Beshrew me if I think anything more requisite than silence for a person who secludes themselves in order to study!
Imagine what a variety of noises reverberates about my ears!, I have lodgings right over a bathing establishment, So picture to yourself the assortment of sounds, which are strong enough to make me hate my very powers of hearing!
Add to this the arresting of an occasional roysterer or pickpocket, the racket of the people who always likes to hear their own voices in the bathroom, or the enthusiast who plunges into the swimming-tank with unconscionable noise and splashing.
So you say: What iron nerves or deadened ears, you must have, if your mind can hold out amid so many noises, so various and so discordant, however I assure you that this racket means no more to me than the sound of waves or falling water.
Words seem to distract me more than noises; for words demand attention, however noises merely fill the ears and beat upon them.
Among the sounds that din round me without distracting, I include passing carriages, a machinist in the same block, a saw-sharpener nearby, or some fellow who is demonstrating with little pipes and flutes at the Trickling Fountain, shouting rather than singing.
Furthermore, an intermittent noise upsets me more than a steady one, By this time I have toughened my nerves against all that sort of thing, so that I can endure even a boatswain marking the time in high-pitched tones for its crew.
For I force my mind to concentrate, and keep it from straying to things outside itself; all outdoors may be bedlam, provided that there is no disturbance within, provided that fear is not wrangling with desire in my breast, provided that meanness and lavishness are not at odds, one harassing the other.
For of what benefit is a quiet neighbourhood, if our emotions are in an uproar?
‘Twas night, and all the world was lulled to rest, This is not true; for no real rest can be found when reason has not done the lulling.
Night brings our troubles to the light, rather than banishes them; it merely changes the form of our worries, For even when we seek slumber, our sleepless moments are as harassing as the daytime.
Think of the unfortunate person who courts sleep by surrendering their spacious mansion to silence, who, that their ear may be disturbed by no sound, bids the whole retinue of their servants be quiet and that whoever approaches them shall walk on tiptoe; they toss from this side to that and seeks a fitful slumber amid their fretting!
They complain that they heard sounds, when they have not heard them at all, The reason you ask?, their soul is in an uproar; it must be soothed, and its rebellious murmuring checked, You need not suppose that the soul is at peace when the body is still.
We must therefore rouse ourselves to action and busy ourselves with interests that are good, as often as we are in the grasp of an uncontrollable sluggishness.
Great generals, when they see that their people are mutinous, check them by some sort of labour or keep them busy with small forays.
The much occupied person has no time for wantonness, and it is an obvious commonplace that the evils of leisure can be shaken off by hard work, Although people may often have thought that I sought seclusion because I was disgusted with politics and regretted my hapless and thankless position, yet in the retreat to which apprehension and weariness have driven me, my ambition sometimes develops afresh.
For it is not because my ambition was rooted out that it has abated, however it was wearied or perhaps even put out of temper by the failure of its plans.
And so with luxury also, which sometimes seems to have departed, and then when we have made a profession of frugality, begins to fret us and amid our economies, seeks the pleasures which we have merely left but not condemned.
Indeed, the more stealthily it comes, the greater is its force, For all unconcealed vices are less serious; a disease also is farther on the road to being cured when it breaks forth from concealment and manifests its power.
So with greed, ambition, and the other evils of the mind, – you may be sure that they do most harm when they are hidden behind a pretence of soundness.
People think that we are in retirement, and yet we are not, For if we have sincerely retired, and have sounded the signal for retreat, and have scorned outward attractions, then as I remarked above, no outward thing will distract us; no music of people or of birds can interrupt good thoughts, when they have once become steadfast and sure.
The mind which starts at words or at chance sounds is unstable and has not yet withdrawn into itself; it contains within itself an element of anxiety and rooted fear, and this makes one a prey to care, as our Vergil says:
I, whom of yore no dart could cause to flee, Nor Greeks, with crowded lines of infantry, Now shake at every sound, and fear the air, Both for my child and for the load I bear.
This person in their first state is wise; they blench neither at the brandished spear, nor at the clashing armour of the serried foe, nor at the din of the stricken city.
The person in their second state lacks knowledge fearing for their own concerns, they pale at every sound; any cry is taken for the battle-shout and overthrows them; the slightest disturbance renders them breathless with fear.
Select anyone you please from among your favourites of Fortune, trailing their many responsibilities, carrying their many burdens, and you will behold a picture of Vergil’s hero, fearing both for their child and for the load they bear.
You may therefore be sure that you are at peace with yourself, when no noise reaches you, when no word shakes you out of yourself, whether it be of flattery or of threat, or merely an empty sound buzzing about you with unmeaning din.
What then?, you say, is it not sometimes a simpler matter just to avoid the uproar?, I admit this, Accordingly, I shall change from my present quarters, I merely wished to test myself and to give myself practice.
Why need I be tormented any longer, when Ulysses found so simple a cure for his comrades even against the songs of the Sirens?
Farewell, Seneca, StoicTaoist.