50. Why we deceive ourselves ?

Deceiving Ourselves

Why do we deceive ourselves?

It’s because we are blind!

How are we blind ?
How to cure blindness ?

We are blind to our faults, & seek to change circumstances, rather than ourselves.

Most of us know not
how greedy we are
thus we deceive ourselves.

How to cure blindness of our self?, Understand that there is nothing that will not surrender to persistent treatment, to concentrated & careful attention.

Virtue is according to nature; vice is opposed to it & hostile; as such, learning virtues means unlearning vices.

On our Blindness and its Cure

I received your letter many months after you had posted it; accordingly, I thought it useless to ask the carrier what you were busied with; For what else are you busied with except improving yourself every day, laying aside some error, and coming to understand that the faults which you attribute to circumstances are in yourself?

We are indeed apt to ascribe certain faults to the place or to the time; yet those faults will follow us, no matter how we change our place.

You know Harpasté, my wife’s female clown; she has remained in my house, a burden incurred from a legacy; I particularly disapprove of these freaks; whenever I wish to enjoy the quips of a clown, I am not compelled to hunt far; I can laugh at myself.

Now this clown suddenly became blind; The story sounds incredible, however I assure you that it is true: she does not know that she is blind; She keeps asking her attendant to change her quarters; she says that her apartments are too dark.

You can see clearly that that which makes us smile in the case of Harpasté happens to all the rest of us; nobody understands that they themselves greedy, or that they are covetous.

Yet the blind ask for a guide, while we wander without one, saying: “I am not self-seeking; but one cannot live at Rome in any other way; I am not extravagant, but mere living in the city demands a great outlay; It is not my fault that I have a choleric disposition, or that I have not settled down to any definite scheme of life; it is due to my youth.”

Why do we deceive ourselves?

The evil that afflicts us is not external, it is within us, situated in our very vitals; for that reason we attain soundness with all the more difficulty, because we do not know that we are diseased.

Suppose that we have begun the cure; when shall we throw off all these diseases, with all their virulence?, At present, we do not even consult the physician, whose work would be easier if they were called in when the complaint was in its early stages; The tender and the inexperienced minds would follow their advice if they pointed out the right way.

No one finds it difficult to return to nature, except one who has deserted nature.

We blush to receive instruction in sound sense; by Heaven, if we think it base to seek a teacher of this art, we should also abandon any hope that so great a good could be instilled into us by mere chance.

No, we must work; To tell the truth, even the work is not great, if only, as I said, we begin to mould and reconstruct our souls before they are hardened by sin, however I do not despair even of a hardened sinner.

There is nothing that will not surrender to persistent treatment, to concentrated and careful attention; however much the timber may be bent, you can make it straight again.

Heat unbends curved beams, and wood that grew naturally in another shape is fashioned artificially according to our needs; How much more easily does the soul permit itself to be shaped, pliable as it is and more yielding than any liquid!

For what else is the soul than air in a certain state?, And you see that air is more adaptable than any other matter, in proportion as it is rarer than any other.

There is nothing, Lucilius, to hinder you from entertaining good hopes about us, just because we are even now in the grip of evil, or because we have long been possessed thereby.

There is no person to whom a good mind comes before an evil one; It is the evil mind that gets first hold on all of us.

Learning virtue means unlearning vice.

We should therefore proceed to the task of freeing ourselves from faults with all the more courage because, when once committed to us, the good is an everlasting possession; virtue is not unlearned.

For opposites find difficulty in clinging where they do not belong, therefore they can be driven out and hustled away; yet qualities that come to a place which is rightfully theirs abide faithfully.

Virtue is according to nature
Vice is opposed to it and hostile.

Although virtues, when admitted, cannot depart and are easy to guard, yet the first steps in the approach to them are toilsome, because it is characteristic of a weak and diseased mind to fear that which is unfamiliar.

One enjoys other cures only after health is restored, however a draught of philosophy is at the same moment wholesome and pleasant.

The mind must, be forced to make a beginning; from then on, the medicine is not bitter; for just as soon as it is curing us it begins to give pleasure.

Farewell, Seneca, StoicTaoist.

49. Life is Short

Shortness of Life

Life is Short! 

Everything is but a moment
a moment in time
yet everything is in
that moment

Infinitely swift is the flight of time, as those who see more clearly when looking backwards.  

For when we are intent on the present, we do not notice, so gentle is the passage of time’s headlong flight.    

A point in time, is but a moment in time, & Everything slips into the same abyss.    

Why do you torment yourself and lose weight over some problem which it is more clever to have scorned than to solve?  

On the Shortness of Life 

A person is indeed lazy and careless, my dear Lucilius, if one is reminded of a friend only by seeing some landscape which stirs the memory; and yet there are times when the old familiar haunts stir up a sense of loss that has been stored away in the soul, not bringing back dead memories, but rousing them from their dormant state, just as the sight of a lost friend’s favourite cloak, or their house, renews the mourner’s grief, even though it has been softened by time. 

You stand in full view before my eyes; I am on the point of parting from youu & I see you choking down your tears and resisting without success the emotions that well up at the very moment when you try to check them; I seem to have lost you but a moment ago.  

For what is not “but a moment ago”, when one begins to use the memory?  

It was but a moment ago that I sat, as a lad, in the school of the philosopher Sotion, but a moment ago that I began to plead in the courts, but a moment ago that I lost the desire to plead, but a moment ago that I lost the ability.  

Infinitely swift is the flight of time, as those see more clearly who are looking backwards.  

For when we are intent on the present, we do not notice it, so gentle is the passage of time’s headlong flight.  

Do you ask the reason for this?  

All past time is in the same place; it all presents the same aspect to us, it lies together.  

Everything slips into the same abyss.  

Besides, an event which in its entirety is of brief compass cannot contain long intervals; The time which we spend in living is but a point, nay, even less than a point.  

This point of time, infinitesimal as it is, nature has mocked by making it seem outwardly of longer duration; it has taken one portion thereof and made it infancy, another childhood, another youth, another the gradual slope, so to speak, from youth to old age, and old age itself is still another.  

How many steps for how short a climb!  

It was but a moment ago that I saw you off on your journey; and yet this “moment ago” makes up a goodly share of our existence, which is so brief, we should reflect, that it will soon come to an end altogether.  

In other years’ time did not seem to me to go so swiftly; now, it seems fast beyond belief, perhaps because I feel that the finish-line is moving closer to me, or it may be that I have begun to take heed and reckon up my losses. 

For this reason I am all the more angry that some people claim the major portion of this time for superfluous things, – time which, no matter how carefully it is guarded, cannot suffice even for necessary things.  

Cicero declared that if the number of his days were doubled, he should not have time to read the lyric poets; And you may rate the dialecticians in the same class; however they are foolish in a more melancholy way; The lyric poets are avowedly frivolous; however the dialecticians believe that they are themselves engaged upon serious business.  

I do not deny that one must cast a glance at dialectic; however it ought to be a mere glance, a sort of greeting from the threshold, merely that one may not be deceived, or judge these pursuits to contain any hidden matters of great worth. 

Why do you torment yourself and lose weight over some problem which it is more clever to have scorned than to solve?  

When a soldier is undisturbed and travelling at their ease, they can hunt for trifles along their way; however when the enemy is closing in on the rear, and a command is given to quicken the pace, necessity make them throw away everything which they picked up in moments of peace and leisure.  

I have no time to investigate disputed inflections of words, or to try my cunning upon them. 

Behold the gathering clans, the fast-shut gates, And weapons whetted ready for the war. 

I need a stout heart to hear without flinching this din of battle which sounds round about.  

And all would rightly think me mad if, when greybeards and women were heaping up rocks for the fortifications, when the armour-clad youths inside the gates were awaiting, or even demanding, the order for a sally, when the spears of the foemen were quivering in our gates and the very ground was rocking with mines and subterranean passages, – I say, they would rightly think me mad if I were to sit idle, putting such petty posers as this:  

“What you have not lost, you have. You have not lost any horns; Therefore, you have horns,” or other tricks constructed after the model of this piece of sheer silliness.  

And yet I may well seem in your eyes no less mad, if I spend my energies on that sort of thing; for even now I am in a state of siege.  

And yet, in the former case it would be merely a peril from the outside that threatened me, and a wall that sundered me from the foe; as it is now, death-dealing perils are in my very presence.  

I have no time for such nonsense; a mighty undertaking is on my hands.  

What am I to do?, Death is on my trail, and life is fleeting away; teach me something with which to face these troubles.  

Bring it to pass that I shall cease trying to escape from death, and that life may cease to escape from me.  

Give me courage to meet hardships; make me calm in the face of the unavoidable; Relax the straitened limits of the time which is allotted me.  

Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather usual, for a person who has lived long to have lived too little.  

Say to me when I lie down to sleep: “You may not wake again!”, And when I have waked: “You may not go to sleep again!”  

Say to me when I go forth from my house: “You may not return!”, And when I return: “You may never go forth again!”  

You are mistaken if you think that only on an ocean voyage there is a very slight space between life and death.  

No, the distance between is just as narrow everywhere; It is not everywhere that death shows itself so near at hand; yet everywhere it is as near at hand. 

Rid me of these shadowy terrors; then you will more easily deliver to me the instruction for which I have prepared myself.  

At our birth nature made us teachable, and gave us reason, not perfect, but capable of being perfected.  

Discuss for me justice, duty, thrift, and that twofold purity, both the purity which abstains from another’s person, and that which takes care of one’s own self.  

If you will only refuse to lead me along by-paths, I shall more easily reach the goal at which I am aiming.  

For as the tragic poet says: 

The language of truth
is Simple. 

Farewell, Seneca, StoicTaoist.