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Monday, May 22, 2017

VIII. ON THE PHILOSOPHER'S SECLUSION

 ”Hold fast, then, to this sound and wholesome rule of life – that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health. ... And reflect that nothing except the soul is worthy of wonder; for to the soul, if it be great, naught is great.” Seneca, Moral Letter to Lucilius, VIII

With this reading I am reminded of the concept of "self-care", that we should take care of ourselves in order to be able to care for others.  Over the years the habit of putting myself last has taken over, not a practice that was forced on me but one that came as a result of habit.  The years of mothering, working outside of the home and the "tyranny of the urgent and most strident need" have taken their toll on the good habit of self-care.

Even though I no longer have children home or even any pets demanding care, I still have to convince myself that it is okay to take time to pamper, or do anything for my own self-benefit.  I think this is not just a female affliction but is a side effect of anyone who has had to make others a priority over the years.  We have a list of to dos and priorities, and, more often than not, self-care is the principle that takes the largest hit.

Now that I am an "empty nester" I struggle with being able to take the time for self-care and constantly have to remind myself that I cannot give to my husband, family or employer if I don't take the time to nourish myself first.  Nourish, not only physically but also intellectually and spiritually, with taking time for reading, studying, listening to music and also relaxation.

In our society we are presented with two examples of the "good life", one is so lazily self-indulgent and the other one is so filled with business for others.  I need to find balance somewhere in the middle of both of these "good lives", nourishing my body but never neglecting to nourish my mind and soul with knowledge, wisdom and beauty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On Crowds

"10 In order, however, that I may not today have learned exclusively for myself, I shall share with you three excellent sayings, of the same general purport, which have come to my attention. This letter will give you one of a The remark is addressed to the brutalized spectators. 15 them as payment of my debt; the other two you may accept as a contribution in advance. Democritusa says: “One man means as much to me as a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man.” 11 The following also was nobly spoken by someone or other, for it is doubtful who the author was; they asked him what was the object of all this study applied to an art that would reach but very few. He replied: “I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all.” The third saying – and a noteworthy one, too – is by Epicurus, written to one of the partners of his studies: “I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.” 12 Lay these words to heart, Lucilius, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority. Many men praise you; but have you any reason for being pleased with yourself, if you are a person whom the many can understand? Your good qualities should face inwards."Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, V11: On Crowds

I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.  I am struck with how much the exhibitions of Rome remind me of our modern society.  The pursuit of the latest and greatest TV show becomes the "sport of the day".  The need for crowds of people to be submerged in due to the fear of being alone with oneself.

After a day out in society I retreat to my oasis of calm, my home. I am somewhat lost for words this morning.  I will write some more this evening when I return back to my oasis.  I am reminded of yesterday's reading, the need to share joy, wisdom, etc. and I am reminded of the need for balance.  I must balance both of these letters and see what meaning I derive from them.

I am back in my pleasant living room and I think I have wrestled the two of these letters beside each other.  Once again I am left with balance, balance is the key in all things.  I will continue to teach what I have learned, write in my blog and offer workshops when the opportunity arises.  I will try to ensure that I only choose the best sorts of past times, avoiding the crass and violent that is prevalent in our society.

Monday, January 11, 2016

VI. On Sharing Knowledge

"You cannot conceive what distinct progress I notice that each day brings to me. 4 And when you say: “Give me also a share in these gifts which you have found so helpful,” I reply that I am anxious to heap all these privileges upon you, and that I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it." - Seneca, Moral Letter to Lucilius, Book VI

On reading today's letter I was first greeted by my favourite quote from Seneca, "I feel, my dear Lucilius, that I am being not only reformed, but transformed."  This was my whole reason for studying Stoicism when I started.  That in the studying my life would be transformed.  In studying and then applying/living my lessons from Stoicism my life is being transformed on a daily basis.

Friends would see the difference in me, in my relationship with Michel, etc. and ask what made the difference.  This is how Stoic workshops were born, thestoiclife.org website and our little corner of the internet, The Foundations of Stoic Practice.  The knowledge and peace, not to mention contentment, that I experienced in embracing the Stoic way of life had to be shared.  Good friends asked our "secret" and I would be mean spirited not to share in any way that I could the wealth that I have discovered.  I continue to learn daily and share my thoughts and learnings through this blog, Musings of a Stoic Woman.  The pearls of wisdom that I uncover daily must not be selfishly hidden, sequestered away in my mind so that only I reap any benefit from them.

Wisdom is much like love in that it flourishes and blooms in the light of fellowship.  The act of sharing wisdom deepens its effect on the world around it.  I see following and teaching the Stoic pathway in Life akin to a calling.  A calling to live my life to Virtues' standard, steadily perfecting my faults, washing away the debris through study and conversation. Wisdom not shared is like a life lived in secret.  Truth cannot flourish in the dark.

Friday, January 8, 2016

On focusing on the future

"Just as the same chain fastens the prisoner and the soldier who guards him, so hope and fear, dissimilar as they are, keep step together; fear follows hope. 8 I am not surprised that they
proceed in this way; each alike belongs to a mind that is in suspense, a mind that is fretted by looking forward to the future. But the chief cause of both these ills is that we do not adapt ourselves to the present, but send our thoughts a long way ahead. And so foresight, the noblest blessing of the human race, becomes perverted. 9 Beasts avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care; but we men torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past. Many of our blessings bring bane to us; for memory recalls the tortures of fear, while foresight anticipates them. The present alone can make no man wretched. "  Seneca - Moral Letters to Lucilius, Book 1, V. ON THE PHILOSOPHER'S MEAN

This reading had a number of great points reminding us to Live According to Nature, that wealth doesn't make us less or more of a philosopher, etc.  As I was reading I was struck once again that we are reminded to live in the moment.  To not spend so much time dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future that we are of no use in the present.  To truly be present in our lives without regret from the past or worry about the future allows us to be fruitful in the now.

It doesn't matter if I have the perfect plan set up for my future in the absolute best dwelling, etc. if I am not consciously living in the present life that I have.  Maybe it is because I am living through the empty nest syndrome and I am in my 50th year that I find myself dwelling on "what now?" and "what about retirement?".  I know that it is prudent to have a plan for the future with resources to fall back on but, if that planning becomes the main thing in my mind and the present is slipping away without notice, there is a lack of balance.  The prudent thing is to set in motion plans and resources for the future without the future being the moments that we are living for.  We need to take a step back and remember to live each moment that we are in now.  We need to enable ourselves to bloom where we are planted at this moment.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Oh the Good Life...

"No man has ever been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him as greatly as she had previously indulged him. Do not trust her seeming calm; in a moment the sea is moved to its depths. The very day the ships have made a brave show in the games, they are engulfed. 8 Reflect that a highwayman or an enemy may cut your throat; and, though he is not your master, every slave wields the power of life and death over you. Therefore I declare to you: he is lord of your life that scorns his own. Think of those who have perished through plots in their own home, slain either openly or by guile; you will that just as many have been killed by angry slaves as by angry kings. What matter, therefore, how powerful he be whom you fear, when every one possesses the power which inspires your fear? ...Why do you voluntarily deceive yourself and require to be told now for the first time what fate it is that you have long been labouring under? Take my word for it: since the day you were born you are being led thither. We must ponder this thought, and thoughts of the like nature, if we desire to be calm as we await that last hour, the fear of which makes all previous hours uneasy.
10 But I must end my letter. Let me share with you the saying which pleased me today. It, too, is culled from another man's Garden: c “Poverty brought into conformity with the law of nature, is great wealth.” Do you know what limits that law of nature ordains for us? Merely to avert hunger, thirst, and cold. In order to banish hunger and thirst, it is not necessary for you to pay court at the doors of the purse-proud, or to submit to the stern frown, or to the kindness that humiliates; nor is it necessary for you to scour the seas, or go campaigning; nature's needs are easily provided and ready to hand. 11 It is the superfluous things for which men sweat, – the superfluous things that wear our togas threadbare, that force us to grow old in camp, that dash us upon foreign shores. That which is enough is ready to our hands. He who has made a fair compact with poverty is rich. " - Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, Book 1, IV: On the Terrors of Death

This was a rich reading this morning but the phrase that struck me the most is the last statement, "He who has made a fair compact with poverty is rich." Once again I am struck by the lie that we are sold by society, "the good life".  Our entertainment industry sells us this life, our advertising, our government, even our educational institutions are based on a foundation of preparing us for this "good life".  Our world is unbalanced by this constant striving that is not in Nature's balance.  Gone is the achievable goal of having enough, supporting our lives with enough food, shelter and comforts to sustain our life.  Instead the western world is made up of individuals trying to "better" themselves, striving to climb up the corporate ladder for more income, status in society, and commodities.

If we like Thoreau would focus on living closer to the Nature that we are part of, seeking to live in balance, to have "enough" without tipping the scales to excess, what would the impact be to the world around us? Would we have more of an ecological focus? Would the global community be battling global warming and the other environmental catastrophes that are beginning to rock our infrustructure?

Maybe it will take a number of people just saying "Enough!" to finally start to turn the tide?

I think that Enough is defined differently for everyone.  I am going to examine what is Enough and just what is superfluous in my own life.  I am going to continue to strive for the wealth that is found in the balance of an examined life that is well lived.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

III. ON TRUE AND FALSE FRIENDSHIP

" Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself."  - Seneca - Letters to Lucilius, Book 1 - III. On True and False Friendship

Today's reading, Day 3, was on the nature of friendship.I am blessed to have a number of true friends in my life.  Friends that I feel completely accepted with and for that I am truly grateful.

I find as I have become older that I am becoming more "Me".  Over the years I have gradually sloughed off traits that I would not allow to be public like dead skin cells in a shower.  As I was reading through the aspects of friendship I was struck with a thought that it is possible that the quality of my friends hasn't changed over the years but that I have changed. I have less pretenses, fewer aspects that are kept for private and not allowed to be seen in public. I have strived to wittle away those aspects that were uglier and of a drastic nature.  I think, much like a boulder in a stream, that time has rounded my edges and rubbed off the rougher aspects of my character and personality.  Maybe my high quality friendships are in fact a result of me striving to be a more authentic person on a daily basis?

I think that in the quality of friendship, as in all relationships, I need to continually strive to be an excellent human being.  With this challenge of excellence in all things in mind, I am able to strive to be the type of human that attracts the best in relationships of all kinds.  Relationships are reciprocal and we withdraw from the bank account only that which we have deposited ourselves.  Deposits of right action and feelings that have been amplified by both parties are available to both parties.  This relationship continues to grow and flourish with nurturing and attention.  Friendship cannot thrive in the dark or in rocky soil, it must be nurtured with light, truth, trust and true fidelity of companionship. I must continue to strive daily to be an excellent friend.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Response to Seneca Reading - Day 2

"The thought for today is one which I discovered in Epicurus; a for I am wont to cross over even into the enemy's camp, – not as a deserter, but as a scout. 6 He says: “Contented poverty is an honourable estate.” Indeed, if it be contented, it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.

What does it matter how much a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his neighbour's property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his hopes of gains to come? Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough. Farewell." - Seneca - Letters - II. On discursiveness in reading

The constant acquisition of more, the discontentment that is rife in our society and fuels the consumer driven race for things and variety of experience often drives us to be on a continual treadmill of change.  I have a small study that houses my piano, a leather couch and six tall bookcases, almost to the ceiling in height, and those shelves are overflowing with books.  Now books in themsleves are wonderful things BUT if the desire to have outweighs the desire to read those books, that is were the problem can be seen.  The root of the "sickness" can be found in the desire to acquire and possess rather than to possess with the intent of using.  Holding ones literary tomes with an open hand, with a willingness to be open to gifting a book if you have learned the lessons that it holds for yourself is a healthier type of ownership.  In our household the majority of books are held as an item in a collection to be admired rather than read.  Antique or hard to find collections of books such as the Harvard Classics, The Great Books, The Shelf of Fiction, Easton \press editions, etc. line our bookshelves. I must remember to look at all of my books with the eye of "do I love it?", if not, "do I need to read it?" and if it does not fit either of these requirements I must be willing to give it away so that someone who needs to read the book has the opportunity to do so.

This sickness that I can see the hintings of in my own book collection can also be seen in other aspects of my life.  My life being a microcosmic example of the macrocosmic Society as a whole.  The need to acquire without true need fuels our capitalistic economy, driving the real estate industry alone to billions of dollars being spent on an annual basis, often resulting in soaring debt loads.  Many times in our lives we leave the status quo to branch out into a new home, new wardrobe, new furniture, new life partner, new pet, new "insert X here" without truly requiring the item that we have pursued and possessed.  I wonder how many times we have medicated a sense of lack with purchasing something new in our lives?  How many times have we numbed ourselves with the drug of "affluenza" in order to divert our attention from changing/examining aspects of our lives that we are not comfortable dealing with?  How many times have I numbed my own self from learning an affirming life lesson by satiating my disatisfaction with a new purchase, experience or lifestyle?

If we could allow ourselves to just stay long enough to listen to our inner voice, allow our mind to be still enough to puzzle out the root of our disatisfaction would we be able to make small course corrections more easily?  Would simply "being in the moment" allow us to make lasting changes that would cause us to be content where we are and with what we have?  We are like sail boats requiring adjustments in the sea that we live in, small course corrections, in order to reach our goals.  Rather than taking our boat out of the sea, getting the boat onto a trailer, driving miles and miles to a new body of water, then going through the difficult launching process, having to seek a new mooring spot, etc. let's thrive where we are.  Let's be still enough to be able to recognize the good in where we are and just be.  Let us allow ourselves to put down enough roots in order to thrive rather than uprooting ourselves whenever we feel the slightest wind or a bit of driving rain.