Conquering Fears, Modern problems, philosophy, Reflections

The Hard to Get, at First, Good Life


“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” 
― Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Think about a philosopher, what comes to mind?

When you think about Seneca or Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus? About Plato or Thoreau?

Books! Knowledge! Education! Wisdom!

And of course. A person that embarks himself on the journey of an examined life is naturally prone to grab the writings of the great masters that came before him and wonder in amazement of their mighty, courageous and truly worthy lives. Not one person that reads a few passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson or Seneca can pass inadvertently the tremendously cunning remarks about life and humanity they so accurately write. As such:

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

When one thinks of philosophy and philosophers, there is a common misconception that needs to be addressed.

The misconception is thinking that Seneca or Emerson “possessed” knowledge and therefore, due to this “possessing”, they were considered philosophers. So, then, a philosopher is the bearer of knowledge, you could say?

Knowledge is one part of the equation, but not everything, and certainly not the most important part. What is the most important part then? What makes a philosopher, a philosopher?

To begin, Marcus and Seneca not only possessed knowledge, they practiced it. Philosophy is not a possession, it is a practice, a constant, unending, practice. An endless strive for a never fully attainable perfection.

Like playing a musical instrument.

Philosophy is not a nice table or a beautiful painting you can hang among the corridors of your conscience. Philosophy is the instrument with which you live your life, it is the strum of your fingers in the guitar strings. And just so, you can play either beautifully or horribly.

First, you read, then, you reflect and then, more importantly, you live and put to the test your reflections, only to reflect again and continue the cycle. Simple, but not easy of course.

To be a Stoic is to be a practitioner. A person who lives philosophy.

It gets harder before it gets easier

Like all great things, a life well lived is hard to come by, it gets harder before it gets easier. The great filter, the “Worthy Filter” you could call it.

Learning to play the violin, master the mind as a Yogi does, learning the trades of a business consultant or mastering the financial markets require great amounts of time, attention, energy, and will. Anyone can do it, but not everyone will do it, just so with an examined life.

In this context, wondering if it’s worth it to live a life of philosophy is blatantly out of question. There is no point of comparison between and examined life and a life of quiet desperation as Thoreau would describe.A life of philosophy is a life of true amazement and deep appreciation, a life of meaning.

When you begin to do anything, you will suck at it or at least, supposing you have unnatural talent for whatever it is you are doing, you will not be great at it at least. You need to practice.

Eventually, things get easier, a musician, when practiced, does not have to worry about simple chords anymore. He develops his mastery to a point in which he thinks instead about emotions and the meaning he intends to portray instead of basic, beginner, music theory.

An examined life, a life of philosophy, is just the same.

This is the same reason why Marcus Aurelius wrote daily in his diary that we now read with amazement and appraisal. He did not thought the same of himself though, he writes often in his meditations about how he had not yet was accomplished in becoming a full man of philosophy.

Perfection, as I’m sure you know, will always be around the corner. Marcus Aurelius was not perfect, but you cannot deny that he was great. And this is what we want, not perfection, but betterment, constant betterment (you cannot keep playing a game if you end it!).

Unknowingly, little by little, you to can become as great in your own life and make it easier after a while.

Little acts matter, practice matter. Suddenly, living a life led by stoic values will feel like walking, you’ll just do it, but you have to read, reflect and most importantly, live.

A great complement to this read: START

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Conquering Fears, Modern problems, philosophy, Reflections, Self development

The right way to travel

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I think all of us think from time to time about the wonders of travel, meeting new people, adventures, new places, and different perspectives with which we can live our lives with new eyes. Traveling has a sort of enchantment attached to it. The mysterious allure of meeting someone or somewhere for the first time and not really knowing what to expect has the effect of charming just about anyone.

Interestingly, thinking about the topic today, I stumbled upon Seneca’s letter to Lucilious On travel as a cure for discontent. I had already read it before, but each time I grab the book, new perspectives pop up like newly grown plants. 

Traveling is a topic that has always occupied a place in my mind and I’m sure it’s the same for you. Have I done enough? Where should I go next? 

This is especially true in a world in which you open Instagram and find out that apparently everyone is traveling all the time. Travel has been elevated to a necessary and almost spiritual experience. 

 Here is an excerpt from Seneca about traveling:

“The person you are matters more than the place to which you go; for that reason, we should not make the mind a bondsman to any one place” –Seneca, Letters to Lucilious

His thoughts on traveling are pretty precise, he disregards travel completely as something ultimately necessary to live a complete life.

“I am not born for any one corner of the universe, this whole world is my country” Seneca, Letter to Lucilious

According to Seneca, you cannot use travel as a cure to your soul’s discontent.

The kind of discontent Seneca talks about can be felt when you open Facebook and see someone posing happily on a photo in Bombay or some other exotic place and think to yourself that “if only you were there”, you would finally be able to be happy and content with yourself.

Seneca argues that you could, in fact, go to the place you’ve been dreaming about, but you would still feel the same because the problem is not your lack of experience, but the relationship you currently have with yourself.

No amount of travel in the world will cure that discomfort. A wise man will feel at home wherever he is.

I’m not sure if Seneca knew this himself, but writes with acid humor that preserves all seriousness nonetheless. Superb writer indeed. There comes a point in his letter to Lucilious where he goes as far to claim that a wise man will feel at ease and at home, no matter what, no matter where. Even at “The Forum” he says. Downtown Rome at the time, where it is loud, smelly and full of people, sort of like living in the worst place you can imagine and feeling at home there.

This follows the principle that happiness and a worthy life can never be found outside of oneself, always inside. To think otherwise is to remain a slave to the circumstances or events outside ourselves and our control.

Live with this belief: “I am not born for any one corner of the universe; this whole world is my country.” If you saw this fact clearly, you would not be surprised at getting no benefit from the fresh scenes to which you roam each time through weariness of the old scenes. For the first would have pleased you in each case, had you believed it wholly yours. As it is, however, you are not journeying; you are drifting and being driven, only exchanging one place for another, although that which you seek, — to live well, — is found everywhere. — Seneca, Letters to Lucilious

So I shouldn’t travel then?

If you find yourself asking this question, you haven’t quite grasped it yet.

The wise man prefers to be at peace than at war, but he will endure war nonetheless.

This is not an excuse for not traveling. Traveling, in itself, is an amazing experience that everyone should do at least once in their lives. Anything that exposes you to new perspectives, new ideas, and gratefulness for being alive should be done or at least procured. Nevertheless, not being able to travel at some point in your life is not an excuse not to live and enjoy your life as it is right now.

The thought of “I cannot be happy because I haven’t done this or that yet” is the same excuse, at least in principle, as “I cannot be happy because I don’t possess all the money in the world”. This way of thinking is a never-ending cycle and the problem is the way of thinking itself. 

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” 

The joys of traveling will be infinitely more rewarding if you do it with the right disposition so stop drifting and being driven and begin to live where you are now, home. 

A great complement to this read: Sound Minded

Subscribe and receive for free the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism.

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