All that will be

Let me tell you, then, how you must think of me. I am as happy and lively as in my best days. Indeed, these days are my best, for my mind is now free of preoccupations and has leisure for its own concerns; now it amuses itself with lighter studies and now, pressing keenly after truth, it rises to the contemplation of its own nature and the nature of the universe. First it investigates the continents and their position, then the laws which govern the sea which surrounds them with its alternate ebb and flow, and then it examines the stretch which lies between heaven and earth and teems with such tumultuous and terrifying phenomena as thunder and lightning and gales and the precipitation of rain and snow and hail. Finally, when it has traversed the lower reaches, it bursts through to the realms above where it enjoys the fairest spectacle of things divine and, mindful of its eternity, moves freely among all that was and all that will be world without end.

~ Seneca, from Consolation of Helvia (20)

This type and period of writing is referred to as “silver point.” It’s highly polished, almost performance art in itself. Some pieces of silver point—including in my opinion swaths of Seneca’s writing—are tortuous to the language. (As I understand it, tortuous in the original as well as the English.)

What I’ve quoted is the ending of his letter. 2,000 years later, sounds to me like the human experience remains identical.

ɕ

Busy idleness

Some men are preoccupied even in their leisure. In a country house, upon a couch, in the midst of solitude, though they are inaccessible to others, they are troublesome to themselves; their life cannot be called leisurely but rather a busy idleness.

~ Seneca

Life is ample

But life is ample, of course, for men who keep themselves detached from involvement. None of their time is transferred to others, none is frittered away in this diretion and that, none is committed to Fortune, none perishes of neglect, none is squandered in lavishness, none is idle: All of it, so to speak, produces income. A very little is therefore amply sufficient, and hence, when his last day comes, the philosopher goes to meet his death with a steady step.

~Seneca

One you can finish

The worker must be stronger than his project; loads larger than the bearer must necessarily crush him. Certain careers, moreover, are not so demanding in themselves as they are prolific in begetting a mass of other activities. Enterprises which give rise to new and multifarious activites should be avoided; you must not commit yourself to a task from which there is no free egress. Put your hand to one you can finish or at least hope to finish; leave alone those that expand as you work at them and do not stop where you intended they should.

~ Seneca, On Tranquility

The privilege of a serene and untroubled mind

The days of our present come one by one, and each day minute by minute; but all the days of the past will appear at your bidding and allow you to examine them and linger over them at your will. Busy men have no time for this. Excursions into all the parts of its past are the privilege of a serene and untroubled mind; but the minds of the preoccupied cannot turn or look back, as if constricted by a yoke. And so their life vanishes into an abyss.

~ Seneca

Surprised by old age

Their minds are still childish when they are surprised by old age, which they reach without preparation and without weapons, for they have stumbled upon it suddenly and unexpectedly without realizing that it was stealing upon them day by day.

~ Seneca

Set a value

They take no notice of it because it has no substance and is not a visible entity, and therefore it is reckoned very cheap, or rather completely valueless. Annuities and bonuses men are very glad to receive, and hire their labor and effort and industry out to obtain them. But upon time no value is set; men use it as carelessly as if it came gratis.

~ Seneca

Numbered precisely

If men could see their future years numbered as precisely as their past, what a flutter there would be among those who saw that their remaining years were few, how sparing of them would they be! With a fixed amount, however small, it is easy to economize; but when you cannot know when what you have will be gone you must husband your store very carefully.

~ Seneca

Seneca on Social Media

Over a billion people currently use Facebook — many at the cost of anxiety, lost honor, personal freedom, and certainly time. If asked why, however, many would reply, “why not?” The service is free, conventional wisdom tells us, so no matter how minor the benefits (which tend to orbit around a generalized fear of missing out), they’re still more substantial than the cost. But as Seneca points out, this assessment is misguided because it ignores the human toll of social media.

~ Cal Newport, from https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2016/03/11/seneca-on-social-media/

I generally try to suppress my urge to pounce on opportunities to talk about the well-known downsides of social networks. But a Seneca-CalNewport two-for-one is simply irrestible catnip for me. Here, Newport is referring to the value of one’s own time. That’s the human “toll” that so many people—as far as I can see at least—don’t factor in.

I think I am ready to give up fighting the fight; I’m done [or at least, I really should get a grip, and learn to be done] beating the drum about the evils of social networks. Know what I’m going to do instead? Double-down on creating things on the open web and let people decide what they want to do.

ɕ

Preoccupied with work

They are always preoccupied with work so that they may be in position to live better; they spend life in making provision for life. Their plans are designed for the future, but procrastination is the greatest waste of life. It robs us of each day as it comes, and extorts the present from us on promises of the future. Expectancy is the greatest impediment to living: In anticipation of tomorrow it loses today.

~ Seneca