Seneca on The Greatest Obstacle to Living a More Fulfilling Life
“What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” — Unknown
It’s a profound statement.
Life is short.
You know it. Everyone knows it.
But strangely enough, only a few people consciously live in the present every day. What you exchange even an hour of your day for matters in life.
“A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of his life.” — Charles Darwin
You can be busy all your life without ever doing something meaningful.
Your ability to appreciate life can never be taken from you, so beware of the distractions of life and purposefully use your time wisely.
In her collection of short essays, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard explains:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
Busyness without meaning is one of the greatest distractions from living.
Busy is a decision. Seneca argues:
No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.
In the popular book, On The Shortness Of Life, a 2,000 year old, masterpiece by Seneca, Roman stoic philosopher and teacher to the emperors, he writes about time and how to best use it to ensure you lead a long and fulfilling life.
Seneca wrote his 20-sections On the Shortness of Life in 49 CE, the year he returned to Rome from his exile in Corsica, as a moral essay addressed to his friend Paulinus.
He argues in the book that it isn’t really the case that human life is short, but rather that most people waste of a lot of it. Seneca continues by telling us that we not only refuse to accept our limited time, but that we waste away what little time we do possess.
The philosopher declares that we shackle ourselves to our labors, our professions.
He shares a lot on how to appreciate life — and how to use it.
If you haven’t read it yet, go get it now.
It’s one of the most important books you will ever read about using the limited time you have on earth and living a meaningful life.
It’s the most definite call to action to live a fulfilling life.
Seneca believed that if we use our lives properly they are long enough.
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Seneca cautions that we fail to treat time as a valuable resource. He offers this advice for those who feel like they are wasting time.
You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!
From Seneca I have learned to be live in the present, and on purpose.
Carpe diem! or ‘seize the day,’ in everything you choose to do.
The phrase was first uttered by the Roman poet Horace over 2,000 years ago.
The message of carpe diem matters more than ever today.
For anyone who is deeply worried about the future, Seneca advices:
Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who … organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day… Nothing can be taken from this life, and you can only add to it as if giving to a man who is already full and satisfied food which he does not want but can hold. So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbor, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.
Life is long if you know how to use it.
On the Shortness of Life has become one of my favorite essays on life and living it. It’s an insightful commentary on the human existence.
Life isn’t short if you live it to the fullest.
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