Simple Stoic Advice
The beautiful thing about Stoic philosophy is the advice contained within it is just as applicable today as it was when it was first written all those many years ago. We can learn a great deal from interpreting the advice provided and using it to our advantage as we go throughout our own lives.
Today’s quote comes to us courtesy of Seneca and his moral letters, letter 24 from Letters on Ethics:
“Death either consumes us or sets us free. If we are released, then better things await us once our burden is removed; if we are consumed, then nothing is waiting for us at all: both goods and evils are gone.”
Death is one of the scariest things a person can face. We suffer from the knowledge that we, like everything else around us, will one day no longer be. The scariest part of this process is the fact that we do not know when that day will come.
The Stoics did not view death as a negative, but rather, a natural progression to life. It was framed by both Seneca and Marcus Aurelius that we cannot consciously know what death is as if we die and there is no afterlife, we’d never know the difference.
Marcus himself focuses much of the Meditations on thinking of death to reframe his mindset as emperor. The Meditations was written toward the end of his life and you can see a man consoling himself to not fear death but rather embrace it. Marcus viewed death as a return to the universe and put much focus on that.
Seneca on the other hand focuses his attention much of the time on the act itself. Seneca had suffered from what is believed to be asthma and would have coughing fits that would leave him breathless and hurting for days as he aged. He references these throughout his moral letters to his friend Lucilius.
Here, Seneca reflects on the fact that if there is something that comes after life, we will receive it and be set free from our current lives. But like Marcus, he reminds Lucilius that if nothing awaits upon our passing, we’d never know.
Death, above all else, is the great equalizer.