On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know How to Use It by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Life leaves the rest of us in the lurch just when we’re getting ready to live.
It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it’s been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest things, if the whole of it is well invested. But when life is squandered through soft and careless living, and when it’s spent on no worthwhile pursuit, death finally presses and we realize that the life which we didn’t notice passing has passed away.
The life we are given isn’t short but we make it so; we’re not ill provided but we are wasteful of life.
Wealth, however modest, grows through careful deployment if it is entrusted to a responsible guardian, just as our lifetime offers ample scope to the person who maps it out well.
Political ambition always hangs on the judgment of others.
Many are kept busy either striving after other people’s wealth or complaining about their own.
Vices surround us on all sides, and they don’t allow us to rise again and lift our eyes to the clear discernment of truth; but they press down on them, keeping them lowered and fixed on mere desire.
Find full relaxation from your desires.
How many are drained of their blood by their eloquence and their daily preoccupation with showing off their abilities?
No one lets anyone seize his estates, and if a trivial dispute arises about boundary lines, there’s a rush to stones and arms; but people let others trespass on their existence — or rather, they go so far as to invite in those who’ll take possession of their lives.
You’ll find no one willing to distribute his money; but to how many people each of us shares out his life.
Men are thrifty in guarding their private property, but as soon as it comes to wasting time, they are most extravagant with the one commodity for which it’s respectable to be greedy.
How much time has been lost to groundless anguish, foolish pleasure, greedy desire, the charms of society; how little is left to you from your own store of time.
You waste time as if it comes from a source full to overflowing when all the while that very day which is given over to someone or something maybe your last.
Are you not ashamed to keep for yourself only the remnants of your existence, and to allocate to philosophical thought only that portion of time which can’t be applied to any business?
What foolish obliviousness to our mortality to put off wise plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to want to begin life from a point that few have reached.
He will never be half-free but will always enjoy complete and unalloyed liberty. Not subject to any constraints, he will be his own master and tower above all others. For what can there be above the man who rises above fortune?
Among the worst cases I count also those who give their time to nothing but drink and lust; for these are the most shameful preoccupations of all.
You can cite for me people who are greedy, those quick to anger, or people who busy themselves with unjust hatreds or wars; but all of them sin in a more manly fashion. It is those abandoned to the belly and lust who bear the stain of dishonor.
To sum up, everyone agrees that no one area of activity can be successfully pursued by someone who is preoccupied since the distracted mind takes in nothing really deeply but rejects everything that is pounded into it.
Learning how to live takes a whole lifetime, and it takes a whole lifetime to learn how to die.
A person’s life is extremely long because he’s kept available for himself the whole of whatever amount of time he had.
None of it lay fallow and uncultivated, and none of it was under another’s control; for being a most careful guardian of his time, he found nothing worth exchanging for it. And so that man had enough time; but those deprived of much of their life by the public have had too little.
All those who engage you in their business disengage you from yourself.
But the person who devotes every second of his time to his own needs and who organizes each day as if it were a complete life neither longs for nor is afraid of the next day. For what new kind of pleasure is there that any hour can now bring? Everything has been experienced, everything enjoyed to the full. For the rest, fortune may make arrangements as it wishes; his life has already reached safety. Addition can be made to this life, but nothing taken away from it — and addition made in the way that a man who is already satisfied and full takes a portion of food which he doesn’t crave and yet has room for.
The greatest waste of life lies in postponement: it robs us of each day and snatches away the present by promising the future.
The greatest impediment to living is expectancy, which relies on tomorrow and wastes today.
All that’s to come lies in uncertainty: live right now.
“Why are you holding back?” he says. “Why are you slow to action? If you don’t seize the day, it slips away.”
Life is divided into three parts: past, present, and future. Of these, the present is brief, the future doubtful, the past certain.
It takes a tranquil and untroubled mind to roam freely over all the parts of life; but preoccupied minds cannot turn around and look backward.
It makes no difference how much time we are given if there’s nowhere for it to settle.
There is a common saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents we were allotted, and that they were given to us by chance; yet we can be born to whomever we wish.
The sage’s life is ample in scope, and he’s not constricted by the same limit that confines others. He alone is released from the limitations of the human race, and he is master of all ages as though a god. Some time has passed? He holds it in recollection. Time is upon us? He uses it. Time is to come? This he anticipates. The combining of all times into one makes his life long.
Everything that comes our way by chance is unsteady, and the higher our fortunes rise, the more susceptible they are to falling. But what must inevitably collapse gives no one pleasure; and so the life of those who acquire it through hard work is necessarily very wretched, and not just very brief.
The greater part of your life, and certainly the better part, has been given to the state: take some of your time for yourself as well.
Retire to those pursuits that are calmer, safer, and more important.
In this mode of life much that is worth studying awaits you: the love and practice of the virtues, forgetfulness of the passions, and knowledge of how to live and to die.
The plight of all preoccupied people is wretched, but most wretched is the plight of those who labor under preoccupations that are not even their own, whose sleep schedule is regulated by somebody else’s, who walk at somebody else’s pace, and who are under instructions in that freest of all activities — loving and hating. If these people want to know how short their life is, let them reflect on how small a part of it is their very own.
When you see a man repeatedly taking up the robe of office, or a name well known in public, don’t envy him: those trappings are bought at the cost of life.
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