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on the shortness of life

i just finished reading "on the shortness of life" by seneca. I think the main idea is that we are too busy being preoccupied and busy that even if we live a long life in number of years, we've only lived a short time in quality life terms. he suggests that in order to live a long life we should read and think more in philosophical terms.

"Life is short, art is long" a quote from Hippocrates (pg 1)

"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it" (pg 1)

"Men do not let anyone seize their estates, and if there is the slightest dispute about their boundaries they rush to stones and arms; but they allow others to encroach on their lives - why, they themselves even invite in those who will take over their lives. You will find no one willing to share out his money; but how many does each of us divide up his life!" (pg 4)

he doesn't mention anywhere in the writings about the benefits of letting other people into your life. he says we spend too much time and energy on pursuing other things. he also doesn't seem to think that work as something you might enjoy. he suggests that even our leisure time is not spent properly, or that we put off our leisure time until later (which may never come)

"You will find that you have fewer years than you reckon. Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore its natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed; what work you have achieved in such a long life; how many have plundered your life when you were unaware of your losses; how much you have lost through grounds less sorrow, foolish joy, greedy desire, the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you. You will realize you are dying prematurely." (pg 4-5)

"Finally, it is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied - not rhetoric or liberal studies - since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn." (pg 9-10)

"Believe me, it is the sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away: he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself. None of it lay fallow and neglected, none of it under another's control; for being an extremely thrifty guardian of his time he never found anything for which it was worth exchanging. So he had enough time, but those into whose lives the public have made great inroads inevitably have too little." (pg 10)

"Life is divided into three periods, past, present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. For this last one is the one over which Fortune has lost her power, which cannot be brought back to anyone's control. But this is what preoccupied people lose: for they have no time to look back at their past, and even if they did, it is not pleasant to recall activities they are ashamed of." (pg 15)

"In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time. But all the days of the past will come to your call: you can detain and inspect them at your will - something which the preoccupied have no time to do. It is the mind which is tranquil and free from care which can roam through all the stages of life: the minds of the preoccupied, as if harnessed in a yoke, cannot turn round and look behind them." (pg 15-16)

"The present time is extremely short, so much so that some people are unaware of it. For it is always on the move, flowing on in a rush; it ceases before it has come, and does not suffer delay any more than the firmament or the stars, whose unceasing movement never pauses in the same place. And so the preoccupied are only concerned with the present, and it is so short that it cannot be grasped, and even this is stolen from them while they are involved in their many distractions." (pg 16)

the couple of paragraphs above are in contrast with what some modern, new-age type thinkers suggest: that we should live every moment in the moment. perhaps Seneca is suggesting this also - though we should not be preoccupied with other distractions, so that we can live in the moment?

"Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own. Unless we are very ungrateful, all those distinguished founders of holy creeds were born for us and prepared for us a way of life. By the toil of others we are led into the prescence of things which have been brought from darkness into light. We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all; and if we are prepared in loftiness of mind to pass beyond the narrow confines of human weakness, there is a long period of time through which we can roam." (pg 23)

there's some gnostic themes in that paragraph - going from the darkness into the light (gnosis / knowledge). he goes on to suggest that by doing this we can have arguments with other philosophers such as Socrates, Carneades, Epicurus, the Stoics, the Cynics etc. perhaps this is true, but they can't really argue back can they? others could quote and interpret their writings but it would only be an opinion on what they really meant and the context, unless it was explicitly stated?

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