#40 – 8 Great Lessons From Seneca

I’m currently reading Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. He was a Roman Stoic philosopher and his work has had profound impacts on my life. I wanted to share some golden nuggets of wisdom from his book.

Whether it’s wealth, love, education, death, joy, or getting older. Seneca has something to say about it. Since you may be in a time crunch, I’ve taken the liberty to jot down some of the most important parts in the book, complete with my own commentaries.

1. On friendship

“And this is what we mean when say the wise man is self-content; he is so in the sense that he is able to do without friends, not that he desires to do without them. When I speak of being ‘able’ to do this, what I am saying in fact amounts to this: he bears the loss of a friend with equanimity.’”

I find contentment in solitude because no matter how many friends or lovers I may have, I’m still alone.

Thoreau once said, “’I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.’” As I become older, my circle of friends grows smaller, but these relationships are as deep as they would be with a lover.

My time with friends are special. I look at every interaction with each one as my last. I’m not attached to anyone person, however, the ephemeral nature of life has left me with a relentless pursuit to show as much love as one can in every encounter with another.

2. On love

“A woman is not beautiful when her ankle or arm wins compliments, but when her total appearance diverts admiration from the individual parts of her body.’”

We live in a world where the objectification of women has been apparent for a long time. It seems even worse since the advent of selfies and Instagram. Mass media has overwhelmingly made a business of showing our mothers, sisters, and daughters as nothing more than the sum of their physical parts.

As I fall more in love with the wisdom of philosophy, my perception of beauty has changed drastically. Today, I invite love in its purity and innocence. I don’t know if it’s my age or my endless pursuit with philosophy, or perhaps the combination of the two, that has led me to see beauty differently.

I’d be lying if I said physical beauty has become null and void, because it hasn’t — but nevertheless — it’s importance has diminished considerably, and what I desire in a future female counterpart can’t be touched or seen — instead it can only be felt with the heart.

3. On minimalism

“Set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food and very little of it, and with rough, coarse clothing, and will ask yourself, ‘is this what one used to dread?… start cultivating a relationship with poverty.’”

Comparing my life to actual poverty is a joke. I’ve never had to face the atrocities that many in this world do today. Nevertheless, it instills the constant reminder of practicing gratitude, not just when convenient, but every single waking moment.

The past 2 years have been one of living with what my needs require. I’ve gone without very little food for days on end, started to take cold showers, and limited any purchases that weren’t of necessity. I did this on my own accord.

Living simply in all facets has made my life very rich. Even when the day comes that money is abundant, I will live in the way I do now — and I say this with strong conviction.

Cooking with friends, watching the sunset, and long hikes in nature are a few of the pleasures of existence that no amount of money can ever purchase.

4. On death

“It’s a very good thing to familiarize yourself with death. You may possibly think it unnecessary to learn something which you will only have to put in practice once. This is the very reason you ought to be practicing it… A person who has learned to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He/She is above , or at any rate beyond the reach of all political powers.’”

My life is only what it is because of death. I owe everything to death because it has guided me to live in a state of perpetual joy.

I envision death with every interaction, every breath, every bite of food, and every word I write. You might ask how? Because I know this moment, which is the only moment we ever have, is fleeting so I will give all my effort, awareness, concentration, and love to it.

The past and future do not care about my feelings because they are figments of an imagination but the present moment brings urgency to show love to the self and others. Death has taught me to not be attached to any one moment because another one is on the way.

This has helped me laugh at problems, enjoy the company of almost anyone, and smile ear to ear in the face of adversity. Even the best moments of life have become only slightly sweeter than the worst.

5. On treating others

“Treat your inferiors in the way in which you would like to be treated by your superiors.’”

I’ve started to look at the whole world as my backyard. This is to say that everything I encounter, whether good or bad, is a part of me. It has changed the way I treat people.

I acknowledge the wealthy businessman the same as I would the beggar. We are all struggling to find joy. This is the root of humanity’s desire and problem. We are all in the same race, but have an illusion of competition which makes us act immorally at times.

The most important place I can be is where I am right now — so if I am talking to the beggar, he/she is the most important thing in my life at that moment and so on. Treating everyone as you would like to be treated is the golden rule, but I’ll take it a step further and say that thinking thoughts of others as you would want to be thought of is even more important.

Whenever you have the inclination to think negatively about someone, ask yourself, “Does this do any good for the virtue of the self and humanity?” Think well wishes for others or don’t wish anything at all. Treat everyone you encounter as a rare pearl in the deep ocean and watch as something unexpected and very special starts to unravel. I wish I could explain it — but some things words cannot express. If I had to try, I would say — the way you look at the world, the world looks at you.

6. On life

“Our stoic philosophers as you know, maintain that there are two elements in the universe from which all things are derived, namely cause and matter. Matter lies inert and inactive, a substance with unlimited potential, but destined to remain idle if no one sets it in motion, and it is cause (this meaning the same as reason) which turns matter to whatever end it wishes and fashions it into a variety of different products.‘”

We are all beings of matter and the duties we perform daily are the causes that yield an effect. Newton’s first law of motion states this perfectly. Every thing derived of matter stays dormant unless some other matter puts it into motion. Some philosophers have said that throwing a rock into the ocean can change the intended course, geography, and time for millions of other objects. You can dive deeper into the law of motion into the subatomic level and see that our thoughts are the intentions that move the world. The thoughts we have make our life. Lao Tzu said it perfectly:

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.’”

The cause of our thoughts is unknown but being mindful of what thoughts you act upon will create the effect that will undoubtedly shape your life. If you want to find love, joy, peace, and happiness — you have to become it. When seeking becomes being, then bliss is risen.

7. On teachers

“Choose someone whose way of life as well words, and whose very face is mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing to him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your role model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.’”

I’ve had many teachers, but none more formidable than Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Stoics, The Gita, and Henry David Thoreau. It’s important to mold ourselves like the wise that came before us so we can understand the world better.

Although my teachers have been many, I scrutinize and dismiss anything that doesn’t align with my spirit. Our world has taken on one of approval and dismissal of others — as if anyone knows what is truly right or wrong. When countries wage war and nations cast votes — both sides think they are on the path of righteousness.

I’ve begun to trust myself for the answers I seek. You have this power as well and following the knowledge and insights of others is the lamp post that will help light your path, even in the dimmest of hours. My teachers have taught me that I need to be the teacher to my spirit.

8. On age

“Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when the season is ending. The charms of youth are at their greatest at the time of its passing. It is the final glass which pleases the inveterate drinker, the one that sets the crowning touch on his intoxication and sends him off into oblivion.’”

My hair is thinning and the grey is readily apparent. I don’t care to keep up with material vanity such as hair dye treatment or anything of that sort, although I will still take care of my bodily frame. I have started to relish in my current disposition and invite the rest of my aging life with grace. If one chooses, with age comes wisdom, and this wisdom fortifies into joy. Life is incredibly happy and sad, but it’s temporary. When we grow older, we start to surrender to those things that caused us so much worry when we were younger and everything becomes sweeter. Starting now, why not live like your aging self and cherish all the different phases of life that we’ll all pass through eventually?


I hope you enjoyed my commentary. Seneca has given me golden nuggets of wisdom that have left me awestruck with many moments of contemplation to look forward to. I hope these quotes serve you well and you’re able come to your own sentiments about this little thing we call LIFE.

With Love,

Anand Swamy

*If you want to purchase this book (penguin classic translation) — link is here

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