The Greatest Advice Ever Written…

There are books I read that sing in my heart.

Books I return to again and again; that I carry with me; that carry me.  Books that end their lives: beaten up, torn down, weather-worn, frayed, ripped and destroyed; pages flaking out, corners turned up, covers worn away and binding undone; each leaf a mash of near-indecipherable notes, the entire text underlined, underscored, understood, and thoroughly digested.

Marginalia abounds.

Sometime around AD65 a Roman nearing the end of his days sat down to write the first of what was to become a continuing series of letters to a younger man.  The writer’s name was Seneca – during his life: one of the richest men in Rome, an incredibly successful and critically acclaimed artist, and the power behind the throne during a window of time which has been described by some as ‘the finest period in Roman history’ – and his collected letters have consistently been described as: ‘The best book of advice ever written’.

Would you like to know why?…

Too much of what passes for philosophy today consists of nothing more than clever systems of thought mathematically assembled from sheets and girders of logic, like castles in the air – pretty to look at, but also pretty useless from the practical standpoint of: ‘how can this improve my life?’  Seneca’s letters are the polar opposite.  They are: simple, pragmatic, useful, and true (which renders them actually profound.)

Playful, engaging, and light-hearted, these letters champion the most homespun and common-sensical of values.  Things like: temperance, self-reliance, patience, and the true value of friendship.  But ultimately these values are like the planets which orbit around and serve to illuminate the real grand theme of this collection.  The white-hot life-giving sun at the gravitational centre of Seneca’s private universe of thought:

A deeply held belief in the redemptive power of philosophy itself.

This belief is the still-beating heart of this 2000 year old tome.  It is both: the bolt that runs thru each letter like a tributary receiving stream, and the motive force behind their writing.  Seneca writes of philosophy with a lovers passion, using terms that border on the mystical, in a way that has more in common with transcendent religious zealotry than it does with dry and dusty academia.  The moral of this story is always: Good Ideas, taken in, absorbed and acted upon, have the power to positively transform an individual’s life for the better.

And the most fundamental of these ideas, for Seneca, is that the shortest way to both True Happiness and the Good Life is: to become truly independent of both internal and external circumstance.

In a teaching that has striking parallels to many other well-regarded schools of thought (Buddhism’s doctrine of non-attachment, or Maslow’s vision of the self actualised human being to name but a few) Seneca states that it is abject foolishness to harbor fears about, or attachments to, absolutely anything that can either: be taken away by circumstance, or be foisted upon you by chance.  Possessions, riches, health, the body, a popular reputation, even life itself fall under this far-reaching umbrella of thought.  He states emphatically, frequently, and in many different ways that: only when you are truly free of the myriad fears that corrupt: your character, your actions, and your peace of mind, can you truly enjoy real and lasting happiness.

He also returns time and again to the fundamental premise that, at absolute best people are born with the potential to be: good, virtuous, or wise; but that what is unerringly needed to transform this raw base material into the promised (but not guaranteed) alchemical gold is the actual Doing of The Work.  To Seneca, this means the deep study of philosophy.  Or, said differently: the searching out, study, and application of ideas that will make both you and your life better.

We all know that the way that someone lives out their life is a much louder and far more accurate statement of their actual philosophy than their words, writings, or publicly professed views.  Personally, I harbor a healthy suspicion of anybody that preaches stentorian from the mount whilst acting in a directly contravening fashion.  Many so-called philosophers fall into this category; as do many: idealists, economists, sportspeople, politicians, supermodels, new age gurus, and teen pop idols.  I would not take health advice from an overweight doctor, financial advice from a conflicted company trader, or directions on happiness from an aggressively drug-addled therapist.

If I want to talk about how sex really is I’ll go to a hooker, not a priest.

Whilst it is true that Seneca has in the past come under fire for hypocrisy – for not practicing perfectly his own advice – it is my feeling that these criticisms stem largely from do-nothing perfection-mongers; people who have no knowledge of how things actually are in the deep trenches of the real simply because they are too afraid to visit.

(Side Note: On the off chance you find yourself in a dire-doubting quandary concerning Seneca’s commitment to his stated beliefs… A cursory overview of his life + the fact that he gave most of his vast fortune away, along with a short reading of ‘Tacitus’ account of Seneca’s death’ should be quite enough of Mama’s special medicine to ensure that that little thought-demon is kicked thoroughly into touch.)

Because, at the final reckoning I am far less interested in pointless circular debates concerning the false myth of the neo-perfect saint, than I am in what actually works.  If a thought or idea can genuinely make life better for myself or for others then I will take it regardless of the source.

There are an awful lot of those thoughts and ideas in this book.

I’ll take them.

Big love to you all.  Speak soon,

– J


Did you like this?

If you enjoyed this you may also like: my love letter to the mountains of Scotland, my essay about one of the most useful things Theodore Roosevelt ever said, or my recent post on how to find beauty, even in the darkest of places.


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110 Replies to “The Greatest Advice Ever Written…”

    1. Good to hear 😉
      Yes I do, for me Epictetus completes the Holy Stoic Trilogy (Along with Seneca and Aurelius). If you can get the penguin annotated hardbound version of the Meditations than you’ll be in for a treat.
      Really nice to hear from you, have a good one and feel free to stay in touch,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As someone whose degree combined a major in philosophy with one in political science, it pains me to admit that I am not as well-read in philosophy as I should be. It has literally been decades since I read anything that would qualify as serious philosophy. Your post has inspired me to get this book and to study it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read my classics, loved the Romans, I am a follower of Schopenhauer, but I studied philosophy of mathematics, logic is my great love (and photography ;)) Russel, Wittgenstein, Moore, Frege, Whitehead … I understand why people don’t enjoy those masters of logic. But, I had some serious problem, I smelled depression around the corner (Mack the knife), but math was there to put my mind at rest (& schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena). I must admit that my brain is swimming in acidic fluid, I like a bit of negativity ….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      First, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to write to me – I appreciate it 😉
      It is a good thing to know that which you truly connect with. I am sorry to hear of your challenges, but glad that you had something to lean on that helped you.
      Be strong, hope you are well,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Marcus Aurelius is my favourite bedtime reading. Have you read Montaigne’s essays? A similarly sane and humane view of the world, with lots of quirky observations about all sorts of things.

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  4. I enjoy the energy and directness of your prose, James! Invigorating. And I especially appreciate the reminder that authenticity is reflected in action, not words. As you note, Seneca’s ideas have much in common with Buddhist philosophy, which also emphasizes the importance of application rather than rumination. Thank you for re-illuminating this classic work..

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    1. Wow, this is very sweet – Thankyou so much! 😉
      I know what you mean – after reading and rereading Seneca, I was struck by the parallels between Stoic and Buddhist thought. The same wisdom in different clothes methinks 😉
      Thanks for taking the time to read, and to write to me – really makes me happy.
      Hope you are well, all the best,
      – J

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  5. Morning! I know it’s my morning, and your afternoon. So last night I took some time to delve into your music world. Invocation: I like the rhythm of the cello, and the percussion sound. Your voice is amazing. It was very soothing. My favorite is track 3 on present : reflections. I love the repetitive background sounds over and over and then the cello. I didn’t want it to end. River has great guitar, lyrics, and your voice is entrancing, like lana. Also when I listen to it I feel a longing, yet a knowing feeling at the same time. Your interviews were funny. I’m surprised coffee helps you create beautiful music. Coffee makes me want to climb the walls! Love that you have a cat! My cat is nuts but a good boy. He sleeps on top of his own cushy pillow right next to my head.
    Also, I think it’s very responsible of you to not be sure about having kids. Some musicians just have them and figure their kids will just deal with it all. But many of them don’t get the time and attention they need. At a show once johnny said he makes a sacrifice not having kids bc of his job. When he got married 2 years ago, he publicly said they would have a baby in a few months. Well 2 years later and he’s turning 50, no baby. I don’t think they will have one bc he works all the time. And like you, he wants to be there for his kid.
    You must have a very understanding girlfriend to accept you being so busy and working all the time. Thanks for the great music. I needed it last night. It calmed me down and I needed that.
    The walk was great. I got there so early I ended up volunteering for 2 hours before the walk, which was fun. It was emotional too. Every 12.8 seconds someone in America attempts suicide. They read a list of names , over 100 while we listened I just kept thinking all these people are dead by their own hand…so sad. I know the pain and the dark tunnel where everything seems that it will suck forever, that’s the danger zone. 😳 Young children ages 12 and up are hanging themselves in their rooms. It’s scary as a parent bc you don’t know what’s going on in their heads. My parents didn’t know, but even when they did they pretended it didn’t happen and never took me to the dr. That makes me angry. Sorry I totally digressed here. Thanks for listening, not in a good place now.
    Keep making beautiful music💙
    Traci xo

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    1. Lord! This is literally music to my ears 😉
      Thankyou so much for your very kind words about my music, I am really glad that you found some worth in it. I love that you listened to some interviews too – coffee ALWAYS HELPS! I AM DRINKING COFFEE RIGHT NOW!
      Yes, the children thing is a Big Question for me, I would for sure only do it if it felt 100% right and yes, my girlfriend is an Insanely Awesome woman. 😉
      Suicide is such a loaded topic, it is beautiful that you did something tangible to help. Never apologize for digression 😉 That is where the Good Stuff is. 😉
      Hope you are having a good evening – I am back in the studio (with coffee).
      Big love, Big hug,
      – J x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will! But then I would have to comment on each one of letters separetely;-) SO much to discuss. Btw I’m coming to Edi in a month time, any good events in October? Or recommendations for life/jazz music bars?

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        1. That would be amazing, we should do that! That would indeed, be delicious.
          I have recommendations for coffee bars and venues – that’s my speciality . Let me know closer to the time and I’ll send you a list, ok?
          Really tho, let’s do that with the letters 😉
          – J x

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  6. You’re welcome. We seem like we challenge each other in a good way. I didn’t know that about Hitler; that’s so odd. So that means just bc someone is kind to animals doesn’t mean they are “good;” it just means they like animals. Hmmmm…..
    I’ve always thought I would not date a man who is unkind to animals, and at the same time if he was kind to animals I was sold. Well I can see how that won’t always work. Women are so easily attracted to that behavior and we just can’t imagine anything different. ….until we’ve had enough painful experience to learn better….speaking firsthand. I understand what you’re saying and I’m all about being better for myself and others. You’re right about discounting other people’s ideas, and how it can make our world smaller and we can essentially miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. I’ve been guilty of that, and in the other direction too. We can take too much from someone we deem worthy, and they may be hiding more darkness than the others. Thanks for your well written response. I appreciate you taking the time to write back. Ok my brain needs a break from all this intellectual stuff. I think some loud music and a little dancing will take care of that. Lana del rey or the struts????
    Have you heard of the love button movement? I think you might like it. Chris Martin started it. You purchase these small buttons that say love and you pass them out to people. I get different reactions. A cashier at the supermarket was so happy. Another person was not sure what the heck I was doing. And I always say, “Here’s some love for you.” Sometimes I give them 2 and tell them to pass it on. I only have one left and I need buy more. I’m sending you a virtual button. 💚
    Traci

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    1. Totally in a good way. 😉
      I know what you mean about Hitler, apparently a vegetarian too – still a ‘genocidal fuckhead’ tho. 😉
      And, Yes. For sure do not date Hitler. This would Not be good.
      For sure everyone has darkness – it is kind of sad that we have to pretend that we don’t and you are welcome for the well written response, my head was kind of fuzzy when I did it so I was hoping very much that it made sense.
      I have not heard of the Love Button movement, but I am very touched that you gave me one – made me smile down in my feels 😉
      Hope you are well, I enjoy your writing, speak soon,
      – J x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, I’m laughing hysterically about dating Hitler, don’t worry my teenager told me it wouldn’t be a good idea to date a corpse. 😁😁 I can’t stop laughing, thanks! She’s very philosophical and will debate such matters, and she knows more about Hitler than most people do in high school. She’s an old soul. Is it the middle of the night where you are?
        I checked out your music, and I said you are like a male lana del rey. Soothing and trippy☺
        Ok talk soon. Are you wearing your button?
        Nice chatting 💕

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        1. That is all gorgeous and good.
          Apart from the part where you date the corpse of a genocidal fuckhead. Please don’t do this. I am begging you. Nooooooo. ;-p
          (Your daughter sounds very wise, this is Good Dating Advice.)
          Thanks for your comments on the music, (…I think anyway, because I do not actually know who Lana Del Ray is).
          It is indeed the middle of the night here, I am getting tired, I am going to eat a heroic amount of pasta and then crash.
          It is Nice to hear from you again, I am wearing my button.
          (The one that says ‘love’ not the one that says: ‘I date dead people’…)
          Big love,
          – J x

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Hey its me again….I just wanted to say you seem to have this lightness and open heart and mind. I’m especially impressed by your consistent ability to ask for any negative feedback. That is really challenging and brave. Rationally it makes sense so you can make changes or see other people’s ideas, but emotionally that’s being vulnerable. It’s great that you can do that. I’m working on it, but it’s scary to be that open and vulnerable. Thanks for inspiring me and showing me it’s ok to reveal yourself and be open to opinions. Baby steps.
          Peace and love
          Traci
          PS….I love that part of your proceeds go to the orphans in Nepal. Very cool.😎

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          1. Laughng….while you eat your pasta put on lana del rey. Her 3rd album just came out. Her voice is from the heavens. It can be dark. I recommend listening to video games and the blackest day. One old and one new. It’s entrancing.
            Enjoy and get some sleep😪😪😪

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              1. So I just got back from driving my daughter to school, at 6:30, ugh! On the way we listened to Lana. Lana is not someone you will hear on the radio; she won’t be played with the likes of Justin Bieber and pop music. But she has a huge fan base and sells out all her shows. My daughter and I saw her in June, and we had to get our tickets from stub hub. We paid 300 dollars for two tickets! She loves her fans and comes down into the audience and greets people and signs things, and chats with the front row or two for about 10 minutes. She calls them her people. I suggest God Knows I Tried (new) and Ride (old). Ride has a video, and it really captures her free spirit. When I listen to her music it makes me feel like I want to just close my eyes and spin around and soak it all in. She has a great vocal range and an ethereal voice; her new album is number one on itunes, yet she will not be played on the radio, which is so odd to me. Also, she is quite intelligent; she has a degree in metaphysics from Fordham University, which is a pretty well respected college. She is unapologetic about who she is and her relationships,(no matter how ugly or dark), and her beliefs about life. I am drawn to people like that; people who are not afraid to reveal their true selves, like you. Ok I could go on and on, check her out and let me know what you think. I’m going back to bed.
                Too tired…. and I need to be fully awake to go back to being with my teenage daughter later, which can be difficult and/or fun. Teenagers are tough; Dr. Phil says that the prefontal lobe of the brain is the decision making part of the brain, and it is not fully developed until age 26 or so, which means teenagers can’t make reasonable and rational decisions; they truly can’t see the consequences of their actions, which is scary. No matter how many times I talk to her about drugs and sex and boys and all that stuff, I worry she will succumb to the friend who offers her drugs one day or worse. My mother talked about nothing, and I talk about everything; she is not always responsive, but I told her the rule is she has to listen. I think it’s getting in her brain. Ok am I still talking? To bed I go…
                Zzzzzzzzz

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                1. Ok, you have now officially made me super-curious about this person. I will check that out. (I particularly like ‘her people’ as I have some of those, and they are Awesome.) AND I am now also officially flattered, because you compared me with her.
                  So, Good Job 😉
                  Hope your time with your daughter was good – I have no experience in that area so have little to offer apart from good wishes. I find that trusting that things will ultimately work out in their own way helps to take the stress off, so, That.
                  I loved this comment – sorry for the tardy response but I have been in the studio and wanted to take my time to properly answer it.
                  Big love, speak soon,
                  – J

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                  1. Cool…you have “people ” No problem I figured you have a life besides reading blog comments and eating salty pasta in the middle of the night. I’m glad you’re flattered 😊 My daughter and I had a good day thanks. Yes I am learning to just go with the flow; what a worn out cliché. You are the second person who told me they were recording today. And it just so happens The Goo Goo Dolls are recording tonight. They actually periscope some of their new music, but I missed it😢
                    I guess it’s recording day🎤🎶 The world will never not have a need for new music. Can’t wait to hear it all! Thanks for taking your time to respond.
                    Happy Recording 🎧💿 Can you tell I like emojis???
                    Traci 💗

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                    1. I do. And they are the coolest 😉
                      It’s true, I do have a life, buuuuut – I also like chatting to people like you, sooooo 😉
                      I am glad you and your daughter had a good day, that seems like a good thing in the world, full stop.
                      My friend wrote a biography of the Goo Goo dolls – small world 😉
                      The new music is very beautiful – I am really enjoying being able to work on it, and I actually can’t wait to hear it when it’s done! I will Strive to keep you Informed.
                      Happy day to you,
                      – J

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                    2. Glad to hear you’re enjoying making new music. I like chatting with you too. Is this biography published? I’m a huge fan. You may have seen my pic of me and johnny. Going backstage was so amazing; it was literally a dream come true. He was so kind and shy. I pretty much know everything about his life from when he was a kid. I’m obsessed😆 I usually see them every summer, but this summer they didn’t tour. I know way too much, but I like the stories behind the musicians. It helps me connect with him and his writing. If you ever go to a show, I am the one screaming my head off and jumping up and down, and getting dirty looks, and yes some people actually cover their ears. Don’t make the mistake of asking me about him, because I will not stop talking. This fan on Instagram asked me about his ex wife and I said ok here we go…you asked. Lol. I then told her all the details from his ex wife to his current wife and all the girls in between. See I can’t stop; it’s a good thing I found her bc now I have someone who cares just as much as me. My friends, even the one I go to the shows with, could care less but she entertains me only for so long. I might be on the security list bc I couldn’t shut up. I even told him how I got backstage and how his manager’s house is 20 minutes from me. Next time I’m going to try to have a real conversation! Do you have any crazy fans? Or slightly obsessed? Have you had any interesting backstage experiences?
                      Do tell…
                      Happy Friday😊

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                    3. Just found this – made me smile 😉
                      I don’t know if the biography is published… I probably should tho.
                      I like the people who jump up and down at my shows, jumping up and down is No Bad Thing.
                      I do have audience members who are really intense, but I generally like it – I enjoy connecting with people deeply. Most people are totally awesome.
                      Happy Saturday to you 😉 x

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. That’s cool….yea connecting with the audience must feel amazing! Do you use periscope? Goo goo dolls keep putting up studio clips and they only last a few seconds and they’re gone. I wish they would save them😡 I mean am I supposed to have my phone attached to me so I can hear the whistle notification and then watch it?? I’m not a girl who has her phone on and in front of me every second. I’m going out to dinner and they usually broadcast around that time from Bear Creek Studio, which is beautiful. They are spending a week there. Guess I’ll be missing it again. People are chatting about the new sound and they’re using strings and it’s so amazing. Oh well I guess I’ll be surprised when the album comes out.
                      Enjoy your Saturday 😊💟

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                    5. Hey there,
                      It really does 😉 I have been playing with he idea of using periscope, would you watch if I did? If so, what kind of stuff would you like to see?
                      It can be maddening that the broadcasts are so ephemeral but, to be honest, I also kinda like it.
                      It’s a little like a gig, just a shared moment in time and then gone 😉
                      Bear creek studio is one of my dream recording spots, I may go there one day.
                      Totally, I am sure the album will be chock full of unexpected awesome.
                      Enjoy your Saturday you xx

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                    6. Yea I see your point; all of us goo fans are bonding together for a short moment, and the band is getting the connection and feedback. I just don’t see it working for me bc I’m not going to know when they are “on” in the moment. If you use it, I think fans like to not only hear new music, but see the band just having fun, and sharing tidbits of their personal time in the studio or outside. Robby was chasing johnny around the studio (so i read) and they show us where they sleep and fun stuff like that. You should go there one day; you’ve come this far. You’ll make it there. It’s so beautiful outside. I just want to go hang out in the wilderness. It looks serene. I actually Uninstalled the app bc it was just frustrating me.
                      When I get a chance I’m going to take some time and listen to your music/videos.
                      Have a good night…it’s almost 10 there I’m pretty sure.
                      Traci 🌻

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                    7. Hi….I know you’re probably sleeping, buuuut I’m not… I think your fans would love it, especially now that you are working on new music. Yea you’ll make it there! I just heard a song on the radio “Troublemaker” by Grizfolk and I cannot stop listening to it!!! My favorite line is I want to put you in my pocket and save you for later. It’s their new single before the album comes out.It gets under my skin in a good way; I’ve been known to cause some trouble; but that song just makes me feel alive! That’s how I feel at a concert. So I say I don’t do drugs; I do concerts. Well I must be off, I am walking in a suicide prevention fundraiser tomorrow, which I raised money for, so I need to go to sleep so I can get up early and walk for two hours. When my daughter leaves and I am fully awake I plan to sit down and listen to your music. I’m very interested to hear more. I will let you know what I think. Off to bed, I am not going to enjoy the sound of my alarm going off in 7 hours. I like sleep:) But I also like staying up, and they don’t go together..lol The story of my life. I live in a place of I want it, but…. It’s hard living that way.
                      I was happy to see your comment; it made me smile. Thanks:)
                      Traci xo

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                    8. 😉 I was totally sleeping while you were writing this. So, you thing ‘scoping some of the new stuff or recording sessions would be good?
                      Have you really been known to cause trouble? I can’ imagine that… 😉
                      Doing concerts is an Awesome drug alternative. That is a cool thing to have to get up for.
                      I will look forward to hearing what you think.
                      I am exactly the same about staying up, luckily I have shaped my life so there are no alarms in it 😉 you have my sympathy.
                      I liked seeing your comment too.
                      Anytime 😉
                      – J x

                      Liked by 1 person

                    9. Hey when you get a chance please check out my recent post: not all E’s are the same; I think you’ll like it.
                      Thanks:)

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          2. You are beyond sweet! That is so kind of you to say.
            I totally love negative feedback 😉 I do find that you have to do a bit of sifting but, I find it’s generally a lot more useful. Take the leap and be vulnerable – not as scary as it looks 😉
            – J
            PS – I love that too, makes me feel like my thing is having an actual physical impact on the world – if only in a small way.
            PPS – Night Night

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  7. That was very interesting, and I agree with the idea of non-attachment. It is a practice to be done over and over. I first came across this concept when taking a Buddhist class years ago. I struggled with it and still do, but I am much better at it now than in the past. I did find your last sentence thought provoking. You said you would take an idea that would be helpful to you regardless of the source. What if the source was from a hateful and evil person, like Hitler? I don’t know if I could take an idea from someone like that, but maybe it is an example of how complicated we are as human beings. No one is all bad or all good; we are gray. Maybe in someone as mad as Hitler, there is a thread of something opposite of the madness, only we can’t see it through his actions. In world war one, a plane crashed and a British soldier saved Hitler. Adolf was not truly Hitler yet, but this other soldier showed compassion regardless of who the person was he was saving. Thanks for sharing about Seneca and your thoughts on his teachings.

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    1. Hey there,
      First, as always, thanks for taking the time to write to me – I appreciate it greatly.
      Non-attachment seems a very logical and effective approach that creeps in to a lot of thinkers’ work, under different guises – I’m a big fan too.
      I also agree with you in that human beings are not simply good or evil, but ‘grey’ as you say.
      As to your question about Hitler: He was without a doubt a genocidal madman and his actions are basically, unforgivable. That said, he was (by all accounts) very kind to animals, dogs in particular, and being kind to animals seems like a good idea to me. I am in no way suggesting that this IN ANY WAY balances out his actions, nor that, should someone wish to be kind to animals, they adopt more of his beliefs, I am simply saying that being kind to animals when you can is a good thing.
      The point I am trying to make is: if we habitually discount someone’s thoughts or ideas because of a character flaw (I am not talking about Hitler so much here), then we will narrow our resources down to a very small pool indeed (because, in large part of your point about human beings as ‘grey’ earlier.
      Personally, I am interested in, and passionate about making life better, for myself and others so, yes, if an idea is good (meaning: it makes life better for me and others, and it doesn’t hurt anybody) then I’ll use it.
      I tried to make that as clear as possible, I really hope I succeeded. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions, writing this answer was a very interesting exercise. 😉
      Thanks a lot, have a great day,
      – J

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  8. “Too much of what passes for philosophy today consists of nothing more than clever systems of thought mathematically assembled from sheets and girders of logic, like castles in the air – pretty to look at, but also pretty useless from the practical standpoint of: ‘how can this improve my life?'”

    James,

    This is so true and so true of some in philosophy I’ve encountered along my path. The essence of philosophy to me is guidance on how to negotiate this tenuous existence we have. What you write of Seneca rings true to me in terms of my own search for the way to best lead my life. His thoughts echo The Buddha, Confucius, Jesus and my own favorite Rabbi Hillel the Elder. Hillel’s essence can be summed up in these two related sentences:

    “If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”

    “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

    Grounded as I am in Gestalt Philosophy, as expounded by Fritz Perls, those two lines represent what I’ve tried to live by in my life. Though I’ve often stumbled, sometimes abjectly failed, these ideas nevertheless represent how I’ve tried to live my life and having reached an improbable (for me) age of 70 comfort me in my dotage.

    As you put it, explaining Seneca on doing the “Work”:

    “Or, said differently: the searching out, study, and application of ideas that will make both you and your life better.”

    Exactly, but I would add along with it that dictum from Baba Ram Dass:

    “Be Here Now!”

    One last thought about your caution to those who doubt Seneca because aspects of his life didn’t always match his philosophy. How often do any of us humans live up totally to what we espouse? One needs only to look to themselves and their lives, to understand the folly of measuring ideas, by the yardstick of the person espousing them. A dictum I’ve tried to live by in my life was espoused by a tragicomic character, shown as a fool in Hamlet:

    “This above all: to thine own self be true,/ And it must follow, as the night the day,/ Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

    ALL of us have feet of clay, yet good ideas are to be cherished wherever they are found.

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    1. I always love reading your comments, they are so rich and in-depth, almost like mini-essays themselves.
      I absolutely adore your Hamlet quote, I am taking that for keeps 😉
      Thankyou so much. In fact, thankyou a thousand times, you made me smile today.
      And thanks for taking the time to stop by,
      Be well my friend,
      – J

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  9. Nothing brings out philosophical meditations more than experiencing heavy loss. Seneca, was certainly familiar with this. For example, he wrote Consolationes while he was exiled in Corsica. Having had to leave friends, family, and culture behind myself, I know how much this loss hurts. It makes me realize that a lot of what I thought I was was not really “me”, but only a result of my old environment, the society and culture I lived in. It made me want to find a source of happiness that no one could take away, and that will be with me wherever I am. For myself, experiencing the loss of country was certainly a huge spark to my quest for understanding the truth about myself, about society, and yes, about God. Finding answers to those questions is, as you say, redemptive. Since then, I like to spend as much time as I can helping others do the same. But, this is not an easy thing to do. I know I do so quite imperfectly, but I will keep doing the best I can. 😉

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    1. You are so right about this. It is often true that innovation of one kind or another springs from adversity, and as you say, Seneca was certainly no stranger to this.
      I am so glad that you have found your own way, when faced with the challenges you have shared here, there is hope! 😉
      For sure, keep on doing the best you can. That, in itself, is a beautiful thing.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      – J

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  10. I appreciate the passionate review and commentary. You spelled out well the tenets of stoicism I had been vaguely familiar with. I like this:

    “the shortest way to both True Happiness and the Good Life is: to become truly independent of both internal and external circumstance.”

    and can start applying it, except I’m left wondering what Seneca said about being fully present and giving yourself fully over in devotion and love to those very things and persons life hoisted on you. Esp those who need you. Or your art.

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    1. First – thanks a lot for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it greatly.
      The quote you liked is pretty much the foundation of Stoicism, as both: a school of thought, and a way of being.
      Much of Seneca’s work is concerned with how to actually engage with real life, and appreciate ‘that which is.’ – it’s one of the reasons that I like it so very much.
      Thanks again for stopping by, hope you are well,
      – J

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  11. Reading your posts is like sitting down to a delicious written degustation. Thank you. I will have to check out Seneca now – he is but a shadow memory from philosophy laced university days. Aah, I was young then. Age has softened and mellowed the youthful all-knowing brashness to a welcoming openness.

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  12. Hello, hello You,

    Your post is beautiful – beautifully written and full of delicious hints at subjects so, so ferociously dear to me. 🙂

    You can likely guess them, of course . . . the metaphysics, the shedding of all attachment to the internal and external fears, fabrications and illusions that keep us from love, and lastly – just as you say here, truly the most crucial – the Doing of the Work.

    So much fills my head when you bring up these topics – and all in one post! the torture! – that I could never capture it here. One day when all the stars align I hope we’ll get some well-caffeinated time to curl up and talk the Universe inside/out about it.

    Until then, thank you, thank you for all the goodies you share so generously, J.

    And I adore you but I swear to god I’m not getting on Amazon tonight. 🙂

    Big hugs and monster love,

    Allison Xxxx

    Like

    1. Hey there beautiful,
      First, thankyou so much for this – you have no idea what it means to me tonight.
      I love that you connect with oh-so-many of the Things in my post and Yes, I think we are in full agreement about ‘the Doing of The Work.’
      I would love a caffeinated curl up – that would be heaven, let’s do that sometime.
      Until then, as you say, thankyou again, you are beautiful, and I am thankful for it.
      Big love,
      – J xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  13. You’ve talked so much about how much you admire Seneca, I actually have him on my to-read list at the library. Made me curious.
    As a disclaimer, I am skeptical of well-funded philosophers. The things you worry about and the choices you make are a lot different when you have money or a place without scarcity to fall back on. I also can’t wrap my head around the Buddist philosophy of nonattachment. I’d like to think that I am a good person and I strongly believe everything good or beautiful about my life has come from attachment. I’m not sure that I will take to him as intensely as you have but I am interested to learn more.

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  14. You’ve talked so much about how much you admire Seneca, I actually have him on my to-read list at the library. Made me curious.
    As a disclaimer, I am skeptical of well-funded philosophers. The things you worry about and the choices you make are a lot different when you have money or a place without scarcity to fall back on. I also can’t wrap my head around the Buddist philosophy of nonattachment. I’d like to think that I am a good person and I strongly believe everything good or beautiful about my life has come from attachment. I’m not sure that I will take to him as intensely as you have but I am interested to learn more.

    Like

  15. Dear James!
    Again a great passionate post. I agree with you that we should take ideas from whereever they appear. In my opinion the ‘acting’ is the key. And thats the true challenge. I believe that we are never really ready for the big tasks. We develop the needed skills by starting. Just doing it. We love ideas and state them. And after that….silence.
    If we wait or work on being really free of fears we may never start.
    So lets take them and do things imperfectly, instead of chest perfection but fail.
    Cheers

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