In an earlier incarnation I gave lots of attention to the maxims of Benjamin Franklin, especially from Poor Richard’s Almanac. I was struck by sayings such as “Dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
I never quite got the whole thing figured out, and I keep on reading in the hope of catching fire with inspiration and — do I dare say it? — wisdom. One of my most enjoyable sources nowadays is Brain Pickings, a web site compiled by Maria Popova, who reads voraciously and comments on the ideas she comes across.
One of her recent contributions brought together many of the observations of Seneca. These thoughts, two thousand years old, are especially apt for our time, when people think time is more scarce than ever.
Here are only a few of them. Read the whole article if you can, and follow the web site.
*** Nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing... We have to be more careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.
*** No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.
*** Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
*** No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied ... 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... Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.
*** It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.
*** Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.
*** We are in the habit of saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents who were allotted to us, that they were given to us by chance. But we can choose whose children we would like to be. There are households of the noblest intellects: choose the one into which you wish to be adopted, and you will inherit not only their name but their property too. Nor will this property need to be guarded meanly or grudgingly: the more it is shared out, the greater it will become. These will offer you a path to immortality and raise you to a point from which no one is cast down. This is the only way to prolong mortality – even to convert it to immortality.
Originally in http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/01/seneca-on-the-shortness-of-life/