Today, one of my heroes posted about the act of learning how to be alone with himself; admitting how hard it’s been for him. I smiled to myself a little because I thought, “FINALLY, something I can do better than him!” Well that got me thinking about how I, myself, learned not only to be happy alone but specifically *how* I learned it. How did I do that…?
Then I came across this letter Seneca wrote to one of his students around 2,000 years ago. In no way, shape or form am I comparing myself to Seneca. With that being said, I’ve definitely gotten on the same path as the Stoic philosophers of ancient Rome and Greece and find it exhillerating so far! Not only has it been good for my online business, but also my spirit—or, as Gurdjieff puts it, “my essence”—and things keep coming together for me faster and faster. WHY didn’t I get my shit together 15 years ago!? (Oh well, I’m here now so let’s rock it!)
If you’re curious about the Seneca passage, here’s (most of) the letter (with my emphisis added)…I swear it’s very similar to things I’ve been writing in my personal journal lately:
On Sharing Knowlege (Seneca ~ 60 A.D.)
I feel that I am being not only reformed, but transformed. I do not yet, however, assure myself, or indulge the hope, that there are no elements left in me which need to be changed. Of course there are many that should be made more compact, or made thinner, or be brought into greater prominence. And indeed this very fact is proof that my spirit is altered into something better, – that it can see its own faults, of which it was previously ignorant. In certain cases sick men are congratulated because they themselves have perceived that they are sick.
I therefore wish to impart to you this sudden change in myself; I should then begin to place a surer trust in our friendship, – the true friendship which hope and fear and self-interest cannot sever, the friendship in which and for the sake of which men meet death. I can show you many who have lacked, not a friend, but a friendship; this, however, cannot possibly happen when souls are drawn together by identical inclinations into an alliance of honorable desires. And why can it not happen? Because in such cases men know that they have all things in common, especially their troubles.
You cannot conceive what distinct progress I notice that each day brings to me. And when you say: “Give me also a share in these gifts which you have found so helpful,” I reply that I am anxious to help all these privileges upon you, and that I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to posses, without friends to share it.
I shall therefore send to you the actual books; and in order that you may not waste time in searching here and there for profitable topics, I shall mark certain passages, so that you can turn at once to those which I approve and admire. Of course, however, the living voice and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than the written word.You must go to the scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears, and second, because the way is long if one follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns. Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno, if he had merely heard his lectures; he shared in his life, saw into his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he lived according to his own rules. Plato, Aristotle, and the whole throng of sages who were destined to go each his different way, derived more benefit from the character than from the words of Socrates. It was not the class-room of Epicurus, but living together under the same roof that made great men of Metrodorus, Hermarchus, and Polyaenus. There I summon you, not merely that you may derive benefit, but that you may confer benefit; for we can assist each other greatly.
Meanwhile, I owe you my little daily contribution; you shall be told what pleased me today in the writings of Hecato; it is these words: “What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.” That was indeed a great benefit; such a person can never be alone. You may be sure that such a man is a friend to all mankind.
In my next post, I talk a little more about how I believe wisdom like this—written almost 2,000 years ago—gives insights to what we do with our online marketing business and, more importantly, how we conduct ourselves when all our efforts become successful beyond our wildest dreams!
P.S. If you’re interest in dusting off some clay tablets and finding out what thousands of years of history can teach us, you can start here with some other writings by Seneca.