The Stoic philosopher Seneca can advise you on the practice of two trendy movements, the pursuit of “mindfulness” and “self-care.” He vigorously reminds us that it is important to take time for ourselves.
In the philosophical treatise, De Brevitate Vitae (On the Brevity of Life), Seneca says that life is not short: the problem is that we waste our time. “How much time has been stolen by a creditor, how much by a girlfriend, how much by a patron or client, how much by marital strife, how much by the chastisement of slaves, how much by running to and fro?”
He says that men hang on to their property and fight those who encroach, but they do not value their time. “No one is found who wishes to divide his money; but with how very many people does each person share his life! We are parsimonious with money, but when it comes to the throwing away of our lives, we are extravagant–and this is the one case where the desire to be thrifty is creditable.”
On a much cruder level, we enthusiastically agree. I’ve read many well-meaning but frenetic articles on how to read more books , or take more steps, or relax with a new skin-care regimen. And I’m all for these things! But it often involves entering data on phones. Unplugging from electronics is one of our biggest challenges. We need to slow down, sit still, and read Seneca.
Seneca is simple and clear, and his philosophy can be life-changing. He was a great Roman thinker, Nero’s tutor and political advisor, a playwright, philosopher, and writer of fascinating letters.
So enjoy! On the Brevity of Life is only 22 pages.
(N.B. The translation of the brief excerpts from the Latin is my own.)