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SENECA: On Shortness of Life

On Shortness of Life by Seneca
Genres: Philosophy, Nonfiction, Classics

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.

– Seneca

Human beings are master of not thinking rationally over the time. We live in denial of recognition [of our conscious time] which then leads to us being unproductive procrastinators and our frequency of fantasizing about the outcome of a situation “in a perfect” manner turns into something we want to forgetfully avoid it and further leads to passivity.

Distracting ourselves, as we cruise through our daily lives, in this manner is strictly equal to being absent from our selves. Roman philosopher Seneca wrote in an essay about 2,000 years ago: On Shortness of Life.

He writes:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

Seneca strongly disapproves with procrastinators:

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

Reading further, I read a simple yet thought provoking observation by Seneca in his composition. He urges us to focus on our tasks and do them wilfully such that we all can be enlightened and practice the concept of the art of living.

Many are kept busy either in the pursuit of other men’s fortune or in complaining of their own; in following no fixed aim, shifting and inconstant and dissatisfied, are plunged by their fickleness into plans that are ever new, some have no fixed principle by which to direct their course, but Fate takes them unawares while they loll and yawn.

On reading this essay, Seneca’s ancient words will help you be self-aware and Death isn’t and shouldn’t be a taboo subject in your life, as it is in the modern culture.

[…] it takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and – what will perhaps make you wonder more – it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.

On Shortness of Life is a noble read. Seneca’s Stoicism is a good place to start.

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