August 25, 2021 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Seneca ||

Take Control of Your Time (Seneca's Letters – 1)

Chuck Chakrapani

Seneca wrote a series of letters to his young friend Lucilius on various topics. Taken together these letters can be considered as an exposition of Stoicism and how to apply it to our daily lives. This plain English version of the Letters closely follows the original. However, I have deleted some superfluous references, summarized Key Ideas and added subheadings to make it easy for the modern reader to follow.

Key ideas
  1. Nothing belongs to us, except time.
  2. Yet, we let our time slip away from us.
  3. If we take care of every hour today, we don’t have to worry about tomorrow.
Guard your time

Set yourself free for your own sake. Gather and save your time. Of late, it has been taken by force from you, stolen from you, or just slipped away from you.

Convince yourself that my words are true. Some moments are snatched away from us, some are gently taken away from us, and others just disappear. But the most shameful loss is due to carelessness. Look closely. You will see that most of our life slips away from us when we are not doing well and much of it when we do nothing. But when we don’t pay attention, we lose it all.

We don’t value our time enough

Can you show me someone who values his time, who knows how much his day is worth and understands that he is dying every day? In fact, we are wrong to think that death is ahead of us. Much of our life has already passed. The years we have lived so far are in death’s hands.

So, Lucilius, do what you say you are doing in your letter. Hold every hour in your grasp. Get hold of what needs doing today and you will be less dependent on tomorrow. 

Nothing belongs to us, except time

While we postpone, life speeds by us. Nothing belongs to us, Lucilius, except time. Nature has given us this one thing. It is so fleeting and slippery that anyone can take it away from us. What fools we humans are! When we borrow the smallest, cheapest things that can be replaced, we acknowledge our debt. But no one considers herself indebted for taking up our time. And yet, time is the one loan that even grateful people cannot repay.

You may want to know what I, who lecture you, practice. I freely admit that I spend freely. But I am careful and balance my books. I cannot brag that I don’t waste anything, but at least I know what, why, and how. I can tell you the reasons for being poor. My situation is the same as others who are reduced to poverty through no fault of their own – everyone forgives them, but no one helps them.

You’re not poor if what you have is enough

So what? I think that no one is poor as long as what he has left is enough for him. But I advise you to keep what is really yours. It’s never too early to start. As our ancestors believed, it is too late to spare when you reach the bottom of the cask. There is very little at the bottom and it is disgusting.