Book II Chapter Five — Seneca
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” These were Seneca’s parting words to me the first time we met here at the Inn Of Inspiration. I have pondered them oven in my head often since then.
I am walking to the far shore of the lake where my cave abode waits. I still have the cubicle behind the front desk, under the stairway where I say for late arrivals but I seldom use it these days. I am spending much more time in the place our guests call Socrates’s Cave, most often alone, and sometimes with invited guests. Today, my dear friend Seneca is joining me for a hot tub and his special blackberry wine. As I continue the climb to my cave, my senses are blessed with the arousing scent of rosemary coming from the garden. I see Henry, June and Anaïs brushing themselves and each other with rosemary branches, playing and laughing like children. I reflect back to my last conversation with Henry.
We were speaking of his reality with the two women when he said, ‘“But what a reality to be in Socrates. I am the happiest man alive.”’
Yes, here, this moment, I would agree with you Henry.
I arrive at the entrance to my space and pass through the veil. There is something special about returning to a place of one’s own and finding it the same as I left it the last time I was here. It is a peacefulness, for sure. The hum, the sound of this personal space is familiar and speaks to me each time I enter. The sunlight breaking through the thriving plant life. The rushing of the stream. The still, warmth of the hot tub patiently waiting our tired bodies as I hear Seneca coming up the path.
“Good morning my dear friend Seneca. Welcome.”
“Good morning to you my dear friend Socrates. Time has kept us apart for too long. O’ I know time does not exist here but I am from a time when it did, as are you. Who else can I blame for us not seeing each other for what seems too long a time?”
“Well, Seneca. There are three things I know about time. (1) It cannot be stored or saved. (2) It is finite for all living creatures. (3) It can be remembered but you cannot go back or ahead in time to change or direct it. Perhaps today you might broaden my perception on time and other subjects but first let’s pour some wine and retire to the awaiting tub.”
“Sounds like an excellent idea.” Seneca continues talking as the two men remove their robes and slide into the healing warm water. “What man can you show me, excluding those of us here, who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years lie behind us are in death’s hands.
Therefore… hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of to-day’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by. Nothing… is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession.”
“But even those of us chosen to have continuation here still look back on life as being much too short.” I interject…
“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.”
“I still occasionally have this sensation of time and life speeding up.”
“You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow… Just as travelers are beguiled by conversation or reading or some profound meditation, and find they have arrived at their destination before they knew they were approaching it; so it is with this unceasing and extremely fast-moving journey of life, which waking or sleeping we make at the same pace — the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over.”
“The preoccupied miss so much of the feeling of thou with everything.” I say.
“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.”
“That statement does not surprise me, Seneca. I believe the same from my experiences. Perhaps this is true for you also. I have become more stingy with my time as I live more of it. I realize it’s finiteness.”
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property Socrates; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
“How does one respond to your earlier statement making time the villain in keeping us apart then Seneca?”
“My dear Socrates forever the antagonist, but in a good way. Set yourself free for your own sake; gather and save your time, which till lately has been forced from you, or filched away, or has merely slipped from your hands… Certain moments are torn from us… some are gently removed… others glide beyond our reach. The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.”
“By the term carelessness, do you mean the same as unawareness?” I ask.
“Yes, humans 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!”
“And we cannot forget the role of procrastination.”
“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.”
“It can sometimes take a lifetime to learn that also. What do you think is the role of immortality in relationship to time?”
“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.”
“I am very grateful for my teachers, my families. You are one Seneca. I am grateful for you.”
“Well, thank you Socrates and I am grateful for you also. We should try by all means to be as grateful as possible. For gratitude is a good thing for ourselves, in a sense in which justice, that is commonly supposed to concern other persons, is not; gratitude returns in large measure unto itself. There is not a man who, when he has benefited his neighbour, has not benefited himself, — the reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves. For they are not practised with a view to recompense; the wages of a good deed is to have done it. I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act; I feel grateful, not because it profits me, but because it pleases me.”
“The giving and sharing of gratitude?” I ask.
“Yes Socrates. The wise man… enjoys the giving more than the recipient enjoys the receiving.”
“Is it possible that human kind could become a slave to life?” I ask.
“Honors bind one man, wealth another; nobility oppresses some, humility others; some are held in subjection by an external power, while others obey the tyrant within; banishments keep some in one place, the priesthood others. All life is slavery Socrates. Therefore each one must accustom himself to his own condition and complain about it as little as possible, and lay hold of whatever good is to be found near him.”
“To the determent of any hope, dreams and aspirations?” I ask.
“It was nature’s intention that there should be no need of great equipment for a good life: every individual can make himself happy. External goods are of trivial importance and without much influence in either direction: prosperity does not elevate the sage and adversity does not depress him. For he has always made the effort to rely as much as possible on himself and to derive all delight from himself.”
“For you and I that may be true Seneca, but man is a social animal, ruled by other men and no longer nature. Today he either controls or destroys nature, the planet and himself.”
“If nature should demand of us that which she has previously entrusted to us, we will must say to her: “Take back a better mind than you gave: I seek no way of escape nor flee: take it away.” What hardship is there in returning to the place whence one has come? That man lives badly who does not know how to die well.”
“Then you also feel the earth’s dying?
“I do, but before we continue, I saw a platter of fruit, cheese and bread on your table. I could use a bit to eat and another glass of wine. I could stay here and flitter away all my time with you Socrates.”
“It will be my pleasure Seneca, my friend. ‘“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”’
The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Book II Chapter Six — Albert Einstein will be published on Sunday, August 05, 2019.