In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 17, he discussed why, if you change thoughts, using philosophy will help you now. Not when you reach an ‘ideal’ level of wealth. Because that day may never come.
Change thoughts now
The world of stresses, worries, errands, projects, and noise that we must all endure inflicts upon us a mind full of clutter and chaos.
A mind that sometimes cannot find the calm that we so desperately seek. How do you declutter a mind? It’s not as if thoughts are just laying around, waiting for you to pick through them, finding the ones that should be kept and those that are ripe for the donation box. The mind isn’t like an inbox, which can be sorted through and acted upon.
Don’t wait until sometime in the future to start practicing philosophy. The temptation is to wait until you are financially secure or have reached a predefined standard of living before you begin. What you’ll find is that seeking ever more riches becomes an end in itself. You’ll never have enough money. You will get wrapped up in the constant pursuit of becoming wealthy. This will mean that you end up never having the time to use philosophy to enrich your life. So, it’s important to change thoughts now.
Wealth and the illusion of control
This control we think we have over our lives and our destinies … it’s an illusion. Where we think we’re in control but we’re not. Do we control all the people around us who affect our lives so intimately? Do we control the overwhelming power of nature? There’s so much out of our control that what we think is control is really an illusion. Therefore, you shouldn’t wait to start practicing philosophy.
I’ll put this another way: imagine you’re 80 years old and on your deathbed. Look back over your life: would the pursuit of ever more riches hold regrets for you? Would you say that you had spent your time well?
More questions: Were you happy several years ago when you had less? Has a higher level of income or more possessions made you happier?
Lack of wealth
Lack of wealth is, in some respects, can be liberating. It’s up to you to change thoughts to understand this. Seek to have enough to have a comfortable life and no more. If you have a minimal amount of material possessions, then you’ll look after them and place a higher degree of value on them too. Philosophical reflection offers wealth which isn’t monetary. Philosophical reflection gives you a different type of wealth. Its wealth that comes when you strive for personal excellence. If you think about wealth in these terms, then you will be richer than most people.
I’ll sign off by reiterating that it’s our thoughts about wealth that’s the problem, not the wealth itself. It we perceive it to be important, more important than striving for personal excellence, then it will be. So, start philosophical reflection today; change your thoughts to be a truly rich person.
So simple, and yet so effective. Take a few deep breaths, and then for a few minutes, just focus on your breathing. Concentrate on your breathing as it comes into your body, and then as it goes out. It has a calming effect, especially if you continue to return your focus to your breath when your mind strays. It also allows other thoughts to just float away.
Often when we’re caught up in a loop or overthinking, we aren’t aware of it. It seems like the right thing to do, to keep thinking about this thing that’s worrying us. But to break out of the loop, we must notice we’re in it. What signs have you noticed will point out to you that you’re in a loop? For many people, it’s a rising amount of anxiety or worry, an inability to sleep, an inability to focus. For others, it might be a desire to lash out at someone, or to plan or otherwise get control. The key is just to notice you’re in it.
Turn toward the underlying fear
Once you’ve noticed, the magic trick is to look beyond the thing you think needs to be solved … to the fear underneath. It’s like not looking at the hand the magician is trying to direct your attention to, but to their other hand that is hiding the coin. Don’t look at the object of your thoughts or the problem you need to solve … but the fear that’s having you want to obsess and overthink. What are you feeling right now, in your body?
Be with the fear
Before we let go of the overthinking, we must be with the feeling of fear that’s in our body. Otherwise, it’s like trying to calm a freaked-out child by ignoring them. What if instead we could be with the fear and relax with it, so it can relax? Can you feel the fear, as sensation, and stay with it? Can you breathe deeply and slowly, so you can slow your heartbeat and relax with the fear? Can you bring curiosity towards it? If it’s challenging, you might think of it as being with your heart.