In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 37 he discusses what it takes to be the importance of aligning one’s actions with virtues such as honesty, courage, and justice. He argues that these virtues are not just abstract ideals, but practical guides for how to live a good life., why you shouldn’t fear death and the power of self-control.
No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.
― Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha
- Courage, and
I also want to remind you about an important Stoic concept – embracing fate. The control we think we have over our lives and our destinies is an illusion. We think we’re in control, but fate means we’re really not.
By stepping back and allowing things to happen means things will take care of themselves, and your needs will also be met. You’ll have less stress and less to worry about. Imagine allowing things to happen naturally, and things work out, and all you did was smile and watch. You don’t have to worry about shaping things, about controlling something that doesn’t want to be controlled. You don’t have to push, fix leaks, or put out fires.
You just let things work on their own.
Things will surprise you.
Let’s say you’re allowing something to happen. You might want it to go a certain way, to a certain outcome. That’s your goal. But what if you let go of this idea? What if you say, “I don’t know what will happen.” What if you say, “Let’s see what happens.” Then things will happen, but not the way you planned. The outcome might be completely different than what you’d hoped for. But it can still be great, just different. It might even be wonderful, and surprising. Fate and surprises are good if we accept that things always change, and that change is good. You learn how things work. Instead of trying to make things work the way you want them to work, just watch them work.
You’ll learn much more about human nature, about the nature of the world, as you see things work without you controlling it. It might change you. And talking about fate, what do you think when you see a gladiator who lowers their sword to ask pity for the crowd to spare them from death? For me, when your time arrives, we should not beg for your life.
The fate of death
Meditate for a moment on death. This might sound gruesome and depressing, but in truth, it’s liberating and incredibly motivating. If you knew that you only had a month to live, you’d cut out all the distractions and get down to what’s truly important to you. What if you only had a year to live? What if you had five years? What would change for you? It could also just be as simple as remembering that this night, our days are diminished by one. For me, it’s as simple as remembering I will die, inevitably. This is just fate and something to accept and is a liberation once I’ve practiced that acceptance. My days are limited. What do I want to do with them?
Fate means I could die right now. How do I want to live, how do I want to treat others, so that I could feel peace if I died in the next moment? It helps me to be better to others because that’s how I want to live. And it helps me to focus on the meaningful work I care most deeply about, because I know that’s more important than my own comfort and distractions.
Finally, I want to talk about self-control. The way you can control your impulses is through the repeated use of reason. A craftsman masters his trade by repeated practice, with care and continual learning, with devotion to the purpose. It takes the same kinds of things to master the craft of reason:
Repeated practice, Single-minded devotion to the purpose, Continual learning,