On the Shortness of Life Summary — Unearned Wisdom

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca is an essay about how men take for granted the most precious thing: time. We complain about nature for giving us limited time, but if we know how to use it, it is plenty.

Wasted Time

But we are possessed by useless tasks, an avarice that insatiable, drink, sloth, an ambition to please others, or money.

“The part of life we really live is small.”

Think of how little time you really have. After you factor in the arguments, the social duties, the self-inflicted diseases, idle and unused time — you realize how little time was really your own.

There are many ways to waste time. Some seek nothing but wine and lost, others by the empty dream of glory, others by wrath, hatred, or even the pleasures of the belly. And then you add the maintenance tasks you perform on a daily basis, and you will that, you have allowed yourself little time to breathe.

Yet no pursuit can be successful by a man who is preoccupied with many things.

“since the mind, when its interests are divided, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it.”

Learning How to Live

The busy man is busied with living, there is nothing harder to learn. It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and the whole of it to learn how to die. Many great men have renounced money and pleasure and made it their sole aim to know how to live.

But it takes a great man to rise above a human weakness to not allow his time to be stolen from him. The life of such a man is very long because he has devoted whatever time he has to himself. He did not let others control it, and he found nothing that was worthy to be taken in exchange for his time.

The most precious thing in the world is time, and men are blind to it, because it is not a physical thing. Those who live for tomorrow waste their present — expectancy is the greatest hindrance to living.

Leisure vs Idle Preoccupation

We may argue with Socrates, we may doubt with Carneades, find peace with Epicurus, overcome human nature with the Stoics, exceed it with the Cynics. Since Nature allows us to enter into fellowship with every age, why should we not turn from this paltry and fleeting span of time and surrender ourselves with all our soul to the past, which is boundless, which is eternal, which we share with our betters?

There is a difference between leisure and idle preoccupation. People spend too much time focusing on how well their hair looks, than building their character. It is not just chess or sunbathing or playing with a ball that wastes time, but so are intellectual pursuits into narrow, insignificant areas of knowledge.

The only men who can consider themselves at leisure are philosophers.

They can annex every age to their own. They know how to benefit from history.

If time has passed by the philosopher, he embraces it by recollection. And if time is present, he uses it. If it is still to come, he anticipates it.

But those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear for the future have a life that is very brief and troubled; when they have reached the end of it, the poor wretches perceive too late that for such a long while they have been busied in doing nothing.

Originally published at https://unearnedwisdom.com on March 16, 2020.



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