On The Shortness Of life

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On The Shortness Of life

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I have two kids under four, a crazy dog, a house with a yard (= gardening and mowing), and two online businesses, (one which currently takes up over forty hours a week). I run, walk, yoga, cook like my life depends on it (it does), read 2-3 fiction books a week and every now and again I even stack the dishwasher.

So with all this time on my hands – and as one does – I’ve also started reading philosophy.

Within the last year, the Universe kept throwing out the name ‘Seneca’ to me over and over again and every time I heard the name, I would give it a book-mark in my mind and promise myself I’d go and buy the book, download the info, do some reading.

And I finally have.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca) was a Roman Stoic philosopherstatesman,dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature.

The work that I currently find myself deeply in as I ready myself for sleep is Seneca’s well read ‘On The Shortness Of Life’.

While it may not be a wide book if you base your opinions on the width of the pages or the heaviness of the work, there has not been writing that has changed the way I perceive life itself so greatly since I began to re-read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle last year. While The Power Of Now opened me up to connecting with the way my mind subconsciously works and ignited me to live more presently, Seneca’s teaching (philosophising, writing, musing) has hit me with an almost insatiable desire to question myself, my work and life about me at large in the quest to finding deeper fulfillment and understanding.

I find myself in the never-ending revolving question of a three year old ‘Why?’, and like a three year old, I don’t think I’ll be satisfied unless the answer can truly be ‘because it feels good’.

Kids live life in a way that most of us adults forget is possible though try desperately to attain. We pay thousands to therapists, read countless books, go on retreats and meditate for hours a day to achieve a feeling of freedom that only exists when you’re not shackled to the weight of ‘having’ in the world.  Having usually ties very closely with busyness and productivity.

The shortness of life has come into my world and questioned the nature of my busyness to a degree that I’ve taken two 20 minute ‘thinking sabbaticals’ today to ponder why I am doing whatever I may have been doing at the time.

Seneca philosophises that we are using ‘productivity’ as a way of wasting our lives and that man’s biggest detriment to living is to lay a focus on being ‘busy’ doing things that in the end, don’t even matter.

Seneca writes :

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.

When I used to work for a software company based out of Seattle, we parroted to C-Level management of global organisations that ‘Time Is Money’, with the goal of them realising that if our software could save them time, they would save money and because they worked in finance, this would be the most ideal scenario for them in attaining a vision of ‘success’ in their professional life.

I was shaken some months ago while listening to a favourite podcast of mine where the interviewee expressed that what we don’t seem to realise is that time is not money.  Time is much more important.  I began to really think about what this means in my life.

I realised that if, by working for eight hours a day, five days in a week, I earned $1,500 and then simply gave that $1,500 to a stranger that although I would be financially poorer in that moment of giving the money away, I could and would make that money back again.

Should I want my eight hours each day for five days back? I would soon realise what the word ‘impossible’ means.

I am blessed. My ‘work’ is a great love and passion of mine. However, many of us give so much of our time doing things that we don’t like and then not realising the absurdity in it. I speak with those at least twice a week who tell me they are doing something they dislike – typically working for somebody else – and the reason for this is that it is a gateway for a better world.

A woman (who makes me the best coffee in the world) tells me her husband hates his job, but he’s doing it because the money is good and he’ll leave one day to live the life he wants.

In the eyes of Seneca, he would see this as the true indication of human insanity and ignorance of our immortality. To give away our most precious and unsustainable resource as if we would be able to have it made up to us when we watch our lives flash before our eyes while walking to our grave.

There has been currency of some form for as long as humans have existed.  Our lives in themselves are very short, however we live them as if we are immortal.

If we give our time ceaselessly working for works sake, or because productivity equals money and therefore success, we may then find ourselves ruing the day we did not live like three year olds, instead acquiring ‘lost time’ like it is a prize by being busy and productive.

All the while we are oblivious to the biggest illusion that has ever existed – that we have time to simply give away doing those things we don’t value, enjoy, or that we are passionate about.

Seneca writes:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; 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.

Seneca cautions:

You 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!

I have noticed that one of the greatest fears in all of humankind is that of dying. Though it seems the way that we address it is to forget about truly living in the brief time that we do have.

To those who are working in a role that they do not enjoy on behalf of another person, Seneca delivers some of his most powerful admonition:

“Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

We share our time about as if we are rich with it forever, as if we have an endless supply and so therefore it does not matter that we give it away doing things that do not nourish us.

After hearing a keynote speech by Matthew Michalewicz at a recent conference where he spoke of fear being the main thing that holds people back from going out and actually living the life that they would dream of – that life people pin on Pinterest while they’re slumped over their work desks being ‘busy and productive’ and I agree.

If we can recognise the fleeting moment that we are here and then use our time in a way that is valuable to us, we will begin to truly appreciate life and more than likely then we cease to be afraid of death.

What is it that we want to do, create, be, see, feel and share?

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. – Seneca

I want to do what lights me up and feels great without feeling like I’m creating busyness and productiveness as a way of showing others my worth. Which is a form of self-validation that I have been guilty of seeking in the past.

I also want to ask you to think about your life and the busyness of it. What are you doing that is worth your time?

That is what you need to ask yourself. What is worth your time?

Lastly, from Seneca:

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.


“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”
― Seneca

On The Shortness Of life was last modified: December 17th, 2014 by Alice Nicholls

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