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Stoic advice for an old friend in need

“Philosophy molds and shapes the mind, gives order to life and discipline to action, shows what to do and what not to do. It sits at the helm and steers a course for us who are tossed in waves of uncertainty. Without it, there is no life that is not full of anxiety and cares.”
– Seneca, Letters on Ethics 16.3

Stoic advice for a friend suffering with heartache – Heartache can also be a pain in the arse hole too. One remedy that works for me at times is to fully embrace the emotional state so as to comprehend its subtle layers. Pick it apart and examine it. You see our brains also have a way of re-routing our thought patterns so as to avoid dealing and/or thinking about things. For instance, lingering anger often means that we have to change something both in our environment and in our stance towards something. It all comes back to Epictetus; we need to realize what is within and not in our control. Imposing our will onto things that don’t belong to us can throw us for a loop.

In the spirit of Stoicism why not return your attention to nature; go out into the forest, light a little fire, warm your hands & face, feel the wind blow and then let the shit go. You will likely feel resistance to this in the beginning but before long you’ll wonder why you didn’t return to nature in the first place. “Constantly observe all that comes about through change, and habituate yourself to the thought that the nature of the whole loves nothing so much as to change one form of existence into another, similar but new.” (Marcus Aurelius) No matter what you are experiencing right now, or holding on too tightly, this too shall pass.

Whether my friend received consolation from my recommendation we’ll never know, and even though my counsel was catered specifically for him, there may be more juice left over from this lemon to make another cocktail; however, keep in mind that advice ‘is geared to events, and events are always moving—no, hurtling—along. So advice should be formulated on the day it is needed. And even that is too slow: let it be formulated on the spot, as the saying goes.’ (Seneca, Letter 71.1) So in other words it would be a mistake to use my prescription as a universal application for bringing relief to an aching heart.

It can be difficult to put our finger on the source of heartache, even if such anguish appears to be caused by the loss or absence of someone loved. So how about some lyrical poetry to expand our neural network in view to approximating it instead: “You wanted life uncomplicated, only pleasantries and like a fool you thought life could be cheated of life’s realities.” Siouxsie Sioux has a fascinating way of rendering our tendency to place pleasure above all else. Throw in so-called objectivity and the fulfillment of desires and behold the enfoldment of a contrived existence. The more who jump on this merry-go-round the greater its intensity and cajoled feeling of being authentic.

Be the rock of the rock: “A thing that is well grounded does not move about. That is how it is for the completely wise person, and also to some extent for the one who is making progress toward wisdom. What is the difference, then? The progressor moves, but does not shift position; he merely bobs in place. The wise person does not move at all.”
– Seneca, Letters on Ethics (35.4)

For the far majority of us there’s an underlying and tumultuous e-motion-al current that directs our lives. We put our face on when we say our role in life is such and such while denying the psychological drives that actually spin us along. Just as celebrities have an endless well of need to be accepted and belong, they are prodded to act in ways that give them what they crave. Yet nobody loves them for being themselves, but for their art in making others feel significant, even though at the end of the day they may think nothing good at all of the common folk or the pleasure buds they kindle within them and how such fantasies might entrap them.

A stoic philosopher might caution us instead: “We should not take public opinion as the basis for our deliberations; we should look to the nature of things… The errors of individuals cause a popular misconception, then the popular misconception causes individuals to err.” (Seneca, Letter 81.29) When we let the social-mirror define us, to contort our very existence into ‘a function of the herd, and to ascribe to oneself value only as a function’, then not only do we fragment ourselves, we also lose our sense of wholeness; the ability to be natural, to be true to ourselves.

Additional reflections: My dear friend, it pleases me to hear that you have moved away from your mother’s home. You are independently minded after all, not to mention in your 30’s, and besides, it’s probably to your detriment to be under her thumb at this stage of your maturation. Furthermore, you would do well to ‘turn a deaf ear to those who love you most: their intentions are good, but the things they are wishing for you are bad.’ (Seneca, Letter 31.2) Now that you are standing on your own feet, my wish for you on the contrary is to devote more time to philosophy and in so doing remove all those superfluous notions that keep the populace preoccupied with lesser goods and chasing after their tails.

Now in regards of chasing after tail in general, we are also glad no one has caged you in. If Paul of Tarsus were here he might admonish you, “Now to the unmarried and widows I say this: It is good for them to remain unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Just as Seneca often slipped in quotes by Epicurus into his writing, a part of me also feels inclined to draw upon practical wisdom no matter its origin. There is something to be said for allowing lust to fade away, which will never end if you continue to feed it.

“Better to refrain from falling in love so as to avoid a condition that is frantic, out of control, enslaved to another, and lacking in self-worth.” (Seneca quotes Panaetius)

Take solace in the peace of being without unnecessary heartache and all the baffling troubles that go along with it. You have heard it said to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, well guess what; that commission has been completed, hell there’s even people living near the north pole, so it’s probably a good time to stop having children anyways and consider the benefits of antinatalism as a viable alternative to family living; nothing wrong with being a bachelor for life, and besides, just think about all the time you can devote to study, and break away from the cookie cutter version of selfhood so as to create anew, a completely different kind of you!

Now to conclude this letter as a permanent principle in your mind, allow me to rekindle my former admonition as it pertains to meeting potential sweethearts. Avoid fantasizing about them, or seeing them too often and abstain from intercourse for at least a period of one year. The far majority will fall away in no time flat but for the few who remain it may lead to genuine friendship. One final quote from our beloved Seneca to help solidify my thought with an analogy: “Most of all, banish [lascivious] pleasures; make them your worst enemies. They are like those robbers whom the Egyptians call “the Sweethearts”: they embrace us just to throttle us.”

Obsessions give way to perversions, which over time bring about infirmities of the mind that blacken our sense of reality, as well as our capacity to discern appropriate behaviour from impertinence. No different from the unchecked consequences of greed. For some it may lead to an upset tummy but others a filth that extends itself into the world at large giving way to oppression, economic ruin and political corruption. Viciousness has no boundaries or any sense of right and wrong, good and evil, but a monstrous appetite to devour and exploit.

About Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.

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