Consolation to Helvia by Seneca

I loved this one, because Seneca is writing to his mother and comforting her to know that her son has been sent into exile. This one meant a lot to me because for a long time, I’ve considered my time in Indiana to be a kind of exile from my home which is New York. But then this past Winter Solstice, I discarded that sense of exile and said that which made New York home is here now. That sense of New York is always within me, and I really understood this in the last six months or so, while I read this essay.

It links with my root phrase that I repeat to myself every morning to sort of activate my Stoic practice. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear, and bad attitudes.” This phrase or aphorism is a popular phrase from where I’m from in New York and it’s an exemplar of the Stoicism’s cardinal virtue of self-control, which is exemplified by Epictetus’s dichotomy of control: “there’s some things in my control, and some things not in my control.”

Seneca illustrates this in the letter:

“Whatever is best for a human being lies outside human control: it can be neither given nor taken away. The world you see, nature’s greatest and most glorious creation, and the human mind which gazes and wonders at it, and is the most splendid part of it, these are our own everlasting possessions and will remain with us as long as we ourselves remain…there can be no place of exile within the world since nothing within the world is alien to men.”

There was a major turning point as well when I was getting my COVID booster shot at a Wal-Mart. When I was in line, there was a guy right next to me, with a Glock on his hip. I didn’t know whether he was a cop or not, but he was wearing a bright orange hoody and ripped jeans and work boots so something tells me he was a construction worker. I read this section:

“I know that this is not something which in our power and that no strong feeling is under our control, lesser of all that which arises from sorrow; for it is violent and violently resists every remedy.”

But really, at the end of all things here it is important to recognize that nature and my ability to make a reasoned choice is something that is never gone, illustrated beautifully in the final paragraph of this letter to his mother. And goes back to linking to Burkeman on Cosmic Insignificance Theory.

“…since my mind, without any preoccupation, is free for its own tasks, now delighting more trivial studies, now in its eagerness for the truth rising up to ponder its own nature and that of the universe. It seeks to know first about lands and their location, then the nature of the encompassing sea and its tidal ebb and flow. Then it studies all the awesome expanse which lies between heaven and earth—this nearer space turbulent with thunder, lightning, gales of wind, and falling rain, snow and hail. Finally, having scoured the lower areas it bursts through to the heights and enjoys the noblest sight of divine things and, mindful of its own immortality, it ranges over all that has been and will be throughout all ages.”

I know that when I close my eyes, and think about nature, I see the Adirondack Mountain Range and the aphorism pops into my head and i know that can never be taken away from me, because it lives in me.

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