In letters from a stoic 24, Seneca responds to a letter by Lucilius about an impending lawsuit against him. He asked him not to panic the case has not been decided after all. “It is indeed foolish to be unhappy now because you may be unhappy at some future time.” Then, he told him an unusual way of dealing with anxiety which is to assume that whatever he fears is surely happen. In Latin, this is called premeditatio malorum which means imagining negative things to happen. “if you would put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen will certainly happen in any event; whatever the trouble may be, measure it in your own mind, and estimate the amount of your fear. You will thus understand that what you fear is either insignificant or short-lived.” Seneca gives us consoling advice that anything that we fear to happen is surely bearable. Then he mentioned several accounts of men who face some of the worst things (torture, suicide, etc.) that could happen to a person with an act of courage. This is one technique of the Stoics which is to put anything into the grand scheme of things. When we understand that what we fear is just one of the billions of life misery, it shrinks and will no longer scare us than it initially did. Seneca wants us to expect any kind of perils. When we do we are less surprised and less reactive when do they do happen.
In the later part of the letter, Seneca addressed the event which most of us feared – death. But that’s okay, Seneca said, because even the greatest men thought about it. Fear of death is no different from any form of anxiety but probably the one that scares us the most. The wise old man argues that while it’s normal to fear death, we should not think too much of something that will surely happen in the future because it robs us the ability to enjoy the present moment. Besides, we have been dying every day “we die every day. For every day a little of our life is taken from us; even when we are growing, our life is on the wane. We lose our childhood, then our boyhood, and then our youth. Counting even yesterday, all past time is lost time; the very day which we are now spending is shared between ourselves and death. It is not the last drop that empties the water-clock, but all that which previously has flowed out; similarly, the final hour when we cease to exist does not of itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process.” The stoics have beautiful ways of thinking death and viewing it as a process is just one of them. I found it consoling when a part of me has died. It is one good proof that I actually lived.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
FREE weekly practical tips, reflections and key takeaways from the works of the stoics