Being a professional Episcopalian I don’t tend to get many Sundays off.*
On the rare Sundays when I don’t find myself kicking ass for the Lord I usually spend the day ultralounging in various states of undress and doing what I damn well please. Which is different than what I do every day because I’m not wearing pants.
Yesterday I found myself tucking into two of my favorite indulgences, Seneca and campy late 60’s melodrama. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the wisdom found within Valley of the Dolls, so let’s go straight to the Stoics.
I’m all about the Late Stoa, but for those of you who aren’t currently up on your Ancient Roman philosophers, let me drop a little toga on you all.
Seneca was a stoic playwright and philosopher around the time of Nero.
Like most of the post-Socratics, he was concerned about how to live The Good Life, but unlike Aristotle who was the sort of virtuous dude who could still appreciate a boozy brunch with twelve of his favorite well-oiled houseboys (and how many of us can’t) Seneca was a Stoic, one of those Virtue is its Own Reward guys. So, you know, probably a good idea to listen to him, but probably not the guy you want as your wingman for a drunken weekend in Ibiza.
Anyhoodle, back in the day, our boy wrote a series of letters to a guy named Lucilius, the Roman governor of Sicily, who was generally considered to be a pretty good egg. This is from Epistle XIII, and while I’m sure Big S didn’t mean it specifically as life advice for fat chicks whose mellows are being continually bombarded by harshing agents, it is shockingly applicable.
Do me the favour, when men surround you and try to talk you into believing that you are unhappy, to consider not what you hear but what you yourself feel, and to take counsel with your feelings and question yourself independently, because you know your own affairs better than anyone else does.
Ask: “Is there any reason why these persons should condole with me? Why should they be worried or even fear some infection from me, as if troubles could be transmitted? Is there any evil involved, or is it a matter merely of ill report, rather than an evil?” Put the question voluntarily to yourself: “Am I tormented without sufficient reason, am I morose, and do I convert what is not an evil into what is an evil?” You may retort with the question: “How am I to know whether my sufferings are real or imaginary?”
Here is the rule for such matters: We are tormented either by things present, or by things to come, or by both. As to things present, the decision is easy. Suppose that your person enjoys freedom and health, and that you do not suffer from any external injury. As to what may happen to it in the future, we shall see later on. To-day there is nothing wrong with it. “But,” you say, “something will happen to it.” First of all, consider whether your proofs to future trouble are sure. For it is more often the case that we are mocked by that mocker, rumour, which is wont to settle wars, but much more often settles individuals.
Yes, my dear Lucilius; we agree too quickly with what people say.
We do not put to the test those things which cause our fear; we do not examine into them; we blench and retreat just like soldiers who are forced to abandon their camp because of a dust-cloud raised by stampeding cattle, or are thrown into a panic by the spreading of some unauthenticated rumour. And somehow or other it is the idle report that disturbs us most. For truth has its own definite boundaries, but that which arises from uncertainty is delivered over to guesswork and the irresponsible license of a frightened mind.
That is why no fear is so ruinous and so uncontrollable as panic fear. For other fears are groundless, but this fear is witless.
*Yes I know it’s poor form to end a sentence with a preposition but I’m not about to say “I don’t get off many Sundays” because a) I’m twelve so that’s funny b) I would receive accusatory texts from concerned parties.