PNTV: Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

by: Brian Johnson

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hey this is Brian welcome to philosophers notes TV today we've got an episode on letters from a stoic by Seneca Seneca is one of the three leading stoic philosophers we profile the other two are Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus they make up three of the top ten old-school classics we have in the philosophers notes the other ones include books like the bhagavad-gita the Dhammapada the daodejing Emerson meetcha Confucius's Analects and a couple of others old-school classics now they're all saying very similar things along with all the other of the hundred notes we profile and the number one thing in this note and in stoicism in general as a philosophy is the idea that our character is the only guarantee as Seneca says of everlasting carefree happiness our character the world outside of ourselves will never give us happiness nor will it ever be responsible for our unhappiness it doesn't matter what's happening out there what matters is how we're interpreting that those events that's the essence of stoicism and in the note we're going to have fun looking at a couple of my favorite big ideas and how to go about rocking it the first one is Seneca says we've got to create a disposition to good right he says it in a funny way but I'll sent this out or paraphrase it he says we need to work hard such that our willpower our willpower to do the right thing becomes a disposition to doing the right thing so when you first build a new habit for a while you need to actually focus on what you're going to do then after a while that just becomes who you are it's what you do moment to moment to moment it becomes your disposition so your will to good becomes a disposition they're good it's a really powerful thing it's how all great habits are born and how disposition character is formed we've got to do the right thing moment by moment day by day such that we have the character that will shape our destiny which we just talked about in the note on Ralph Waldo Emerson which you can check out he also has a great line he says how much better is it to pursue a course where what's Pleasant for you what you actually enjoy doing is what's best for you it's funny to me I eat pretty clean I just turned it up a few notches just got back from our honeymoon where we spent creating an ideal vision of our future at what I jokingly refer to as health boot camp Hippocrates Health Institute and they're all about living foods so a lot of raw foods a lot of sprouted foods and grains which just give you incredible energy and vitality now what I eat now is kind of weird for most people which is actually kind of weird when you think about it that eating what we're naturally made to eat is abnormal is a whole other conversation but it's become a disposition for me to do the right thing and I actually enjoy it I both enjoy it it's pleasurable for me and in my mind it's the right thing to do that's what Seneca is talking about that's a good place to be where the right thing to do is what you enjoy doing the most that's where we want to get in our life so identify what your values are what your ideals are and commit to doing them to such a degree that doing them gives you joy and it vitalizes your life this is what Michael Beckwith calls bliss a plan which I mentioned in every other episode it seems we want to have joy and bliss in doing the right thing bliss aplomb disciplined this one this one big stuff Seneca has got another great line he says to be everywhere is to be nowhere to be everywhere is to be nowhere we've got to focus our energy when I'm journaling I often write you know these lines that show a focus point what is my number one now goal what am i focused on right now we talked about this in the 80/20 principle right twenty percent of what you do is going create 80% of your results the question is what are those 20% and are you focusing on them are you focused on them because 80% of our efforts are not producing much of our results much of our happiness much of our profits and business much of our joy much of our vitality so focus on your 20% and then go out and rock it to be everywhere to be nowhere ken Wilber has a great line as well he talks about the fact that in our lives we have lines of development right so we can be a great husband or wife mother or father or athlete or we have a spiritual line of development or we have a cognitive intellectual line of development a health and fitness line of development we've got a lot of lines that we can develop some of them are low some of them are high but he says look you need to focus you can't work on every single one all at once he calls that metaphysical gluttony I love that phrase metaphysical gluttony don't be a metaphysical glutton to be everywhere is to be nowhere if you're totally spread out you're not going to get any results anywhere we've got to focus our energy that's where we're going to find results that's a really cool idea hope you dug it he's got some other great ones he says your ideal state your ideal state is very simple its what nature has destined for you what's your ultimate purpose is we talked about this with Marcus Aurelius with everyone so what is your highest vision of yourself that's your ideal state you want to go out and rock it you want to live in accord with your own nature to be specific as what Seneca says you want to live in accord with your own nature Joseph Campbell would say you want to follow your bliss Esther and Jerry Hicks would say we have an emotional guidance system which is telling us whether we're on or off whether we're living in a quarter of their own nature or not Emerson would say we want to trust ourselves self-reliance this is what it's all about learning to trust ourselves move too that ideal state he's got a great line he says the worst a person is the less he feels it or she feels it the worse a person is the less he or she feels that that's pretty funny so pay attention to that and when you see people who may not be aware of it at all maybe have some compassion remember that line he has another great line here he says there is nothing nothing the wise person does reluctantly do it or don't do it right but if you decide that something is worth doing do it as the Buddha would say with all your heart the wise person does nothing reluctantly don't do something and bitch about it in other words right don't start doing something and be like oh complaining and you know criticizing whoever made you do it no one made you do anything this is the idea of a philosopher and of a creator if we're going to choose to do something we do it all the way we don't do it reluctantly if you don't want to do it and communicate and make a new commitment or you're going to do it do it all the way enjoy it love it it's a pretty big idea the path to salvation he says the first step in making and improvement in our lives is a consciousness of wrongdoing the first step is usually before we become aware and we can actually change we just do the thing that's not good for us we do it and we do it and we do it whether it's drinking alcohol too much or using the Internet too much which is my advice primary advice anyway you know there's different things we have that are our wrongdoing well he says a consciousness of that wrongdoing is the first step awareness is the first step Vernon Howard another great teacher we profile says that positive negativity to notice when you're off path is a very good thing to be able to see that you're over here when you want to be here that's a positive thing he calls it positive negativity so when you find yourself not working out or eating overeating again or whatever it is you don't want to do notice that then celebrate it don't waste any time and shame or disappointment notice it see wow I just noticed let me get back on track that's a really cool thing that can really help us out another really quick idea he says here we want to be harsh with ourselves a time so be nice when you see yourself off path and also you got to be willing to be harsh with yourself at times and say you know what that doesn't work for me I'm going to live like this from here on out final idea is this he says it is not because things are difficult that you do not dare it is because you do not dare that things are difficult I'll repeat that it's not because you things are hard that you don't do them it's because you don't do them that they're hard just do it he says just go for it and you're going to see that you have way more power than you thought you had you need to be able to do things a lot more skillfully than you may have dreamt up so there you go that's a quick look at Seneca hope you enjoyed it and look forward to sharing more Q soon have an

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In this PN TV episode, we'll take a quick look at some of Seneca's Big Ideas on rockin' it from his great Old School Classic: "Letters from a Stoic."

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