SLRP: LVI. On Quiet And Study (Part 1: 1 – 8a)

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Seneca,

Your letter about noise, and the trials of city life bring to mind something I’ve been chewing on lately.  That is the retreating from the city life.  Your letters seem to often suggest one retires to focus on philosophy, and I’m slowly being convinced you may be correct.  yet this passage of Marcus sticks out at me as a blaring counter-example.

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.”

— Marcus, Meditations, Book IV.

Marcus’ ‘inner citadel’ seems at odds with both your suggestions, and my inclinations.  Thus far, in my own Stoic journey, I’ve found that those ideas which lie at odd with my instinct tend to have been borne out.

I’ve been tossing around the idea lately of an “extended Cynic holiday” as you suggest as a monthly venture in other letters.  However, I’m thinking on the scale of weeks and months.  Maybe six or nine months all together.  I would use this time to meditate, reflect, and simplify.

As I’m currently living in a metro-area of some ten million or so people, you can imagine, I’m sure, the bucolic fantasy of a small woodland cabin, a simple iron stove, and the slow mornings watching the mountain fog descend into the hollers.

I would take the time to read, to write, to reflect.  I would do the things that you say we should, to throw ourselves into philosophy here and now, not as a mere holiday.

But, Marcus’ advice begs the question, am I running from things to which I’m averse without an eye to true goods and evils?  Am I ignoring the retreat of the soul which is available at all times, and searching for an excuse to dodge some indifferents?  I don’t think this is the case, but a good understanding of myself and the situation warrants a close examination.

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

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