Seneca's antidote to calm the mind and eliminate worries

Seneca's antidote to calm the mind and eliminate worries

"The truth is that we know very little about life, we don't really know what the good and bad news are," notes American writer Kurt Vonnegut, referring to the fact that, at any moment, good news can turn into bad news and vice versa. , since every situation contains the opposite seed.

Alan Watts referred to this phenomenon by saying that "the whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it is really impossible to know if anything of what happens in it is good or bad".

However, many of us can't help but think in terms of losses or gains, good or bad. We have a dichotomous thought and, as such, we need to catalog everything in opposite phenomena, in order to relate them to ourselves. Therefore, we think that all events can be beneficial or harmful. So we spend most of our time worrying about the possibility of events that we consider negative and harmful, potential losses promoted by what we perceive as "bad news".

Modern anxiety is fundamentally based on worries about things that will never happen

Some psychologists argue that modern anxiety is based on five categories of worries, four of which are imaginary and only the fifth concerns concerns that have a real basis, but the latter occupy only 8% of our total daily worries. In other words: we are real masters in the art of worrying about nothing.

And those worries feed present or desired fears, manifest or hidden, genuine or supposed… The Internet has further aggravated this situation. Being permanently connected, always knowing what is happening in all corners of the world generates an anxiety that is difficult to bear. How can we be sure that we will not be the next victims of a terrorist attack? How can we ensure that our building will not be the next to burn down?

Being aware of all the disasters and adversities that occur in every corner of the planet plunges our mind, already prone to catastrophism, in a state of true delirium. In this regard, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said: "perhaps the volume of uncertainty has not increased, but the volume of our worries, yes". This reveals a truth that is as evident as it is difficult to accept: most of our concerns have no real basis, but that does not prevent their effects on our daily lives from being devastating.

Seneca's antidote to free us from unnecessary worries

Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, centuries ago analyzed our tendency to focus on the negative aspects of situations and to worry excessively. He said, “Wild animals run away from the dangers they encounter in their reality and, once they have escaped, they don't worry anymore. However, we are haunted by the past and what is to come. Our 'blessing' harms us because memory gives us back the agony of fear, while foresight causes it prematurely. "

He meant that our mind continually travels between the past and the future, between the mistakes and disasters we experience and the mistakes and disasters that could happen to us. Indeed, in his correspondence with his friend Lucilius, later published as “Letters from a Stoic”, he concluded that: “there are more things that can frighten us than crush us; we suffer more often in the imagination than in reality ”.

Then, with his gaze placed on human habits, often self-destructive and exhausting in preparing us for an imaginary disaster, he advises us: “some things torment us more than they should; others torment us before they arrive and still others torment us when they shouldn't haunt us at all. We have a habit of exaggerating, imagining or anticipating sadness.

"Don't be unhappy before the crisis comes, because it may be that the dangers you suffer before they actually threaten you, never reach you."

Of course, that's a lot easier said than done. Seneca knew this, so he also analyzed the difference between reasonable and irrational concerns, showing us the futility of wasting our mental and emotional energy on the latter, also outlining a way forward:

“It is likely that some problems actually occur, but it is not a present fact. How many times has the unexpected happened! How many times the expected hasn't happened! And even if that happens, what is the use of exhausting our resources to face his suffering early? You will suffer when it happens, so in the meantime, look ahead to yourself to try and make things better. What will you earn? Weather. In the meantime, many events will occur that will serve to postpone or eliminate the problem. Misfortune is also fickle. Maybe it's coming, maybe it's not; meanwhile, there isn't. So focus on better things. "

Seneca was especially concerned to warn us that the greatest danger of permanent worry is that it keeps us always tense, on guard against an imaginary catastrophe, preventing us from living fully in the present moment. Therefore, its antidote for relieving anxiety and getting rid of worries is:

“True happiness is enjoying the present without anxiously depending on the future, not having fun with hopes or fears, but resting peacefully, like someone who wants nothing. The greatest blessings of humanity are within us and are within our reach. A wise man is happy with his lot, whatever it is, without desiring what he does not have. "

Therefore, the key is to live in the here and now, without developing desires that keep us in expectation and generate uncertainty about the future. If today we are concerned with becoming more resilient people and put in our toolbox for life the psychological tools we might need, the future shouldn't worry us too much, whatever it is.

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