The biggest mistake we make, according to Seneca

The biggest mistake we make, according to Seneca

"Extremely short and troubled is the life of those who forget the past, neglect the present and fear the future," wrote Seneca. The Stoic philosopher believed that "everyone burns his life and suffers from the desire for the future, in disgust of the present", so one makes a very difficult - if not impossible - mistake to repair: not being aware of the importance of the passage of time , not understanding that it is the only "possession" that, once delivered, we cannot recover.



Don't let others decide how you will spend your time

“It always amazes me to see some people asking for time and who is asked for it so compliant; one and the other looks at the purpose for which time is asked, neither at time itself: one asks it as if it were nothing, one gives it as if it were nothing. It is played with the most precious thing of all. They are not aware of it, because it is immaterial, because it does not fall before the eyes, and therefore it is valued very little, indeed it is almost priceless [...] Nobody will give you back those years, nobody will give you back your person. "

Seneca thought that we are greedy with our properties, but when it comes to time we are willing to squander it, without realizing that it is our most precious property, something we give and can never recover. Therefore it encourages us to be aware of the passage of time, without panicking but also without accepting it passively.

Seneca's warning to his friend Pompeo Paolino spans the centuries to sound like an alarm signal for us too: "indeed, the condition of all the busy people is poor, but the poorest is those who do not even tire in their own chores; according to the sleep of others they sleep, according to the pace of others they walk, they hate and love - the most free and spontaneous affections - on command ”.



Therefore, Seneca encourages us not to let others decide what we should do with our time because this is equivalent to allowing them to decide what to dedicate our life to. We need to be more aware of the decisions we make on a daily basis, those that can turn our life into a black hole through which days, weeks, months and years elude us without being able to dedicate ourselves to what really gives us happiness, pleasure and satisfaction.

Live the present as if there was no tomorrow

"Live as if you were to live forever, and do not mind how much time has already passed [...] You fear everything as mortals, but you desire everything as immortal", Seneca said, indicating our tendency to live in the balance between a past that does not exist more and a future that has not yet arrived, transforming fears into chains that bind us and stifle our illusions.

His solution to that existential problem is to live in the present fully and consciously. He wrote: “They are busy in a very demanding way: in order to live better they organize life at the expense of life. They make long-term plans; on the other hand, the greatest misfortune of life is its procrastination: first of all this fact postpones every day, destroys the present while promising the future. The biggest obstacle to living is waiting, which depends on tomorrow, (but) it loses today. You arrange what is placed in the lap of fate and you neglect what is in your power. Where do you want to aim? Where do you want to go? All future events are shrouded in uncertainty: live without arresting yourself. ".


The philosopher did not expect us to stop planning, but not to obsess and, above all, not to postpone the happiness and joy we can enjoy in the present to the universe of more or less uncertain possibilities that the future holds. We can and must think about the future, but we must make sure that we look back to the here and now.


Seneca's message is as simple as it is powerful: only when we face our own mortality can we enjoy the essence of each moment. After all, “it's not that we don't have much time, it's that we waste a lot of it”. We must take back control of our time and, with it, control of our life, before it is too late.


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