Nothing Changes .

Our ancestors had a custom, observed right down as far as my own lifetime, of adding to the opening words of a letter: ‘I trust this finds you as it leaves me, in good health’. We have good reason to say: ‘I trust this finds you in pursuit of wisdom.’ For this is precisely what is meant by good health. Without wisdom the mind is sick, and the body itself, however physically powerful, can only have the kind of strength that is found in persons in a demented or delirious state. So this is the sort of healthiness you must make your principal concern. You must attend to the other sort as well, but see that it takes second place. It won’t cost you any great trouble if good health is all you want. For it is silly and no way for an educated man to behave, to spend one’s time exercising the biceps, broadening the neck and shoulders and developing the lungs. Even when the extra feeding has produced gratifying results and you’ve put on a lot of muscle, you’ll never match the strength or the weight of a prize ox. The greater load, moreover, on the body is crushing to the spirit and renders it less active. So keep the body within bounds as much as you can and make room for the spirit. Devotees of physical culture have to put up with a lot of nuisances. There are the exercises, in the first place, the toil involved which drains the vitality and renders it unfit for concentration or the more demanding sort of studies. Next there is the heavy feeding, which dulls mental acuteness. Then there is the taking on as coaches, persons who divide their time between putting on lotion and putting down liquor, whose idea of a well spent day consists of getting up a good sweat and then replacing the fluid lost with plenty of drink, all the better to be absorbed on a dry stomach. Drinking and perspiring – it’s the life of a dyspeptic!
          There are short and simple exercises which will tire the body without undue delay and save time. There is running, swinging weights about and jumping – either high – jumping or long-jumping. Pick out any of these for ease and straightforwardness. But whatever you do, return form body to mind very soon. Exercise it day and night. Only a moderate amount of work is needed for it to thrive and develop. It is a form of exercise to which cold and heat and even old age are no obstacle. Cultivate an asset which the passing of time itself improves. Continually remind yourself, of the many things you have achieved, when you look at all the people out in front of you, think of all the ones behind you. Set yourself a limit which you couldn’t even exceed if you wanted to.
          Away with pomp and show; as for the uncertain lot that the future has in store, why should I demand from fortune that she should give me this and that rather than demand from myself that I should not ask for them? Why should I ask for them, after all? Am I to pile them up in total forgetfulness of the frailty of human existence? What is the purpose of my labours going to be? See, this day’s my last – or maybe it isn’t, but it’s not so far away from it.
          It is clear to you, that no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings of wisdom make life bearable. Yet this conviction, clear as it is, needs to be strengthened and given deeper roots through daily reflection; making noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already.

Sections of letter 15 and the beginning of letter 16 from Seneca (Letters from Stoic, translated by Robin Campbell) to Lucilius. Written 35B.C. or 15A.D.

Adapted and read by Denis Conway.
Dublin Unitarian Church                                         Sunday 2nd January 2022

New Year resolutions ‘February is the new January’ , an article by Doireann Ní Bhriain published in Oscailt February 2019.