Mental Health

Seneca’s Stoicism

Let me say one thing before we get all up in arms: I’m not here to glorify or romanticize suicide. Now, please continue:

On Albigensia Press, a blog I follow (and recommend), his post “Inspiration in the Midst of Darkness” sparked an interesting comment section and I’d like to take the time to elaborate (probably in several posts, now that I think about it) as I always feel weird when comments are over a few lines long. While writing my several-paragraphs-long comment,  I remembered how dang much I enjoyed Seneca and how discovering his thoughts for the first time in college rocked my world. How had I forgotten in the first place!? That’s the real question.

Anyways, Seneca was a Roman philosopher who endorsed stoicism not just as a manner to deal with situations, but as a literal life philosophy that could should be adopted by everyone. I like to think that maybe I’d forgotten about my immediate attachment to Seneca because I have adopted quite a few of his teachings into how I consider my life. I didn’t have to remember because I had already instituted. Or perhaps I’m just deceiving myself (big shrug).

Rule 1: Life is Hard, but So Are You

Life is hard. In fact, for many of us still, not just ancient Romans, there’s not a whole lot of softness in the world. Cities are made of cement, transportation’s brutal, work is soul crushing, people are cold in general, and slowly the things we love die (or we live long enough to no longer enjoy them. Worse still, we can become so aged we can no longer engage in those beloved things).

And yet, life persists. I mean, look at you! Every day, still getting up and cutting through the city in whatever metal beast you choose. Look at you! Continuing to work and press through the grind of the day. Look at you! Reaching out to the ones you love and making new friends, even in the middle of a pandemic, keeping relationships alive. Life is hard, but you have to realize how much stronger you are than all that daily crap. It doesn’t defeat you, you’re still chugging along. And even more, you choose to continue to dominate.

Rule 2: The Gods Love You and That’s Why Your Life Sucks

“Yea, though [you] walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” know that you’re exactly where the gods want you to be and they’re so happy you’ve made it.

Seriously, though: the harder your life is, the prouder you should be (because the gods sure are!). With every obstacle you encounter, you become stronger as a person. It’s like mini-boss fights sprinkled throughout your day to day, and you’re leveling up quick! A chorus of “you’re welcome” reigns down from Olympus.

With so many people milling around the mortal plane, the gods are good, but they can’t pay attention to all of us. However, the select few of us that are particularly interesting to the gods shall have a holy host on their shoulder throughout their lives. With an immortal life coach, nothing would be more fitting than to keep you fighting fit. And what hones a body or a character to the sharpest it can be? Fucking conflict.

If you’re lucky enough to have god-friends, just know your shit is about to get absolutely demolished. Look at Perseus, Odysseus, Theseus – a lot of ‘eus’-es. These characters when positively mad with the god’s favor. And while their lives were exciting, they were also tumultuous, tragic, chaotic messes sprung from the font of gods’ love. And the guys became literal stars.

So hey, you, wallowing in your disproportionately difficult existence, listen up! You’re the gods’ chosen one. They want you to be the toughest, most morally sound mf around. So you better sit up straight and say thank you at the next bacchanalia.

Rule 3: You Can Always Opt Out of the Gods’ Love, Though We’ll Call You a PAB Behind Your Back

Consent is sexy, even for the immortals (don’t @ me, we know this statement is problematic). The gods also recognize humanity’s inherent free will. We are molded from them, after all. The gods are fearful of pain and can’t understand death, but they fully comprehend imprisonment and freedom.

If, for whatever reason, you have decided that life is too difficult – despite the fact your body was made to adapt and conquer anything or despite the fact the gods are personally seeing to your heroic development of body, mind, and soul – you can choose to press the big red button and close it all down (I’m currently reading Ready Player Two).

You can take your life into your own hands and opt out of the extended warranty. The people you knew will be sad and the gods will lament their wasted efforts, but overall suicide is your right as an actor with free will.

The gods will mock you, though. You won’t ever be welcomed to Elysum, but that’s for selfish purposes. As you’ve mocked the gods be conquering the greatest obstacle: to overcome one’s natural instinct to stay alive. You’ve also taken away their ability to throw more “fun” trials your way. How dare you. As a rule, they’ll have to punish you, so your soul will remain forever in limbo, never to rest. One might say an eternity in limbo, taken on willingly, might be the ultimate ultimate obstacle.

To hear a philosopher more or less accept suicide as a fact of life was baffling. I’d only been exposed to the softball philosophers by that time, but none of them ever said suicide was okay. Seneca by no means says it’s preferable or completely acceptable, but he says it’s an okay option.

The first time I studied Seneca, I was both shocked and comforted. I was well into my fifth year of chronic depression, and it was nice to know there was someone at some time to confirm my own thoughts. No matter how warped the thoughts may be, it was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

I’m not one that’s going to go out of my way to kill myself (I feel like I say this so often), but if death comes, I’m not gonna put up much of a fight. And in the back of my mind, as some days the world crashes down and I can’t breathe, I remember that I have absolute control and that I have the option to end it. That’s comforting to me. Maybe I don’t take comfort in the same thing others with mental illnesses take comfort in, but at least I’ve found it.

I recently found out that my cousin, Brittany, volunteers for the national suicide hotline number. After having experienced an absolute tragedy of a childhood, she’s channeling her experiences (indeed, refinements by the gods!) into helping others find their strength to continue on their own journeys.

For me, Seneca is a comfort. Stoicism is a comfort. Knowing the gods favor me and throw plights my way is comforting. Knowing I have ultimate control over me and how I handle things is a comfort. Brittany is a comfort.


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