Shit’s Fucked, But What’re You Gonna Do?

I started writing this post weeks before this and this, but now it seems strangely relevant. Recently Eidolon posted a great article about Seneca’s philosophy vs. his tragedies.

I, Calidius / CC BY-SA

One of the many, great parts of this article is this one:

Once I started to confront my depression and anxiety, Seneca’s philosophy sounded even more like well-intentioned but bad advice: just don’t be sad. As a whole though, Seneca’s body of work shows a man split between the anxieties of his political position in Nero’s court, and the calm he sought from philosophy. I despised reading his philosophy because it portrayed what felt like an unattainable goal, but I think it was unattainable to him too.

Seneca was a major proponent of the Stoic school of philosophy, which advocates among other things, striving toward a sense of equanimity (ataraxia ἀταραξία) with regard to the changes in life, and maintaining one’s virtue in the process (eudaimonia εὐδαιμονία). This resonates a lot with Buddhism too, such as the Kakacupama Sutta (MN 21):

“Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

But at times like this, I find it hard to take such philosophy seriously. It’s not that I don’t discount the words of the Buddha, or the Stoics, but it’s kinda hard to pay bills with equanimity, and it’s hard to accept the nature of things when you’re worried about your kids and aging parents getting COVID-19. I am furious, frustrated, and sad at the same time. The author is right in expressing her frustration: these things aren’t just mental games, tools for philosophy; people lives and livelihood are at stake.

The author concludes:

Despair and dread are breathing, living things, following us around, and to get around the fear that things are hopeless is a hard enough task. We need to validate despair in order to get around it and act anyway.

That said, I have to remind myself that I am not the center of the Universe. It owes me nothing, and I can expect nothing from it either. I can hate life and complain it’s unfair all I want, but a lot of good that will do. I do have to accept that fact that my situation is far from stable for the coming months (Coronavirus notwithstanding) and that I will have to take things day by day, step up as a father and provider, and somehow get through this.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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