Tranquility – with Seneca on Retirement

Encourage your friend to despise stout-heartedly those who upbraid him because he has sought the shade of retirement and has abdicated his career of honours, and, though he might have attained more, has preferred tranquillity to them all. Let him prove daily to these detractors how wisely he has looked out for his own interests. Those whom men envy will continue to march past him; some will be pushed out of the ranks, and others will fall. Prosperity is a turbulent thing; it torments itself. It stirs the brain in more ways than one, goading men on to various aims, –some to power, and others to high living. Some it puffs up; others it slackens and wholly enervates.

“But,” the retort comes, “so-and-so carries his prosperity well.” Yes; just as he carries his liquor. So you need not let this class of men persuade you that one who is besieged by the crowd is happy; they run to him as crowds rush for a pool of water, rendering it muddy while they drain it. But you say: “Men call our friend a trifler and a sluggard.” There are men, you know, whose speech is awry, who use the contrary terms. They called him happy; what of it? Was he happy? Even the fact that to certain persons he seems a man of a very rough and gloomy cast of mind, does not trouble me. Aristo used to say that he preferred a youth of stern disposition to one who was a jolly fellow and agreeable to the crowd. “For,” he added, “wine which, when new, seemed harsh and sour, becomes good wine; but that which tasted well at the vintage cannot stand age.” So let them call him stern and a foe to his own advancement, it is just this sternness that will go well when it is aged

Excerpts from

Letters from a Stoic

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Retirement generally means leaving one’s job. This is usually a well regulated process with defined age and preparatory actions. Depending on what part of the world you are in, it can be something to look forward to or dread; this is due to different governance issues and social support systems. This however is not the kind of retirement Seneca is referring to in the excerpt above.

To lead a tranquil life, Seneca prescribes the following retirements:

  • Retirement from avarice. Some people are so greedy that how ever much they have, they keep striving for more by any means. These kind have no rest because they always seek to cheat, and like Plato’s proverbial cattle, they keep grazing and cannot raise up their heads to appreciate the tranquility of nature around them.

  • Retirement from ego. Some people simply think the world revolves around them. Such people are amongst the very worst, as they can shoot down the best ideas or projects simply because it did not come from them or there would be no personal glory to them. Such people can not know tranquility because they are always observing what others are doing hoping to outdo them. This does not guarantee them success, but even those in this category who become successful, we should remind that Montaigne said “even on the highest throne in the world, we only sit on our own bottom.”

  • Retirement from fear of misfortune. This is more common than we realize. Perhaps everyone has a bit of this, justifiably so many would say. It is a major reason why some will never realize their full potential. That fear to step out of the comfort zone. We wonder what people will say when we step out of our comfort zones, to try something new only to fail; won’t we be thought stupid? Won’t people say “s/he threw away a wonderful career for a foolish quest?” Et cetera et cetera…

Let him so regulate his character that in perfect peace he may bring to perfection that spirit within him which feels neither loss nor gain, but remains in the same attitude, no matter how things fall out. A spirit like this, if it is heaped with worldly goods, rises superior to its wealth; if, on the other hand, chance has stripped him of a part of his wealth, or even all, it is not impaired

Excerpt from

Letters from a Stoic

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

  • Retirement from envy. A self imposed punishment. No one can ever have it all, but that’s exactly what envious people want. Simply put its wickedness. Envious people waste so much energy longing for what others have rather than concentrating on themselves. Even if they are doing relatively well, they would have done much better and had tranquility, if they focused their energies differently.

  • Retirement from worries. And the realization that in the final analysis, all is vanity as the The Teacher has taught us.

Summer has gone, but another year will bring it again; winter lies low, but will be restored by its own proper months; night has overwhelmed the sun, but day will soon rout the night again. The wandering stars retrace their former courses; a part of the sky is rising unceasingly, and a part is sinking

Excerpt from

Letters from a Stoic

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

What other things would you suggest we retire from in our journey towards tranquility? Share your thoughts.

Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

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