Why worry?

In a letter to his dear companion Lucilius, the Stoic philosopher Seneca penned: “There are more things, Lucilius, likely to scare us than there are to break us; we suffer more often in intelligence than in point of fact.”

Chronic worriers tend to be more occupied by the long run than by present circumstances. During the day, and even during the night, their thoughts wander within the mysterious realm of what’s yet to return, plotting, planning, and calculating on the way to tackle an unfortunate fate that may rear its ugly head. But although they need to manage the long run, they’ve never gone beyond the confines of this. this is often because the longer term doesn’t exist, except in our minds. We can’t board the longer term, and that we can’t predict it. Sure, we are able to plan for things that may come, but this usually unfolds in several and infrequently surprising ways. Still, many folks fix our attention on the unknown and fantasize endlessly about how things that we can’t possibly predict will present themselves to us.

Seneca observed this phenomenon in his friend Lucilius yet as within the people around him. He counterattacked this often tiresome and destructive stance towards the illusory domain of the long run with Stoic reasoning, explaining why worrying about it’s pointless, and advising us on what to try and do instead.

The mountain is unable to predict what’s coming; it can only endure, and watch the snowflakes come and go, as we watch moments come and go, from (what we call) the longer term to the past. Thus, we all know that something is coming, but no matter what we attempt to make of it, and the way well we try and inure it; we’ll always be shooting within the dark. That’s why the long run as we imagine it has no ground to square one at the tip of the day; because the future is nothing over ideas, which vary from wild guesses to prognoses supported past results.

Nevertheless, many folks are over-encumbered by these ideas, causing them to suffer from groundless fears supported nothing but speculation instead of truth. As Seneca stated: “for truth has its own definite boundaries, but that which arises from uncertainty is delivered over to guesswork and the irresponsible license of a frightened mind.” He observed that some things affect us before they appear, and other things affect us after they, in reality, never will. inline with Seneca, this can be the case because we’re habitually “exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.” Seneca’s letter continues on to describe the nature of the mind, recounting to Lucilius that it seldom creates fanciful shapes of darkness, when there’s no evil to be found. Or as he states: “It twists into the worst construction some word of doubtful meaning; or it fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really is, considering not how angry the enemy is, but to what lengths he may go if he’s angry.”

This human habit of worrying isn’t just unpleasant. There’s much scientific evidence that suggests that worrying can make people sick. Literally. this implies that while the long run doesn’t exist, we’re worrying ourselves sick thanks to it. Luckily, Seneca’s writings provide us with antidotes. Now, what remedies did Seneca volunteer to fight this human habit of concern? His remedy comes right down to fortifying the mind with certain ideas and truth about reality, further as changing the stance we take towards fortune and misfortune.

First of all, he reminds his friend Luciliusof the very fact that although many unfortunate things have overcome him, he always stood his ground. So, it shows that, anyhow, he was perpetually able to cope. after we observe the history of our own lives, we may conclude that what we perceive as a catastrophe beforehand, usually turns out to diverge than we had imagined; oftentimes, we suffer but we anticipate. The irony is that the bulk of the suffering happens before the particular event takes place. for instance, we’re desirous about taking an exam, and therefore the weeks before we worry about it every day: “Will I blackout? Will I screw it up?” But the anxiety we experience when the exam is negligibly equaled to what we endured the weeks before. the foundation of this fear lies in our beliefs regarding the implications of failing the exam. we would think: “If I fail, my life is over.” Or: “If I don’t pass this exam, then it’s true what they say: I’m indeed a failure.”

But these beliefs aren’t true, simply because the consequences they anticipate haven’t happened yet, and can’t be predicted. while some catastrophic beliefs about the future could also be plausible; as long as they’re not coming to fruition at this very moment, what’s to be disturbed about? Or as Seneca stated: you’ll retort with the question: “How am I to grasp whether my sufferings are real or imaginary?” Here is that the rule for such things: We are irritated either by things near, or by things to return, or by both. on things present, the choice is straightforward. Suppose that your person enjoys freedom and health which you are doing not suffer from any external injury. on what may happen to that within the future, we shall see soon. Today there’s nothing wrong with it.

Within the same letter, Seneca encourages his friend Lucilius to take care of outside influences when it involves his personal situation. Keeping with Seneca, it’s better to trust in ourselves and take counsel with our feelings independently, as we all know our affairs better than anyone else does.

We’re easily full of the opinions and views of others. There are many individuals out there with narrow-minded and even delusional views of reality, claiming that they’ll predict the future, and gladly plant their seeds of fear in our minds, making us uneasy about the situation we’re in. Seneca urges his friend to consult reason to see if he doesn’t convert “what isn’t an evil into what’s an evil.” So, the antidote is that we carefully discern between imagination and reality: as soon as we discover out that our fears are supported by irrational reasoning, or fantasies, or exaggerations, our worries are debunked. Another antidote that Seneca proposes is a change of attitude towards the items to return. Seneca displays a specific open-mindedness in his letter to Lucilius, urging him to not conclude too hastily regarding the nature of that Fortune provides.

Fortune, during this case, refers to the ancient deity Fortuna: the goddess of chance, luck, and fate. viewing our human ignorance not only about what will happen, and the way these events will play out but also concerning the character of these events, and the way they exactly affect our lives, it’s better to take care when judging fate. In some cases, the ‘misfortune’ we anticipate indeed involves fruition. However, events sometimes take such a radical and unexpected turn that, against all odds, we’re getting off the hook. we will see this happening during a Buddhist story about a person who’s followed by a tiger jumps into an old well, and encounters a snake at the bottom.

He holds on tightly to a root poking out of the wall, which is getting eaten away by mice. His fate appeared to be sealed, but then, out of the blue, Fortune grants him the way out. Therefore, hardship can come upon us at any given time, but so can a stroke of luck in horrible circumstances. “Even bad fortune is fickle,” Seneca stated. So, his antidote is to remain open-minded about the future, knowing that we can’t judge the character of an occurrence before it’s happened, and its consequences lay bare. I quote: allow us to, then, look carefully into the matter. it’s likely that some troubles will befall us, but it’s not a gift fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And although it’s ordained to be, what does it avails to run bent meet your suffering? you may suffer in time when it arrives; so anticipate meanwhile to raised things. End quote. This doesn’t mean that we must always deny that bad things might happen. Seneca doesn’t encourage his friend to be ignorant of the terrible fates that would occur. He does advocate for observing with care. On the one end, it’s unwise to be in denial of misfortune. On the opposite end, we shouldn’t let the smallest sign of adversity throw us into a panic. So, the key’s walking the center path between ignorance and delusion, on which we mindfully assess truth at hand, while keeping all options open. Moreover, if we keep an open mind about the nature of events, knowing that not everything is what it seems which fate is capricious like a winter storm, we’ll realize that our judgments about the future and even present events are often misguided, and our fears concerning them groundless.

And whether or not it’s certain that disappointment is coming our way; if it’s not yet arrived, then why spend the time beforehand suffering in our imagination?

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