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On death

“Memento moritranslates to “remember that you have to die” and was largely part of the Stoic philosopher mindset.

Seneca says, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

Seneca again, “Whoever doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to live. Life is granted with death as its limitation; it’s the universal endpoint… and who can complain of sharing a condition that no one does not share?” He goes on “This desire for life must be knocked out of us. We must learn that it makes no difference when you undergo the thing that must be undergone some time or other; that it matters how well you live, not how long.”


Marcus Aurelius writes “Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”


Marcus Aurelius again, “Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long you live and while you can, become good now.”


Epictetus, “I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.”


“Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so.”, Rufus


The bulk of Stoic writings I recall seem to grapple mostly with our OWN death and how we should feel about it. How we can approach it mindfully. But to my current knowledge (as I simultaneously research and write this article), I’ve not been exposed to many past writings concerning someone ELSE’S dying. A recent death in my circle got me digging and trying to revisit these old writings for a new perspective.


Zeno skirts around the margins with, “No evil is honorable: but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil.”

Aurelius “About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.”


Seneca dials in a little closer, “It’s better to conquer grief than to deceive it.”


There it is.“Grief” is the term I’ve been missing. The Stoic take on “grief” is not covered as often as “death” it seems. Or maybe I’ve not dug deep enough? As I read further I came across this quote from Seneca who seems to have written quite a lot on death and its aftermath:


“Has it then all been for nothing that you have had such a friend? During so many years, amid such close associations, after such intimate communion of personal interests, has nothing been accomplished? Do you bury friendship along with a friend? And why lament having lost him, if it be of no avail to have possessed him? Believe me, a great part of those we have loved, though chance has removed their persons, still abides with us. The past is ours, and there is nothing more secure for us than that which has been.” Seneca also writes“If you admit to having derived great pleasures, your duty is not to complain about what has been taken away but to be thankful for what you have been given.”


Marcus Aurelius once again, “Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone — those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us — a chasm whose depths we cannot see. So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted.”[…]

Human life. Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting fame: uncertain. Sum up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.”

When someone seemingly young and healthy passes…Seneca’s De Consolatione ad Polybium says “”But, he was taken away unexpectedly.”’ Every man is deceived by his own willingness to believe what he wishes, and he chooses to forget that those whom he loves are mortal: yet Nature gives us clear proof that she will not suspend her laws in favor of anyone: the funeral processions of our friends and of strangers alike pass daily before our eyes, yet we take no notice of them, and when an event happens which our whole life warns us will someday happen, we call it sudden. This is not, therefore, the injustice of fate, but the perversity and insatiable universal greediness of the human mind, which is indignant at having to leave a place to which it was only admitted on sufferance.”

Wrapping up this patchwork quilt of an article, it seems the Stoics talked and wrote plenty about the passing of others in addition to how we should approach our own death. The thought is the same. We should not fear it. Death is part of life and there is nothing we can do to control it. The more we sweat and worry about death, the more joy and fulfillment we steal from our conscious living years degrading the quality of those years. By accepting death as inevitable, we can move away from fear and anxiety onward and past. To concentrate on the time we do have. It’s our mind. This is all within our control.

Final quote, and maybe I haven’t learned a thing because this one is about immortality. From Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic,

There is nothing, my good Lucilius, quite like the devotion of one’s friends for supporting one in illness and restoring one to health, or for dispelling one’s anticipation and dread of death. I even came to feel that I could not really die when these were the people I would leave surviving me, or perhaps I should say I came to think I would continue to live because of them, if not among them; for it seemed to me that in death I would not be passing away but passing on my spirit to them.”

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