Seneca’s Philosophy and Picking My Own Brain

A collection of texts covering classical history. The focus in this case is Seneca and his Letters from a Stoic.

Diving into Robin Campbell’s selection and translation of Seneca’s Letters was a journey back into time some 2,000 years ago covering themes that continue to hold power in their messages. Seneca, through his letters, embodied what it meant to be a stoic philosopher using philosophy as a guiding path for his life and not just something to be studied. His letters provide insight not only into his philosophical beliefs but also how to integrate them into daily life the importance of being a good person in alignment with nature. The introduction is clear to point out this is not the comprehensive list of letters but has been curated to cut out repetitive letters or those containing similar themes already covered. Having never read Seneca, it didn’t appear incomplete as the broad variety of topics covered always had something interesting to discuss..

Spending time learning about the books I’ve been reading has always been one goal of this blog, so I digress having spent time digging through Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. It’s an inspiring site that sets the gold standard on finding strands of knowledge in books and weaving interconnected story lines through all of the different materials she finds. Im definitely late to the party but am now hooked. These reviews, in a way, have been designed to do the same thing but for myself. It’s one thing to pound through book after book; more of a way to distract myself from life perhaps. To read through a book and learn though has been my goal weaving my own creative thoughts in and digesting the material more thoroughly to the point where I could share some of the interesting pieces I found.

Seneca struggled with similar thoughts when it came to the study of philosophy and the challenges associated with covering too much all the time:

“…but first I’m going to tell you how this enthusiasm for learning, with which I can see you’re on fire, is to be brought under control if it isn’t going to stand in its own way. What is wanted is neither haphazard dipping nor a greedy onslaught on knowledge in the mass. The whole will be reached through its parts, and the burden must be adjusted to our strength. We mustn’t take on more than we can manage. You shouldn’t attempt to absorb all you want to – just what you’ve room for; simply adopt the right approach and you will end up with room for all you want. The more the mind takes in the more it expands.”

Dipping my toe is a superficial read taking nothing away from it; the past in a lot of cases with what I’ve read. A greedy onslaught is trying to decipher an entire book; in essence my naive idea of a book review. Shouldn’t the book be reviewed in its entirety is a question I’ve struggled with particularly with long detailed reads. So the middle ground, which Maria clearly found years ago, is somewhere that I’d like to be. So in essence this feels like a good theft, as Austin Kleon would note, in terms of my own learning. A better way to identify with the topics and more thoroughly understand them.  Realistically I’m not smart enough to steal the idea truly because I can’t store that much information in my head.

Starting out as a post attempting to review a book so broad, uncovering the true essence of Brain Pickings, and deciding to refine my own methods. Synchronicity; as I interpret it while I work my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  Distilling ideas in a simplistic fashion rather than broad brush strokes hoping to capture a book in its entirety. I’d like to think Seneca would appreciate the stepping back approach and spending time finding ideas:

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”



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