Today our U3A Group looked at Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He was born in 4BC and died in 65AD. He was a Roman Philosopher known for his Stoic philosophy. He was also a Statesman and Magistrate. Stoics get their name from Stoa (below) where they met and discussed their ideas. The dictionary definition of Stoicism is ‘An Ancient Greek School of Philosophy which taught that it is wise to remain indifferent to changes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.’ Seneca wrote his philosophy in Latin and therefore it was more accessible to the Romans as up to that point it was all recorded in Greek.
Seneca suggests that we best endure those frustrations we can anticipate and also for the frustrations in life that we weren’t expecting and cannot understand. We noted that much of his philosophy is similar to what we know of as the Serenity Prayer (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference).
We looked at some of his quotes and discussed what we thought he meant. We speculated about the last part of the quote below as perhaps an early reference to euthanasia. We didn’t come to any great conclusions but we enjoyed the mental stimulation and each others’ company!
Surely peace of mind and a clear conscience are well worth pursuing. After all, our level of happiness is only increased for a little while with the acquisition of new purchases and possessions. It is only a matter of time when our happiness level returns to where it was in the first place.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher born in February 341 BC. A great deal of what he wrote has not survived. His philosophy was to acquire a happy and tranquil life, free from worry and absence of pain.
His School, named The Garden has the distinction of being the first philosophical Greek school to admit women.
The basis of his beliefs can be summed as:
- Don’t fear god
- Don’t worry about death
- What is good is easy to get, and
- What is terrible is easy to endure.
Our group found lots to discuss about the above four points – particularly the last two. For example, what does he mean by “good” and how “easy” is it really? We found it hard to get our heads around the suggestion that terrible things/circumstances etc. are EASY to endure.
One of my personal favourite quotes from Epicurus is about the importance of friendship as seen in the quote below.
Of all the things which wisdom acquires to produce the blessedness of the complete life, for the greatest is the possession of friendship.
This one had us thinking about the characteristics of a child:
- full of energy
What do you think the quote is getting at?
As part of our group last week we looked at some of Socrates quotes and discussed what we thought they meant.
I had no difficulty with the above quote. It immediately brought to mind relationships in crisis.The sense of devastation if you have been rejected and deprived of the object of your desire. Someone suggested that love and hate are two sides of the one coin and how easy it can be to flip from one to the other.
I was surprised that many members of our group had difficulty relating to these words. The other interesting aspect was how much difficulty people had with the word ‘hate’.
We might say we hate the summer or the cold etc. but to express and acknowledge hate towards another person is a different matter. I cannot think of anyone I hate. There are some politicians that would come close!
Another thought is that while we experience these emotions, with restraint, as long as they are not acted upon the damage caused will mostly be to ourselves.
Please feel free to disagree with me! One more Socrates quote tomorrow and then we move on to Epicurus!
Last Wednesday I held two classes (morning and afternoon) where we are studying six philosophers and guided by a book called Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton (published by Penguin).
It was Socrates turn.
We talked about the importance of being aware of what is happening in our lives and the world around us. We could really relate to the idea of getting in a rut and working, eating and sleeping as is so often the case when you are in the workforce and paying a mortgage etc.
When we live like that we sometimes do things we don’t want to do; don’t find time for the things we do enjoy; take on board others’ demands on our time and energy; become distant to what is really important in our lives and find little satisfaction in life.
We saw that Socrates believed so strongly in his philosophy that he was prepared to die for it. It was interesting that some members of our group saw Socrates as a trouble maker in how he kept asking/testing the young men in Athens to show them how little they really knew.
He said he was the only wise person as he KNEW that he knew NOTHING!
We also talked about what wisdom really is and tried to think of someone wise. We struggled with that. We had lots of suggestions for the opposite!
I will write some more about Socrates tomorrow 🙂
When I was leading a University of the Third Age (U3A) group about retirement (called Retired: Now What?) I was doing some online research on the topics I wanted to cover: how we use our time; meaning; purpose; relationships etc.
The Positive Psychology ‘movement’ (Martin Seligman PhD) has developed a model called PERMA. I was pretty excited about this formula that seemed to cover many aspects of life. PERMA is an acronym for: Positive emotions; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning; and Accomplishment.
I also came across an article of an interview where Viktor Frankl was asked how he felt about the success of his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. His answer was very telling. He said (paraphrased by me) he was alarmed that the topic hit a nerve with so many people and it emphasised how much we DO search for meaning.
This awareness (of the search for meaning) is one of life’s universal experiences even if we are not consciously aware of it. I don’t ever envisage waking up one day and finding the answers but I will continue to enjoy the journey and keep asking the questions.
SO, guess what my next U3A course is going to be? It is a shift from looking at psychology to studying and discussing philosophy. I have been interested in philosophy for about fifteen years and read a few books on this very large topic! One in particular is written by Alain De Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, and published by Penguin Books. We will be using this book as the basis for the course. Here is an excerpt from the author’s website.
The Consolations of Philosophy
In Ancient Greece or Rome, philosophers were seen as natural authorities on the most pressing questions. However, since then, the idea of finding wisdom from philosophy has come to seem bizarre. Enter a university department today and ask to study wisdom, and you will politely but firmly be shown the door. The Consolations of Philosophy sets out to refute the notion that good philosophy must be irrelevant and gathers together six great philosophers who were convinced of the power of philosophical insight to work a practical effect on our lives.
Course starts on 18 July.
Have you ever loved a book so much you bought a SPARE copy, just in case you lost the original? That’s what I did when I was at the Melbourne Airport on our way back to Perth a few weeks ago :-).
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I was taken by a reading in my online philosophy class. It is as follows:
I have now reigned about fifty years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting for my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have befallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen: O man! Place not thy confidence in this present world.
Abd Er-Rahman III, who ruled Cordoba in Spain in the 10th Century
Now what do you make of that?
For many months I ordered my weekly grocery shopping online and had it delivered to my kitchen benchtop. For a number of reasons I returned to shopping in store.
It was interesting to note that I stopped purchasing many of the items that were on “my usuals” list online. Going back to the store meant more options and opportunities to change habits.
It occurred to me that life is a bit like that! I can get into a groove (rut) and follow the “my usuals” list of how I live my life day to day. I can get stuck doing the same things just because I have a narrow view of my options.
It is easy to just do the same things from week to week. However getting out and seeing what else the world has to offer can add a new flavour to our days.