LETTER II

I consider myself an entertaining and well-travelled person. This was not always the case. I take a bit of pride in the fact that by travelling around for the last few years I have gained some interesting experiences and got better at talking about them. As I have plenty of time here in Byron Bay to do what I want to do, I decided to read Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, which has been on my Kindle for quite a while now.

Imagine my horror when the first line I read basically writes off the idea of continual travel:

You do not tear from place to place and unsettle yourself with one move after another. Restlessness of that sort is symptomatic of a sick mind.

My adventures into the world of ancient Roman writings have not gone too well. One paragraph in, and the very thing that I thought I had done right has come under heavy attack! As I read a bit further, however, I think that he is talking more about the paradox of choice as opposed to travel in itself. Too much change makes it hard to brush your teeth twice a day, let alone get anything done.

We have talked about the toll of continual travel ourselves. I actually find the prospect of travel a wearing thing. There are a lot of choices and options, and, when everything is changing, they certainly overwhelm me. It’s the reason that I find chilling in Byron so good - most choices are removed from me. It actually took me about two weeks to chill after getting here - much to the amusement of Ian and Eugene. It’s just the way I am. Seneca notes the toll of travel on friendships when he says people who spend their whole life travelling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships.

I really agree with this statement - I think it really effects my generation. I can see it here in Byron Bay, groups of people hang out, drink and bond massively - only to all split up next February when the season is over, and the jobs evaporate. The whole thing takes place with a new group of tanned twenty-somethings next year. In one view it’s a bit grim, but I’ve also enjoyed the experience in single, one-off stints.

The comparison with travel is also applied to reading. He advises reading a small collection of excellent books - this allows the reader to get closer to the mind of the author and gain insight that comes from familiarity. I think this of particular importance in modern times - I now have 60 books on the Kindle, despite having sworn to only have five on it at any given time. I am addicted to information, and it takes daily reading to make myself aware of how little I can read at a time. Now I realise that, when I do read, I skim to a huge degree - it’s perfect for novels where the story is designed for it. For ancient Roman literature, however, I need to slow the process down even further.

I have read a novel called A Man in Full that is based on stoic philosophy. I realise that a long novel that took me 5 days to read contains less philosophical points then Seneca’s letters - I can read them all in two hours. I will be better off reading them one at a time over a month, and then see if I have an overview on the whole thing.

Seneca finishes the letter with the idea of a thought for the day - something that will help you to build yourself up to face death or poverty better. I think that this practice has a two-fold benefit: first you enjoy the moment more (the horrible thing is not happening now), and it is easier to ignore insignificant, but irritating, problems. Secondly I think that over time you end up with a more robust and down to earth approach to life.

The final thought I have on the thought for the day is that it is a very personal thing - it need not be mentioned to others. People of a non-philosophical mind will not understand it and might even respond negatively.