Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Life is Short: The 21 Day Challenge

I was leafing through my shiny new copy of Hardship & Happiness, freshly published by the University of Chicago Press as part of its ongoing series, The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

I immediately flipped over to On the Shortness of Life, the book that introduced me to Stoicism many years ago. I lingered over the brief introduction, interesting in itself for presenting the paradox (a favourite tool of the Stoics for encouraging deeper thinking) of a busy politician trying to advise a friends that he shouldn't be working so hard at a thankless job and spend more time in study and philosophical practice. Far from being a hypocritical 'do as I say, not as I do' pontification, it is the paradox that give the short essay even more weight. Seneca, says translator Gareth Williams, can write this letter in all sincerity because he is so busy with matters of state that he can see what he is missing, and is warning his friend of what he has so recently come to experience.

This struck home with me. Time is, according to Seneca, the one commodity that is irreplaceable, yet we spend it like we have a bottomless reserve, wasting it at every opportunity. So I asked myself, what am I doing with my time? How I am spending the remaining depleted balance in my temporal account? As Seneca challenges, am I spending it "on no good activity"? Not I!!

So here is my plan to use the next few weeks well. This new edition breaks down De Brevitate Vitae into 20 individual chapters of anywhere from 4 to 10 sections. There is so much content in such small spaces that rushing through it would be counter to the purpose of the book, in my view. One chapter a day, with time to reflect and write about it, would give me nearly 3 weeks of focused study, surely a "good activity," right? Add one more day for a wrap up (and to satisfy my mild OCD), we have a full 21 days of immersion into the philosophic life.

Pam has agreed to join me in this endeavour, and I was thinking I could invite others to join me. We are going to get started on Sunday, August 10th and run every day until the 31st. Each chapter will be posted here on each day (i.e. completely free, no need to purchase a copy of the essay for yourself), and I will add my thoughts in the comments. I invite you all to do the same. Of course, since I keep a personal study journal as part of my daily Stoic practice, I will be writing there as well. This could be a great opportunity for you to start the same, if you wish.

So stay tuned for the first chapter this coming Sunday, and I hope to read your thoughts.