“There is an element of self-seeking even in our sorrow.” Seneca’s Epistles
Some might ask me why I spend so much time on such gloomy things: death, disease, loss of a friend, poverty, failure? Well, it is in these times of grief or despair, challenge and trial that we need our philosophy the most. During good times, we hardly look for guidance at all. Everything feels free and good, life just flows before us.
It is during these good times that we should reflect, with greater clarity, on the suffering that we shall notice soon enough, so we can be ready for the challenge. With that in mind, I turn to grief.
Seneca’s quote above is in the context of advising a friend on dealing with the loss of another friend. In this case, the friend had died, but certainly I could experience a loss through a parting of ways, either psychological or physical. I think what Seneca is getting at is that often when we grieve, we grieve for ourselves. We feel our own loss, and how we will miss our beloved. In the case of our beloved’s death, we grieve for our own mortality. In a larger sense, we bemoan how nothing is permanent, even though we try to paint a fantasy of permanence for ourselves.
Truthfully, I have no specific guidance on grief other than that my having awareness of its roots help me be prepared for it when it comes. I am aware that a portion of my grief is self-pity…I’m feeling sorry for myself because someone was taken from me. Another portion of my grief is facing my own impermanence. In certain cases of death of a friend, I may grieve that his existence has been cut short…taken from him. We are all born to die, but that truth doesn’t immunize us from the sorrow. However, I should take heed to Seneca’s further words on the matter:
“That you should not mourn at all I shall hardly dare to insist; and yet I know that it is the better way. But what man will ever be so blessed with that ideal steadfastness of soul, unless he has already risen far above the reach of Fortune?…Let us see to it that the recollection of those whom we have lost becomes a pleasant memory to us. No man reverts with pleasure to any subject which he will not be able to reflect upon without pain.”
In any case, this awareness helps me deal.