What if My Life isn’t “Disney World”


In my post “How Should I Go,” I likened our life to a trip to Disney World:  regardless of what you may want to do next, eventually the trip must end.  Part of what makes a vacation so special is that one gets to experience joyful things that they never have before, and might not experience again…maybe forever, maybe not for a long time.   Life can be like that, too.  In a vacation world, each day has something to offer us, and every moment has something special in it, but again, it won’t last forever.

Disney can be dark.

Disney can be dark.

However, I am talking about externals here, aren’t I?  And, when we talk about externals not all of them are so pleasant.  For many, the conditions of life are not like a vacation, but as prison or as a gulag.  For many, there are great struggles that face them.  For most of us, the reality lies somewhere in between vacation and gulag, but let’s discuss our worst case condition.

Indeed, some of us are experiencing external struggles: hunger, unemployment, sickness or death of loved ones, or poverty.  Others are engaged in a great internal personal struggle:  depression, grief, personal sickness, injury.  Let’s face it, for many of us, life is not Disney World…hardly.  Life may be a place we would rather leave as soon as possible.  Most who endure these struggles do not leave.  For most, the will to survive is innate.  Certainly, humankind would not have been around for all of these years if this desire to survive wasn’t built into our code.

Many who endure their struggles can be described as enduring “stoically.”  In modern usage, the term “stoic” refers to a person who grits his teeth and endures existence, never complaining about the pain and tribulation that he must endure.  Unfortunately, this modern interpretation is only half-right.  The Stoic, as referred to by me, is more than just indifferent to the negative pressure around her, but in addition she is also aware that happiness is found internally, through our reason.  Through our own deduction of what is true, we live as a Stoic not only to endure but to be at peace.

A much better view from the outside of Alcatraz

A much better view from the outside of Alcatraz

This peace, this tranquility is found in being aware of the good, by using reason to know what is in my control and what is not.  In that there is tranquility.  So, even if life has given us an inordinate amount of burden to bear, that goodness is still within.  Even if we are not at Disney World, we can find great happiness in our virtue.  Moreover, even in prison there can be things to be grateful for.  First and foremost is our thought…which no one can and nothing should penetrate.

“Tribunal and prison are distinct places, one high, the other low; but your will, if you choose to keep it the same in both, may be kept the same. So we shall emulate Socrates, but only when we can write songs of triumph in prison.”  Epictetus Discourses Book 2 Chapter 6

Simply, put my attitude is where I begin to find my own tranquility.  But how do I change my attitude?  Well, that requires another post, doesn’t it?  Probably several.

Seneca’s God (Vis-à-vis Plato)


Thus far, I have written quite a bit about how we can be happy by understanding the nature of reality around us.  Understanding is very important for our happiness, but isn’t it only the beginning?  To understand is to survive, but what makes us thrive?  What inspires us and leads us to our greatest happiness?  What is the meaning of all this?

I struggle with this question often.  Some days (or even moments), I find myself duty-bound to all of humanity.  Other times (yes, it could even be in the next moment), it seems that the greatest good is to “first, do no harm.”  In other words, if I mind my own business, and take care of myself while burdening the fewest number, then I am living the virtuous life.  Often, the good seems to be in being present for and helpful to those closest to us; to really be present and aware is what brings true happiness.

This meaning of life, this purpose seems to transcend from some universal order, some predetermined destiny of how existence should be, and whether or not we are living according to this plan.  At this point, it seems, is where the question of God comes in.  Seneca proposed that God is, in essence, the first cause.  That which drives all creativity, including our own.

Why am I here?

Why am I here?

However, this “first cause” description requires a little background.  You may already know that much of Seneca’s thought has been gleaned from his letters to his friend Lucilius.  In what is referred to as his 65th letter, he expounds upon the meaning of life to his friend.  According to Seneca’s recall of Plato, there are five causes:  matter (wood, bronze, rocks..the stuff), the agent (God), the form (the ways in which matter is combined to make up our reality), the model (the pattern upon which something is created), and the end view or purpose.  So, God uses a model to put the matter together to form it toward the end goal.  For all that we do, we follow this same series of causes.  When we start a project, build a life, or endeavor on a journey, we do so using these five.  Not a bad way to look at things in my opinion.  It’s a good way to organize a complex reality.  There certainly can be others, but let’s stick with this one.

As I mentioned earlier, the first cause is the agent. According to Seneca, this is God.  It is also our own reason, which is derived from God.  In fact, reason and God are one and the same.  In this 65th letter to his friend Lucilius, Seneca proposes that the first cause is “surely Creative Reason- in other words, God.  For those elements to which you referred are not a great series of independent causes; they all hinge on one alone, and that will be the creative cause. ”

So, it seems that Seneca places the highest importance on our creative reason as if it were godly.  However, he admits that he is unsure of this to his friend.  After coming to this conclusion he asks his friend Lucilius for help in the matter:  “Either give your opinion, or, as is easier in cases of this kind, declare that the matter is not clear and call for another hearing.”

What is clear is that Seneca thought these existential questions to be extremely important to our happiness:  “And that which creates, in other words, God, is more powerful and precious than matter, which is acted upon by God.  God’s place in the universe corresponds to the soul’s relation to man.  World-matter corresponds to our mortal body; therefore let the lower serve the higher.”

I tend to think that our ability to reason, and more precisely our ability to conceive our purpose in the universe is a divine gift.  The fundamental question that remains is what are we to do with our life?  This question has, in my opinion, already been answered:  we must pursue virtue.  But now, as Pandora’s box has been opened, some trickier questions remain:

  • What is virtuous?
  • How do we pursue it?
Pandora's Box.  Much worse than a can of worms.

Pandora’s Box. Much worse than a can of worms.

Fortunately for my blogging career, all of our human reason hasn’t quite answered these questions, yet.  Looks like I’ll have enough material to keep me busy.  Of course, I haven’t really solved much for myself or anyone else today, have I?