Dear patrons and listeners,
You may have noticed my general absence from Patreon for the past couple of weeks. Between travelling for work, building The Walled Garden, launching The Poet & The Sage, and maintaining my regular coaching and creative duties, I’ve seldom found the time or mental space to sit down with Seneca and record new episodes. I want to apologise for this, as I know that many of you are here because you enjoy this series, and I know that in falling behind on my commitments to you, I have refused my duty to those who are supporting me and my work.
Having said this, I have been doing some real soul-searching of late, hoping to discover where it is that my ultimate duty lies. Duty is a complicated concept, and it requires some deep thought and introspection. For example, in this current situation, I find myself asking; does my duty lead me to maintain a previously-set schedule of content creation? Or rather, does duty call me to listen closely to the changes happening in my life and to be led on paths that offer great adventures and more profound meaning? What is my duty as an artist? What is my duty as a student of divinity? What is my duty as a husband and a young seeker of wisdom?
At over 100 episodes into my Soul Searching with Seneca series, I find myself becoming less of a student of Seneca’s and more of a collaborator with Seneca. What I mean by this is that as I have studied Seneca’s first 30 letters in-depth, I’ve found that if ever I am in need of deeper wisdom regarding my current situation, Seneca often comes to mind and leads me on the path that feels most correct based on the particulars of the moment. In such a way, Seneca is not merely a dead philosopher who I have decided to study, but rather he is a bright light of wisdom that I can use to illuminate the way before me as I wrestle with what I’m sure are some of the most common challenges for a budding philosopher, artist, poet, and theologian. I cannot help but think that this is precisely the kind of relationship Seneca would have wanted his future students to foster with him as they studied his works. After all, Seneca makes it clear from the beginning of his letters that he wrote what he wrote in order that it might be passed down to future generations for their benefit. If I was reading his letters only as a means of satisfying my paying audience, I’d imagine he would disapprove. Rather, personal transformation and the healing of the soul is what Seneca would have desired for his students, and so I have decided to take this path rather than the latter. As such, I’d now like to outline what is possibly the most important wisdom that Seneca has taught me so far, which is to learn how to follow and be satisfied with the goods of my soul.
Within his first 30 letters, Seneca often reminds his students that the soul is supreme and that we must become content with that good which arises from within and of the soul. This good, Seneca believes, is both the goal and the reward. I have often felt that I have an advantage when reading Seneca’s works that is not afforded to intellectual and academic types. My advantage is that I, like Seneca, am an artist at my core. We often forget that while Seneca was a political figure, he was also a playwright and orator, and while I recognise that my own artistic creations have perhaps not yet matched the standard of Seneca’s life works, I do feel that having an artistic insight can help one to understand why Seneca would have placed such a high importance on the goods of the soul. True artists, perhaps more than most people, and whether they know it or not, are always on the receiving end of what Seneca would have considered to be the goods of the soul. When an artist is moved to compose a piece of music, to paint a vivid scene, or to write a poem, they are receiving the very message that bubbles up from the depth of their soul. These messages are then transferred, with all their complexity and depth, through the instrument or onto the page or canvas. If the art is true, rather than being simply propaganda, the emotions and intensity felt by the artist in the moment of creation are made manifest in those who pay attention as they engage with the art. In such a way, the true artist is a messenger of the soul and a servant of their culture.
You may, at this point, be asking how this all relates to my current direction. Well, over the past year, I have undergone a personal transformation unlike any other I’ve experienced in my life. This period has been marked by an absolute deluge of creative output in the form of poetry, prose, music, and photography. As I have created these works, and as I have seen the power that they have to transform the lives of those who engage with them fully, it has been made clear to me that they are certainly the goods of my soul, bubbling up to the surface in search of an eye that would see, an ear that would hear, a heart that would feel, and a mind that would know. If Seneca were here next to me, which he may be at any moment if I recall the wisdom he has shared in his writings, I’m sure that he would encourage me to nurture these goods and to be satisfied with the good that they welcome into the world as I share them with those who would receive them well. This has been the advice of all those in my life who I consider to be wise. As such, I have lately been setting up the structure in my business and life in order to best facilitate the creation and delivery of those goods of my soul in a way that lends itself to the transformation of those who receive them. What this means is that I am now transitioning into the next stage of my artistry; the one where I learn to trust fully in the creations and promptings of the moment and where I surrender myself to the needs of my culture by delivering exactly what I believe to be most important at the time that feels most right. Delivering three episodes of Soul Searching with Seneca per week seemed right to me until about two months ago. Now, I am on a new path, and I have decided to deliver this series only on a casual basis, sitting with Seneca when I feel the need and releasing my own writings and creations more frequently. This approach feels right, for, after all, it was Seneca who first encouraged me to break free of my shackles which bind me to the teachers of the past, and to at last have something of use to say out of my own storehouse.
Another important decision that I’ve made over the past couple of weeks has been to no longer reserve what I have created only for those who can pay for it. The moment that led to this decision came when I was speaking with a friend and fellow seeker who reminded me that the great philosophers of old believed that wisdom was common property and that it should be available for all those who are in need. After all, wisdom is the medicine of the soul, and we live in a time when it could be said that people are in greater need of a cure than ever before. As such, The Walled Garden will be my storehouse for all the poetry, music, essays, epistles, and podcasts I’ve ever produced, and it will be my home base for community-building and personal interactions with those who care to come along on this adventure with me, Sharon, and Kai, but as with any storehouse, it must be emptied if new goods are to be stored therein. Therefore, my focus over the next month will be to first upload all of my poetry, music, and writings onto The Walled Garden and then to schedule the release of these works on various platforms over 2022 and beyond. Of course, this may seem like a counter-intuitive move on my part—I’m a husband, a student, and a would-be immigrant to the USA (if the embassy would just call my interview!). I have every reason to hoard my goods away and ask people to pay for them, but at the end of the day, I have to learn to trust that as I give, more will be given. My hope is that those who support my new venture at The Walled Garden will have the privilege of seeing and engaging with my most current works in a way that I believe brings the greatest depth to the experience. These works, however, will all be released to the public as I create and add more to The Walled Garden.
Returning to Seneca’s wisdom, I’d like to read one of the most important passages I’ve ever read from his writings. It doesn’t come from his epistles, but rather it is found in the first letter of his Natural Questions. When I first read what I’m about to read to you now, it forever changed the way I knew Seneca, and it echoed so many of the feelings and sentiments that I had felt as I learned to seek the goods of my soul and to truly wrestle with the theological questions that offer such profound opportunities for personal transformation. He said the following:
“I, for one, I’m very grateful to nature, not just when I view it in that aspect which is obvious to everybody but when I have penetrated its mysteries; when I learn what the stuff of the universe is, who its author or custodian is, what God is; whether he keeps entirely to himself or whether he sometimes considers us; whether he creates something each day or has created it only once; whether he is a part of the universe or is the universe; whether it is possible for him to make decisions today and to repeal impart any sort of universal law for fate; whether it is a diminution of his majesty and an admission of his error that he had done things which had to be changed. If I had not been admitted to these studies, it would not have been worthwhile to have been born. What reason would I have to be glad that I was placed among the living? In order that I might digest food and drink? In order that I might stuff this diseased and failing body, which would soon die unless it was filled continuously–and that I might live as an attendant on a sick man? In order that I might fear death, the one thing for which we are born? Well, you can have this invaluable prize–living is not so important that I should even get sweaty and hot. After all, man is a contemptible thing unless he rises above his human concerns.
“But what greatness do we achieve as long as we struggle with ignoble passions? Even if we are victorious, we conquer only monsters. What reason is there to admire ourselves because we are not as bad as the worst? I do not see why a man should feel pleased who is simply less sick than the others in the hospital. Having good health is very different from only being not sick. You have escaped the illness of the soul, Lucilius. You do not present a false front; your speech is not composed to suit someone else’s policy; your heart is not twisted; you do not have greed, nor extravagance, nor ambition. As yet, you have attained nothing. You have escaped many ills, but you have not yet escaped yourself. That special virtue which we seek is magnificent, not because to be free of evil is in itself so marvellous but because it unchains the mind, prepares it for the realisation of heavenly things, and makes it worthy to enter into an association with God. The mind possesses the full and complete benefit of its human existence only when it scorns all evil, seeks the lofty and the deep, and enters the innermost secrets of nature. Then as the mind wanders among the very stars, it delights in laughing at the mosaic floors of the rich and at the whole earth with all its gold…
“Spaces in the heavens are immense, but your mind is admitted to the possession of them only if it retains very little of the body, only if it has worn away all sordidness and, unencumbered and light, flashes forth, satisfied with little. When the mind contains those regions it has nurtured, it grows and returns to its origin just as though freed from its chains. As proof of its divinity, it has this: divine things cause it pleasure, and it dwells among them not as being alien things but things of its own nature. Serenely it looks upon the rising and the setting of the stars and the diverse orbit of bodies precisely balanced with one another. The mind observes where each star first shows its light to earth, where its culmination, the highest attitude of its course, lies and how far it descends. As a curious spectator, the mind separates details and investigates them. Why not do this? It knows that these things pertain to itself. Then it despises the limitation of the former dwelling place. After all, how great is the distance from the farthest shores of Spain all the way to India? Only the space of a very few days if a good wind drives the ship. But in the heavenly region, the swiftest star, which never stops and maintains a constant velocity, has a journey of thirty years. Here, finally, the mind learns what it has along sort: here it begins to know God. What is God? The mind of the universe. What is God? All that you see and all that you do not see. In short, only if he alone is all things if he maintains his own work both from within and without, is he given due credit for his magnitude; nothing of greater magnitude than that can be contemplated.
“What, then, is the difference between our nature and the nature of God? In ourselves, the better part is the mind; in God, there is no part other than the mind. He is entirely reason. Nonetheless, meanwhile, a great error possesses mortals: men believe that this universe, than which nothing is more beautiful or better ordered or more consistent in plan, is an accident, revolving by chance, and thus tossed about in lightning bolts, clouds, storms, and all the other things by which the earth and its facility are kept in turmoil. Nor does this nonsense exist among only the common people; it also affects those who say they have knowledge. There are some men who conclude that they themselves have a mind, indeed a provident one, evaluating situations, both their own and other peoples; but the universe, in which we also exist, they presume is lacking in plan and even moves along in some haphazard way or else nature does not know what it is doing.
“What value is it, do you suppose, to establish definitions, to learn about such things? For example, how powerful is God? Does he form matter for himself, or does he merely make use of what is already there? Which comes first: does function determine matter, or does matter determine function? Does God do whatever he wishes? Or, in many cases, do the things he treats fail him, just as many things are poorly shaped by a great artist not because his art fails him but because the material in which he works often resists his art? To investigate these questions, to learn about them, to brood over them–is this not to transcend your own mortality and to be admitted to a higher plane?”
What Seneca offers on these passages, aside from a beautiful picture of a man truly wrestling with God, is a call to an adventure unlike any other. Seneca states clearly that he believes that his life would not have been worth living had he never begun to explore the nature of God, and I have to say that when I read those words from Seneca, I got it because it’s exactly how I had been feeling as I explored the goods of my soul, and it’s exactly the adventure that I felt I was being led down. I know that this is somewhat of a presumptuous statement to make, and I’ll admit that I am very far away from having the kind of knowledge that Seneca spoke of, but this is exactly why I have decided to continue down this path and to seek first the goods of my soul—it’s the only path I know that leads to a knowledge of the divine, and if I’m to call myself a student of divinity, or a poet, or a musician, then this had better be the path I walk, lest I become simply another sophist among many.
I want to point out what I believe Seneca is really saying in these passages (if I can, in fact, break it down to a core message). Seneca is playing a game, and the aim of that game is to discover what would be the most important and life-changing knowledge a person could attain in life. See, in life, there is an infinite number of things we could seek to know. We could seek to know how to fix a car, or what time a movie is playing at the cinema, or how we might lose a few pounds before Christmas. But among all these things we could know, there are some that are more important to know than others. For example, if you’re a pilot and your plane is going down, and if while the plane is going down a flight attendant says that they’ve run out of meals, and asks what to do, the correct response from the pilot—if he is inclined to be calm—is to suggest that that question is not very important in the current moment. So it is in the brief moment of our lives that some information must take precedence unless we are happy to remain ignorant to what would be most important to know. When Seneca says that his life would not have been worth living if he had never studied the nature of God, what he’s really saying is that this is the most important question one could ask and that if one could peer behind the vale of reality, and if one could see the nature of God, then one would have true knowledge, or perhaps what Heraclitus referred to as the “oneness of all wisdom.”
It’s taken me some time to catch up to the reasons why I’ve been spending time amongst the Stoics, or why my poetry, and now my book, is naturally flowing in the direction of theological questions, or why I felt so pulled in the direction of studying divinity, and the best answer that I can come up with at this point is that I’ve been trying to figure out what would be the most important information to know in life. And please don’t get me wrong here—I understand how far I’ve come, and I understand how far I have yet to go. After all, besides all my personal progress, I still consider myself as a fellow patient in the hospital with all of you. My own soul is very ill in many ways, which is more than likely an underlying motivation for my seeking this information. But ultimately, I’ve come to a decision based on everything that I’ve learned so far, and that decision is that rather than telling all of you what my content delivery schedule will be and what I’ll be producing, what I’d rather share with you is what I hope to be my aim, which is to seek out that knowledge that, if found, would make this brief moment of life worthwhile. I hope to seek this aim through my music, through my poetry, through my podcasts, my coaching, my collaborations, and my study. But most importantly, what I’d really like to do is show you that this is my aim in the way I live my life, and this is an adventure I’d encourage all of you to go on with me. After all, we must not be oblivious to the fact that talk is cheap. Our aims are not spoken, but rather they are revealed as we navigate the landscape of our lives. In the end, it is revealed that some people march toward retched swamplands while others seek golden cities on high.
With all this said, I want to once again thank all of you who have decided to walk with me on this path. A podcast is a very strange technology—it reveals the evolution of a person’s thoughts, aims, and desires over periods of time. Since I started my podcast as The Practical Stoic back in 2017, the adventure has just kept on getting better and better. Now, with The Walled Garden and The Poet & The Sage out in the world, things are about to get even better. I can’t wait to share more with all of you throughout the coming years, and I hope you’ll join me in any way you can.