“One should count each day a separate life.” So says the philosopher Seneca. The Stoics encouraged us to cultivate the proper attitude towards death as they did towards life. The implication of Seneca’s quote is that we should take note of how we live our life each and every day. And strive to make our answer a resounding yes each and every day. It has been said that the study of philosophy is a preparation for death. This is not a morbid sentiment but rather one to encourage us to make the most of our life and to appreciate each day and consider each day an opportunity to accomplish something so that we can say the world was a better place for our having lived.
Richard Dawkins points out that since we are going to die that makes us the lucky ones. Lucky, because most people are never going to have the chance to live at all. When you consider how many potential lives could be actualized you begin to appreciate the sentiment he expresses and to embrace the opportunity we’ve been given.
Seneca also counsels that we take heed of this in the following way:
“The wise will start each day with the thought:
“Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own. Nothing, whether public or private, is stable; the destinies of men, no less than those of cities, are in a whirl. No promise has been given you for this night. No, I have suggested too long a respite, no promise has been given even for this hour.”
In his book Plato, not Prozac! Lou Marinoff relates a Buddhist parable that expresses a similar theme:
“A monk kept a teacup by his bed, and every night before he went to sleep he turned it upside down. Each morning he righted it. When a puzzled novice inquired, the monk explained that he was symbolically emptying the cup of life each night to signify his acquiescence in his own mortality. The ritual reminded him that he had done the things he needed to do that day and so was ready should death come for him. Each morning then he turned the cup up to accept the gift of a new day. He was taking life one day at a time, acknowledging the wonderful gift of life with each dawn but prepared to relinquish it at the end of each day.”
A nice ritual to practice for all!
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator