If you live according to nature, you will never be poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich.”
Si ad naturam vives, numquam eris pauper; si ad opiniones, numquam eris dives.
Nature’s wants are slight; the demands of opinion are boundless. Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the satisfaction of luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater.
Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits. When you are travelling on a road, there must be an end; but when astray, your wanderings are limitless. Recall your steps, therefore, from idle things, and when you would know whether that which you seek is based upon a natural or upon a misleading desire, consider whether it can stop at any definite point. If you find, after having travelled far, that there is a more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this condition is contrary to nature.
Seneca, Letters, XVI.8
Seneca, the tutor of Nero, was a wonderful letter writer. His letters, often called Letters from a Stoic, are full of advice that we can still use today. Take time to read a few every week.
‘Living in accordance with Nature,’ means not only questioning such conventions as religion or received authority from the past, media, news, and training ourselves to do without all except the necessities (healthy, nutritious food, water, moderate clothing and shelter) but developing the inborn gift of reason which marks us off as different from the animal world.
We are meant to set free or perfect this rationale element, this particle of the universal reason, the ‘divine spark’ in our human make-up, so that it may campaign against and conquer pain, grief, superstition and fear of death. It will show us that ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,’ discipline the pleasures and the passions, and generally subordinate the body and emotions to the mind.
This may not be easy. We must unlearn the past and step out of the box (i.e. the world metaphorically) and look back and see our world for what it really is. You will be a better person.
Modified from, ‘Letters from a Stoic’, Seneca, Introduction.p14