December 26, 2021

Don’t Burn the Candle at Both Ends

The mind must be given relaxation - it will rise improved and sharper after a good break.

Just as rich fields must not be forced - for they will quickly lose their fertility if never given a break - so constant work on the anvil will fracture the force of the mind.

But it regains its powers if it is set free and relaxed for a while. Constant work gives rise to a certain kind of dullness and feebleness in the rational soul.

- Lucius Annaeus Seneca, (4 BC - AD 65)

One can’t read Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and not be struck by the difference between these two radically different personalities. Each had his own strengths and weaknesses.

Which would you rather have entrusted with the immense responsibility of an empire? Probably Marcus. But who would you rather be as a person? Probably Seneca.

One of the reasons is that Seneca seems to have had what we would now refer to as work/life balance. Whereas Marcus can read as though he’s worn down and tired, Seneca always feels energetic, fresh, robust.

His philosophy of rest and relaxation - intermixed with his rigorous study and other Stoic rituals - probably had a lot to do with it. The mind is a muscle, and like the rest, it can be strained, overworked, even injured. Our physical health is also worn down by overcommitment, a lack of rest, and bad habits.

Remember the tall tale about John Henry - the man who challenged the machine? He died of exhaustion at the end.

Don’t forget that.

Today, you may face things that try your patience, require considerable focus or clarity, or demand creative breakthroughs. 

Life is a long haul - it will mean many such moments. Are you going to be able to handle them if you’ve burned the candle at both ends?

If you’ve been abusing and overworking your body?

Note: This article was published in "The Daily Stoic" by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, available on Amazon.

Body, Mind & Spirit

A healthy mind lives in a healthy body.

Juvenal, Roman Poet (ca 60-140).

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Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.
They are the destination, and the journey.
They are home.

- Anna Quindlen

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