Everyday miracles

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+



What is a miracle?

A supernatural event? Something rare? Magic, or deception?

Yes, it can be any of these things, but I wonder how many people would say that a miracle can be something ordinary?

Or, at least, something that seems ordinary. Miracles happen every day around us, we just don’t see it.

Most people would call walking on water a miracle, but how about walking on earth? How special that is! Yes, most people can walk on the ground, but that doesn’t make it less of a miracle.

Think about it. Think of all of the things in the universe that had to come together so that you can take a single step. From the beginning, conditions on Earth had to be just right for life to blossomeverything from the temperature to the water and oxygen levels. That’s why life has been so hard to find anywhere else. And even when it wasn’t perfect, like when a volcano erupted, or a meteor struck, every one of your ancestors survived so that you are alive today.

That’s not all. If you want to take a shorter view on it, the fact that you’re healthy and alive right now, and able to enjoy this beautiful day is a miracle in itself! Be grateful for every moment you can feel the breeze through your clothes, or the rain on your face. Be grateful for every morning the sun rises and every evening you made it to the end of the day alive…because, sadly, a lot of people didn’t.

In our modern lives, we can’t expect too many miracles. But if we look carefully, they are all around us. The miracle is not to walk on the water, or on clouds or fire, but it is to walk on earth.

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5 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirit – A Minimalist’s Guide

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

In life, there are a lot of things that matter. For example, your work, your relationships, and your health. But there is something at the root of all these areas in our lives that connects them, which we can easily neglect like tending to flowers in the garden but not looking after the roots.

Even if things are going well for now, without looking after the roots, everything will eventually weaken over time.

The roots that connect all the areas in our lives is the strength of our spirit.

What do I mean by this? Your spirit is you, and all the things that make up what you are your mind, your body, your relationships, memories, character, actions, beliefs and values. These are the things that make us unique. Put together, in the end, your spirit will be your legacy.

It can be a story of weakness, discontentment, and regrets, or one of adventure, kindness and virtue. What you leave behind is up to you.

how to strengthen your spirit a minimalist’s guide

“Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength.” –Douglas Malloch

1. Cultivate courage. If you always stick to what you’re already comfortable with, you’ll never push past your current limits. Your spirit will never grow from being trapped in the confines of fear. Don’t fall into what is easiest, put yourself out there. Challenge yourself. It’s the hardship that builds strength. Try something new every day sometimes you’ll fail, but those are opportunities to learn and grow. You will have lived your life without regrets, because you tried everything that you wanted to. Through cultivating your courage, you can, and will, achieve great things.

Read: 5 Lessons Learned from Repeated Failure

2. Open your heart. Humans are naturally empathetic creatures. You can end up expending huge amounts of energy blocking out others and ignoring their suffering. In terms of spiritual growth, being selfish certainly doesn’t pay. Instead, be generous and give what you can not just money, but your time can also be as valuable. When you open up your heart, in a way you become vulnerable, but that’s not a bad thing. You’ll be more open to new ideas, listening to others, and learning new things. Challenge what you know, so that with reason you are able to support your views, or better yet, amend them. Put yourself on the line, and when you make it to the other side, you’ll be stronger.

Read: Be Vulnerable, Be Alive

3. Maintain balance. Demands in our every day lives pull us all over the place. Work, relationships, staying fit, all can take up our time until we feel like we have none left. It’s difficult to juggle it all – we can’t spend equal amounts in all areas, and we can’t all be perfect all the time. But with a bit of awareness we can identify areas we’ve been neglecting, and with practice, we can adjust until we feel we’ve reached an equilibrium between work and play. Along the way, we have to ditch the things that are wasting time, like too much TV, or more drastically, even our jobs if it’s sucking away too many hours and too much energy from what we really care about. Just like your body needs a certain amount of activity versus sleep to be fit and to get stronger (and too much of one will lead to breakdown) your spirit builds in the same way.

Read: Balancing Work Life With A Minimalist Life

4. Eliminate the weeds. Weeds are like parasites that creep up on us and suck away our energy. If you don’t pay attention to them, they’ll spread and take over our lives. If we are to cultivate a strong spirit, we need to eliminate these sources of toxic energy. This includes people and relationships that take up our time and emotional energy, but don’t give anything back, and things like partaking in gossip, complaining too much, and talking about people behind their backs. Other timewasters, like too much TV, social events that we feel obliged to go to but don’t enjoy, also need to be cut down if we are to spend more time on growing ourselves, or the relationships we care about. A more simplified lifestyle where we spend less money also has the benefit of saving us from working as much to sustain our lifestyle.

Read: Let go of your most toxic habit

5. Build integrity. Integrity is like food for our spirit. It energises it, and gives us life. Things like being honest and admitting to your mistakes so you can learn from them, and build your strength. Keep promises, to yourself and others, and follow through with what you say you’re going to do. People will come to rely on your word. When you are faced with a decision, try to do the right thing that’s best for the most people, instead of what’s right for just yourself. Be kind to others, and approach others with sincerity. You’ll attract more friendships this way, with other open and honest people. The relationships in your life will be much more fulfilling when they’re with people who love you back, and who give you back as much as you give them.

Read: Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path II – Ethical Conduct

The effect of doing all this is that you’re bound to leave the earth having a left a better impression than when you entered it. Your courage will inspire others, your open heart will make you closer to those you know and love, your balanced life without the weeds that sap your energy will allow you to do what you love, and your generosity and integrity will encourage others to do the same.

It won’t be easy. We don’t do all of these things by default. Rather, they are small actions that we build into habits, and through doing something small everyday, we build up a strong foundation for living a good and fulfilling life. The best thing is, none of these habits cost a penny.

In the end, it’s not how many things we own, or how many hours we’ve worked, or what title we have that matters. It’ll be the strength of your spirit that counts.

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Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

I often read advice about how to be successful. Up until now, I must have accumulated hundreds of books, biographies, articles, and essays about success – what it means, and how to ‘achieve’ it, all the while hoping to find a common theme that would tell me the universal truth about the one thing that apparently makes life worth living.

I admit, it’s probably not a good habit to read about it too much. Spending a lot of time reading about it means that I’m spending less time doing the kinds of things that would actually make me successful. Besides, after all these years, I’m still looking for an answer.

I have learned a few important things, however, so it hasn’t all gone to waste. There are certainly common pieces of advice that have come up more than a few times in my readings. One of these is the importance of showing up.

the myth of showing up

Almost everyone talking about success talks about showing up. They say that if there’s one thing in common between all the men and women who have been ‘successful’ in the past – those that have discovered, or invented, or achieved something great – it is that they showed up. They got out of bed every day, even if they had to drag themselves up, and went to the laboratory, or office, or racetrack, and climbed whatever mountain they had to, physical or metaphorical, to reach their goal. They were there when it happened (whatever it maybe be).

But it makes me wonder – is that enough? Does saying that they were simply there miss another crucial element to their success? After all, when they arrived at the door, or the foot of that mountain, they didn’t just stand there.

They took the first steps, they moved forward, and they carried on. They didn’t give up.

They weren’t just there when it happened, they made it happen.

That’s why showing up is not enough. You can’t just get out of bed in the morning and sit your ass down on a chair and expect miracles to happen. Yes, it can be hard to do that, but almost anyone can just show up. It’s what you do after you arrive that matters.

If you’re going to work every day, or to the studio, or lab, or playing field, or wherever it is that you’re hoping to achieve greatness, and your heart is not fully in it, you’ll never get to where you want to be. You have to be present and aware, which means you can’t just be there, you have to be there. Do you get it? You have to put your heart in it, get in the flow, look forward, see the bigger picture, strategise, be one step ahead, push hard, then push harder, and most importantly, do the goddamn work itself. There’s no getting around it.

It’s a medicine that easy to prescribe but hard to swallow. If you have been chipping away at something for a while, and you’re not getting anywhere, it might be because you thought showing up was enough to get you to the top, but it’s not.

It’s like expecting to be lifted up a mountain by the force of nature just because you arrived at the foot. It won’t happen. The only way to the top is to climb up, one step at a time. Yes, there are ways to do it more quickly, and efficiently, there are tools you can use, and maybe there’s a shortcut, like a bus that would drive you halfway up, but unless you find it, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.

So yes, showing up is important. But there’s more to it than that. If you want to condense the hours and hours I’ve spent educating myself about success into just a couple of words, it would go something like this:

Show up. Put your heart in it. Do the work. Don’t give up.

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Live life like water

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+


Take a good look at yourself. What do you see?

Would you think that you are a wonder of the universe? If you’re living and breathing, you already are a miracle.

Why would you seek to be anything else? Look up at the sky. Watch how the clouds float contently by. A cloud is happy to be a cloud. The water within it is happy to be in that state, and doesn’t seek to be anything else. When the time comes, that water will naturally turn into rain, flow along rivers, and into trees and dams, doing what water does. It goes with the flow, and is happy to be that way.

As people, you can be as content as water. Imagine the waves at sea. Each wave has a beginning and end, each has a rise and fall, and each is beautiful in its own right. Does a wave feel fear and anxiety? Does it compare itself to other waves? Does it strive to be a better wave?

If it could look into itself, it will see that it is water, just like the wave behind it, and the wave behind that. The entire sea is one. Once it realises this the wave laughs as it goes up, and laughs as it goes down.

Like a wave at sea, things are changing all the time. You are changing all the time. Things will go up, and things will go down. All you can do is laugh and cry. Life doesn’t always work out the way that you want it, but you are already perfect in your own way.

You are already like water. Just flow, be content.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the final part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals, Part IV – Learning.

5. Learning how to live takes a whole life

A typical person living in the Western world is expected to live until about 70-80 years old. There are other factors that come into play, such as income, lifestyle, and access to healthcare, but all that aside, the average life span of a healthy adult is about 70 or so years if you’re lucky.

Do you know how many days that is? Answer: it’s about 25,000.

That’s about 25,000 sunrises, and 25,000 sunsets for you to enjoy during your one and only time on Earth.

Sounds like a lot, right? But there’s a small catch. If you’re like me, in your mid-20’s, you’ve actually already used up about 9,000 of them.

Okay… so that leaves about 16,000  still, not bad right? But that’s supposing you really are going to live until your mid-70’s… which, of course, isn’t a guarantee.

What if you only lived until you were 60, or 50, or even 40? (If you’re roughly my age and you only live until 40, that’s less than 6,000 days left). Sh*t.

Now consider how quickly, say, the last 7 days went by. Hm, pretty quick right? It seems like it was just a day or two ago that I was in spin class, but I only go once a week, so that was a whole week ago… Now that I think about it, the last month went by quickly as well… I can’t believe we’re halfway through the year already… and it seemed like it was just a few weeks ago I was living in Japan, but that was an entire year ago now… wow, where did those 365 days even go? 365 is a sizeable chunk out of 6,000! Sh*t. Sh*t.

… and so on. So far, I’ve realised two things:

  1. That we all have a set number of days left, and,
  2. They’re going by stupidly fast.

If this is a depressing subject to you, then you might be thinking about it in the wrong way. It’s only when you realise that your time is finite that you can start to do something about it.

Knowing this, what are you going to do in the next 7, 30, or 100 days? Would you live your life differently?

Well, if you are already making the most out of your life, then the answer would be, ‘Nope! Everything is perfect!’ and that’s fantastic. But if you’re unhappy because you’re putting up with a life/job/relationship you hate, then Seneca has something to say to that:

“How late it is to begin to really live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!”


How do we know we’re going to live until we grow old? We don’t! Nobody does. So I can’t help but think why do so many people waste their precious time being unhappy? Why do people put up with jobs they hate for 40 years, just to save up holiday time for when (or if) they reach 65?

I’m no exception to this kind of thinking. We can’t always do the things we want to, and we’ve got to make a living somehow, but if we’ve really only got a few thousand days to live, why spend them doing things that our heart isn’t into?

I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle in a ‘let’s-spend-every-penny-and-destroy-everything-because-tomorrow-might-never-come’ way, but even Seneca realised it thousands of years ago, when he said that,

“[Only when life] is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

The saddest thing is that most people don’t realise how much of their lives they had wasted until they reach the end of it. Usually, these are the same people who don’t like thinking about death at all, because they’re living in a deluded world where if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen to them. But by then, it’s too late to do anything about it.

all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph

At the end of your life, if everything you did could be summarised into an epitaph, what would it say? What would you want it to say?

You might not get an actual epitaph, but no matter what, you will have a legacy.

Your legacy could be celebrated by millions, or remembered by no one. At the end of your life, it wouldn’t matter to you which one of those it is. You won’t be bringing it with you anyway, wherever you’re going.

All that will matter is how you feel about it. After all, how you feel about your legacy is how you feel about the life you lived. Seneca also wrote,

“Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”

Which is true. But it doesn’t have to take your whole life you could wait until you’re on your deathbed to lament on the time you could have spent on the people and things that mattered. Or you can start now, while you can.

Choose to spend today wisely, as if it was a single precious gold coin that you could never get back.

While we’re at it, we can do the same for tomorrow as well. And the day after, and the day after, until we reach the end, whenever that may be.

You could be happy from right now. Start today. Who needs a lifetime to learn how to live?

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On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the fourth part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals.

Of all the things that we spend time on, learning is arguably one of the most important. It contributes to our knowledge of everything around and within us, makes us better people, and therefore the world a better place to live in.

We are so lucky to live in an age where there is more information out there than we can possibly consume in a single lifetime. Never before in human history have we been so connected to each others’ thoughts, teachings and discoveries.

This freedom, to be able to learn about whatever we want, is one of the most precious gifts we have.

we are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all

Seneca emphasized the importance of learning from great masters, whose teachings were once exclusive to certain people is now free for everyone.

“None of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how to die. None of them will exhaust your years, but each will contribute his years to yours.”

Lessons that otherwise would have taken a lifetime to learn are now accessible to us at our fingertips. The only obstacle we face now is whether or not we are ready to receive them.

Of course, we’re still free to make out own mistakes. But for those who don’t want to, or can’t afford to, we can always learn from the past.

“Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own.”

If there’s one thing that living a minimalist lifestyle is good for, it’s to take away distractions so that we can spend more time on the things that matter.

Without the distraction of chasing material gain, we can devote our energies towards continuous learning – whether that means to travel, or to stay at home to read, or reflect on ourselves, or anything in between. Ultimately, learning all comes down to expanding our horizons and opening up to what this beautiful world has to offer.

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Appreciating absence – A key to happiness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

In our everyday lives, we tend to notice when something is off. Like when we’re feeling stressed because of work, or tired because there aren’t enough hours in the day, or that we don’t have enough money in our bank accounts to do all the things we want to do.

It’s easy to spot when we’re lacking something. When things aren’t going well, we tend to zoom in on all the good things that we want and don’t have, like fortune or fame, rather than all the things we don’t want, and don’t have.

When was the last time you stopped to appreciate that you’re not in pain? Or that you’re not terminally ill? Or that you don’t live in a war-torn country? Or that you’re not living on the streets? Or starving to death? Or any one of the million types of suffering that life can throw at us.

How often do we take time to notice when we’re not lacking something?

We crave for good things to happen to us, that’s natural. But much of the time, no news is actually good news. A life without much drama is actually a pretty good life.

taking the time to be grateful – for the bad and the good

It’s one of the secrets to happiness – to appreciate the absence of bad things as much as the presence of good things.

We can’t always get what we want, and many of us never will. But instead of concentrating on those few things, why not feel grateful for the almost infinite amount of things we don’t want in our lives, and are still lucky enough not to have, at least for now.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re living in a country with access to a computer, and the internet, which means that you are lucky enough to be living with a roof over your head, enough food to eat, and access to medical care, hopefully. If not, even without looking too hard, I’m sure there are still many things to be grateful for.

Things could change in the future. Who knows what will happen. But for now, let’s enjoy the present moment, when we’re lucky enough to have our health, or youth, or people who love us, or all three and more.

The ability to see, and appreciate, even just a few of the good things we have in life is key to being happy. The ability to still do that when life has dealt a mediocre hand, that’s a testament to our character.


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P.S. On the Shortness of Life series to continue soon!

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On the Shortness of Life – Part III – Desire and life goals

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the third part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the present.


3. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire

What do we want in life? How do we balance what we want to have and what we want to do in life? Are desires and goals the same thing, or are they opposite from each other?

My attempt to answer these questions could last a lifetime. There are plenty of things that I want to have, and many more things that I want to do. Thinking deeply about them is a good start.

“So it is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.”

It takes a lot of physical, emotional and spiritual effort to get what we want. We daydream about buying the hottest new thing, and if we’re lucky, and work hard enough, we can afford to buy it. But by the time we get around to it, we’ve already moved on to desiring the next biggest thing, and the enjoyment that we were supposed to get from getting the things we want never lives up to the fantasy.

That’s why I have committed to a minimalist lifestyle (as much as I can). The list of things I want to own is a little different from most people. I don’t want a huge house, brand name clothes or an expensive car (I don’t even like to drive). So I don’t work to earn money for these things.

Yes, I want to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle, but I would feel guilty about indulging in too many luxuries. It feels wasteful and selfish to me. I decided a long time ago that I want to spend my life on things that are important to me, not what my culture, society, or neighbours think is important.

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire

There are things that almost everyone is scared of – disease, old age, and death to name a few. We are human after all, it’s perfectly normal to not want to think about suffering, to block out a future of which we cannot change, and to fear the unknown.

But in our desires, we act like everything can last forever. If all of us wanted the biggest, latest, fastest stuff, we would end up destroying our environment (more quickly than we are now) and the cruel irony is that everyone will wind up with nothing.

Just because someone has a lot of things, it doesn’t mean that they’ve lived. Indeed, if the cost of obtaining a huge house, lots of money and a fancy sports car was one’s health, relationships and spiritual fulfilment, you could argue that they haven’t really lived at all.

So when it comes to things I want to have, it isn’t too difficult to see the easiest way to be happy is to not desire too much, or at least, desire things we can’t have.

But, when it comes to things I want to do, that’s a whole different story. There is just so much that I want to do in one lifetime I can hardly see myself being able to accomplish it all. And what if I don’t? Will I be unhappy about it? Will I regret it?

“So you must not think that a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbour, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not  have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.”

You can even travel the world, but unless you’ve learned things about people, about other cultures, lessons that made you a better person, more understanding and open, then you may as well have stayed at home.

In the same way, you can achieve a lot of things in life – it seems almost anyone can earn a million dollars these days – but if they don’t have any meaning, if they don’t make us, or anyone else happy, then what’s the point? If you’re going to spend your precious time on doing stuff, well then it better be bloody worth it.

So what have we learned? Wanting too much leads to unhappiness because we can’t have everything. Trying to do too much can also lead to unhappiness because there isn’t enough time to do everything we want to.

But there is a way. If we pick and choose our desires and goals carefully, then surely happiness can be found where they align the most. Can it not?

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On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

-by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This Part II of a five part series about the stoic philosopher Seneca’s work, On the Shortness of Life, read Part I – Finiteness.

2. the whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately

Of all the things we have, time is arguably the most precious.

There is nothing else in which we are only given a set amount of it. However much we have, we  would never know until the end, and no matter what we do or who we are, we can never earn, gain or buy a single second more of it.

And yet, within this mysterious amount of time that we given, we’re supposed to achieve so much. Or, at least, so we want to. Which is understandable – what kind of life would we have if we didn’t aspire to travel the world, write a novel, fall in love, raise a family, do fulfilling work, learn a language, run, dance, sing, paint, or do any one of the amazing opportunities life has to offer us?

But how much of your time is really yours? How much of it is spent doing the things that you want, that mean a lot to you, as opposed to what other people want you to do, or worse still, what you think others expect of you?

In other words, are you spending enough time pleasing yourself, instead of others? For me, I know I have a lot to work on here. Seneca points out what we all ought to know:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which is right to be stingy.”

Of all the things we are possessive about – money, land, partners, status, possessions… the one thing we hardly think twice about – time – is what we should be most protective of.

We let others encroach on our schedules, making us do things that we don’t want to do, or making us feel ‘obliged’ to do it, as if we don’t have a choice.

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore a natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed.”

I admit I haven’t had many days like this, but they sound ideal to me. There are a lot of tough questions being asked here, and it’s easy to consider them and then not do anything about it. Most people might think it’s fine to spend time winding down watching three hours of TV after a long day of work, but if that means that we don’t have time to do the things we really care about, then maybe it’s the amount of time we spend at work we need to fix.

I’m certainly not perfect, so I don’t have all of the answers. I still can’t believe it’s my birthday in just two weeks – where did the time go? It feels like I’ve let an entire year slip by me. How many do I have left? No idea. How much time in the last year did I spend doing the kind of things I wanted to do? Not enough.

If there’s one resolution I want to make for the rest of this year, or for the rest of my life for that matter, it would be to better protect my time.

the whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately

So let’s say we learn to guard our time better – now what? This isn’t just about other people. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Yes, we should spend time on ourselves, but how much of the time we’re lucky to have for ourselves (or for the people and things we love) is wasted?

How much of it was spent procrastinating, putting off things that would have otherwise been fulfilling, for the sake of ‘relaxing’ or just out of pure laziness? Seneca said,

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future”

Procrastination isn’t just de-prioritising the task you have in mind, it’s de-prioritising your whole life.

On top of that, we humans tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. It’s natural for us to go over our regrets, or worry about things to come. But each minute wasted thinking about the things you have or haven’t done, or things that may or may not happen yet, is a minute squandered.

“Life is divided into three periods, past present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. [..] In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”

Life is too short to mourn over things that cannot be changed. As long as you did your best at the time, then you can’t have any regrets about it. And every minute spent worrying about the future, which by nature is unpredictable, is just using up what precious time and energy you have left to actually do something about it.

Whenever I’m in danger of worrying too much, I repeat to myself, Time is the most valuable thing I have – live in the present moment and savour every moment of it.” In good times or bad, it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to be alive.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part I – Finiteness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

On the Shortness of Life is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher who lived between 4BC – 65AD. In his letter to his friend Paulinus, he lays out Stoic principles that have lasted centuries in teaching us about the value of life itself.

1. life is long if you know how to use it


Inspired by this essay, I have written a series of posts on my interpretations on the different themes that occur in his writing (Parts II-V to be published). Even if you haven’t heard of the Stoics before, in just a few short pages, a lifetime of lessons can be learned.

life is long if you know how to use it

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.”

Seneca introduces the contradictory life lead by most men, in that it is a common belief that the human lifespan isn’t long enough to achieve everything we want to do. Yet, we squander so much of it on things that don’t matter, or don’t contribute to the things that we want to achieve in the first place.

If only we could learn how to use time more appropriately, perhaps then we wouldn’t feel that it is too short, but instead it is a brilliant miracle that we have even the few years that we are given.

“Just as there is no use pouring any amount of liquid into a container without a bottom to catch and hold it, so it does not matter how much time we are given if there is nowhere for it to settle.”

There will never be enough time. We will always find ways to fill up whatever we were given. Even on a daily basis, whether we have an hour to do something, or 30 minutes, we are very capable of using up whatever time we’re given to achieve the same thing.

From my own experience, I can easily find ways to put something off for entire weeks or months, and yet when it comes to the deadline, I manage to do finish it all in one day. Why did I not just take a single day to do it?

Because, despite knowing that my time is finite, for some reason I choose to live as if it’ll last forever. Much of my time is spent at my desk job not being present in the moment, or spent being idle, and ultimately not contributing to my one amazing thing.

Like most people, I have a bucket list, which I’m working on, but I still see myself putting things off way into the future, even though I don’t even know if I’ll be alive five or ten years from now.

I’m not the only one. Life can be a difficult thing to figure out. Seneca thought so too.

“Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man, yet there is nothing which is harder to learn.”

When we’re asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” we tend to answer with our job titles. Hundreds of years of social conditioning has taught us to. But our one chance to walk this earth isn’t for working.

Distracted by the mundane interruptions of daily life, we forget our main purpose. It’s simply to live.

We don’t have to do something huge and exciting every day to ‘live’. We all have commitments and we’re constrained to an extent by society and the reality of having to earn a living, or take care of those who rely on us. But the very least one could do is to enjoy each and every day that we are still breathing, each day that we have above ground, where we can smell the delicious scent of coffee and feel the sunlight on our cheeks.

The biggest regret I could have is to reach the end of my life, whenever that may be, and felt that I had not lived it fully.

Even if it takes a lifetime to learn how to live, the best (and only) thing you could do is to spend it trying.

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