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

– Seneca

Like Buddhists, Stoics advise us to contemplate the world’s impermanence. “All things human,” Seneca reminds us, “are short-lived and perishable.” Marcus [Aurelius] likewise reminds us that the things we treasure are like the leaves on a tree, ready to drop when a breeze blows. He argues that the “flux and change” of the world around us are not an accident but an essential part of our universe [for renewal’.

We need to keep firmly in mind that everything we value and the people we love will someday be lost to us. If nothing else, our own death will deprive us of them. More generally, we should keep in mind that any human activity that cannot be carried on indefinitely must have a final occurrence. There will be – or already has been! – a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn, or play hopscotch. There will be a last time you hear the sound of snow falling, watch the moon rise, smell popcorn, feel the warmth of a child falling asleep in your arms, or make love. You will someday eat your last meal, and soon thereafter you will take your last breath…

[N]ow that we know they cannot be repeated, they will likely become extraordinary events: The last meal will be the best we ever had a the restaurant, and the parting kiss will be one of the most intensely bittersweet experiences life has to offer. By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. We will no longer sleepwalk through our life. Some people, I realize, will find it depressing or even morbid to contemplate impermanence. I am nevertheless convinced that the only way we can be truly alive is if we make it our business periodically to entertain such thoughts.

A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy
William B. Irvine

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