On not always labouring furiously

21 Jul 2011 jane

“The mind should not be kept continuously at the same pitch of concentration, but given amusing diversions… Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmlands, so uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigour, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy…

Sleep too is essential as a restorative, but if you prolong it constantly day and night, it will be death. There is a big difference between slackening your hold on something and severing the link…

We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its force and strength. We must go for walks out of doors so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air.

At times it will acquire fresh energy from a journey in a carriage and a change of scene, or from socialising and drinking freely…

Liberate the mind from its slavery to cares, emancipate it, invigorate it, embolden it for all its undertakings.

So here you have the means of preserving your tranquillity, the means of restoring the faults that creep up on you unawares. But be sure of this, that none of these is strong enough for those who want to preserve such a fragile thing unless the wavering mind is surrounded by attentive and unceasing care.”

A few months ago, we discovered a very early typewritten PLATFORM manifesto (1986) which referred to “labouring furiously” til social and ecological justice was achieved. Once we had stopped laughing, we had yet another conversation about the constant effort to get some kind of balance between political commitment, collective care & mental health, and individual’s human needs. It’s an issue for so so many people, groups and organisations.

Personally, I don’t usually look to an ancient Roman for advice on antidotes to overwork, but this one does it for me. It’s from Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life”, which also contains the epic line “Life is long if you know how to live it”. Found in a new Penguin edition in my friend’s flat this week. Thanks Helen.

However, i see from Wikipedia that the man himself had his struggles
“He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero (tricky!). He was later forced to commit suicide for complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate this last of the Julio-Claudian emperors; however, he may have been innocent.” Hmm.

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