Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 29 - On the Critical Condition of Marcellinus

On the Critical Condition of Marcellinus

It seems that Marcellinus is a common friend or acquaintance of Seneca and Lucilius, and his character isn't the best.  Seneca and Lucilius seem to be trying to do something to help him improve his character.

He doesn't want to go near Seneca for fear he will "hear the truth."  And Seneca is fine with that!  Seneca is of the opinion that "one must not talk to a man unless he is willing to listen."  He compares this to talking to a deaf person - it's useless.  Seneca is in the camp of teaching only those who are willing to listen and change.  He won't waste his breath on someone unwilling to improve.

The other camp is the like the salesman, who takes a talk-to-everyone approach.  They think words are free and by "[scattering] this advice by the handful ... It is impossible that one who tries often should not sometime succeed."  Seneca does not approve of this approach.  The thinking goes: if you are always talking and hit the mark a few times, then it cheapens your words.

To use an archer analogy - who would you prefer?  The archer who takes 100 shots and kills a handful?  Or an archer who hits consistently every time he fires?

Seneca also thinks teaching wisdom and living wisely is an art.  And if you are not discriminating in your art, can it really be called art?  Where is the intentional, rational choice if all you do is throw words and teachings mindlessly and indiscriminately?

I can see the appeal to both.  If you are appealing to the masses, then taking an all-the-above approach and casting a wide net might gain some followers of philosophy.  But the quality may be low.  On the other hand, being prudent with teaching and appealing only to people who are going to take it seriously, has a higher success rate.

Back to Marcellinus specifically.  He is so vigorous in his lack of living philosophically, that he is a danger even to those who would want to help him.  Like a powerful person flailing in the water, he could pull his rescuer under water and two people drown instead of one.

But Seneca puts up with him and hopes to at least check and slow down Marcellinus' vices if not to turn him altogether to philosophy.

His quote from Epicurus: "I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know, they do not approve, and what they approve, I do not know."

The only commentary I'll share on this quote is to share another quote (source):

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 28 - On Travel as a Cure for Discontent

On Travel as a Cure for Discontent

Equanimity, regardless of circumstance, time or place: that seems to be an important reason why people seek to live a life of wisdom.  But as it is for many, they seek to change their circumstances rather themselves.  With this mindset, the person will not really be satisfied with constant vacationing.  They take the root cause of their problems everywhere they go!

Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.

"You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate!"  That is a great line!

And more of the same from Seneca:

Why do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing that you always take yourself with you?

...

because you flee along with yourself. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.

He compares a the unwise soul of a person to an unbalanced cargo ship.  As long as the inside stuff is not secure, the person will be tossed to-and-fro.

Rather, we ought to do the hard inner work.  We must correct our inner dialogue and seek a life of wisdom and virtue.  This will balance the soul.  You fix the person, you fix the "bad vacation."  You will no longer complain where you are in life but will live with good flow and equanimity no matter where you are.

The person you are matters more than the place to which you go; for that reason we should not make the mind a bondsman to any one place. Live in this belief: "I am not born for any one corner of the universe; this whole world is my country." ... that which you seek, – to live well, – is found everywhere.

He finishes the letter quoting Epicurus on why knowledge of "sin" is the beginning of salvation.  Ignore the religious parlance and focus on the aspects of introspection and self-improvement.  How can you improve yourself if you don't know what needs improvement?  For this reason, Seneca writes:

Therefore, as far as possible, prove yourself guilty, hunt up charges against yourself; play the part, first of accuser, then of judge, last of intercessor. At times be harsh with yourself.

See also Letter 104

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 27 - On the Good which Abides

On the Good which Abides

As mentioned on this blog before, I used to be quite religious, actively attending the LDS (Mormon) church most of my life.  I used to hear an analogy on the subject of regularly attending church services every Sunday.  People would say that going to church was like going to the hospital.  We are all ill and need to help each other get better.  This analogy was brought up in response to people who said that 'you need to be perfect or good to attend church ... if you were unworthy, you should not attend.'

I generally agreed with the analogy, but I had a bit of a problem with how many people said they were 'ill too' but then proceeded to talk and act like they weren't.  Therefore, there was a lot of finger-wagging and not much humility.  When moral failures occurred, they were hidden, so as to allow leaders to keep some moral high ground, upon which to preach.  But eventually the moral failures were revealed and there was no acknowledgement and the high ground was lost.

The correct way of looking at moral teaching and learning is how Seneca describes it in this letter (my emphasis added).

No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital. Listen to me, therefore, as you would if I were talking to myself. I am admitting you to my inmost thoughts, and am having it out with myself, merely making use of you as my pretext.

Realistically, you should not compare your moral learnings and failures with other people.  What ultimately matters is the progress from your younger years to your elder years.  A worthy goal is to have your faults die before your body does.

Count your years, and you will be ashamed to desire and pursue the same things you desired in your boyhood days. Of this one thing make sure against your dying day, – let your faults die before you die.

And if you can eliminate your faults, this will allow virtue within you to grow.  Virtue replaces vice turning to inner peace and good flow, regardless of external circumstances.

Virtue alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy; even if some obstacle arise, it is but like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun but never prevails against it.

This work can only be done by you.  There's no way to buy this path.  You have to trod it on your own.  Seneca talks of a man who tried to gain knowledge by paying for slaves to read books and memorize them.  And then he would have the slaves stand around him and at his demand, they would repeat the memorized passages.  Now, before you laugh at this, how is this any different than what many of us do today (including me)?  Rather than spend the time in books and study, we say to ourselves that we have the knowledge in our pocket - in our internet-connected smart phone.  With a few swipe and taps, we instantly have information.  Any we pay for this!

To be clear, I'm grateful for the massive about of history and knowledge we have at our disposal.  But do we use it wisely?  Are we transferring the wisdom of the ages into our brains and hearts?  Or do we flick through social media ego feeds and only decide to search for something [useful] when the need arises?  We aren't so different than the old man Seneca critiques.

No man is able to borrow or buy a sound mind; in fact, as it seems to me, even though sound minds were for sale, they would not find buyers. Depraved minds, however, are bought and sold every day.

We sell our time to pass it.  Tech companies buy our time to re-program us.  I'm not so sure that their programming is based on ancient Greek wisdom.  Therefore, we all should pursue sound, wise, rational philosophy.  By my investigation, I've found it's available for the taking.  What is undecided is whether to choose to seek it or not.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 26 - On Old Age and Death

On Old Age and Death

Read Seneca's perspective on being old:

age has done no damage to my mind, though I feel its effects on my constitution. Only my vices, and the outward aids to these vices, have reached senility; my mind is strong and rejoices that it has but slight connexion with the body.

I'm drawn to that last part of the quote: "my mind is strong and rejoices that it has but slight connexion with the body"  When I read that, and taking Seneca for his word, he means that his old body isn't really driving him anymore and that his mind has more sway over the body.  This is an important note - your body craves things; it has desires.  But your mind knows what's best for you.  Do you give in to the body's desires or does rational philosophy, in your mind, call the shots?

Next he gets into whether he owes this result to old age or to philosophy.

how much of this peace of spirit and moderation of character I owe to wisdom and how much to my time of life; it bids me distinguish carefully what I cannot do and what I do not want to do.

Said differently, how much of your lack of desires are due to simply becoming old versus you having done the hard work to educate yourself in the proper management of desires?

Seneca proposes a test to find out.

The showing which we have made up to the present time, in word or deed, counts for nothing. All this is but a trifling and deceitful pledge of our spirit, and is wrapped in much charlatanism. I shall leave it to Death to determine what progress I have made. Therefore with no faint heart I am making ready for the day when, putting aside all stage artifice and actor's rouge, I am to pass judgment upon myself,whether I am merely declaiming brave sentiments, or whether I really feel them; whether all the bold threats I have uttered against fortune are a pretence and a farce.  Put aside the opinion of the world; it is always wavering and always takes both sides. Put aside the studies which you have pursued throughout your life; Death will deliver the final judgment in your case. This is what I mean: your debates and learned talks, your maxims gathered from the teachings of the wise, your cultured conversation, – all these afford no proof of the real strength of your soul. Even the most timid man can deliver a bold speech. What you have done in the past will be manifest only at the time when you draw your last breath. I accept the terms; I do not shrink from the decision.

And here is a different translation of the same passage, to help the meaning become a bit clearer.

All that I’ve done or said up to now counts for nothing. My showing to date, besides being heavily varnished over, is of paltry value and reliability as a guarantee of my spirit. I’m going to leave it to death to settle what progress I’ve made. Without anxiety, then, I’m making ready for the day when the tricks and disguises will be put away and I shall come to a verdict on myself, determining whether the courageous attitudes I adopt are really felt or just so many words, and whether or not the defiant challenges I’ve hurled at fortune have been mere pretence and pantomime. Away with the world’s opinion of you – it’s always unsettled and divided. Away with the pursuits that have occupied the whole of your life – death is going to deliver the verdict in your case. Yes, all your debates and learned conferences, your scholarly talk and collection of maxims from the teachings of philosophers, are in no way indicative of genuine spiritual strength. Bold words come even from the timidest. It’s only when you’re breathing your last that the way you’ve spent your time will become apparent. I accept the terms, and feel no dread of the coming judgement.

In the above passages, I italicized parts which I find impactful to myself.

So there it is - it's a mental exercise to test yourself if you are ready.  Can you close your eyes and pretend to think if you are ready to die.  Will your life reflect the actions your words espoused?  What will the score show when time runs out?  In one column will be all the times you professed a wise bit of advice.  In the other column will be the courageous, just, wise actions you have carried out.  Which will have more?  I like to think I've lived a good life and that I've tried to act wisely.  I know I am not perfect - no where near it.  I do talk and write about it a lot; with the hopes that some of this will sink in and manifest itself through my mind and body in the real world.

Epicurus advised people to think on their death too.  And if death is too morbid to think on, then alter the thought a little.  Death is just a bit of traveling from one place to another; with some liberation thrown in.

"Think on death," or rather, if you prefer the phrase, on "migration to heaven." ... When we can never prove whether we really know a thing, we must always be learning it.  "Think on death." In saying this, he bids us think on freedom. He who has learned to die has unlearned slavery.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 25 - On Reformation

On Reformation

This is a shorter letter with not much to chew on, besides what has already been discussed.

It would seem Lucilius and Seneca are discussing two mutual friends; one young and one older.  The younger one must focus on faults that need to be fixed with some minor correction, while the older one might take more effort to "crush out" stubborn habits.

A few concepts to take away from this letter:

  • a reminder to limit your desires
  • use a good, moral person to be your mental guardian; if you ask yourself 'what would you do if Cato saw you now?' that might persuade you to act more virtuously
  • be careful of crowds and after some time and practice of 'guarding yourself' you can then trust yourself to go out into crowds and not be influenced by them
  • but also be careful to be alone - 'an idle mind is the devil's workshop' sort of thing

Monday, October 12, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 24 - On Despising Death

On Despising Death

In Letter 13, Seneca says "we suffer more often in imagination than in reality."  In Letter 24, he digs a bit deeper on this concept.  Pain and death are two anxieties we may heap on ourselves needlessly.  How can you minimize these imagined sufferings?

Seneca writes,

if you would put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen will certainly happen in any event; whatever the trouble may be, measure it in your own mind, and estimate the amount of your fear. You will thus understand that what you fear is either insignificant or short-lived.

Confront the imagined sufferings!  Make them your friends and become acquainted with them.  The more time you spend in their company, the less you have to fear from them.

History is replete with humans who have endured pain, exile, imprisonment and death.  Therefore, if you cannot imagine yourself suffering well, then look the the examples provided by history: RutiliusMetellusSocratesMuciusCatoScipio (I hope I got the correct figures linked).

And if they aren't enough, Seneca advises to simply look at all those - in his time and even in the present day - who despise death, exile, imprisonment and pain.

I shall not refer you to history, or collect examples of those men who throughout the ages have despised death; for they are very many. Consider these times of ours, whose enervation and over-refinement call forth our complaints; they nevertheless will include men of every rank, of every lot in life, and of every age, who have cut short their misfortunes by death.

When you do the 'heavy lifting' of contemplating death, you will realize there is nothing to fear.

death is so little to be feared that through its good offices nothing is to be feared. Therefore, when your enemy threatens, listen unconcernedly. Although your conscience makes you confident, yet, since many things have weight which are outside your case, both hope for that which is utterly just, and prepare yourself against that which is utterly unjust. Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.

This is the life to which we were born.  Never were humans promised to not suffer or to not die.  This is our lot!  If someone promises you a life of leisure, safety and protection, know this: you are being lied to!  None of that is guaranteed.  I fear, in our modernization, we have come to expect far too more than what life actually offers.  We imagine we should not have to die of disease or accidents.  We imagine we can expunge the world of accidents and viruses.  In our pursuit of a scientifically perfect world, we have lost wisdom.  Seneca was wise to note:

You were born to these perils. Let us think of everything that can happen as something which will happen.

Be prepared for poverty, exile, imprisonment, sickness and death.  This is our lot in life.

I may become a poor man; I shall then be one among many. I may be exiled; I shall then regard myself as born in the place to which I shall be sent. They may put me in chains. What then? Am I free from bonds now? Behold this clogging burden of a body, to which nature has fettered me! "I shall die," you say; you mean to say "I shall cease to run the risk of sickness; I shall cease to run the risk of imprisonment; I shall cease to run the risk of death."

We are dying every day.  Every day we march closer to our final death.  While we live, we must learn wisdom and be wise.  And if you ever grow tired of life, this too is folly.  It is not virtuous to escape a life that has become stale.  If you've reached that point, then you have not learned wisdom.  The three quotes from Epicurus:

It is absurd to run towards death because you are tired of life, when it is your manner of life that has made you run towards death.

What is so absurd as to seek death, when it is through fear of death that you have robbed your life of peace?

Men are so thoughtless, nay, so mad, that some, through fear of death, force themselves to die.

Seneca comments on these three quotes.  In sum, live wisely, die purposefully.

Whichever of these ideas you ponder, you will strengthen your mind for the endurance alike of death and of life. For we need to be warned and strengthened in both directions, – not to love or to hate life overmuch; even when reason advises us to make an end of it, the impulse is not to be adopted without reflection or at headlong speed.  The brave and wise man should not beat a hasty retreat from life; he should make a becoming exit. And above all, he should avoid the weakness which has taken possession of so many, – the lust for death. For just as there is an unreflecting tendency of the mind towards other things, so, my dear Lucilius, there is an unreflecting tendency towards death; this often seizes upon the noblest and most spirited men, as well as upon the craven and the abject. The former despise life; the latter find it irksome.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 23 - On the True Joy which Comes from Philosophy

On the True Joy which Comes from Philosophy

It's cliché to think a Stoic is not joyful.  This comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be Stoic.

Stoicism aims to help an individual to be resilient; to have and retain equanimity.  This does not mean they are always sad or always ebullient.  But rather, the goal is to be steady in joyfulness or happiness or to always have a good spirit about you - eudaimonia.

Seneca exhorts Lucilius to focus on being of a sound mind at all times.

The "foundation" of a sound mind is to "not find joy in useless things."  What are useless things?  These are "externals" - those things that lay beyond your control.  You control the "internals" but you cannot control the externals.

Seneca notes externals which should not disrupt your equanimity: death, poverty, pleasure and pain.

Real joy, believe me, is a stern matter. Can one, do you think, despise death with a care-free countenance, or with a "blithe and gay" expression, as our young dandies are accustomed to say? Or can one thus open his door to poverty, or hold the curb on his pleasures, or contemplate the endurance of pain? He who ponders these things in his heart is indeed full of joy; but it is not a cheerful joy. It is just this joy, however, of which I would have you become the owner; for it will never fail you when once you have found its source.

The contemplation of your death or your poverty; or your forbearance of pleasure and your endurance of pain is your work and practice for becoming Stoic - which is synonymous for always having a good sprit - a good flow - a steady joy about you all the time.  It is not easy to do.  This is why there are so many practices in Stoicism.  These are designed to help you be resilient and joyful all the time, regardless of circumstance.  They also teach you to rely less on externals and to help place your center for desire within yourself rather than something that could come or go in your life.

Externals are superficial and fickle.  But if you center your joy on doing what is right, from a virtuous perspective, then you will have dug deep enough to find an unending source of joy.

The yield of poor mines is on the surface; those are really rich whose veins lurk deep, and they will make more bountiful returns to him who delves unceasingly.

Marcus Aurelius expressed a similar sentiment when he said,

Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.

Seneca further advises,

cast aside and trample under foot all those things that glitter outwardly and are held out to you by another or as obtainable from another; look toward the true good, and rejoice only in that which comes from your own store. And what do I mean by "from your own store"? I mean from your very self, that which is the best part of you. The frail body, also, even though we can accomplish nothing without it, is to be regarded as necessary rather than as important; it involves us in vain pleasures, short-lived, and soon to be regretted.

This life of joyful equanimity can be yours if you put in the work.  You have to practice, live your life, introspect and learn from mistakes in order to improve.  Just reading quotes or motivational posters won't cut it.  The inner heavy lifting must be done to show outward gains.  And get on with it!  Stop making plans to become better.  Be better today.

They live ill who are always beginning to live.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 22 - On the Futility of Half-Way Measures

On the Futility of Half-Way Measures

Lucilius' position in life and what he does for his business is unknown.  But it sounds like he is quite deep in many ventures and he may hold a position of prominence.  At the same time, it seems that Lucilius is trying to embrace a life of complete philosophy and he is allowing his business is keeping him from jumping in with both feet.

I couldn't help but put myself into this letter and pretend that Seneca were writing to me.  It made me wonder if I am like Lucilius and am making up excuses as to why I can't or won't embrace a life of complete philosophy.

The first part of the letter is centered around the them of being present in the moment or mindfulness.  The Stoic concept is called prosoche.  And in this case, with Lucilius, Seneca is counseling him to look for opportunities to escape the life of business:

you must withdraw yourself from those showy and depraved pursuits ... You must be not only present in the body, but watchful in mind, if you would avail yourself of the fleeting opportunity. Accordingly, look about you for the opportunity; if you see it, grasp it, and with all your energy and with all your strength devote yourself to this task, – to rid yourself of those business duties.

Watching and waiting for the opportune time to depart that (business) life and then to act when that opportunity presents itself - that is what Seneca suggests.  Seneca makes the point that it can be done little by little.

But I likewise maintain that you should take a gentle path, that you may loosen rather than cut the knot which you have bungled so badly in tying, – provided that if there shall be no other way of loosening it, you may actually cut it. ...

hasten as fast as he can, and beat a retreat before some stronger influence comes between and takes from him the liberty to withdraw. But he also adds that one should attempt nothing except at the time when it can be attempted suitably and seasonably. Then, when the long-sought occasion comes, let him be up and doing.

Seneca observes some common worries of business and what a good man would think of them.

a good man will not waste himself upon mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy. Neither will he, as you imagine, become so involved in ambitious schemes that he will have continually to endure their ebb and flow. ... From business, however, my dear Lucilius, it is easy to escape, if only you will despise the rewards of business. We are held back and kept from escaping by thoughts like these: "What then? Shall I leave behind me these great prospects? Shall I depart at the very time of harvest?" ... Hence men leave such advantages as these with reluctance; they love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves.

And then this spot-on quote: "there are a few men whom slavery holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to slavery."

Become free.  Shed stuff.  You won't and can't take anything with you.  Life is a pursuit of virtue and wisdom and by discarding all the indifferents, you become free to focus on the most important.  The urgency should be the same as if you were thrown overboard a ship with all your possessions.  Get to the shore!  Leave the junk behind.

if you keep turning round and looking about, in order to see how much you may carry away with you, and how much money you may keep to equip yourself for the life of leisure, you will never find a way out. No man can swim ashore and take his baggage with him. Rise to a higher life.

Focus on and love virtue and wisdom.  Stop starting and start finishing the objective.

No one has anything finished, because we have kept putting off into the future all our undertakings. ...

You've learned what life offered to teach you if you are at peace every day up to the day you die.  If you can live and die well, then philosophy reached you.  But if the thought of death causes intense anxiety, then you have philosophical work to do.  Philosophy is nothing more than preparation for death. 

A man has caught the message of wisdom, if he can die as free from care as he was at birth; but as it is, we are all a-flutter at the approach of the dreaded end. Our courage fails us, our cheeks blanch; our tears fall, though they are unavailing. But what is baser than to fret at the very threshold of peace? ...

Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 21 - On the Renown which my Writings will Bring you

On the Renown which my Writings will Bring you

This letters starts with addressing the desire for fame and ends with advice for managing the desire of the belly.  Both are desires often found in the human condition.

The good news is this: you can fix the problems; it is within your control.  It would seem that Lucilius, to whom Seneca is writing, is still having trouble solving these problems.  He knows what to do, but fails to act accordingly.  And one might even say that the real problem is that Lucilius doesn't really know the right course of action - that's he's not been properly convinced and educated in the matter, otherwise his actions would follow the course of his knowledge.  Perhaps this is what Seneca means when he says "you do not know what you want."

Seneca chides him:

Your greatest difficulty is with yourself; for you are your own stumbling-block. You do not know what you want. You are better at approving the right course than at following it out. You see where the true happiness lies, but you have not the courage to attain it.

Fame: public recognition; having a well-known reputation.  Fame is quite the challenge to attain it and keep it.  You could try a search engine query with "the most famous person in ..." and pick a year older than your mom's birth year and odds are, you probably never heard of them.  And out of the billions of people alive on the earth today, you have only heard the names of a minute fraction of them.

And if you do chase it and attain some fame and then lose it; you are actually getting a promotion in life.  The same could be said of being sent into exile.

You think that this condition, which you are to abandon, is one of importance, and after resolving upon that ideal state of calm into which you hope to pass, you are held back by the lustre of your present life, from which it is your intention to depart, just as if you were about to fall into a state of filth and darkness. This is a mistake, Lucilius; to go from your present life into the other is a promotion.

Fame is worthless.  You are a speck of a drop in an endless sea of atoms.  Fame is nothing and meaningless, therefore, don't waste time chasing it.  Remember Seneca's words:

The deep flood of time will roll over us; some few great men will raise their heads above it, and, though destined at the last to depart into the same realms of silence, will battle against oblivion and maintain their ground for long.

For sure, fame brings influence.  And if you are seeking to influence others, perhaps a better way to go about it is the "pay it forward" method - or the "word of mouth" method.  By being a good person and helping others, you become a part of another person's memory.  That person, in turn, may turn the same good deed by helping another person and the cycle may repeat itself.  If your desire for influence stems from this, then perhaps that is a good thing to pursue.

But in the case of innate ability, the respect in which it is held increases, and not only does honour accrue to the man himself, but whatever has attached itself to his memory is passed on from one to another.

Seneca uses the phrase "innate ability."  To me, this means the part of you that truly belongs to you: your attitude; your will to act and perform good deeds.

And taking a broader view of the desire for fame, but also other desires, Seneca quotes Epicurus about becoming rich (in whatever).  In brief, the quote means: If you wish to be rich, subtract desires.

When you budget your money and you wish to be rich, there is more than one way to accumulate wealth.  You can continue to add revenue streams or you may reduce your costs.  The same concept applies to all markets in human desires.  The less you have, the richer you are.  To put a finer point to it, the less worries you have, the more fulfilled you are.  And to not have anxiety or worry is something in your control.

Now, to address those desires that are tied to our survival; and more precisely: eating.  Seneca calls these the "desires which refuse alleviation."  How do you deal with these?

The belly will not listen to advice; it makes demands, it importunes. And yet it is not a troublesome creditor; you can send it away at small cost, provided only that you give it what you owe, not merely all you are able to give.

Admittedly, this is a struggle I've dealt with for a long time.  I think genetics plays a big part of the source and management of this desire.  Some, like a relative of mine, can eat 13 beef ribs and not be affected at all by it.  For me, what I've found that works in management of this desire, is to avoid sugars and processed food.  I try to eat a lot of protein and do a lot of intermittent fasting.  This seems to give the belly its due without spending my life at the dinner table.