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There is a pronounced difference between living a life brimming with joy and merely existing. It the difference between being dim and hollow in contrast to being vibrant and passionate. This dichotomy is firmly encapsulated in the words of the Roman poet Horace “Carpe Diem” roughly translating to seize the day. A command to live with conviction immortalized in his Odes 1.11:

 

Don’t ask (it’s forbidden to know) what end the gods have given me or you, Leuconoe.

Don’t play with Babylonian numerology either.

How much better it is to endure whatever will be!

Whether Jupiter has allotted you many more winters or this one,

which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the opposing rocks, is the final one be wise,

be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes to a short period.

While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled:

seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day. [1]

 

While I am far from being an astute scholar of literature or Latin; I feel the message conveyed in this poem is quite clear.  A timeless message that is fundamentally human and that transcend culture. Horace’s prudent interpretation of Epicureanism he taps into wisdom that was carelessly overlooked by the Stoics. While the Stoics devoted their lives to conditioning themselves against adversity and personal deficits they do not adequately address how to embrace life. It wise to be prepared for the pitfalls of life, that does mean that we cannot enjoy the gifts and wonders of this world. Surely a quality glass of wine and a nice meal shared among friends is a harmless indulgence? Indeed it is. A pleasure of that Horace saw as sacred. Embracing simple and sincere joys was his creed. He shrewdly avoided the wine-drenched orgies synonymous with Roman debauchery. Indulging in excesses isn’t truly living.  It is merely the shallow and cynical cousin of connoisseurship.

However,  seizing the day encompasses much more than an evaluation of our consumption habits. That would be a rather provincial way of applying it to our daily lives. It is a mantra applicable to all of the choices we make in our lives. If you have an immense amount of disdain for your job, shouldn’t today be the day you start to make inroads towards a new career? Better yet swap that dead-end job for an actual career? Are you going to continue to sit on the sidelines due to the results being safe and predictable? Will today be the day that you finally heed the words of  Joseph Campbell and “Follow your Bliss…”? The premise of “Carpe diem” can be extrapolated to any aspect of our lives. Whether we choose to Bungie jump or are opting to try the new Thai restaurant the decision operates in the nexus of seizing the day. I am not saying you must deal with the exotic or dangerous to make the most out of life. Whatever that may entail is highly subjective. It is really a matter of whether or not you are truly making the most out of your life based upon your own personal assessment.

The unfortunate truth is few of us seldom contemplate what it means to truly live. As we are so consumed by the drudgery and monotony of daily life. Enveloped in all the chores and obligations we are tethered to. Instead of appreciating the small things like the splendor of a dazzling sunset or working on self-improvement (such as learning a new skill) our leisure time is often squandered. Squandered on social media and the exploits of dim-witted talking heads which serve either as Youtube personalities or as purported comedic actors (Sitcoms). Even if your time isn’t imprudently sacrificed by any of these activities, don’t worry, we also have video games. While in moderation there is nothing overtly objectionable about them, too many people cross the line into intemperance. The instant gratification and false illusion of achievement engendered by video games or social media can never supplant actual achievement. Short term dopamine hit stemming from the virtual world is merely a shell or parody of the joys of actual experience.

Speaking of neurotransmitters,  there are also those of us who abuse drugs and alcohol to escape reality. Needless to say, using intoxicants to deaden your senses is the polar opposite of embracing life. While Epicureanism is a variant of hedonism some practitioners have emphasized appreciation and restraint. Followers such as Horace would reflect this sentiment. Drinking an entire box of wine to cope with life is antithetical to an Epicurean admiration of wine as a well-crafted beverage. Pursuing such states of inebriation is generally indicative of someone attempting to stifle experience rather than relishing it.

Time is easily one of the finite and fleeting resources at our disposal. In a sick twist of irony, it is a resource we often take for granted. This was an immutable fact that was not lost on the progenitor of the phrase Carpe Diem, Horace. Harry Eyres author of  Horace And  Me: Lessons From An Ancient Poet, found the age at which Horace wrote his most eminent works to be a vantage point for expounding upon this issue. Considering Horace was middle-aged when he wrote his Odes he hadn’t forgotten the focused passion of youth. However, he had no illusions when it came to the fragility and brevity of life. Standing on the hill we have a superb view of the valleies, clearly seeing the upward and downward slopes. Acting as a metaphor of the volitional consequences of gravitational pull. What comes up, must come down. All things have a beginning and an end, this principle is relegated to merely to movies and fictional novels. All materials generated are subject to oxidation and other forms of decay.

It is quite clear that Horace’s age influences the cultivation of the philosophy encompassing Carpe Diem. When confronted with the reality of the Grim Reaper’s scythe you realize life is short. Time is scant. The paucity of time only makes living life to the fullest more pertinent. Expending time on petty quarrels and limiting yourself to the mind-rotting antics of reality television is merely a cheap substitute for what the world truly has to offer. By participating in the Bread-and-Circus you are merely limiting yourself. Participation is a choice, it is the choice to remain passive and complacent. We can opt for routines and shallow fun or for enriching and satisfying experience. We can opt to live vibrant and rewarding lives, we just need to wake up from the malaise.

4 thoughts on “Thriving Instead of Merely Surviving

    1. Carl, congratulations on your sobriety. Similar to any monumental change in your life it is difficult.

      To overcome addiction is a Herculean undertaking. You are right once you have purpose you then can find joy.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Like

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