Sarah Bakewell - How to Live
11 Sourced Quotes
The great stoic Seneca repeatedly urged his fellow Romans to retire in order to find themselves, as we might put it. In the Renaissance, as in ancient Rome, it was part of the well-managed life. You had your period of civic business, then you withdrew to discover what life was really about and to being the long process of preparing for death. Montaigne developed reservations about the second part of this, but there is no doubt about his interest in contemplating life. He wrote: Let us cut loose from all the ties that bind us to others; let us win from ourselves the power to live really alone and to live that way at our ease.
Seneca, in advising retirement, had also warned of dangers. In a dialogue called On Tranquility of Mind, he wrote that idleness and isolation could bring to the fore all the consequences of having lived life in the wrong way, consequence that people usually avoided by keeping busy—that is, by continuing to live life in the wrong way.
Finding his mind so filled with chimeras and fantastic monsters, one after another, without order or purpose, he [Montaigne] decided to write them down, not directly to overcome them, but to inspect their strangeness at his leisure. So he picked up his pen; the first of the Essays was born.
The trick is to maintain a kind of naïve amazement at each instant of experience—but, as Montaigne learned, one of the best techniques for doing this is to write about everything. Simply describing an object on your table, or the view from your window, opens your eyes to how marvelous such ordinary things are. To look inside yourself is to open up an even more fantastical realm.