“you always take yourself along with you when you go abroad...”

there is a recurring theme in seneca’s writing that i am coming to appreciate a lot. in letter LV (55), he puts it like this:

“the place one’s in doesn’t make for peace of mind, it’s the spirit that makes things agreeable”

below, i’ve typed up seneca’s thoughts on the same topic but in a much more thought out way. they’re excerpts from letter CIV (104) and the argumentative arc seems perfect.

i can think of at least five people in my life who i think are suffering from lack of this knowledge. while i do believe a certain physical place can allow one to do things they couldn’t do before, most of the issues people have in places are internal. a move for a particular industry or type of culture that is strong in one place makes sense. but many relocations aren’t made with such strong determinants in mind.

since finishing graduate school, i’ve seen a number of people leave town, seeking happiness and fulfillment in their new home. turns out, a majority (but not all) of them land their new town and have the exact same struggles. seneca is on to something when he said “It’s medicine, not a particular part of the world, that a person needs if he’s ill.”

excerpts in an argumentative arc about why travel doesn’t solve people’s problems from letter CIV (and here’s letter CIV in full):

“… the man who spends his time choosing one resort after another in a hunt for peace and quiet, will in every place he visits find something to prevent him from relaxing. the story is told that someone complained to Socrates that travelling abroad had never done him any good and received the reply: ‘What else can you expect, seeing that you always take yourself along with you when you go abroad?’… If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person…

…What good has travel itself been able to do anyone?… It has never acted as a check on pleasure or a restraint influence on desires; it has never controlled the temper of an angry man or quelled the reckless impulses of a  lover; never has it rid the personality of a fault… All it has ever done is distract us for a little while, through the novelty of our surroundings, like children fascinated by something they haven’t come across before. The instability, moreover, of a mind which is seriously unwell, is aggravated by it, the motion itself increasing the fitfulness and restlessness. This explains why people, after setting out for a place with the greatest of enthusiasm, are often more enthusiastic about getting away from it; like migrant birds they fly on, away even quicker than they came…

… But travel won’t make a better or saner man of yourself. For this we must spend time in study and in the writings of wise men, to learn the truths that have merged from their researches, and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered…

… So long, in fact, as you remain in ignorance of what to aim at and what to avoid, what is essential and what is superfluous, what is upright or honorable conduct and what is not, it will not be travelling but drifting…It’s medicine, not a particular part of the world, that a person needs if he’s ill.”

writing: 8:41
spell-check, link-finding, & formatting: 5:58