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This Is the Most Powerful Force on Earth

Daily Stoic Emails

Over and over again, the Stoics remind us how weak we are compared to the force of nature and the whims of nature. Why get angry at the world, Marcus asks—quoting Euripedes—as if the world would notice? Seneca pokes fun at Claudius and his absurd delusion to immortalize himself. His impotent declaration of war against the sea and command to his soldiers to attack the waves with their swords. 

“Nature exerts her own power,” as Seneca writes in his Letters, and “makes her presence known even to the strongest.” It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter how well-laid your plans are or how powerful you become. Nature is more powerful. She put Alexander and his mule driver in the same ground in the end, as Marcus said, and she will humble you too.

You may feel powerful. You may be young and in peak physical shape. You may buy into that Silicon Valley techno-optimism about radical life extension. You may be crammed in a big city where Nature’s exertions are out of sight, out of mind. You may think your work is going to mean your immortality. But it won’t. Nothing ever will.

Seneca would have loved this photo making its rounds of a tree trunk swallowing a tombstone. Nature is an undefeated, unstoppable force. We will never come close to overpowering her. She is not only breaking down our physical bodies with each passing day we get to grace her with our presence, but when we breathe our last, she will devour even our memories and our monuments.

Human life is fragile and fleeting and the world is a merciless series of changes and extinctions. We are born to perish. “How does the earth find room for all the bodies buried in it since the beginning of time?” Marcus Aurelius asked, then answered, “Through change and decomposition…absorbed into the logos from which all things spring, and so make room for new arrivals.”

Accept that. Live well while you can.

P.S. This was originally sent on June 12, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.