Many years ago I was told that the best way to go through life is to get into the middle of the stream and float along with everybody else. The advice came from the only boss I’ve ever had in the only job I’ve ever had for an employer. It seems that my boss was being generous but in reality he was trying to make his job a lot simpler because I was, I guess, hard to manage.
That boss was later arrested for stealing ladies underwear off clothes lines. I often reflect on his advice and how different my life would have been had I followed it. I doubt it would have caused me to also steal ladies undies, but I definitely would be more wealthy financially. I definitely would have experienced less disappointment. I definitely would have experienced less pain and probably not have a titanium spine. So I would never have met the people I have met in my life who have shaped me.
And there is a quintessential question that sits beneath our lives and that is who am I? But it’s the wrong question. The real question is who do I want to be? There is no use exploring who you are because you are looking at yourself from within the framework that created yourself. And I have heard many people say “don’t die with it still within you” and I think that’s a really sad definition of the journey of life. I would suggest it would be better to ask “don’t die tested the water of life.”
Put together a few ideas for food for thought I hope you enjoy them.
1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
3. Be grateful – be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, about the past, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a narcissistic critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind everything being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
4. Build pockets of stillness into your life. Mobile Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken. Most important, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?
5. Be REAL. When people tell you who they are, believe them. Just as important, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, the CEO of Company You, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.
6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
7. “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” It’s hard to capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Talk about writers and artists who magnify your spirit — it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.
9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. There is much to be said for our responsibility as creators and consumers of that constant dynamic interaction we call culture — which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands. Define your role in life as to lift people up, not lower them down — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called company culture.
10. Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lies dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite. Cynicism often masquerades as humour, opinion or righteousness, but is categorically inferior. It is a contracting force. Unlike critical thinking, cynicism it is inherently uncreative, un-constructive, and spiritually corrosive. Life, like the universe itself, tolerates no stasis — in the absence of growth, decay usurps the order. Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. This remains the most potent antidote to cynicism. Today, especially, it is an act of courage and resistance.
11. Question your maps and models of the universe, both inner and outer, and continually test them against the raw input of reality and nature. Our maps are still maps, approximating the landscape of truth from the territories of the knowable — incomplete representational models that always leave more to map, more to fathom, because the selfsame forces that made the universe also made the figuring instrument with which we try to comprehend it.
12. There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives. If you have been one person for 20 years and something doesn’t go your way, it maybe time to be a different person. Staying one person for a lifetime isn’t the path that nature nor universe intended for you. You are always blessed by everything that happens to you. Wisdom, your wisdom, is the instantaneous recognition that all and every crisis is a blessing.
13. In any bond of depth and significance, forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be. Forgiveness is the alchemy by which the shame transforms into the honor and privilege of being invited into another’s darkness and having them witness your own with the undimmed light of love, of sympathy, of nonjudgmental understanding. Forgiveness is the engine of buoyancy that keeps the submarine rising again and again toward the light, so that it may become a lifeboat once more. Be a learner, there is no fail, there is only learn. To learn, you must forgive. Others are learning too, you are learning, forgive the “error” and instead of criticising and righteousness, acknowledge the learning we all got from whatever took place.
14. Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow, restless with need for action. Feel the sorrow, take the action, but keep pressing the weight of joy against it all, until it becomes mindless, automated, like gravity pulling the stream down its course; until it becomes an inner law of nature. “yes to life, in spite of everything!” — then can choose joy amid the rubble of our plans, so trifling by comparison. Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice, we know the positive, the negative are balanced but choose to focus on the former.
Delight in … changing the language of what goes wrong Fromm challenge to opportunity.
Delight in ignorance … the more we know, the more we know we don’t know … life is a learning experience.
Delight in … the early morning celebration of nature in the smallest reflection of the universe
Delight in … the noises of uncontrolled life that pass your window and the seeming obliviousness that creates it.
15. Outgrow yourself. The older you get, the more you will know about death, the art of letting go. It brings with it a certain reaction, for some, a holding on, like grasping a red hot pan in order to own it, or holding the tail of a snake in order to prevent its escape. For others, the realisation that life ends in death is a great celebration of detachment, an ability to reinvent, to remain not bored, to go out and be, and do and have all that can be celebrated. The art of holding on, will always cause the object of the obsession to fly and escape.
16. Unself. Nothing is more tedious than self-concern — the antipode of wonder. The ultimate reality is that there is no self, and the individual who thinks there is, will modify it a thousand times trying to get it right, until the exhaustion sets in. Unself, is unlearning to be one self. This means one soul many self’s. Detaching from one identity and finding another.