1. Most of life is imaginary.
Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.
2. Human beings have evolved to suffer, and we are better at suffering than anything else.
Yikes. It doesn’t sound like a very liberating discovery. I used to believe that if I was suffering it meant that there was something wrong with me — that I was doing life “wrong.” Suffering is completely human and completely normal, and there is a very good reason for its existence. Life’s persistent background hum of “this isn’t quite okay, I need to improve this,” coupled with occasional intense flashes of horror and adrenaline are what kept human beings alive for millions of years. This urge to change or escape the present moment drives nearly all of our behaviour. It’s a simple and ruthless survival mechanism which works exceedingly well for keeping us alive, but it has a horrific side effect: human beings suffer greatly by their very nature. This, for me, redefined every one of life’s problems as some tendril of the human condition. As grim as it sounds, this insight is liberating because it means: 1) that suffering does not necessarily mean my life is going wrong, 2) that the ball is always in my court, so the degree to which I suffer is ultimately up to me, and 3) that all problems have the same cause and the same solution.
3. Emotions exist to make us biased.
This discovery was a complete 180 from my old understanding of emotions. I used to think my emotions were reliable indicators of the state of my life — of whether I’m on the right track or not. Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects.
4. All people operate from the same two motivations: to fulfil their desires and to escape their suffering.
Learning this allowed me to finally make sense of how people can hurt each other so badly. The best explanation I had before this was that some people are just bad. What a cop-out. No matter what kind of behaviour other people exhibit, they are acting in the most effective way they are capable of (at that moment) to fulfill a desire or to relieve their suffering. These are motives we can all understand; we only vary in method, and the methods each of us has at our disposal depend on our upbringing and our experiences in life, as well as our state of consciousness. Some methods are skilful and helpful to others, others are unskilful and destructive, and almost all destructive behaviour is unconscious. So there is no good and evil, only smart and dumb (or wise and foolish.) Understanding this completely shook my long-held notions of morality and justice.
5. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.
Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. Listen to any “die-hard” conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.
6. Objectivity is subjective.
Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, un-sharable viewpoint. There can be no peer reviews of my direct experience, no real corroboration. This has some major implications for how I live my life. The most immediate one is that I realize I must trust my own personal experience, because nobody else has this angle, and I only have this angle. Another is that I feel more wonder for the world around me, knowing that any “objective” understanding I claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch, by me. What I do build depends on the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. It means I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.
7. You are not your mind.
The first time I heard somebody say that, I didn’t like the sound of it one bit. What else could I be? I had taken for granted that the mental chatter in my head was the central “me” that all the experiences in my life were happening to.
I see quite clearly now that life is nothing but passing experiences, and my thoughts are just one more category of things I experience. Thoughts are no more fundamental than smells, sights and sounds. Like any experience, they arise in my awareness, they have a certain texture, and then they give way to something else.
If you can observe your thoughts just like you can observe other objects, who’s doing the observing? Don’t answer too quickly. This question, and its unspeakable answer, are at the centre of all the great religions and spiritual traditions.
8. Life unfolds only in moments.
Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.
9. Quality of life is determined by how you deal with your moments, not which moments happen and which don’t.
I now consider this truth to be Happiness 101, but it’s amazing how tempting it still is to grasp at control of every circumstance to try to make sure I get exactly what I want. To encounter an undesirable situation and work with it willingly is the mark of a wise and happy person. Imagine getting a flat tire, falling ill at a bad time, or knocking something over and breaking it — and suffering nothing from it. There is nothing to fear if you agree with yourself to deal willingly with adversity whenever it does show up. That is how to make life better. The typical, low-leverage method is to hope that you eventually accumulate power over your circumstances so that you can get what you want more often. There’s an excellent line in a Modest Mouse song, celebrating this side-effect of wisdom: As life gets longer, awful feels softer.
Wow these are all great insights, particularly the ones about how imaginary and constructed our reality is. We are living in our own constructs of reality which are largely based off of the society we were born in to, and people who came before us. There is a pretty good portion of our lives (childhood) where we have little to no control over what is really planted in our minds.
@chodebalm, good post man. I in agreement with everything, basically. I feel like being stubborn is in direct conflict with a lot of these. Anyways, hows life man? Long time no talk, feels like since the election we havent really talked, haha.
@yoinkie, Yeah when I saw my notification that you had replied I thought about how it had been a while since I’ve even seen you on here. You been on here lately? Or have we just not crossed each others paths lately? Either way, glad this post has meaning for you. Hope all is well sir.
@chodebalm, havent been posting much recently. Been having a crazy season at work and whatnot, not getting enough down time, man. You know what, I started writing this short story which spurred from all our conspiracy and government talks. I may not be in agreement with a lot of what we talked about, but it sure as hell makes for a great story. Wanna read it sometime?
I don’t really agree with number three. I feel like emotions exist for so many more reasons than to cause disagreement and biased natures. If you ask me, they’re what bring people together. They’re valuable and powerful and natural. It’s our idea of “logic” that separates us and creates bias. There are so many people I’ve come across who want to believe in a better world, but claim that logic dictates that this is impossible. Granted, I’m in the opposite situation than you: I used to believe they were more trouble than they were good, but now they’re something embrace and I find I’m happier and on the better track when I do so.
Maybe it just varies from person-to-person.
All that being said, I agree especially with number four. I also feel like all problems come down not to “good vs evil” but knowledge vs ignorance and (in your words) wisdom vs foolishness.
Great post! Recently I’ve been coming to these very realizations (with guidance). It’s amazing how closely this post follows what I’ve been discovering. And I agree, on the whole, that this is all very liberating. I have to agree with @kidd about #3. I don’t think emotions ONLY exist for this functional purpose (making us biased), though this is one outcome of emotions as passing experiences. @chodebalm, you said that you didn’t write this. Care to give credit to whomever did? This sounds a lot like the work of Rupert Spira. He speaks to a lot of the same ideas–though I actually find this post to be a much clearer distillation of them. I think the Mark Twain quote sums it all up nicely!
@chodebalm, Great post!
I definitely try to live my life by 8 and 9. It makes a big difference, takes away a lot of stress. Number 5 is good to read. For a long time I thought I was weak minded as I didn’t feel I had any strong beliefs. What I do have is knowledge on things which could be considered beliefs, but I am always open to more knowledge.
@chodebalm, This was awesome! Thanks for sharing man, these are really important points. I need them to soak in.
Did you know that if you live your life by 7 and 9, thats sums to 16 which sums to 7 which means your life path is inspiration, motivation and love? (lolz)
I can’t seem to get 8 in my head, because I feel like sometimes if you wan’t something to happen, you have to plan ahead for it. I’m not a big planner, but if I’m class president and I want class meeting to be a success, I need to plan out what we should do to reach our goals. But this is hard because it is so true that our whole life is just moments, and that the unplanned moments tend to be the best.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
-John Quincy Adams
Leadership is the most important of human aspirations and a quality that is in high demand within the current state of our Nation. How does one define a leader? How are these leaders made? Over the course of the past few months, I have had a special opportunity to interact with some of our Nation’s strongest leaders who pursue passions in a variety of different industries (Athletics, Armed Forces, Politics, Fitness, Film, Television, and Art). These experiences have essentially served as a crash course in how to lead effectively, allowing me the chance to directly observe underlying traits that are shared by some of the most influential individuals. Every “leader” that I have met utilizes a gift that we all possess and through listening to their experiences and living out my own, I have come up with 10 lessons that I hope will help you discover your own potential. For a more complete overview on the fundamentals of leadership please be sure to read my article, The Power of Effective Leadership-26 Life Lessons. Be Your Own Hero!
10 Lessons For Aspiring Leaders
1. Follow Your Internal Compass and Empower Others to Do The Same- Deep down everyone knows the direction they should go in, however, fear and uncertainty can often paralyze the strongest ambition. You must learn to listen and trust your internal compass if you are to ever discover your own potential. By living a life that is authentic to whom you are or wish to be, you will indirectly empower everyone you come in contact with to discover their own strength. We must be accountable and lead from within if our Nation is to progress in the 21st century.
2. If You Don’t Know Your Purpose, Discover it Through Personal Experience- Every great leader must have a purpose and the only way to discover this purpose is through experience. Your life will be a constant cycle of gain and loss and success and failure, each event acting as an opportunity to expand your strength and awareness. Through confronting your greatest fears and greatest adversities, you will begin to discover your potential in becoming whoever it is you wish to be. There are no limits to what you can create or who you can become, so feel free to dream BIG.
3. Evolve from the Conditioned Fight or Flight Response- The human race has evolved over thousands of years due to a conditioned response that has guaranteed its survival. The response, known as “fight or flight”, plays out like this. If an unknown stimulus is present, a human being has one of two instinctive reactions, fear it (run away) or kill it. This evolutionary response was great for dealing with a tiger in the wild, however, as our world has evolved, our evolutionary responses have not. Most people in our culture display the same conditioned response when confronted with a new perception, idea, or dream as they would gaze down at the jaws of a tiger. They either FEAR the new perception, idea, or dream or they try to KILL IT. We must be willing to evolve as human beings and as leaders if we are to discover our own strength in the 21st century. Go out into your communities and be unafraid to interact with new people and experience new things. LIVE.
4. View Fear as a Positive Indicator that you are Moving in the Right Direction- I received this advice during an interview with one of the greatest leaders of my generation (Eric Greitens). He told me that it is through the feeling of fear that we know we are headed in the right direction. It sounds counter-intuitive right? Doesn’t fear protect us from danger? The truth behind Eric’s statement is that a vast majority of our society hides behind their fear and is afraid of anything outside the status quo. These individuals do not truly live because they never will possess the ambition, drive, or courage to free themselves from their self created limitations. Take the time right now to think about something you were deathly afraid of as a child. What happened when you confronted that fear? Now think of something you feared this past month. Have you been able to confront it? What was the outcome? Many times our fears are just layers of our insecurity that we must purge to strengthen our human potential.
5. Never Let External Circumstances Take Away From Who You Are or Wish to Be- A leader can never let others rob them of their visions or dreams. Some people you interact with will resent you because you force them to confront their own limitations, however, you will also in that very moment present them with a gift to realize their own potential. Never be afraid to live a life that is authentic to whom you are or wish to be. You are the creator and resisting your own power will only weaken you and those around you.
6. Live Outside Your Parent’s Perspectives- You are not your parents and you must be willing to confront your loved ones if they challenge your vision or dream. This is the hardest thing for an aspiring leader to do; however, it must be done if you wish to discover your own potential. We are all shaped by our experiences and perceptions so it is meaningless to try to live out the dreams of another. If you find your passion and are not afraid to pursue it, your parents will one day appreciate the leader that you have become. If not, you will find satisfaction in the new relationships you have attracted into your life.
7. Let Love Fuel Everything That You Do- To experience Love you must be Love. Let love be the primary force behind everything that you do and you will find out what it feels like to truly live. Once you experience true love, it can never leave you despite changes in external circumstances. If you mix love into everything that you do, you will find that you have a new energy and creativity which will allow you bring your highest visions to reality. Pursue your passions and you will be rewarded.
8. Learn from the System to Free Yourself From It- Our society is composed of many “Systems” which have been utilized throughout human civilization to control the work force. “Systems” are generally operated on principles of dependency, strict rules, no employee autonomy, and led by a minority that profit off of the majority. These Systems will one day by reshaped by a new movement of leadership, however, until you experience their current state, you will not be able to build an awareness that will free yourself from them. Workers that are employed in different systems often have their creativity and leadership sapped through years of unconscious service that is controlled by the illusion of loss. To be an effective leader in this World, you must learn to think for yourself and be accountable as your own producer. The American Dream lies in your ability to trust yourself and empower those around you. Stop waiting and start working towards living your dreams, whatever they may be.
9. Always Live with an Open Heart, Even if it Hurts- To show love and receive love, you must ALWAYS be willing to remain completely open and vulnerable despite any external circumstance. Many people that experience loss or hurt will immediately close themselves off and by doing so they will continue to suffer until they confront their insecurity. I can certainty attest that when you lose someone you love, it is often very difficult to overcome the pain, however, by doing so you will become aware of your greatest power. Loss is an illusion and through this understanding you will gain the World.
10. Surround Yourself With the Strongest Leaders & Mentors- As your leadership strengthens you will find yourself surrounded by people that share similar qualities. Reach out to the ”heroes” that you admire and listen to their advice. With the ability to reach out to anyone in the World, there is no limit to who you can include in your inner circle. Offer to help others in any capacity that you can and take part in creating an interdependent community of creators
One thing that I think the list doesn’t cover explicitly but you could infer:
Existence only exists in perception.
Perhaps if the mind didn’t perceive something, the observer couldn’t observe, does the observer observe physical objects or does it only observe the observer of physical objects? In other words does the thing that observes your thoughts only observe only consciousness (which is reacting and perceiving things) or does the observer of thoughts observe the things you see as well? Does it observe the physical things you observe or only your observation of it?
If someone can’t perceive the rock exists and think the rocks exists, can one say the rock exists?
I’ve been feeling pretty anxious about a move/life change I’m going to make in a few days, and reading this post felt like my first breath of fresh air in a while. Thank you.
Awesome post! Thank you:)
“5. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of” was the one I struggeled the most with while reading this article. Anyway, in the end I came to the conclusion that I can agree with this statement. It’s true that beliefs sometimes can be closed doors and that you need to get rid of some of them. Besides that I loved the end where it said that you should only take on the beliefs you checked.