When life gets confusing, this is what you need to understand

As winter approaches, I feel like I’m getting old. Not so much physically, with the wrinkles, aches, and white hair, but more so mentally.

I feel like the illusions of youth have been shattered to some degree.

Listen, I’m only 26. I’m not old by any stretch of the word. But what I want to write about today is seeing through illusions.

Recognizing our models of reality for what they are.

The thing with illusions is, well, you don’t know they’re illusions until you go beyond them.

Life to me seems to be a sequential trading of one illusion for another. As a baby, we understand nothing apart from our own satisfaction/pain/discomfort/hunger, and our mother’s voice and breast.

Anyone seeing the baby from the outside is aware of the baby’s illusion, that the world is in fact infinitely larger and more interesting than baby can ever imagine, but we don’t try to explain this to the baby.

We know that with time, experience, and maturation the baby will experience this expansion of consciousness for itself.

The reason I feel old today, is that I’ve become aware of this part of the nature of human experience.

I may not know the absolute truth of reality, but I do know that I don’t know the absolute truth of reality. If that makes any sense.

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

Socrates

This knowledge, however trivial it may seem, has been changing my life. Knowing that I don’t know, that I can’t know anything for sure, is a double-edged blade.

On the one hand, it’s a bit sad. My models of reality become pretty meaningless, everything seems a bit confusing and ephemeral. On the other, it frees up a lot of energy. Mental space.

Skórlitlir

Knowing that my models of reality are not absolute allows me to apply the energy that I used to use for keeping them up and running, to other things.

Now, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak (does that saying terrify anybody else or is it just me?).

Even though a model of reality isn’t absolute truth, it may still be applicable, or even useful.

A model that’s not absolutely true, in other words, may still be true enough.

“I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions.”

– Robert Anton Wilson

True enough to keep you fit and healthy, along with your relationships. True enough to find happiness and fulfillment.

We live in this ever-eddying, swirling, constantly up-down, in-and-out, ever present experience we collectively call the world or reality.

I have no idea if anybody has discovered a truth to this thing, or if it’s even possible.

What I do know, is that some peeps have models of reality that move them forward, and others have models that hold them back.

The nihilist who sees only the bleakest side of every experience isn’t occupying a different reality than the optimist who strives to see the good instead of the bad.

They’re both here, now, right?

They’ve chosen different models of reality to live by, that’s all.

“We are happy when people or things conform and unhappy when they don’t. People and events don’t disappoint us, our models of reality do. It is my model of reality that determines my happiness or disappointments.”
Stefan Zweig

I’m not saying that blind optimism and denial of the pain of the world is a good thing, because it’s not. Nor am I saying you should be nihilistic. Not at all.

Both world views have their pros and cons. The nihilist will be way less likely than the optimist to blindly trust a malevolent stranger, for example. The optimist will be way more likely than the nihilist to grab a rare opportunity that presents itself to them.

But neither model is true. And both have serious drawbacks.

These are simple examples. Most of us don’t have a label we can apply to us. Nobody’s a pure nihilist or a pure optimist.

Our models, our reality tunnels, are an amalgamation of whatever experiences and influences we’ve encountered throughout our lives.

We’re cynical about some aspects of life, optimistic about others.

We’re open to new experiences in some realms of experience, and we’re closed off in others.

We react with love in some instances, and fear in others.

I think building a model of reality that’s absolutely true is a fool’s errand, to be totally honest.

I can hear the rationalists gasping in disbelief, the religious among you shouting “blasphemy!”.

What’s more, I think trying to build an absolute model of reality is a waste of energy. There are more important things to do.

“There is but one reality, that is true — but the two of you experience it in slightly different ways. The older you get, I should think, the more you will come to understand that the universe is very much a looking glass, Miss Lancaster.”               Jim Butcher, The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Accepting the fact that you don’t know what the hell is going on, as well as the fact that you may never know, will set you free.

Earlier in this article I stated that whatever our reality tunnel may look like, we all inhabit the same reality. This statement is arguable at best.

Do I inhabit the same reality as a fish? Or a snail? Or a piece of glass?

How do we actually define reality? Does reality exist without someone to experience it? Is there such a thing as an objective reality?

In other words, if a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Realizing that reality is fundamentally subjective, and not objective, has been a huge step for me in not only formulating a more precise model of reality, but in becoming a happier, more fulfilled, conscious human being.

This brings me to an incredibly salient hypothesis called consciousness first.

It’s very simple really, and goes hand in hand with Occam’s razor. In fact, it’s the neatest, simplest explanation of reality that I’ve ever encountered:

Consciousness is the point from which all reality arises.

There can be no object without subject.

In the history of the world, nobody has experienced anything objectively. How could they? Experience in itself entails consciousness. Without consciousness, nothing is.

“Nothing” is really an overstatement. The term “No-thing” is more appropriate. The former implies the absence of “something”. The latter implies the absence of “thing”.

“Nothing” is a concept. A concept is a thing. “Nothing” can be experienced as a concept, “No-thing” can’t be experienced at all. In the absence of consciousness, no-thing is.

If that doesn’t make your head spin the first time you think about it, congratulations!

This all ties into the nature of illusion. When we realize that out entire reality is subjective, springing out of consciousness rather than containing it, the possibilities for experience and growth become limitless.

Unninlitil

What I’m saying is, life is a dream. A dream is the most famously illusory state of mind known to man, but as you realize the fact that life itself is illusory as well, it changes your idea of what’s real.

If life is a dream, or an illusion, does it necessarily make it any less real?

But then we’re lead to our next question, which is this: If life is real despite being an illusion, then how can we say that dreams are any less real than life?

The thing is, all experience is as real as it can possibly be!

If you experience something, anything, it can’t be experienced any more or any less than it actually was. In fact, that statement would be meaningless.

Everything that arises in consciousness, arises in consciousness. And that’s that.

So in that sense, any experience is real.

Okay, so that’s pretty interesting, but how is this practical in any way? How can this knowledge improve your life?

Well, when we stop fussing over reality, over what’s real and what’s not, we can actually start having some fun with experience. We can decide to enjoy and learn from all experience equally.

Meaning is to be found in anything. Humans are creators of meaning. Meaning isn’t inherent to anything, instead it’s our minds that imbue experience with meaning.

Notice that I said experience. Not item, place, person or teaching. In the end, all concepts, all things, all people and all places are only as real as they are experienced, meaning as the appear in consciousness.

Listen, having fun with experience is all well and good, but it doesn’t seem practical in this world to just take any old dream or hallucination for reality. Does it?

Absolutely not. This human experience has rules, laws. We need to follow those laws if we want to keep playing this game. Fair enough?

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be aware of the fact that we’re playing it.

You know when you play monopoly and you get so sucked into the game that you start to act and feel like you’re actually a millionaire? That the plastic houses and fiat currency are actually real and valuable? Even though at the end of the evening, it all goes back into the box?

Take it a step up. When you inevitably die, all your possessions, friends, personal attributes will go straight back into the box. Sound familiar?

Now imagine two players of monopoly. One of them’s so engrossed in the game that he’s forgotten his existence outside of it.

“A person who plays the game knowing he will win, doesn’t impress me as much as the person who plays the game even though he knows that he might lose.”                 N’Zuri Za Austin

He follows the rules because they’re all he knows, and he builds up an empire of hotel chains and real estate because that’s where you get meaning in monopoly.

The other guy does everything the same as the first player, with one difference: He still remembers his existence outside of the game.

When things start to go badly for him in the game, he reminds himself of the piece of cake he has waiting for him in the fridge. He’s not attached to the outcome. At least not in the same way as the other player.

If the first player loses the game, his entire universe (seemingly, to him) crumbles down all around him. His clinging will make him irrational and prone to stupid error.

The second player, although he may be enjoying the game immensely, will be cool and detached enough to see what’s actually going on, and the fear of losing will not be all consuming.

This is enlightenment.

When you get that life is a game, everything changes, even though everything actually stays the same.

The buddha saw through all illusion, maya, and that’s why he was called an enlightened one.

Seeing through the illusion of separateness, of subject and object, of self and other, is a noble goal. But even getting a glimpse of what’s on the other side of the curtain can change your life forever.

In my case, a lot of meditation, psychedelics, and a chronic illness all worked together to get me to the point where I could peak behind the curtains and see the truth.

Then I put the curtain back and went on with my life. But I will never forget what was on the other side, even if it can’t be conceptualized, or much less put into words.

There are ways to see beyond the illusory nature of reality. In fact, there are plenty of ways. I’ve written many posts on this site detailing them. But they all have something in common: work and dedication.

You need to be prepared to work for the glimpse. You need to want it enough.

When you take that drive, that need to see beyond the veil, all doors will be open to you.

6 ways porn is stopping you from living the good life

Watching porn seems to be a perfectly acceptable activity in modern days. It’s not spoken of in polite conversation, but come on, we all know what’s going on.

I’m guessing almost everybody over the age of 18 in the western world has watched porn at some point or another. It would be hard not to. It’s everywhere.

Here’s something that’s not too obvious about porn. It’s a drug.

It’s not a leaf that you smoke, or a powder that you snort, or a liquid that you drink or inject, so it doesn’t really fit our traditional concept of a drug.

But what it lacks in material characteristics, it makes up for with effects on brain and body.

Just check out the research cited on Your brain on porn to find out that the effects of cocaine or heroin addiction on the brain and the effects of porn addiction are more or less the same.

Without further ado, here are six ways porn is holding you back:

1. It builds up toxic shame

When you do something secretive, like furtively slithering into the nearest bathroom stall to jerk off to porn, you will certainly feel shame.

If you make it a habit, that shame builds up.

Toxic shame will affect all aspects of your life, but most noticeably your relationships, your motivation, and your self-confidence.

You will feel guilty and shameful around others, if subconsciously, and you’ll feel like you are worthless as a human being.

This results in social anxiety which can become very severe, depending on how long you’ve been using porn and how intensively.

If you’re reading this, chances are you yourself are addicted to porn, or someone close to you is. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

This crippling social anxiety leads to the next point, which is:

2. It pushes you into depression

We humans are a gregarious bunch. Healthy social relationships are imperative to our well-being and sense of fulfillment.

When we feel anxious around other people, that’s bad enough. Many of us have felt pangs of social anxiety in our lives, because it’s a natural response to difficult or novel social experiences.

But when that feeling intensifies, and becomes perpetual, and it becomes so bad that you start avoiding other people and social gatherings, that’s when some real problems can arise.

We need other people. No man is an island. How true.

When we don’t connect with others, we sink into despair. We may not even understand exactly what’s wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that we feel pretty sh**ty.

Now allow a person to wallow in this sorry state for long enough, and you’ll have a case of severe depression.

It may be difficult to connect the dots. I know it certainly eluded me for a long, long time.

As years have gone by, and the more I’ve read about psychology and the nature of addiction, it all started to become more and more obvious to me.

Do yourself a favor, if you’re suffering from pornography addiction: Study your affliction.

Learn all there is to learn about it, and from there make a game plan on how to overcome it. Don’t let yourself become complacent.

In today’s society of Prozac and Netflix, it’s easier than ever to avoid facing the truth.

Become aware of the fact that avoidance is not helping you.

3. It skews your perception of reality

My generation was the first generation that grew up with high-speed internet porn.

Right before I hit puberty, I started getting my sex education from hardcore, degrading scenes, demeaning to both men and women.

From there it slowly increased until it reached a tipping point when I was twenty-one.

At that point, I was constantly undressing everyone mentally, men and women. I would ask myself how many guys a girl had had sex with, or I would imagine orgies upon orgies next door or down the street.

Porn had given me a sense of reality that was so twisted, so far removed from what was actually normal, that it seems unbelievable to me now.

I didn’t view other people as, well, people. I viewed them as objects. Sexual objects. I saw them through the lens of hardcore pornography.

The mass media in western societies tries to paint us a certain picture of reality, which seems to be closely linked to the porn industry. All advertisements seem to portray sexual fantasies of some sort, and so do movies and TV.

Just to make this clear, I am in no way saying that people shouldn’t be having sex. I love sex. Loads of sex. All kinds of sex, between willing people.

That’s not really the issue.

What happens when you grow up thinking that everybody is constantly sleeping with everybody else, except you?

You’ll develop a sense of something being wrong. Obviously, your model of reality is at fault, but more often, we end up thinking that there must be something wrong with us.

And that’s the issue.

4. It feeds on your energy (and leaves you drained)

Anyone who’s binged on porn knows the feeling of utter depletion and lethargy after a marathon fapping session.

There’s so much stimulation, so much dopamine, that you become absolutely exhausted.

You know, there’s a famous study where rats were given two levers to pull, the first would deliver a piece of food, and the second would directly stimulate their brain’s pleasure circuits.

The male rats would end up pulling the second lever thousands of times per day, ignoring females in heat, food (even if they were starving) and even water (even when dying of thirst).

They were trapped in a cycle of super-stimulation.

Which is exactly what high-speed internet porn is. A single partner, however sexy, cannot compare to porn star after porn star after porn star.

There’s a concept in behavioral science called the Coolidge effect, named after U.S. president Calvin Coolidge. I won’t go into the story of the name, but the concept itself has to do with sexual selection.

When a male rat (in the case of this study) is presented with a willing female, he’ll copulate with her, take a rest, and then, god willing, he’ll go at it again.

But after a few times he’ll have had enough of her and start to look for something else to engage in.

However, when the same rat is presented with a succession of new female rats, he will keep going until the little guy collapses from exhaustion. What a life!

Again, this is exactly what porn does to the male mind. Partner after partner after partner (however pixelated and distant).

We can constantly look for novel sexual experiences through porn. You can watch hundreds of videos within an hour, with different actors and actresses each time.

This is devastating to our mammalian brains.

Which is why so many people who give up porn report a surge in energy.

It’s not so much that quitting porn gives you energy, it’s that porn has been draining it from you your entire adult life.

5. Other aspects of life become bleak and meaningless

When we’re stuck in a cycle of overstimulation or superstimulation, we start to feel that the stimulation is the only thing that matters.

Sex is one thing, but the intense superstimulation of high-speed internet porn is another.

We feel this to a lesser degree when we binge on a good television show or even when we become engrossed in a great book.

It’s the same principle, except with internet porn the effects are multiplied.

When I was at my worst with regards to using porn, nothing compared.

Wherever I was in life, whoever I met, whatever I was doing, no matter how interesting or enjoyable it should have been, the main priority in my mind was figuring out when I would get a chance to fap again.

It’s very sad, and fortunately today I’m in a much better place. Not perfect, but certainly a hundred times better than I’ve ever been.

Neurologically, what happens (and bear with me, I’m no neurologist) is that our brains become overly sensitive to the neurochemical dopamine.

Dopamine is the chemical responsible for motivation, excitement and anticipation. It’s not so much a feel good chemical as much as it is a motivator for seeking feel-good behavior.

What happens when we constantly overstimulate our dopamine receptors? They start to become less sensitive to dopamine, via a process called sensitization.

What this means is that you need more dopamine to feel the same amount of motivation or excitement as before.

So it becomes more difficult to find pornography to satisfy you, leading you to search for more intense, shocking scenes, but more importantly, other activities can no longer hold a candle to the dopamine explosions of porn.

Things like eating a tasty sandwich, going for a run, meeting up with friends, or going out of the house at all start to seem pointless.

The drive is gone, because the dopamine these activities normally produce just don’t cut it anymore for the sensitized brain.

Practically speaking, life loses its color.

6. It warps your sense of self (and your sexual identity)

When the brain has become sensitized to dopamine, vanilla porn is no longer enough to arouse you.

You start looking for more shocking, intense, or even brutal scenes. You may start to look for things that disgusted you before, or scenes that don’t match your sexual preferences.

And this can go on for years.

As you sink further into the dregs of the porniverse, you start to lose yourself. You start to think that your new, often disgusting preferences are just a part of who you are.

You may start to doubt your heterosexuality (or maybe your homosexuality), or your gender.

I’ve become so lost, and so confused as to who I was, that it drove me into deep depression and filled my day to day life with anxiety.

Fantasies of domination and of being dominated started to become very strong and overtook my thought processes many times a day.

It’s like compulsive porn use exaggerates the extremes of sexual fantasy.

Wherever I went, I couldn’t stop obsessing over my sexuality. In a healthy human being, sex is only a big deal when it’s available, or after long periods of abstinence. In the porn-riddled mind, sex is always on your mind.

I’m going to write a lot more about what I’ve learned about porn addiction, and other aspects of sexuality in the future. I also want to go over the necessary steps to overcoming this monster of an addiction.

Stay tuned.

 

 

5 reasons to be grateful right now

I tend to worry a lot about the future, about being good enough, about not being where I want to be.

I find it incredibly important and soothing to just remind myself how much good is in my life.

That doesn’t mean life can’t improve, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that need resolving.

But it means that you can cut yourself some slack, and just enjoy the positive for a change. Here are five reasons to be grateful right now:

1. You are capable of reading this article!

You have eyes that work. You’re literate. You probably have a smartphone or a PC to read this on. ‘Nuff said.

There are plenty of people who are blind, have had no opportunity to educate themselves, and who don’t own a single thing apart from the clothes they wear.

Not to make you feel guilty, but that’s definitely a reason to feel grateful.

2. You have time to read this article!

You have enough free time to browse the internet, searching for fulfilling articles and videos (or just to pass the time).

You’re not breaking your back in a coal mine from dawn to dusk like the peeps of 150 years ago.

You would have been lucky to get 6 hours of sleep per night, and there was no concept of minimum wage, workers’ rights or even workplace security!

So take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief and head on to reason number three.

3. You’re not in danger of being attacked by a wild animal (hopefully)

There are a lot of problems in modern human society, but thankfully being mauled by a panther is not one of them. At least in the vast majority of cases.

One of the reasons for our perpetual state of stress and anxiety in life is our highly evolved biological system for evaluating danger and hopefully escaping it.

And a big part of that danger for our prehistoric ancestors were predators. Lions, tigers and bears. Maybe the odd dinosaur thrown in the mix.

So life may still be difficult, but at least we can not worry about being eaten alive.

4. You have access to the vast stores of information of the internet

You can learn about anything. There may be a lot of bad information, but with a little know-how, you can learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

You can learn all there is to learn about engineering. Or medicine. Or psychology. You can study the history of philosophy, carpentry, plumbing, you name it.

University degrees are fine, but knowledge is power.

In all eras of human existence, up until the last twenty years or so, knowledge was incredibly limited, and as were the means of communicating it.

In the middle ages, if you wanted to learn to read, you had to either be one of the lucky 0.001% of people born into royalty, or you had to become a monk or nun.

And even then your reading would have been mostly limited to the bible and its derivatives (at least in Europe).

5. You are conscious

You have something, without which none of this would exist. You are a conscious being. You’re not a rock. You’re not empty space, or a rotting piece of wood.

You were fortunate enough to be born. You are a human being. Your potential for spiritual growth is limitless.

Whatever may be wrong in your life and in the world around you, know this: The fact that you’re here at all is the most valuable thing you will ever encounter.

There is so much to be achieved with consciousness. Infinite possibilities reside in the human incarnate.

It’s quite easy to forget this simple fact, to feign ignorance about it. But your value as a conscious being cannot be overstated.

Each of us live in our own reality. We play the main role of existence, each one of us. We have our ups and downs, and we have a purpose to fulfill.

This is a game. A long, complicated game.

We can certainly be grateful for the chance to play it at all.

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3 ways to supercharge your self-discipline (that may surprise you)

In recent years, I’ve managed to become very disciplined in my life.

If there’s something that needs doing, I rarely procrastinate any more.

I don’t call in sick due to laziness or lethargy, I don’t skip workouts, I don’t skip meditation sessions.

I still want to improve my discipline even more in the coming weeks, months, and years, but I’m pretty happy with my progress so far.

In fact, just yesterday I was comparing my way of thinking with today’s, and it’s just amazing.

And to be honest, I know exactly what made the most difference in building this habit of discipline.

Here are the three things, in reverse order of importance, that I’ve done to become more disciplined in the last few years:

1. Decide to do everything as well as you possibly can

When I started to strive for excellence in all aspects of my life, meaning not only the things I found important, but also menial, tedious, and boring things like doing the dishes, hanging up laundry, cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, clipping toenails, everything.

What this really implies is that you put your full attention on whatever it is you need to do right now.

Another name for this concept?

Mindfulness.

When I started to become mindful of even the least exciting activities in my life, and attempting to do them as well as I could, a funny thing happened:

I started getting better results with the things that were actually most enjoyable and most important in my life.

I wasn’t really expecting that to happen, to be honest, so as you can imagine I was pretty thrilled with the results. And I still am.

So apply yourself fully to whatever is at hand, even if it’s dirty work, even if you wish you were doing something else. Do it as well as you can and that discipline will seep into all aspects of your life.

2. Start a journal

This may not seem very related to developing stronger discipline, but in fact it’s one of the most effective methods I’ve discovered for doing just that.

What happens when you start a journal, at first, is nothing comes out.

You try to write, you may even sincerely want write, but you just don’t know what to write.

I know that’s what happened when I started keeping a journal.

There was a definite learning curve, to be sure, but once the journaling wheel starts rolling there’s no stopping it.

In my life, keeping a journal has become a self-perpetuating entity. What I mean by that is that it’s become so instrumental to keeping my life on track that stopping is no longer an option.

Quitting journaling would be paramount to quitting life at this point.

And we can’t have that.

So what should you write about?

Well, dig in there. Start by writing just what you’re thinking. Or what you think you’re thinking. Do that for a full page, even two.

Now you’ve gotten in the groove, start figuring out what’s weighing down on you.

Everyone, at all points in life, will have some problems or issues that need resolving, or aspects of themselves or their relationships that need improving. Without that, life would be just about meaningless.

But the thing is, if you don’t know what’s wrong, how can you possibly expect to know what needs to be done?

You see, in many cases, procrastination is simply a result of not knowing what needs to be done or why it should be done in the first place.

It’s been many years since I started keeping a journal, and I’ve kept many kinds. Voice recorders, digital journals, and plain old paper.

They all work, and each has its advantages.

Although it’s been a long time since I started, I still clearly remember many instances where I solved major life issues (or at least figured out what needed to be done, which is half the battle) just by writing about it enough.

Relationships that needed ending, bad habits that needed to be rooted out, thought patterns that needed optimizing or disintegration.

Journaling is the best way I’ve found for life optimization.

It’s like defragmenting your mind. Like alphabetizing the file cabinet of your brain.

It let’s you discover what’s important and what’s not, and what needs letting go, and what needs letting in.

So find 15 minutes every day to write down what’s going through your mind, and reap the benefits.

3. Daily meditation

I left meditation until last because it’s the habit that has most improved my discipline in the last five years.

If you only take one thing to heart from this article, let it be this: Meditation can open doors in your life, the existence of which you cannot conceive.

If you apply yourself to meditating every morning and every evening, all aspects of your life will become clearer.

The discipline required to sit down, even for as little as ten minutes, and follow your breath or your bodily sensations, is immense. Especially if you haven’t done it before.

But it becomes easier with time.

And you will find that discipline in all other areas will also become easier.

You see, meditation is, in part, an exercise in discipline.

Over time, as you meditate more, you’ll want to meditate even more.

And in my experience, the more you meditate (at least up until the 2 hours daily mark), the more your discipline will develop.

Meditation is sometimes uncomfortable or painful and often mind-numbingly boring, although the deeper you go, the more interesting it becomes.

My point is, the discipline you need to exercise to consistently sit down and subject yourself to pain and boredom is immense, but the results will speak for themself.

Start a habit of daily meditation today. Start with five minutes, and work yourself up from there.

It’s not rocket science, it’s actually very simple.

Just sit down and observe. Observe your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, without engaging or judging.

Or follow your breath. There are tons of great articles and guided meditations out there for free, so there’s no excuse not to start.

Believe me, it will be the best change you ever make in your life.

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You think you know what you need. You’re wrong.

A few years ago, I thought I knew what I wanted from life.

I thought I knew what was best for me.

In fact, every single year I laugh at how sure of myself I used to be.

Things change. Sometimes things happen the way you want them to, but mostly they happen in unimaginable ways.

Three years ago I saw myself living as a hippie backpacker, hopping from this hostel to that, meeting new girls in every port, counting pennies, working as little as possible.

Pleasure was my ultimate goal in life.

Respect was up there as well, but back then I didn’t know what respect meant.

I may not have had a plan for the future, but I sure as hell knew what I wanted here and now. I was sure of it.

Fast forward six months, and, as is the way of life, I got a devastating existential kick in the face.

I watched my expectations crumble around me through the tears in my eyes.

Lightning struck.

I found myself in an ever-tightening vice of a little-known, even-less-researched, nightmarish illness. It was related to medication I had been taking for a long time.

Better yet, it seemed that the illness would be chronic. At least two to five years, I found out.

The five stages of grief. I went through them all.

Denial

It couldn’t be that bad for me. Exceptional cases of this illness resolved themselves in two to six months. Surely I must be one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t even hoping, I was certain.

Anger

After half a year of crushing pain, sores, insomnia, isolation and nightmares, I started to get pretty pissed.

Why can’t anybody do something for me!? Why can’t this be fixed?

Bargaining

I started buying all kinds of supplements, I changed my diet again and again.

I ate only steamed vegetables and white rice for six weeks. No salt, no spices, no animal products, no sugar, no chocolate… No coffee or tea, nothing really.

Try it, and if you don’t get depressed I’ll send you a medal.

Depression

After trying everything I could possibly think of to end my suffering, to no avail, color faded from the world. Meaning was nowhere to be found. Why bother at all?

Suicidal thoughts became frequent, and even welcome, guests.

At this point I was still in school, barely scraping through, on a special deal with my teachers so I didn’t have to come in every day. Even so, I had no interest in what I was doing. I was totally burned out.

Acceptance

The point of acceptance only came at around the eighteen month mark. I was still hopeless, I thought there was no way I would regain my health and live a normal life again.

However, I started to accept my lot.

This was the hand I had been dealt in life. Better do what I can.

I quit school, and spent all my time researching what I could do to get better. In fact, I finally did find some remedies that seemed to work!

After a few months of giving myself the rest I needed, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My symptoms got markedly better, the black smoke of depression started to lift.

I started to exercise a bit. I felt confident enough to leave the house once more.

It finally looked like I would be able to climb out of the pit the universe had pushed me into.

A few months after that, I felt well enough to walk the eight hundred kilometers from the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I made a pilgrimage.

It marked a new chapter in my life. I finally felt like I was gaining some control over my fate once again.

I didn’t get what I wanted. Life didn’t give me what I thought I was entitled to. I got pure horror instead. I was given a reminder of my mortality.

And you know what?

I wouldn’t change a thing.

I never did get what I wanted, but by the grace of something higher than myself, I got what I needed.

Life is tricky. It’s not really what it seems. It’s an illusion of endless layers. We live and we learn. We learn through experience.

We’ve all been smacked in the face by life, and if you’re young enough or lucky enough to have dodged it, someone you love and cherished has been.

And anyway, life will get you too.

I may sound harsh, but it’s nothing to fear. It will be difficult, painful, and you will suffer. But, if you stay conscious, you will also grow.

And that’s why you’re here.

A habit of excellence

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant

We all get lazy from time to time. I know I’m guilty of more than my fair share of laziness.

With that being said, I’ve been striving to stop myself from being lazy.

Well, maybe not completely, I still have bouts of being glued to the sofa, with no energy or incentive to do anything. But at least I’ve been striving to stop myself from being lazy when it counts.

Ironically, I’ve recently realized that every moment counts.

Every moment is important, as is everything we do. Everything.

I started to grasp the enormity of this idea this summer, while working as a ranger in a national park in the north-east of Iceland.

Now, the job of a ranger is interesting, fulfilling, and varied in many ways, but there are also plenty of chores. Plenty of work that needs to be done where you can’t help but thing “can’t someone else do it?”.

Bear in mind that an Icelandic ranger is a whole different creature from the stereotypical armed U.S. Park ranger with a hat.

In Iceland, rangers are certainly guarding and protecting natural reserves, but we also take care of all maintenance in the park, information centers, and campsites.

That means I’m mopping floors, picking up trash, working the cash register and scrubbing fecal matter off toilet seats that should have been replaced decades ago.

Nobody likes cleaning toilets. Well, maybe someone does, but it’s certainly not my favorite activity.

I’ve worked as a ranger for seven summers, and up until now, when it came to the grunt work of hauling trash and cleaning grime off bathroom walls, I would half-ass it.

I would do it poorly, as fast as I could, often leaving the situation just barely better that it was before.

I’m not really sure what changed this.

This summer, it just clicked. The idea that “the way you do anything is the way you do everything“.

I realized that half-assing anything meant half-assing life. And I couldn’t have that.

So I scrubbed like I’ve never scrubbed before. I left the toilet seats so clean that I could see my reflection in them. I picked up all trash I laid eyes on. The park was squeaky clean whenever I was around.

I didn’t stop there. I decided to practice excellence in all areas. When I had rude customers, I swallowed my pride and compromised with them. When people did stupid things, I still treated them with respect.

I came in on time, every single day.

I used to regularly get tired and lazy before, and just call in sick when I didn’t feel like working. Well, I didn’t take one sick day this summer.

I started building a habit of excellence.

I’ve kept it up after I started school. I come to class on time. I come in every day. I do everything I’m required to do, and I strive to do it well.

I’ve seen how deciding to be excellent at the chores I enjoy the least, I start doing better at the things I feel are most important.

I think excellence can become a habit. In fact I’m sure of it. We’re not born disciplined, we develop discipline. With every single act of disciplined excellence, we become more disciplined, and our lives become more excellent.

This is a call to all of you lazy bums out there (myself included) to get off your backside and do what needs to be done, and to do it well.

 

 

Purpose (or not?)

What’s my purpose?

Why am I here?

I guess everyone has the same fears of not living up to their potential, at least sometimes. But maybe purpose isn’t something we need to find. Maybe purpose finds you.

I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time fretting over my perceived lack of purpose in life, so much time that I think the meter is full, so to speak.

I’ve decided to stop worrying about it. Of course, if I could just decide not to worry life would be a walk in the park. But I can’t, and it’s certainly not. Life is hard. Magnificent, but hard all the same.

A purpose isn’t really anything. It’s very abstract, and physically intangible. Emotionally, though, purpose is very salient. We want to feel like we’re heading in the right direction in life, like we’re doing the right thing.

I submit to you remedy to this constant yearning for knowing what to do:

Accept that you don’t know what to do, and just do what you enjoy.

It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

But I don’t even know what I enjoy doing! Is watching Friends a life path?

To which I answer,”no, you idiot, of course not”. Be sensible.

We all have multiple interests, some of them have little or no value, inherently, while other interests have great potential for making a living and feeling good about yourself.

I guess I should articulate this thought a little more precisely: To enjoy something is one thing. I may enjoy eating cake, or watching netflix. And that’s fine, really. But feeling fulfilled is a different story.

You can feel enjoyment for something without feeling fulfilled by it, like I enjoyed the last birthday party I went to and pigged out on cake, but it didn’t leave me feeling like I’d done something important, valuable, or relevant.

You can also feel fulfillment from doing something that you don’t really enjoy, like intense exercise, drinking a green smoothie, or hanging up laundry. You know it’s important, and that’s why you do it.

Then there’s the third category, the one we should focus on for the purposes of this post.

There are activities that you enjoy (everyone’s different), that also leave you feeling fulfilled!

For myself, there are a few things that fit this profile. Writing is one of them. So is drawing. Another is building or making stuff. Meditation, nutrition, studying subjects pertaining to my other interests. There’s loads of things, really.

Now what?

Well, pick one, preferably the one you feel most exciting, and stick to it. Get better at it. Become as skilled as you can become. I believe well-directed, intelligent work leads to increased fulfillment and motivation.

Fulfillment and motivation lead to mastery. And mastery opens unimaginable doors in life. Finally, all those open doors will reveal your purpose.

Obviously, I hope, some sensibility is required. Building castles out of playing cards may be fulfilling and enjoyable, and in some cases you may be able to make a living from it if you play your cards just right (pun actually not intended).

But I would tuck it away into the dusty folder of “monetization highly unlikely”. It’s really your call though, because unlikely doesn’t mean impossible.

You see, I believe that purpose is less a question of fate, and more a question of free will. To some degree, we decide on which purpose suits us best. And thank god, right?

It would be pretty ****ed if all you wanted to do was be a conceptual artist but fate had decided that your purpose was to be a corporate accountant.

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What do you *really* want?

It may be a car. A nice house. Kids, a husband or wife. Someone you love who actually loves you back.

It might be a dream job, a successful career. You may want to travel the world, you may want fame, you may want fortune.

Sexual exploits? Respect? A mountain of gold?

Maybe you want power. Maybe you want to dominate.

Whatever you think you want, you can have it. You can have it.

But keep in mind, whatever it is, that once you get it, it may no longer be yours. It may end up owning you.

But even that’s part of the game. We sometimes get what we want, only to have it taken from us.

Our goal changes from reaching, to holding. To keeping.

And when it starts to drift away, it turns to grasping.

In the end, it all goes back in the box.

And when it does, you may not get what you want, but you’ll certainly get what you need.

Anxiety only slows you down

Okay, maybe not all anxiety. Anxiety in the face of seeing a truck flying toward you at a hundred miles per hour will probably speed you up and make you get the hell off the road.

At some point in human history, all anxiety probably had a purpose. Make sure the fire doesn’t die, don’t be too loud so you don’t attract predators, get back to the hut before dark.

Anxiety in the face of survival and self-preservation is important, obviously, it always has been and always will be.

However, I think we can mostly agree that the majority of the anxiety we feel day to day in the modern world (at least in the west) is unnecessary and often harmful.

Being late to work or school makes us anxious, even though it’s nowhere close to being life threatening.

Being ridiculed or rejected in social situations often leaves us feeling pangs of anxiety, even though the true consequences are trivial.

Sometimes we’re anxious, chronically, for long periods of time, months, even years, about things that are so physically distant as to be virtually nonexistent subjectively.

I’m specifically referring to the mass media, like news outlets and football games, soap operas and crime thrillers.

Granted, being anxious in a dramatic way, via a good movie, is a great feeling, and knowledge about how the world works and what’s going on in the far corners of our planet is certainly important.

But binge consumption of television shows, 24 hour news networks, and a seemingly ever-increasing amount of obnoxious football fans leaves chronic anxiety in its wake.

And don’t get me started on the super-stimuli, like sugar, porn and video games. There are things that we do in the modern world that are so incredibly stimulating that we get desensitized to the simpler things in life, like exercise, social interactions and healthy food.

We are then only able to find pleasure in these specific substances and activities, which leaves us feeling anxious and empty the rest of the time.

Mind and matter aren’t as distant as we like to believe. What goes on in our mental space, and in our emotional space, affects our body, and vice versa.

This is obvious through a little self inquiry. Discomfort in the body, like feeling to hot or being in pain, has a very noticeable effect on our concentration and mood.

Likewise, as anyone who has ever dealt with depression or anxiety will know, a heavy or manic mood will destroy your ambitions and leave you feeling lethargic and weak physically.

The reason I’m drawing attention to this is to illustrate the point that anxiety literally slows you down, like a weight on your shoulders. Physically.

Anxiety is exhausting mentally and physically. We all know this. After feeling anxious all day in anticipation of a musical performance or making a speech, when it’s finally over, we crash down in post-anxious bliss, ready to chill out and go to sleep.

Therefore, minimizing or eradicating anxiety in our lives will leave us with way more energy to work on the things that truly matter to us, like expansion of consciousness, exercise, study and family.

Now, how this eradication of anxiety is to be achieved is simpler than it seems, although it will most likely require a lot of time and energy. I haven’t yet been able to fully rid myself of my own anxiety, so I can’t really say how long it will take.

Anxiety seems all-encompassing while it’s got its claws dug deep in your mind, but the mere act of becoming fully conscious of it, becoming aware of body sensations and mental activity, is often enough to calm you down and allow you to deconstruct the situation.

This is mindfulness. A word that’s thrown about a lot these days. There are good reasons for its growing popularity, but I feel like it’s often misrepresented as something that you do, whereas, the way I see it, it’s the direct opposite.

Mindfulness is learning to not do, to not think, and to just perceive what’s going on directly.

I’ve written a few posts on mindfulness in the past, like this post and this one.

I’ll keep you updated on my own deconstruction of anxiety, and I hope you’ll leave a comment if this seems at all relevant to your own life.

Until next time, much love.

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The fear of wasting your life

Fear is a dirty word. It’s never easy to truly own up to it. I regularly have bouts of fear. Many times, like right now, it’s a fear of inadequacy. A fear that I’m wasting my time, wasting my life.

Sometimes there’s a trigger, like reading about what other people are doing, but sometimes it seems to pop up out of nowhere.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. In some sense, FOMO or fear of missing out is a manifestation of this, but I feel like there’s more to it. FOMO is more of a belief that everybody else must be having more fun, doing more meaningful things etcetera.

The fear I’m describing is more all-encompassing and profound, not directed at moment-to-moment pleasure and experience, but rather lifetime achievement and fulfillment.

Here’s approximately what’s going on in my head right now: Man, I’ve spent so much time developing drawing skills and studying art, and now I’ve decided to learn woodworking?

Maybe I should think about this some more, because that’s years of my life basically gone down the drain in pursuit of something that I’m just going to throw away? I’m twenty-six now, in a few year’s I’ll be old, so I better get my **** together. I’m too old to start pursuing new interests anyway.

Twenty-six years old is too old? For what? To learn new things? And what exactly am I throwing away? The ability to draw and make art, or the experience of learning it?

Experience is what it is, nothing can take it away from you. The same with knowledge.

Life is a system of paths, and sometimes, for whatever reason, we decide on a new path. It may take us to a better place, or maybe even a worse place, but the freedom to choose a different path later on is still relevant.

Writing this stuff down really takes the edge off. It makes it easier to see the flaws in my reasoning. And besides, an anxious mind is unreasonable anyway.

However, it’s very tricky to be aware of these sorts of anxious thoughts as they’re happening. It’s easier to look back on them and shake your head and chuckle.

I’ve been working hard on understanding anxiety, what causes it, how to fix it. How to soften the blow when it hits you head-on.

Anxiety is fear. Fear is universal. I think the purpose of being, if there is one, is the overcoming of fear in it’s infinite guises.

The more we learn to see fear for what it is, the more we understand where we stand, and what we are. Fear is the shadow. Light is important, but without the shadow there would be no outlines, no tonal differences, everything would be white. Everything would be blindingly invisible.

We need to incorporate the darkness, and see it for what it is: an irreducible part of being. There’s darkness within all of us, and facing it head on is the best thing we can do for our mental health.

There’s no way to remove fear, except through death, be it partial or complete. Courage is the answer, feeling the fear, facing it without retreating from it.

Much love.

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