Lessons From Stories: Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Ernest Hemingway captured an essential understanding of human nature in just 1,465 words. The understanding is: We need order when we’re lost in life.

Chaos and order are the bases of many stories, so it is not unique per se that Hemingway explores this issue, but the way he does it is unique. In A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, the cafe represents order because cleanliness and light are often associated with orderliness. The cafe is an attractive place that shelters those in need, like the old man who is lost in life. The old man regularly gets drunk at the cafe and later on, we are told that his wife recently passed away and he tried to commit suicide. The old man has lost his sense of purpose, his meaning for life and so he clings to the cafe because he doesn’t want to be alone.

Solitude represents chaos in this story. The old man doesn’t want to be alone at home. The older waiter, whose perspective we see the story from, can’t sleep until the sun rises. This is because when your mental state is not correct, one of the worst places you can be is in your own head, alone with your thoughts. That is a dangerous place. A chaotic place. 

The opening scene of the story has two waiters. The older one and the younger one. The two are different in one main way; the younger waiter has a sense of purpose and meaning, hence, he has order in his life.

“You have youth, confidence, and a job,” the older waiter said.

“You have everything.”

“And what do you lack?”

“Everything but work.”

“You have everything I have.”

“No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.”

This is why the younger waiter has a tough time emphasizing with the old man. He can’t see the old man is lost. He passes judgment on the old man and even says the old man has nothing to be sad about because he’s rich.

“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” (young) waiter said.

“Why?”

“He was in despair.”

“What about?”

“Nothing.”

“How do you know it was nothing?”

“He has plenty of money.”

This raises an interesting question. Can someone who has order or meaning in their life relate to someone who doesn’t? Someone who is in a chaotic state? Often when we have meaning in our life, we are focused on it and that can cause us to put blinders on and not see others who are trying to find their own way. Trying to find order. 

The older waiter suffers from chaos. He can’t be alone with his thoughts. He has trouble finding meaning in anything. This is shown in perhaps the most famous passage of this story.

It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

Nothing matters to the waiter.

But because the waiter has no meaning in his life, he can relate to the old man, and feel empathy towards him. The older waiter is even willing to keep the light on in the cafe for a while longer to give the old man more time to drink.

“We are of two different kinds,” the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe.”

“Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”

“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”

Hemingway was famous for capturing a moment in time, a slice of life. The story ends without an answer. The old waiter blames his state of mind on insomnia, which could be seen as a scapegoat instead of confronting the reality of the meaninglessness of life.

But what could be a solution to this chaos?

Lost souls need order as evidenced by the old man’s desire to stay in the cafe. Order is then an essential need for those who are without meaning. Perhaps this suggests that when we are lost and lack meaning, we need to find things that bring order into our lives. Routines, habits, people, places, etc. Whatever helps us positively deal with our mental state.

In the story, it is implied that the old man lost his meaning after his wife passed. While the old waiter is seen trying to find meaning through religion but fails to do so. Even the young waiter finds his meaning through his work and his wife, both are liable to change.

What then?

Perhaps the meaning of our life has to be intrinsic. Something that can survive the ups and down of life. Perhaps that is the meaning. How well can you navigate what life throws at you? To constantly find the meaning behind your suffering. To search for the light in the darkness.

Maybe that is how meaning is created, and our mind becomes a place of solitude. 

Reflections On Love

Love is boundless. Its affection blankets people, objects, animals, ideas, the self moments in time, and moments yet to come. Love has no limits. It doesn’t discriminate. It’s a feeling which can create bodily reactions like the quickening of breath, a faster heartbeat, the rising of heat through you, and in that moment, you are present. Love is then what makes you present in the moment. Makes you live in the now. 

To love is to be present.

But love is also in the past and the future. The commitment you made in the past which stemmed from love, a commitment to love someone, a commitment to work towards a goal, a commitment to become someone, it steers your movements still, in the now. The same commitment can cause you to sacrifice for the future. You come to sacrifice your own needs and wants for someone or something outside of you.

To love is to sacrifice.

But that sacrifice can hurt you. You may give love but not receive it. It isn’t an equal exchange. So you give for the sake of giving, but the pain is still there when you don’t get it back. When your sacrifices are used up, disregarded, wasted, misplaced, the pain is bitter and so love balances with hate and if you’re not careful, love becomes hate. So, love is something to be wary of.

To love is to expose yourself to pain.

But it’s in the giving that you feel love. The dichotomy. It’s when you are willing to be vulnerable that you step closer to loving because vulnerability reveals your deep care and affection. You are willing to get hurt, feel pain, even tip towards hate for the sake of love. And to be vulnerable is a mindset. You know consciously you are giving or exposing a part of yourself.. Love is a mindset. You see life through the eyes of love, and it both frees you and binds you. Frees you in the manner that you are seeking goodness when you look at life through loving eyes. But, it can be binding too because when your love is reciprocated and you lose it, then you lose a part of you and are bound to that loss, searching for it, knowing you can’t replace it but need to do so, need to find it, need to be whole again and so, you’re bound to search.

To love is to accept loss.

What do I think of love?

I think love is tainted by romantic ideals. Those ideals are just the surface level.

I think love is in discipline. Disciplined towards viewing life with love. Disciplined towards someone or something.

I think love is in the everyday task. Love allows you to see the uniqueness in the mundane.

I think love is fleeting and needs to be recaptured over and over like any other feeling.

I think love is a mindset. A conscious effort to act with love.

I think love is in denial. To commit to someone or something rather than everything.

I think love goes beyond humans. Love of work. Love of nature. Love of life.

I think to love means to love your fate. The good and the bad. The pleasure and the pain. The success and the disappointment. Heartbreaks and tragedy. Moments of elation and richness. All of it is yours. 

All of it you must love. 

Lessons From Books: Bird By Bird

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is exactly as the title suggests, a book that has valuable pieces of information about both writing and about life. The writing tips are practical, but in reality, they are common and not wholly unique. The book will not transform you into a New York Times bestseller. Lamott isn’t trying to sell you some get-rich-quick scheme. Instead, she talks about patience, creating writing routines, working hard, doing tons and tons of revisions, subverting expectations, and enjoying the process. Like I said, not unique, but practical.

However, the real gem of this book was the connection Lamott makes with writing and life. How the interpersonal relationship of the two nurtures each other. The lessons she draws upon from writing help you understand life better and, through the awareness of life and yourself, your writing becomes genuine and vulnerable. This is where I fell in love with this book. The following are a few of the main points that stuck with me from Bird by Bird.

Why Pursue Writing?

A commitment to writing goes beyond telling stories. It is an exploration of life. You are committing to observing the life around you. You pay attention to everything from the macro like politics, societal trends, cultural changes, to the micro such as the encroaching yellowish tint on leaves as fall approaches or the faint smell of peppermint as you pass by a cafe or the thin, practiced smiles of strangers you see during the day. Keeping tabs on both the small and large details of life becomes part of the job.

You are also committing to observing yourself. Your own internal state. You come to dissect memories, unpack different thoughts, question your own opinions because that’s where your scenes lie and your characters dwell. You become aware of your feelings and emotions and what triggers them and how deeply you feel or perhaps the lack of feelings which can be equally important. As you understand yourself, you come to understand others because of the commonalities we all share as human beings. You develop empathy, patience, respect because these are the things you need to understand yourself and the extension of these qualities benefits the people around you. This then helps you create stories that connect with others.

In the same vein, the commitment to writing also improves your habits and character. The aim may be to write a story or to finish a novel or to publish a collection of poems, but in order to do that, you need to practice your skill set. You have to find a way to measure progress which, in writing terms, maybe keeping tabs on daily word count or pages written or, as Neil Gaiman suggests, the number of hours you spent at your writing station. You need to develop a routine that helps you balance your life and also maximize your writing. You need to develop discipline and focus so the time spent writing is productive. The rejection letters help you create a thick skin towards criticism and feedback, but also you need a sense of detachment from your work so you can apply the necessary feedback. All these qualities not only help you towards your writing goal but mold you into a capable individual.

A Perspective Towards Restarting

One of the hardest decisions you can make in writing is to start over after you have committed many hours of your time and written dozens and maybe hundreds of pages. But sometimes finding out what you don’t want to write is as important as knowing what you do. Often, what you have in your head doesn’t translate well on paper. But you can only know that by putting it on paper. This is still a type of progress. Slow, painful progress, but progress nonetheless.

The idea of restarting is present in life as well and it is equally as difficult, but also important. You can only know if a relationship will work out by actually being in one, similar to how you have to put words on paper to know if they work. And it may be painstaking to end the relationship and restart again, but it must be done so you can step closer to a relationship that you actually need. Or you might come to dislike your dream job, towards which you have committed years of your life. But if you’re able to restart again, go back into the job market, learn a new skill, change career paths, the years to follow could potentially have greater rewards than you could have imagined. In this process of elimination, you get closer to what you actually want in life and, in writing terms, what you actually want to write about.

Short Assignments

Short assignments is the idea that you need to focus on the task at hand and do that as well as you can before you move on to the next short assignment. The title of the book, Bird by Bird, comes from this idea. Lamott shares an anecdote of when she was a kid and her brother was stressed out about a school assignment relating to birds and her father’s advice was simple, take it bird by bird. Write about one bird and then move to the next one. One small thing at a time. One short assignment at a time.

When you think too much about the bigger picture, it causes you to lose focus and get lost in the grand scheme of things. But when you can focus on what’s right in front of you and work on that, you make progress. Narrow your focus from the macro to the micro. Focus on the next step and that’s it. The next dialogue or description or narration or action piece. That’s how you complete a story.

Similarly, life itself can be daunting if you constantly focus on the end goals. A four-year degree can seem like a lifetime away, but the assignment or exam in a week’s time is right in front of you. Knock that out of the park and you step closer to the degree. When you only look at the end, you might not recognize the small progress you have made and this can leave you disheartened and even result in negative thoughts and feelings. But if you turn your focus to the short assignments and work on doing that the best you can, then you come to recognize progress and movement. And this is revitalizing. The end goal may still be a long way away, but you have achieved something towards that goal. In the same way, writing one good descriptive passage is an achievement towards writing a 300-page novel, get an A+ on an assignment is an achievement towards your degree. 

Child’s Draft Or The Shitty 1st Draft

This means that when you write your first draft, just write whatever comes to your mind. Whatever images, phrases, dialogue that come without censor. You can even write bullet point notes. It doesn’t matter. No one is going to read the 1st draft except you and all you need to do is get the story out of your head and on the paper so you can edit and make it better. This is the process. Trust it. Write a shitty 1st draft and then edit it relentlessly until it is good. This may require you to overcome your perfectionist/self-critical inner voice, which can’t stand the shitty 1st draft.

This is a lesson for life. Often your first action is wrong or not as good as you hoped. But that first action is required so that your 2nd, 3rd, 4th actions can move you towards where you want to go. But you can be stuck in the perfectionist mindset, which delays your 1st action so you never fail or stumble and never get to correct that mistake either so your proceeding actions can be better. In reality, perfectionism is an excuse for inaction.  A resistive force to stop yourself from doing the hard, uncomfortable work which, in writing terms, is revision, and with life, is self-reflection and ownership. 

Two more writing-related lessons:

Understand your characters

Find out as much as possible about the interior life of your characters. Let it come naturally through writing. Not all of it has to go into the story, but you should know as much as possible. A way to familiarize yourself with the characters is by asking practical everyday questions which peel back the layers of your characters and humanizes them. Some examples Lammot provides are: What kind of impression do they leave behind? What do they carry in their purse? How do they move? Who did they vote for? What would they do if they had six months to live? Questions that reveal the character’s traits, faults, emotional baggage, positives, and negatives.

Another way to familiarize your character is by partially basing them on someone you know. This way, you have a base structure to work with. Or, by sharing your own flaws through the character, which also makes them more vulnerable and genuine. 

Also, understanding who your character isn’t is a good way to understand who your character is. Similarly, how a form of self-discovery is knowing what you don’t want, need, or like, understanding what your character doesn’t want, need, or like will bring you closer to knowing what the character wants, needs, or likes.

Short Story Formula

ABDCE: Action (start), Background (Who/what/why), Development (the characters build drama/action/tension), Climax and Ending (What happened, What did it mean, and What our sense of the characters is now).

Lessons From Books: Awaken The Giant Within

The self-help genre can fall into this pseudo-intellect space where the writers make false promises with some half-truths hoping to sell a bunch of books. They will promise to fix every issue you have and turn your life around completely. If you read that on a book cover it’s best to avoid it. Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins isn’t about turning your life around completely through some magical words. Robbins promises changes, but the change is more gradual and realistic, much of which falls upon the shoulders of the reader. The book is about the small practical changes, shifts in focus, new habits, and mindset that can help different aspects of your life. The goal is to slightly change the trajectory of your life towards a more positive direction. 

Lessons

How To Create Lasting Changing

  1. Raise your standards. Demand more from yourself. More than what you think you are capable of at the moment. When you set a higher standard, it causes you to focus on what you can potentially achieve and your actions guide you towards that standard. Thinking big plays an important role not just in the goals but in the individual you want to become.
  2. Change your limiting beliefs. Often, we don’t achieve our goals or become the person we wish to be because we don’t believe it’s possible for us. So, right away we start on the back foot and never gain enough momentum to meet what seems to be an impossible standard. Along with the new standard, you need a new self belief. You have to believe that you can achieve your new standard. That you can implement the change that you are seeking.
  3. Change your system. Your previous mode of operation resulted in your previous failures. So, repeating the same system but with lofter goals isn’t sufficient enough. What you need is to change your behaviours and routines which will give you the best chance for lasting change. One way to do this is to study the people who have accomplished what you wish to accomplish or have the characteristics and habits that you want. Simply adopt their routines, systems, and mindset and act accordingly.

Areas Of Your Life That Require Mastery

  1. Emotional Mastery – How you feel can determine how you act. So if you have limited control over your emotions and allow them to dictate your actions, your life will be erratic and out of control.
  2. Physical Mastery – One of the few things you have control over is yourself. If you allow your physical health to suffer, then you curb the potential experiences of life. Additionally, being disciplined with your workout and diet can act as a foundational piece to developing good habits and mindset.
  3. Relationship Mastery – Life revolves around relationships. If you don’t have good relationships with your family and friends, then you will have a hard time feeling fulfilled.
  4. Financial Mastery – Often you spend money to satisfy your immediate craving or want but in the long term, it can leave you with more problems. Understand when you are simply pleasure seeking The disciplined choice supersedes the undisciplined one.
  5. Time Mastery – You have limited time in this life. No one knows exactly how much time they have. There is a possibility you have used up most of your time so, it is best to guard your time and use it towards things that will improve your life and give you experiences that you don’t forget about.

The Power of Decisions

I believe that it’s in your moment of decision that your destiny is shaped.

Decide the structure of your life. The ruleset and principles that you want to abide by which will allow you to maximize your experiences and give you the best chance at becoming the individual you wish to be and to achieve your goals.

If you don’t set a baseline standard for what you’ll accept in your life, you’ll find it’s easy to slip into behaviors and attitudes or a quality of life that’s far below what you deserve.

The decision to commit rather than to just wish and hope is scary. Wishing and hoping give a false sense of comfort in some ways because you can live in that daydream without exposing yourself to failure. The daydream is fun but in reality, you are hurting yourself. You are wasting your time.

Commitment comes with fear. Fear of failure. Fear of humiliation. Fear of disappointment. These are true feelings that cause us pain. But commitment is the only way to achieve your dreams. Be open to failure because in doing so, you give yourself a shot a success. 

Making a trust decision means committing to achieving a result, and then cutting yourself off from any other possibility.

Like most things in life, your ability to make better decisions increases the more decisions you make.

Don’t waste time thinking over and over, procrastinating your life away. Just decide and move and once you have acted, then reflect on the outcome and act again after. Rinse and repeat that cycle.

Your life changes the moment you make a new congruent, and committed decision.

Important of Self-Affirmation 

Self-affirmation practices help to cultivate the right attitude.

This is who I am. This is what my life is about. And this is what I’m going to do. Nothing will stop me from achieving my destiny. I will not be denied!

Although it sounds cheesy to read and think about, the major benefit of the practice is the thoughts you have afterward. Your thoughts will be about fulfilling those affirmations which then charge you to act. The day then begins with positive momentum. The affirmations, in themselves, are not life changing, but they can act as a trigger that leads towards positive actions which can be life changing.

Have a Skill Mindset

You can fall into the trap of thinking that either you have a certain quality or you don’t. Either you are disciplined or you aren’t. Or that you are born with work ethic or time management skills. But, in reality, these things are a skill. You can improve your skills. You can get better with more practice and repetition.

Repetition is the mother of all skills.

Making decisions is a skill.

Discipline is a skill.

Hard work is a skill.

The more you do, the better you get. This is true for the negative and the positive, so you have to be careful what you choose to repeat over and over again. 

Decisions That Shape Your Life

  1. Your decision about what to focus on. Ability to prioritize.
  2. Your decision about what things mean to you. Figuring out the ‘why’ behind your actions. This requires self-reflection.
  3. Your decision about what to do to create the result you desire. Can’t act blindly. Create a logical plan that will give you a chance at achieving your goal and then act and adjust along the way.

The ‘Why’ Behind Your Behaviour

In order to change behaviour you have to deal with the cause of it and not just the effect of it. Typically, we focus on the effect of our actions and get the urge to change our behaviour. But this type of change rarely lasts long term because we never addressed the cause of the behaviour in the first place. For example, procrastination is something many people struggle with. One cause of why you procrastinate is that somewhere in your mind, you truly believe that present action will cause you pain and discomfort and you don’t want that. You can’t see the future benefit. So you avoid action through procrastination which will cause a failure to achieve your goal. So, just saying that you will work harder next time won’t solve the issue.

All too often, the security of a mediocre present is more comfortable than the adventure of trying to be more in the future.

What you need to do is change your mindset and how you view present action. That although you may have discomfort in the present, your future will be much better because of it. Additionally, you can change your attitude and practice to not view the present action in a negative light but in a positive one. This may require something like keep reminders nearby of what you wish to accomplish and who you want to be. Both things can override the voice in your head that wishes to avoid discomfort in the present.

How To Rewire Pain and Pleasure

  1. Write down actions you need to take that you have been putting off.
  2. Write down the answers to this question under each action: Why haven’t I taken action? In the past what pain have I linked to taking action?
  3. Write down all the pleasure you’ve had in the past by indulging in this negative pattern.
  4. Write down what it’ll cost you if you don’t change now.
  5. Write down the pleasure you’ll receive by taking each action now.

Ask The Right Question Of Yourself

Our questions determine our thoughts.

Questions lead to thinking. If you constantly question your behaviors, actions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, future plans, and so on, you move from a surface level of understanding to a deeper one. Once you truly know the why behind your wants and needs, it is then easier to plan for them.

Ask questions that will empower you.

An example can be something like asking yourself why did your previous attempt at achieving X/Y/Z failed? Instead of asking why you are a failure? The latter is negative and results in negative, self-loathing thoughts. The former can cause actionable changes when answered. 

When faced with a problem you need to be objective by asking yourself:

How have others solved a similar problem?

What are you doing to add to the problem?

What can you stop doing?

What can you start doing?

Answering questions like these give you actionable results. 

Choose Your Words Carefully

Be aware of the words you’re using. See how negative and positive they are, how emotionally charged they are, how empowering or disempowering they are. One person you can never escape is yourself. Your thoughts are always with you and with it, are your words directed towards yourself. The last thing you want is someone who is negative towards you living in your head.

Something that didn’t go your way, you can either label that humiliating or illuminating. By focusing on the label we give the experience, that experience then becomes the label. 

Study Your Emotions

If you are feeling happy and fulfilled, note why and act on that. If you are feeling sad and depressed, note why, and act on how you can change those emotions. So, if the feeling of sadness comes from a lack of success, make a list of things you can act upon right now that will bring you closer to what you want. 

What do you feel when you act out a bad habit? What do you feel when you act out a good habit? Note them so you can remind yourself of the feeling you are potentially about to have before you act. 

Emotions are then signals. Signals of you doing good or bad. Don’t avoid them. Learn from them. 

Ask yourself:

What do I really want to feel?

What do I have to do to feel the way I am feeling?

What am I willing to do to create a solution?

What can I learn from this about myself?

Have Giant Goals

Giant goals produce giant motivations. Big goals create pressure and resistance. When these two things are present then you know that you really want the goal you have set for yourself. However, goal setting must be followed by a developmental plan and massive and consistent action. 

Goals are dreams with a deadline.

Two practices that can inch you towards what you want are visualization and prioritization. Visualize achieving your goal daily. How you will achieve it. How your day should go to give you a chance at achieving it. How you’ll feel when you achieve it. Along with this, making the right sacrifices is important. Prioritizing your day, your week, your weekends so that you are using your time effectively and not wasting it.

A new level of thinking is now required in order to experience a new level of personal and professional success.

The actions, mindset, and habits of yesterday have brought you to your present. If you are unsatisfied then you have to make the right sacrifices to change your actions, time management, mindset, and habits so that your future can be different.

10 Day Mental Challenge

You will not indulge in or dwell on any unresourceful thoughts or emotions.

This may include things like daydreaming, pleasure seeking and/or pessimistic thoughts.

Instead, focus on improvement: What do I need to do right now to make my present better?

Great Quotes:

Virtually everything we do is to change the way we feel.

Information is power when it’s acted upon.

Success truly is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is the result of experience, and experience is often the result of bad judgment.

It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.

The way to expand our lives is to model the lives of those people who are already succeeding.

Nothing in life has any meaning except the meaning you give it.

The greatest leverage you can create for yourself is the pain that comes from inside, not outside. Knowing that you have failed to live up to your own standards for your life is the ultimate pain.

In life, never spend more than 10 percent of your time on the problem, and spend at least 90 percent of your time on the solution.

Lessons From People: Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse was a poet and a writer who wrote many great works, including Demian, Steppenwolf and most famously Siddhartha. His works mainly concentrated on the need to become an individual and gain self knowledge. He was rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

The following are lessons taken from his essays which range from a wide variety of topics such as psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitism, to his thoughts on individual writers, painters, and intellects.

Lessons:

Find Joy In The Everyday Life

There is a state of urgency associated with being alive because we don’t know how much time we really have. So, there is this need to do as much as possible as quickly as possible because tomorrow is never guaranteed. However, Hesse speaks against living like this. He calls that kind of life a hurried life, which he considers to be an enemy to a joyful life.

But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most as the most important object of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.

A hurried life would be the kind where you are always focusing on the next thing, on the big projects and goals. Always jumping from one thing to another. In this manner, life goes by without us realizing it and we’ve missed out on appreciating the time we were alive. 

Even leisure is hurried in this way of living. We are more worried about how many shows we can watch, how many things we can do, how many bucket list items we can cross off instead of appreciating each individual thing.

The motto of a hurried life is:

As much as possible, or fast as possible.

But this only allows for quick dopamine hits instead of actual pleasure.

Hesse’s formula for joy:

Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment and don’t overlook the little joys.

What are little joys?

The play of colors in nature or in a painting, an appeal in the voices of storm and sea, or in man-made music, as long as beneath its surface of interests and necessities the world can be seen or felt as a whole, consisting as it does of interrelationships from the curve of a young cat’s neck to the variations of a sonata, from the touching eyes of a dog to the tragedy of a poet, an interconnection of thousandfold riches of relationship, correspondences, analogies, and reflection, out of whose eternally flowing language their hearers derive joy and wisdom, entertainment and emotion—just so long will man again and again triumph over his ambiguities and be able to ascribe meaning to his existence.

It’s good to remember Hesse felt this way prior to the internet. Now, this hurried life has been kicked into overdrive and we can spend every minute of our day jumping from one thing to the next.

An exercise in moderation: Don’t have to be the first in line to a premiere. Don’t have to jump on the news show trend, wait a few weeks and see if you still want to. Instead of reading book after book, or skipping from song to song, think about why that piece of art makes you feel the way it did, whether it’s good or bad.

Know Your Why

There are two things associated with actions: the what and the why. The ‘what’ of an act is usually simple. If you want to start a business, the product you want to sell is the what. Often times figuring out the what is the depth of our understanding behind our actions. But the ‘why’ behind our actions is a lot more significant.

For those high qualities, tasks, and goals which you ascribe to the poet, that loyalty to himself, that awe in the face of nature, that acceptance of unusual self-sacrifice, that responsibility which is never satisfied with itself and gladly pays the price of sleepless nights for a successful sentence, a well turned phrase — all these virtues are the hallmarks not only for the true poet. They are the hallmarks of the true human being per se, of the unensalved, unmechanized man, of the revert and responsible human being, no matter what his profession.

The why should be related to the observation of life, to emotional sensibilities, to stand against something, to say something of value, to be free, to find solitude, to improve oneself, to dedicate oneself to a cause higher than yourself.

When the why is pure, the what becomes valuable.

Personal Refuge 

When we think about relaxing and decompressing, images of beaches or resorts come to mind. We look at them as a utopia that will provide us with refuge. However, Hesse doesn’t believe in this kind of refuge because no matter where you go, you are there. There is no perfect utopia for you to go to because your thoughts/emotions/feelings go with you. Thoughts influenced by others, emotions stirred up by loss or pain, feelings of loneliness or needing solitude all disturb whatever outer utopia you have in mind. 

But we need a refuge, a place of solitude that will allow us to disconnect from the outside noise and to simply concentrate and focus. 

Leave, O World, leave me in peace!

Ideally, the perfect solitude or refuge should be our own inner state. You, yourself, must be your refuge. Your thoughts must be clear so you can find comfort within them. You shouldn’t have to distract yourself from yourself. You must achieve harmony within yourself.

Hesse achieved a stable inner self through meditation, journaling, and by communicating truthfully with himself. Essentially, you have to have a desire to create an inner refuge and then work relentlessly upon yourself so that you can make this refuge a reality.

View People Without Desire

The eye of desire dirties and distrusts.

It is almost natural to view others through the lease of desire because we often start relationships in order to gain something for ourself. So, even prior to actually communicating with the person we wonder if they will like us, if they are arrogant or humble, if they will respect our work and so on. In doing so, we don’t truly connect with the individual because we have already created a picture of who they might be and how they act and think.

In order to have a genuine connection with someone, eyes of desire must be closed.

What is required then is for us to stop seeing people as useful or boring or strong or weak. Only by stopping such desires do we see who the person is and come to appreciate them regardless of how they can benefit us. This way, the quirks or mannerisms or characteristic that we might find annoying at first become a unique quality of that individual. The things we appreciate and like about someone become even more valuable.

Seeking Suffering

Just suffer, my son, just suffer and drain the cup to the dregs! The harder you try to avoid it the bitterer the drink will be. The coward drinks his fate like poison or medicine, you must drink yours like wine and fire. Then it will taste sweet.

Acceptance.

Being alive comes with pain and suffering. It’s better to make use of suffering by seeing it as a challenge to overcome than it is to try and avoid it. Suffering is there for us to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. By trying to avoid it, we only harm ourself.

And so my condition and radius of experience was this: On one hand endurance of great sorrow, on the other a conscious striving to master this sorrow, to achieve complete harmony with fate. This was approximately the judgement of my consciousness, or rather a first voice audible within my consciousness. A second voice, fainter, but deeper and more resonant, put the matter differently. This voice (which like the first one I heard clearly but far off in my sleep and dream) did not call the suffering wrong and my vigorous mental struggle for perfection right, but rather meted out right and wrong to both sides. The second voice sang of the sweetness of suffering, it sang of its necessity, it had no interest of mastering or eliminating it but only in deepening and illuminating it.

Why He Admired Goethe

He (Goethe) did not content himself with little goals, that he sought the greatest, that he erected ideals that could not be attained.

On Getting Old

Growing old is one of the universal fears. Hesse overcomes this fear by viewing aging as just another question life asks you and it is your new responsibility to find the appropriate answers. Now, as you age, the set of questions you face in your youth or adult life change to:

Can you be patient as you age?

Can you age gracefully?

Can you find joy in what has happened?

And many more.

It’s all about your mindset. You can be young and full of life, but a negative mindset can kill you. At the same time, when you’re old, you can focus on the negative, the things you used to be able to do, the people that you used to have around you and let it weigh you down or you can see it as another challenge, another question of life and focus on finding the answers. 

Old age is a stage in our life, and like all other stages, it has a face of its own, its own atmosphere and temperature, its own joys and miseries.

On Writing

Write poetry because it is a practice to sharpen your skills. Poetry forces you to come up with new analogies, similes, metaphors. Additionally, use poetry to clarify your thoughts and experiences. 

Novels, on the other hand, can be viewed as models for life and how to act. 

Almost all the prose works of fiction I have written are biographies of souls.

The focus is on the individual and his relationship to the world and himself rather than on plot, or creating suspense and so on.

An eager longing, a will to devotion, born of misery. And these are the prerequisites of everything great.

Any work, but especially creative, requires truth, accuracy, charm and neatness. Don’t overlook the details and the minute. If you are a careless writer, then the substance of the work can be questioned. You allow corruption into your work by being careless and overlooking the details. 

Respect for the material is what the author ought to feel, not the reader.