Lessons From Books: Letters To A Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke is a collection of ten letters that encompass Rilke’s thoughts on how a poet should feel, love, and seek the truth. Rilke was a renowned poet and novelist known for his lyrical style of prose. These letters further cover how Rilke felt about life, how he viewed hardship and struggle, joy and happiness, and the importance of positive thinking and solitude.

Lessons:

Creating Helpful Thoughts

And your doubts can become a good quality if you school them. They must grow to be knowledgeable, they must learn to be critical. As soon as they begin to spoil something for you ask them why a thing is ugly, demand hard evidence, test them, and you will perhaps find them at a loss and short of an answer, or perhaps mutinous. But do not give in, request arguments, and act with this kind of attentiveness and consistency every single time, and the day will come when instead of being demolishers they will be among your best workers – perhaps the canniest of all those at work on the building of your life.

Thoughts can be debilitating. They can riddle your mind with doubts and stop you from taking action. They can change a happy, positive situation into a negative one. They can suck away the joy of life by constantly pointing out how things can go wrong, what you should have done, and how you’re wrong about everything. Worse of all, you are stuck with your thoughts. Thoughts accompany you from birth until death. 

Therefore, what Rilke suggests is poignant and important. 

You don’t want to be in a constant battle with your thoughts for the rest of your life. Ideally, you want your thoughts to be aligned with your beliefs and wants and to act in a way that they empower you. Rilke suggests critical thinking in order to gain this benefit. When a negative thought arises, or a thought filled with doubt, guilt, or shame, pick at it, poke holes in its logic, make it work, and justify its position. Don’t simply accept that thought as the truth. In some ways, you have to wrestle with your thoughts and eventually submit them to your will, so they become loyal. 

Love Your Fate

I might be able to say about your tendency towards self-doubt or your inability to reconcile your inner and outer life, or about anything else that assails you – it all comes down to what I have said before: the same desire that you might find enough patience in you to endure, and simplicity enough to have faith; that you might gain more and more trust in what is hard and in your own loneliness among other people. And otherwise let life take its course. Believe me: life is right, whatever happens.

Each life is unique. Each individual has their own challenges in life, which they must either overcome, adapt, or accept. The acceptance of one’s hardships is vital. Instead of viewing bad luck or struggle in a negative light, it can help to see the pleasure in it, to find love in that hardship through the realization that this makes your life different. This makes your life solely your own.

Solutions and adaptation often come after acceptance. If you’re in denial of something, it is unlikely you will be in the correct mindset to improve your current condition. But, once you accept your fate and perhaps even love it, then you’re ready for the next step.

Reflect On Your Sadness

The only sorrows which are harmful and bad are those one takes among people in order to drown them out. Like diseases which are treated superficially and inexpertly, they only abate, and after a short pause break out again with more terrible force, and accumulate inside and are life, unlived, rejected, lost life – from which we can die. If it were possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and a little beyond the outworks of our intuitions, perhaps we should then bear our sadnesses with greater assurance than our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters into us, something unknown to us; our feelings, shy and inhibited, fall silent, everything in us withdraws, a stillness settles on us, and at the centre of it is the new presence that nobody yet knows, making no sound.

When you ignore and disregard your sorrow, it often festers inside you and shows up later in life to cause more harm than it would have done if it was acknowledged on time. Sadness can be viewed as an important event in your life. Joy passes quickly. It arises and disappears as the joyful moment passes. It is as if human beings aren’t meant to live in joyful moments. While sadness sticks around. Years later, that sad moment feels as heavy as it did when it first happened. The reason for this is that sadness changes an individual. Sadness alters how you think, how you act, who you trust, your likes and dislikes, and much more. So, it’s important when a sad event occurs to seek solitude so you can reflect on the coming changes and see what kind of individual you are morphing into. 

What is new in us, the thing that has supervened, has entered into our heart, penetrated to its innermost chamber and not lingered even there – it is already in our blood. And we never quite know what it was. One might easily suppose that nothing had happened, but we have altered the way a house alters when a guest enters it. We cannot say who has come, perhaps we shall never know, but there are many indications that it is the future that enters into us like this, in order to be transformed within us, long before it actually occurs. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and static moment when our future comes upon us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and accidental point when it happens to us as if from the outside.

Embrace Hardship and Difficulty

People have tended (with the help of conventions) to resolve everything in the direction of easiness, of the light, and on the lightest side of the light; but it is clear that we must hold to the heavy, the difficult. All living things do this, everything in nature grows and defends itself according to its kind and is a distinct creature from out of its own resources, strives to be so at any cost and in the face of all resistance. We know little, but that we must hold fast to what is difficult is a certainty that will never forsake us. It is good to be alone, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult should be one more reason to do it.

This is a simple matter of human nature. We like pleasure and dislike pain. This concept then becomes that we like what makes us comfortable and dislike what makes us uncomfortable. However, comfort and pleasure result in minimal growth. Humans need a reason, hardship, or difficulty to fight against in order to grow as an individual. 

But difficult things are what we were set to do, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious.

So, the avoidance of pain and struggle causes us to plateau and even regress. Once the mindset shifts to the acceptance of becoming a better version of yourself, then hardship and difficulty become allies in this venture of self-improvement.

And if we only organize our life according to the principle which teaches us always to hold to what is difficult, then what now still appears most foreign will become our most intimate and most reliable experience. How can we forget those ancient myths found at the beginnings of all peoples? The myths about the dragons who at the last moment turn into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses, only waiting for the day when they will see us handsome and brave? Perhaps everything terrifying is deep down a helpless thing that needs our help.

Importance Of Solitude

Think, dear Mr Kappus, of the world that you carry within you, and call this thinking whatever you like. Whether it is memory of your own childhood or longing for your own future – just be attentive towards what rises up inside you, and place it above everything that you notice round about. What goes on in your innermost being is worth all your love, this is what you must work on however you can and not waste too much time and too much energy on clarifying your attitude to other people.

As we grow older, it becomes more difficult to hear the voice inside of us. The busyness of everyday life doesn’t allow for moments of peace. In doing so, we lose touch with what we truly want and need. We follow the herd, a mass of nameless faces all headed one way, and believe that they must be going the right way and doing the right things. But because you don’t truly know yourself, you can easily end up living a life that you did not want. 

The first step in understanding your own wants and needs is to hear your own voice. This, according to Rilke, comes through the necessity of solitude. To sit alone with your thoughts, meditate, and go on long walks by yourself. These activities connect you with your inner voice. They help you shovel away all the random mess in your head and help you rediscover that child-like voice inside whose needs and wants you’ve been ignoring. 

Take pleasure in your growth, in which no one can accompany you, and be kind-hearted towards those you leave behind, and be assured and gentle with them and do not plague them with your doubts or frighten them with your confidence or your joyfulness, which they cannot understand. Look for some kind of simple and loyal way of being together with them which does not necessarily have to alter however much you may change; love in them a form of life different from your own and show understanding for the older ones who fear precisely the solitude in which you trust. Avoid providing material for the drama which always spans between parents and their children; it saps much of the children’s strength and consumes that parental love which works and warms even when it does not comprehend. Ask no advice of them and reckon with no understanding; but believe in a love which is stored up for you like an inheritance, and trust that in this love there is a strength and a benediction out of whose sphere you do not need to issue even if your journey is a long one.

Find The Beauty Around You

No, there is not more beauty here than elsewhere, and all these objects which generation after generation have continued to admire, which inexpert hands have mended and restored, they mean nothing, are nothing and have no heart and no value; but there is a great deal of beauty here, because there is beauty everywhere. Infinitely lively waters go over the old aqueducts into the city and on the many squares dance over bowls of white stone and fill broad capacious basins and murmur all day and raise their murmur into the night, which is vast and starry and soft with winds. And there are gardens here, unforgettable avenues and flights of steps, steps conceived by Michelangelo, steps built to resemble cascades of flowing water – giving birth to step after broad step like wave after wave as they descend the incline. With the help of such impressions you regain your composure, win your way back out of the demands of the talking and chattering multitude (how voluble it is!), and you slowly learn to recognize the very few things in which something everlasting can be felt, something you can love, something solitary in which you can take part in silence.

The real beauty for Rilke was in the everyday things, not some specific statue or monument deemed beautiful by others that you’ll have to travel hundreds of miles and pay thousands of dollars to see. Often these sights are pleasurable at the moment but the further you get away from that moment, the less you remember and the less beautiful they seem until you find yourself flipping through old pictures and see yourself beside a monument or painting and remember, yes you had been there once upon a time. Such beauty is not real. 

What is real is the appreciation of life around you at this very moment. To consciously look for beauty in the everyday life because it’s these moments, the breakfasts, lunch, and dinners, the drives to work, the drives back, moments spent with family and friends, going to local restaurants, and parks and so on. It’s these moments that make up your life and if you wish to live a life filled with beauty and wonder, it is in these moments one needs to find it and appreciate it. 

If you have this love for what is slight, and quite unassumingly, as a servant, seek to win the confidence of what seems poor – then everything will grow easier, more unified and somehow more conciliatory, not perhaps in the intellect, which, amazed, remains a step behind, but in your deepest consciousness, watchfulness and knowledge.

How To Live Like An Artist

Only love can grasp them and hold them and do them justice. – With regard to any such disquisition, review or introduction, trust yourself and your instincts; even if you go wrong in your judgement, the natural growth of your inner life will gradually, over time, lead you to other insights. Allow your verdicts their own quiet untroubled development which like all progress must come from deep within and cannot be forced or accelerated. Everything must be carried to term before it is born. To let every impression and the germ of every feeling come to completion inside, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, in what is unattainable to one’s own intellect, and to wait with deep humility and patience for the hour when a new clarity is delivered: that alone is to live as an artist, in the understanding and in one’s creative work.

Being an artist requires you to trust your own judgement and intuition. To give light to your own thoughts and opinions and allow those thoughts to carry on until they are completed. This will result in many failures and few successes, but each failure and success comes with further insight into who you are, what you need, and what you believe in. The more insight you gain about yourself, the better your expression of art becomes. As art is often self-expression.

On Being A Writer

“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me that. You have asked others, before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry when certain editors turn your efforts down. Now (since you have allowed me to offer you advice) let me ask you to give up all that. You are looking to the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if it is given to you to respond to this serious question with a loud and simple ‘I must’, then construct your life according to this necessity; your life right into its most inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge. Then approach nature. Then try, like the first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid at first those forms which are too familiar and habitual: they are the hardest, for you need great maturity and strength to produce something of your own in a domain where good and sometimes brilliant examples have been handed down to us in abundance. For this reason, flee general subjects and take refuge in those offered by your own day-to-day life; depict your sadnesses and desires, passing thoughts and faith in some kind of beauty – depict all this with intense, quiet, humble sincerity and make use of whatever you find about you to express yourself, the images from your dreams and the things in your memory. If your everyday life seems to lack material, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, for there is no lack for him who creates and no poor, trivial place. And even if you were in a prison whose walls did not let any of the sounds of the world outside reach your senses – would you not have your childhood still, this marvellous, lavish source, this treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention towards that. Attempt to raise the sunken sensations of this distant past; your self will become the stronger for it, your loneliness will open up and become a twilit dwelling in which the noise other people make is only heard far off. And if from this turn inwards, from this submersion in your own world, there come verses, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.”

Mindfulness & The Practice Of Non-Judgement

In his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zim defines mindfulness as the “art of conscious living”. The book dives further into the practical application of mindfulness, how to cultivate it, and the different practices and exercises.

Fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and its applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.

Instead of allowing the unconscious, automatic behaviours and habits to direct your energy or your fears and insecurities to move you, mindfulness can help you control your actions and make decisions based on reason and logic. This is achieved through attention.

When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have a chance to free ourselves from the straitjacket of unconsciousness.

When you aren’t bound by past thought processes and narratives, you can then act upon present needs. 

The spirit of mindfulness is to practice for its own sake, and just to take each moment as it comes—pleasant or unpleasant, good, bad, or ugly—and then work with that because it is what is present now.

Judgement is one aspect of our consciousness that derails the present experience and disrupts our ability to be still.

When you dwell in stillness, the judging mind can come through like a foghorn. I don’t like the pain in my knee…. This is boring…. I like this feeling of stillness; I had a good meditation yesterday, but today I’m having a bad meditation…. It’s not working for me. I’m no good at this. I’m no good, period. This type of thinking dominates the mind and weighs it down. It’s like carrying around a suitcase full of rocks on your head. It feels good to put it down. Imagine how it might feel to suspend all your judging and instead to let each moment be just as it is, without attempting to evaluate it as “good” or “bad.” This would be a true stillness, a true liberation.

Each moment doesn’t have to be good or comfortable or exciting. If you are constantly chasing those “higher” moments, then you are not living in the present because much of the present is mundane. So, the goal is to appreciate the unexciting events of your life as much as the exciting ones.

When you label every experience, the negative can outshine the positive because it is in our nature to dwell on something that didn’t meet our expectations. In doing so, you set yourself up to be emotionally distraught. Instead, when the judgemental thoughts arise, steer clear of them and focus on the task at hand. Nothing more, nothing less.

The good or the bad don’t matter. What matter is alertness and stillness in the present.“Knowing that our judgments are unavoidable and necessarily limiting thoughts about experience. What we are interested in in meditation is direct contact with the experience itself—whether it is of an inbreath, an outbreath, a sensation or feeling, a sound, an impulse, a thought, a perception, or a judgment. And we remain attentive to the possibility of getting caught up in judging the judging itself, or in labeling some judgments good and others bad.

So the simple exercise of focusing on your breath can be grounding. When you feel yourself becoming judgemental, take a break and focus on the inhale and exhale. That will bring you back to the present moment, the moment where you are fully engaged. And then go back to your work with that stillness. With practice, the ability to be non-judgemental and to be still becomes easier.

We get caught up in thinking we know what we are seeing and feeling, and in projecting our judgments out onto everything we see off a hairline trigger. Just being familiar with this deeply entrenched pattern and watching it as it happens can lead to greater non-judgmental receptivity and acceptance.

This detachment exercise is another way to separate yourself from your judgemental thoughts. Once you are aware of this concept, then when the judgemental thoughts bud, you can pick them off before they really grow and dominate your present situation.

It simply means that we can act with much greater clarity in our own lives, and be more balanced, more effective, and more ethical in our activities, if we know that we are immersed in a stream of unconscious liking and disliking which screens us from the world and from the basic purity of our own being. The mind states of liking and disliking can take up permanent residency in us, unconsciously feeding addictive behaviors in all domains of life. When we are able to recognize and name the seeds of greediness or craving, however subtle, in the mind’s constant wanting and pursuing of the things or results that we like, and the seeds of aversion or hatred in our rejecting or maneuvering to avoid the things we don’t like, that stops us for a moment and reminds us that such forces really are at work in our own minds to one extent or another almost all the time. It’s no exaggeration to say that they have a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential.

Lessons From Books: The Brutal Realism of Rabbit, Run

In Rabbit, Run, we follow Harry Angstrom, otherwise known as Rabbit. He is 26 years old former high school basketball star who now sells gadgets to make a living. His wife, Janice, is pregnant with their second child, and a 2-year-old son, Nelson. The Angstroms seem like a stereotypical family at first, but it is clear right away that Harry is disappointed with his life. It has not turned out as he wished and feels the need to escape, to find something worthwhile, to find new meaning. The pursuit to fill this hole in his life, he hits the road, abandoning his wife and kid in the process as he searches for purpose.

It is easy to say that Harry Angstrom is a despicable man. He is not a role model, however, he can be seen as a model of reality. How unforgiving life can be and the lack of care it has for your wants and needs. Harry had his own vision of life in which he had never imagined himself running away from his family and yet, he does because life rarely turns out the way we imagine. John Updike paints a brutally realistic image of what happens when a man is without meaning and the hurt that can cause to everyone around him.

Lessons:

Your Accomplishments Mean Nothing

Rabbit is a high school basketball star. Even has a clipping of the newspaper article that was printed after he set the country record for points. At that time of his life, when he was a high schooler, the world must have seemed like a pretty little thing on which he’ll leave his mark. However, the story starts off with these young kids who have no clue who he is. It has only been a handful of years since his high school days and his accomplishments are already forgotten. 

They’ve not forgotten him: worse, they never heard of him. Yet in his time Rabbit was famous through the county; in basketball in his junior year he set a B-league scoring record that in his senior year he broke with a record that was not broken until four years later, that is, four years ago.

At the moment, we may think what we accomplish is meaningful, but the meaning erodes with time. That accomplishment only mattered for that specific moment. It makes you think then: What do accomplishments really mean?

What makes us feel good, makes us feel special will become meaningless with time and you’ll be left to chase the memories of that thing or else, try to recreate it in the present, knowing well enough that it will be temporary.

What Should Have Happened, Won’t Happen

Somehow Rabbit can’t tear his attention from where the ball should have gone, the little ideal napkin of clipped green pinked with a pretty flag. His eyes can’t keep with where it did go.

This sums up Rabbit’s mindset. He is always focused on what should have happened, where he should have gone, how life should have turned out, and can’t see clearly what happened and, in turn, isn’t able to improve it.

Rabbit had dreamt of a better future for himself while he was in high school, but that future didn’t come true. Instead, it took a turn when he got his high school sweetheart pregnant. How much control do you really have over your life? Can you really will your life towards a specific future or are you just being pulled along with the tide of life, having to submit, submerge yourself, and fully accept whatever life brings you? Otherwise, you could live a life full of shame and regret. The two feelings permeate through Rabbit’s pores as he wishes for more. 

Two feelings that live in the heart of many people.

Your Life Is Not Yours

Sticking with the tide analogy, you have to be careful of who you give your obligation to. For who you take on responsibility. To who you commit yourself and your time to, otherwise, you might drown with the tides of life. 

I don’t know, it seemed like I was glued in with a lot of busted toys and empty glasses and television going and meals late and no way of getting out.

Rabbit lived his life passively. He went along with what happened and in doing so, found himself committed and obliged to things that he did not want. One of them being his wife. But he is tethered to her. Tethered in place through his son and his soon-to-be-born daughter. He tries several times to run away from that life, to start afresh, but he cannot do it. He comes crawling back each time.

He wants to go south, down, down the map into orange groves and smoking rivers and barefoot women. It seems simple enough, drive all night through the dawn through the morning through the noon park on a beach take off your shoes and fall asleep by the Gulf of Mexico. Wake up with stars above perfectly spaced in perfect health.

Your obligations can give you a sense of meaning in your life. If you are obligated to the things you don’t care about, then your meaning for life will be something you don’t care about, and that’s what happened to Harry. His passivity has led him to live a life which he doesn’t care about and so he cannot find peace.

External Change Doesn’t Bring Meaning 

The land refuses to change. The more he drives the more the region resembles the country around Mt. Judge. The scruff on the embankments, the same weathered billboards for the same products you wondered anybody would ever want to buy. At the upper edge of his headlight beams the make tree-twigs make the same net. Indeed the net seems thicker now.

Much of the novel is Rabbit’s search for meaning. He doesn’t find meaning in his job. Nor does he find meaning through the family. The only thing that really gave him self-worth is his basketball dreams and with those gone, he has nothing concrete he can hang his hat on and say to himself that he did something good. 

This blind search, mainly external, leads him to Ruth, with whom he starts a relationship. 

He was happy just hanging around her place at night, her reading mysteries and him running down to the delicatessen for dinner ale and some nights going to a movie but nothing like this.

At first, the relationship gives him pleasure. Makes him feel good, but the more he stays, the more guilt he feels. The external change did not help him because internally he was still the same man. A man who gets jealous, who is petty, who is dissatisfied.

His real happiness is a ladder from whose top rung he keeps trying to jump still higher, because he knows he should.

How Little Control You Have In Life

Lovely life eclipsed by lovey death.

The theme of control is evident throughout the novel, but there is a singular moment that encapsulates it at the end. The death of his infant daughter. There are things he could have done to prevent it from happening, but you have to wonder how far in his life he would have to go in order to change the cause-and-effect link that led to his daughter’s death. 

How much control do you really have over what happens around you? You may be able to control yourself, your habits, your emotions, and your feelings, but what can you do about the drunk driver that swerves and crashes into you? There is a level of absurdity to life because so much of it just happens. It’s random. Out of control. Chaotic. You can do your best to bring order, but you cannot control life.

She lifts the living thing into air and hugs it against her sopping chest. Water pours off them onto the bathroom tiles. The little weightless body flops against her neck and a quick look of relief at the baby’s face gives a fantastic clotted impression […] Her sense of the third person with them widens enormously, and she knows, knows, while knock sound at the door, that the worst thing that has ever happened to any woman in the world has happened to her.

Epiphanies Aren’t Real

After all that happens: leaving his wife, meeting Ruth, leaving her to go back to his wife, the understanding gained from the Pastor, the birth of his daughter, the death of his daughter, after these things, the book ends the same way it starts, with Rabbit running away from responsibility. 

He sees that among the heads even his own mother is horrified, a blank with shock, a wall against him; she asks him what have they done to him and then she does it too. A suffocating sense of injustice blinds him. He turns and runs.

Uphill exultantly. He doges among gravestones. Dandelions grow bright as butter among the graves. Behind him his name is called in Eccles’ voice: ‘Harry! Harry!’

Running away from his life. This strikes at the heart of human beings. It is difficult to change who we are. We can change our habits and routines, but it is difficult to change our nature. And Rabbit’s nature doesn’t change. He has not found peace.

His hand lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah; runs. Runs.

Need To Have A Why

The whole novel Rabbit is searching for a reason. 

‘Well I don’t know all this about theology, but I’ll tell you, I do feel, I guess, that somewhere behind all of this’—he gestures outward at the scenery; they are passing the housing development this side of the golf course, half-wood half-brick one-and-a-half-stories in little flat bulldozed yards holding tricycles and spindly three-year-old tress, the un-grandest landscape in the world—‘there’s something that wants me to find it.’

A reason to live. A reason to accept life. A reason that makes sense of the world. A reason to justify his feelings and beliefs. 

Without meaning, your actions and beliefs seem bland, like a grey sky imprisoning the sunlight. There is no light in Harry’s life. He walks around in the dark, hoping for something to turn up that will improve his life. He doesn’t know what he wants, why he does the things he does, what will make him actually happy and so, we are left with a character who is ultimately dissatisfied with life which is slowly breaking him down and there is nothing he can do about it. 

That’s what you have, Harry: life. It’s a strange gift and I don’t know how we’re supposed to use it but I know it’s the only gift we get and it’s a good one.

Finding the ‘Why’ for your life then becomes the meaning for life.

Lessons from Books: The Magic Of Thinking Big

The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David J. Schwartz tackles many fundamental qualities needed to excel in life. Qualities such as belief systems, positive thinking, discipline, taking action, overcoming fear, making relationships, setting goals, creating value systems, and much more are not only defined in a way to show their significance, but Dr. Schwartz also gives practical guidelines and practices to follow which will embolden these qualities in the reader.

The following are some of the main takeaways from the book.

Lessons:

The Importance of Belief

Belief works this way. Belief, the “I’m positive-I-can” attitude, generates the power, skill, and energy needed to do. When you believe I-can-do-it, the how-to-do-it develops.

Belief is the initial step to taking action and is often the step many people lack because they cannot see themselves achieving their goal. If you lack the belief then you will never try to figure out how you can accomplish your goal. However, once you believe you can accomplish ‘X’, then you can ask:

How will you make this belief come true?

When you answer this question, you may realize that you are lacking in certain skill sets, or understandings, or developments, or relationships that you will need in order to turn your belief into reality. This is a good thing. It means there is a path towards achieving your goal. So, what was once just hopeful wishing can become a reality through your actions.

But if you lacked the belief in the first place, then you would not have been able to formulate a plan of action. You would not have objectively seen what is required to get to your goal.

Belief releases creative powers. Disbelief puts the brakes on.

Similar to the chain reaction that occurs when you believe, disbelieving also leads you to a path. But unlike the path believing creates, disbelieving shows you a path away from what you hope to achieve by giving you excuses and reasons not to work for your potential future.

By disbelieving, you narrow your worldview, and with it, you narrow your potential. The easiest thing in the world is to find reasons not to work and sacrifice your present comfort.

Thinking does make it so. The fellow who thinks he is inferior, regardless of what his real qualifications may be, is inferior. For thinking regulates actions. If a man feels inferior, he acts that way, and no veneer of cover-up or bluff will hide for long this basic feeling. The person who feels he isn’t important, isn’t. On the other side, a fellow who really things he is equal to the task, is.

How To Overcome Fear

The old “it’s-only-in-your-mind treatment” presumes fear doesn’t really exist. But it does. Fear is real. Fear is success enemy No. 1. Fear stops people from capitalizing on opportunity; fear wears down physical vitality; fear actually makes people sick, causes organic difficulties, shortens life; fear closes your mouth when you want to speak.

You can find reasons to avoid your fears. One way to do that is by thinking it’s all in your head. This type of thinking avoids fear because you never confront it. What you need to do is take what causes you fear and give it life. Take it from the abstract and write it down on a piece of paper. This way you know exactly what is causing you to fear and once you know that you can make an actionable plan to overcome it. 

An exercise such as Fear Setting can help you practice how to confront and overcome fear.

Two interconnected ways to overcome fear are confidence and action. Often your fears arise from a feeling of inadequacy. Thinking that you aren’t up to the task or don’t have the ability to achieve your goal. This goes hand in hand with action because typically, the lack of action creates self-confidence issues which results in second guessing your capabilities and giving power to your fears.

All confidence is acquired, developed.

Action is vital to living a good life. Through action, you can build confidence because as you achieve things, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, the achievement creates positive momentum which can lead you to overcome bigger fears. It can work the other way around too. You can almost delude yourself into believing that you can overcome fear and then create a plan that does so. When you act, then what seems like this big scary monster comes undone and you can pick it apart slowly. 

Action cures fear.

Ask yourself: “What kind of action can I take to conquer my fears?”

By asking this question, you can then isolate your fear and make it easier to build a plan around it. 

Growth Through Self Reflection

Practice adding value to yourself. Conduct a daily interview with yourself. Ask, “What can I do to make myself more valuable today?” Visualize yourself not as you are but as you can be. Then specific ways for attaining your potential value all suggest themselves.

This is where keeping a personal journal can be helpful. You can use the journal as a daily interview, almost as if it is the journal pages ask you questions such as:

How can you improve from yesterday? What did you do yesterday (or the past week/month) that you disliked? What is one habit you want to change? What is one habit you want to implement? How can you make progress in your work? How can you improve your relationships? What is one dietary change you want to make? What are your workout goals? What can I do to make myself more deserving of the next opportunity? And so on.

In reality, answering any one of these questions one time won’t result in a grand change. But the process is important. Repeatedly thinking about these questions and answering them. Most of the time you require hundreds of repeatable actions before you see change. So, consistently answering self-reflective questions will slowly change your trajectory towards the potential individual you wish to be. 

Journals can also help with self-criticism. However, there is a proper method to being self critical. You don’t want to be overly negative and belittling towards yourself. That will damage your confidence and momentum, but at the same time you want to hold yourself accountable.

Don’t, of course, try to find your faults so you can say to yourself, “here’s another reason I’m a loser.” Instead view your mistakes as “Here’s another way to make me a bigger winner.

Practice positivity even when you are dissecting your mistakes and actions. After all, any improvement you make will move you towards a better version of yourself so the outcome is positive, hence, the view should be positive as well. 

Comparison can also be a good way to reflect and be critical. Once again, you don’t want to compare yourself to others in a way that damages your psyche. But if you pick four or five individuals who are successful in parts of life where you’d like to be successful as well, and this doesn’t have to be work, it can be health, relationships, hobbies, you can then compare your attitude, beliefs, habits, actions, mindsets to these individuals and see how you differ and what changes you can bring about that will align you more towards these individuals. 

Take Care of Your Mental Diet

The body is what the body is fed. By the same token, the mind is what the mind is fed. Mind food, of course, doesn’t come in packages and you can’t buy it at the store. Mind food is your environment—all the countless things which influence your consciousness and subconscious thought. The kind of mind food we consume determines our habits, attitudes, personality. Each of us inherited a certain capacity to develop. But how much of that capacity we have developed and the way we have developed that capacity depends on the kind of mind food you feed it.

In order to be physically healthy, you need a well-balanced diet. Keep your fats, carbs, and sugar in check. Make sure you’re getting plenty of protein and vegetables. Exercise regularly. Fasting has important benefits to the body and as do well-timed cheat meals.

The same principles apply to your mental diet. Make sure you’re not consuming too much junk, such as mindless forms of entertainment or web browsing. Have a well-balanced mental diet which can include fiction and non-fiction books, documentaries, varied forms of news intake, and even taking classes on subjects you find interesting. Similar to how you would lower your sugar intake to a specific level, you can lower your social media consumption to perhaps two ten-minute breaks a day. View fasting breaks as disconnecting from the internet or television. But don’t forget to give yourself a break and cheat by watching your favorites shows or reality television in a structured manner. 

Effort Before The Reward

You don’t get a raise on the promise of better performance; you get a raise only by demonstrating better performance. You can’t harvest money unless you plant the seeds that grow money. And the seed of money is service. Put service first and more takes care of itself.

Your work comes with a degree of faith. Faith that someday your efforts will produce the fruits that you desire. But you cannot expect the fruits of your labour before you put in the effort. In today’s climate, where it seems as if people can become rich and successful overnight, especially because of social media, you can get this false sense of obligation. As if you are obligated to the reward right away. That if you put in a few hours, you should see an uptick in your bank account or likes and follows. But that mindset is not correct because it puts the rewards before the effort. Work for the sake of the work.

Reminder: The work is the dream.

Always give people more than they expect to get.

Be About The Action

Being active is a mindset that can be built, and for there, the habit of acting comes. When you create a resolution to be active, your mind gets ignited to think of ways to accomplish goals and to take action. 

A lot of times your inactivity stems from fear. You are afraid to fail, get embarrassed, be disappointed so you choose the option that will avoid that potential outcome, which is inactivity. However, passivity only avoids short-term suffering but compounds long term suffering as you come to live with regret and think about the “what ifs” all your life. And evidently, the thing that can cure your fear is the very thing you are avoiding: Action.

Use action to cure fear and gain confidence. Here’s something to remember. Action feeds and strengthens confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. to increase fear—wait, put off, postpone.

Verbalizing and/or writing the worst-case outcome can help you make better decisions. Write what’s the worse thing that can happen if you choose to act, and if you do not act. Often when you write it down and accept the worst case, you realize it was more frightening in your mind. And that in reality, you can handle that potential outcome or at the very least you can prepare yourself to dull the impact of it.

Another way to make sure that you are focusing on acting is by creating routines and habits that lead towards action. You can rely too much on your mood or feelings. Everyone has said at least once in their life “I don’t feel like it,” or “when I’m in the right mood I’ll do it”. Having to rely on something that can change at the whim of the moment isn’t exactly the smartest thing. Instead, have to remind yourself that you’re ready to go right now, that you can work now. 

Action must precede action. That’s is a law of nature.

Routines that lead you towards your primary task are actions that will create actions. Think of them as warm-ups or stretches before your principal work. Let’s say you want to be more active in the morning, then a simple action that can lead to more productivity is having your alarm clock away from your bed so that you have to physically get up to turn it off. This makes it easier to start your day because you are already up, rather than lying around in bed for twenty-thirty minutes after your alarm has gone off and now you have to rush through the morning. So the routine changes from hitting the snooze button to throwing your blanket off and leaving your bed right away.

Importance of Having Goals

Goals are as essential to success as air is to life. No one ever stumbles into success without a goal. No one ever lives without air. Get a clear fix on where you want to go.

View yourself as a business. Every corporation has things like a ten-year plan. What is yours? Not just for future goals but the future you. What characteristics, habits, routines do you see your future self having?

The person determined to achieve maximum success learns the principle that progresses made one step at a time. A house is built a brick at a time. Football games are won a play at a time. A department store grows bigger one new customer at a time. Every big accomplishment is a series of little accomplishments.

This is why it’s important for you to figure out your personal, career, and health goals. Once you have the end goal or at least a future mark, you can then work on the little steps you need to take in order to get there. 

Do this: Start marching toward your ultimate goal by making the next task you perform, regardless of how unimportant it may seem, a step in the right direction. Commit this question to memory and use it to evaluate everything you do. “Will this help take me where I want to go? If the answer is no, back off; if yes, press ahead.

Great Quotes:

You must feel important to succeed.

Practice uplifting self-praise. Don’t practice belting self-punishment.

The success combination is do what you do better (improve the quality of your output) and do more of what you do (increase the quantity of your output).

But you can wager every cent you have the bricklayer who visualized himself as building a great cathedral did not remain a bricklayer.

Success depends on the support of other people.

We can try and try, and try and try and try again, and still fail unless we combine persistence with experimentation.

Lessons From Stories: Kafka On The Shore

Kafka On The Shore is a novel by Haruki Murakami. The narrative follows two central characters, Kafka and Nakata, as they interact with other humans, cats, spirits, and even figures like Colonel Sanders and Johnnie Walker. Murakami uses aspects of magical realism in order to explore concepts such as fate and past trauma. It’s in this exploration of life that we can find valuable lessons.

Lessons:

Embrace The Storm

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step.

[…]

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

Fate is at the core of Murakami’s novel. Kafka’s fate is to confront his mother, who abandoned him at a young age. All his actions lead him towards this fate. He tries to run away from it, to hide from it, but he is constantly driven towards his fate. He eventually relents to the inevitable and faces his fate/storm in order to grow.

Such storms are always present in our life. We can view them as fate or perhaps challenges and obstacles life has set in front of us. Trials for us to complete and mature or to ignore and hide from and remain the same person. These storms can involve our career choices, relationships, habits, or ideologies. The very thing that causes us discomfort is what we need.

Of course, real life is not like a story. Our life isn’t a plot that will cause us to confront the uncomfortable aspects. Here is where the story of Kafka can influence us. If Kafka never confronted his mother, then he would always be a prisoner to his past feelings. But because he was able to come to terms with his abandonment issues, he was freed.

The story urges us to face our storm or fate, so we can gain a better understanding of who we are and move forward in life freely.

Take Responsibility

It’s all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine. It’s just like Yeats said: In dreams begin responsibilities. Flip this around and you could say that where there’s no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise.

This is significant in two ways. First, the more practical approach. Taking responsibility for our lives and our actions. We have to imagine that we have some control over our circumstances, whether good or bad. Our actions matter. Our choices matter and so, through our imagination, we can then develop ownership of our actions and thus create order.

Second, the potentials that imagination opens up also require our responsibility. If we imagine ourselves running a marathon, then it becomes a responsibility to work towards that imagination. This is true with creating art, traveling, setting goals, and so on. We have to imagine it first and then bring it to life.

Be Open

“If I had to say anything it’d be this: Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

Nothing ever comes exactly the way we expect. There has to be a sense of letting go when we seek whatever it is that we want. To give up control and accept whatever it is that life thinks is best suited for us.

Otherwise, with a close mind, we can overlook the blessings presented to us.

Have Empathy Towards Others

“Miss Saeki’s life basically stopped at age twenty, when her lover died. No, maybe not age twenty, maybe much earlier…I don’t know the details, but you need to be aware of this. The hands of the clock buried inside her soul ground to a halt then. Time outside, of course, flows on as always, but she isn’t affected by it. For her, what we consider normal time is essentially meaningless.”

[…]

“Kafka, in everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.”

The character of Miss Saeki is portrayed as a shell of a human being. Her essence, her spirit, is stuck in a time when she was happily in love. However, a traumatic incident caused her to be severed from the present and to live in the past.

Miss Saeki is a fictional character, but her portrayal is very much real. From an outsider’s point of view, Miss Saeki appears perfectly normal. Just as we may think of the people we encounter in our daily life. We cannot know what is going on inside the person’s head. We don’t know what past events still haunt them. This is why empathy and kindness need to be at the forefront of our actions.

These two qualities can be viewed as a luxury, for we may not receive them from others. However, we all have the capability of showing these qualities and it becomes an obligation to do so, regardless of whether others show it to us.

As long as there’s such a thing as time, everybody’s damaged in the end, changed into something else. It always happens, sooner or later.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

“Man doesn’t choose fate. Fate chooses man. That’s the basic worldview of Greek drama. And the sense of tragedy—according to Aristotle—comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I’m getting at? People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues.”

Too much unselfishness can breed greed, as others can take advantage of the unselfish nature. Too much love can breed resentment, as the person can be viewed as overbearing. We can have a boundless work ethic in order to improve our life or our family’s life but can end up with a broken home because of overworking.

In themselves, no virtue is good or bad, but when the human element is added to the mix, then there needs to be some kind of boundary. Otherwise, what we imagine being a good thing can cause negativity.

The Ebb and Flow of Life

“Picture a bird perched on a thin branch,” she says. “The branch sways in the wind, and each time this happens the bird’s field of vision shifts. You know what I mean?”

[…]

“It bobs its head up and down, making up for the sway of the branch. Take a good look at birds the next time it’s windy. I spend a lot of time looking out that window. Don’t you think that kind of life would be tiring? Always shifting your head every time the branch you’re on sways?

“I do.”

“Birds are used to it. It comes naturally to them. They don’t have to think about it, they just do it. So it’s not as tiring as we imagine. But I’m a human being, not a bird, so sometimes it does get tiring.”

“You’re on a branch somewhere?”

“In a manner of speaking,” she says. “And sometimes the wind blows pretty hard.”

We can see the natural rhythm of life as the individual trying to remain stable as events outside of their control create disorder. The actions of other people, chance events, unlucky instances, absurd misfortunes are to us what the wind is to a bird. Knocking us about, disrupting our flow, causing us to readjust. So, there is a constant ebb and flow, push and pull, as we adjust to the new rhythm of life and just as we master the new, another challenge arises.

The cycle is endless, and it is by accepting this cycle that can gain some peace of mind. So that when we are knocked off balance, we don’t view it as some grave misfortune but as the natural rhythm of life. And perhaps we can even be prepared for the next gust of wind.

True Inner Strength

“The strength I’m looking for isn’t the kind where you win or lose. I’m not after a wall that’ll repel power coming from outside. What I want is the kind of strength to be able to absorb that outside power, to stand up to it. The strength to quietly endure things—unfairness, misfortune, sadness, mistakes, misunderstandings.”

Too often we wish that nothing bad happens to us. But that just isn’t realistic. Hoping gets us nowhere. What we need is to cultivate certain characteristics so that when misfortune strikes, we can manage them in a calm and orderly manner. One practice is to meditate on the worst possible scenario, as the Stoics advised. So when bad things happen, we aren’t surprised by them.

Another way to cultivate inner strength is by purposely exposing ourselves to suffering. Whether it be physical training, which can help with mental endurance, or by constantly trying new things and failing, and trying again. Both of these tactics can bring us insight into how to endure. How to be patient. How to deal with that inner voice which wants comfort and ease. How to dust ourselves off and keep going.

This type of thinking puts the control in our hands. Gives us an understanding of how to behave when faced with difficult challenges.

Overcome Yourself

“You have to overcome the fear and anger inside you,” the boy named Crow says. “Let a bright light shine in and melt the coldness in your heart. That’s what being tough is all about.”

We all have our defects. No individual is perfect. Part of living is about finding the pieces of yourself which are broken or maybe even missing and mending them and creating them anew.

“Even though she loved you, she had to abandon you. You need to understand how she felt then, and learn to accept it. Understand the overpowering fear and anger she experienced, and feel it as your own—so you won’t inherit it and repeat it. The main thing is this: You have to forgive her. That’s not going to be easy, I know, but you have to do it. That’s the only way you can be saved. There’s no other way!”

“Mother, you say, I forgive you. And with those words, audibly, the frozen part of your heart crumbles.”

The core of the novel is Kafka coming to terms with the abandonment by his mother. He gets angry; he lashes out; he runs away from home but wherever he goes; he carries with him this burden that his mother left him. Until he can come to terms with that, he’ll never truly evolve and grow. Once more, this requires Kafka to overcome himself. To forgive someone requires us to subdue our own feelings and our ego. Kafka is able to do so and move on with his life. But many people get stuck in the past. They harbor a singular event or person and let the past dictate their present. To be free in the present, we have to face the past and deal with it and in turn, deal with our own issues. This is what Kafka’s journey is all about.

Great Lines

“Mr. Nakata, this world is a terribly violent place. And nobody can escape the violence. Please keep that in mind. You can’t be too cautious. The same holds true for cats and human beings.”

“There’s only one kind of happiness, but misfortune comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness is a story.”

“But what disgusts me even more are people who have no imagination. The kind T. S. Eliot calls hollow men. People who fill up that lack of imagination with heartless bits of straw, not even aware of what they’re doing. Callous people who throw a lot of empty words at you, trying to force you to do what you don’t want to.”

He lived in a world circumscribed by a very limited vocabulary.

“Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents.”

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”