Lessons From Books: The Wisdom Of Insecurity

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety is a book by Alan Watts, which tackles psychological security. This topic is even more important than ever before with how quickly our world is changing and evolving. This can cause an increase in anxiety as we find ourselves to be insecure. Watts argues that this is just the reality of life. It is not in finding security, but in acceptance, where we might find salvation from anxiety and insecurity.

Lessons:

Two Kinds of Anxiety

On the one hand, there is the anxiety that one may be missing something, so that the mind flits nervously and greedily from one pleasure to another, without finding rest and satisfaction in any. On the other, the frustration of having always to pursue a future good in a tomorrow which never comes, and in a world where everything must disintegrate, gives men an attitude of “What’s the use anyhow?”

Both these anxieties cheapen the present experience. We are constantly jumping from one pleasure to the next, trying to fill our pleasure quota, hence not appreciating each individual pleasure or we are ignoring the goodness in the present because we think our future will bring us even greater pleasure. This comparison with the future boon then makes it impossible for the present worthwhile.

Both these anxieties leave us unsatisfied.

We crave distraction—a panorama of sights, sounds, thrills, and titillations into which as much as possible must be crowded in the shortest possible time. 

The Dichotomy of Pain & Pleasure

If we are to have intense pleasures, we must also be liable to intense pains. The pleasure we love, and the pain we hate, but it seems impossible to have the former without the latter. Indeed, it looks as if the two must in some way alternate, for continuous pleasure is a stimulus that must either pall or be increased. And the increase will either harden the sense buds with its friction, or turn into pain. A consistent diet of rich food either destroys the appetite or makes one sick. 

If then we are to be fully human and fully alive and aware, we must suffer for our pleasures. Without such willingness, there can be no growth in the intensity of consciousness.

Pain and pleasure are related to one another. In order to have the highest sense of pleasure, we have to be open to the highest sense of pain. For example, often the highest form of pleasure comes after something we have poured our heart and soul into achieving. However, the pain related to the failure of such a venture is also extreme. But, if we have suffered enough disappointments and failures in life, then we lower our hopes and goals and with it, we lower our potential pleasure and pain feedback. However, this is then dimming the experience of life. In order to fully and vividly experience life, we have to accept the possibility of the highest form of pain, so its equal pleasure is also available to us. 

Why It’s Hard To Be Happy

The real problem does not come from any momentary sensitivity to pain, but from our marvellous powers of memory and foresight—in short from our consciousness of time. For the animal to be happy it is enough that this moment be enjoyable. But man is hardly satisfied with this at all. He is much more concerned to have enjoyable memories and expectations—especially the latter. 

Again, it is our sense of past and future that can make it difficult to be happy. Our past disappointments and failures haunt us and follow our present actions. Once more, our present goals suffer because of the memory of pain attached to us. Likewise, our sense of the future makes us always look forward to the next thing. The next goal. The next moment of pleasure or happiness makes it difficult to be happy in the present. 

This, then, is the human problem: there is a price to be paid for every increase in consciousness. We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain. By remembering the past we can plan for the future. But the ability to plan for pleasure is offset by the “ability” to dread pain and to fear the unknown. Furthermore, the growth of an acute sense of the past and the future gives us a correspondingly dim sense of the present. 

What to do then? Often, to make progress in life, we have to sacrifice pleasures in the present moment for some future gain. However, it is the quality of the pleasure we sacrifice and the type of pleasure we hope to gain which matters most. Cheap pleasures like immediate satisfaction can cause one to fall into the previously mentioned trap of seeking one pleasure after the next. So, sacrificing cheap pleasures in order to satisfy a larger pleasure makes sense. But again, to chase a larger pleasure also means to open yourself up to a larger pain. Future happiness can be trap. A constant run where the goal line keeps moving with each stride you take.

To pursue it (the future) is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you share it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances. 

Awareness is one way to appreciate the present moment and, with it, happiness. 

Working rightly, the brain is the highest form of “instinctual wisdom.” Thus it should work like the homing instinct of pigeons and the formation of the foetus in the womb—without verbalizing the process or knowing “how” it does it. The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a disorder, and manifests itself in the actor feeling of separation between “I” and my experience. The brain can only assume its proper behaviour when consciousness is doing what it is desired for: not writhing and whirling to get out of present experience, but being effortlessly aware of it. 

Listen To The Body

[…] we have been taught to neglect, despise, and violate our bodies, and to put all faith in our brains. Indeed, the special disease of civilized man might be described as a block or schism between his brain (specially, the cortex) and the rest of his body […] we have allowed brain thinking to develop and dominate your lives out of all proportion to “instinctual wisdom,” which we are allowing to slump into atrophy. As a consequence, we are at war within ourselves—the brain desiring things which the body does not want, and the body desiring things which the brain does not allow; the brain giving directions which the body will not follow, and the body giving impulses which the brain cannot understand. 

Our body often craves simple and necessary pleasures. The body wishes to move, to feel, to exercise its senses. It is made to explore and experience life. But our brain can fill our mind with more wants and needs than necessary. It can make us lazy when our body desires to exercise. It can make us gorge on food when our body has already had enough. It can make us overlook the simple, everyday pleasures of life when our body simply wishes to take in the sunlight, or feel the wind as we go for a pleasant walk. 

Human desire tends to be insatiable. We are so anxious for pleasure that we can never get enough of it. We stimulate our sense organs until they become insensitive, so that if pleasure is to continue they must have stronger and stronger stimulants. In self dense the body gets ill from the strain, but the brains wants to go on and on.

Because we are always looking for greater pleasure, the smaller, mere regular pleasure goes unnoticed. The instinct to live in the present is ignored. 

But to be used rightly it (brain) must be put in its place, for the brain is made for man, not man for his brain. In other words, the function of the brain is to serve the present and the real, not to send man chasing wildly after the phantom of the future. 

Awareness Without Judgement

To be aware of life, of experience as it is at this moment, without any judgement or ideas about it. In other words, You have to see and feel what you’re experiencing as it is, and not as it is named. This very simple “opening of the yes” brings about the most extraordinary transformation of understanding and living, and shows that many of our most baffling problems are pure illusions.

Instead of seeking something, what we might actually need is to let go and be aware of what is happening to us and around us. And do it in a way where we don’t bring our past judgements and baggage with us. 

The truth is revealed by removing things that stand in its light, an art not unlike sculpture, in which the artist creates, not by building, but by hacking away. 

This is what it means to be present in the moment. To allow the experience of the now to wash over you without trying to dissect it, analyze it, or make sense of it. 

To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening. To understand joy or fear, you must be wholly and undivided aware of it. So long as you are calling it names and saying, “I am happy,” or “I am afraid,” you’re not being aware of it. Fear, pain, sorrow, and boredom must remain problems if we do not understand them, but understanding requires a single and undivided mind. This, surely, is the meaning of that strange saying, “If thine eye be single, they whole body shall be full of light.” 

Art of Living

The art of living in this “predicament” is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past and the known on the other. It consists in being completely sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive. 

The art of living also requires an acceptance of change. Everything, including us, is in a state of flux. By accepting this, you aren’t married to one single idea about life or about yourself. You allow yourself to be flexible and adapt as the world, and yourself, change. 

Struggle as we may, “fixing” will never make sense out of change. The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. 

Often, the beauty of life is in the fact that everything is dying. That the present moment will soon become the past. This phase in life will soon be over. This pleasure you are feeling will soon end. When you know everything is changing and hence, dying, you come to appreciate the momentarily understanding that you gain. 

The truth is rather that the images, though beautiful in themselves, come to life in the act of vanishing. 

Silence

We must repeat: memory, thought, language, and logic are essential to human life. They are one half of sanity. But a person, a society which is only half sane is insane. To look at life without words is not to lose the ability to form words—to think, remember, and plan. To be silent is not to lose your tongue. On the contrary, it is only thought silence that one can discover something new to talk about. One who talked incessantly, without stopping to look and listen, would repeat himself ad nauseam.

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: 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.