Lessons From People: Hermann Hesse

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

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

Lessons:

Find Joy In The Everyday Life

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

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

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

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

The motto of a hurried life is:

As much as possible, or fast as possible.

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

Hesse’s formula for joy:

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

What are little joys?

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

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

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

Know Your Why

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

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

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

When the why is pure, the what becomes valuable.

Personal Refuge 

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

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

Leave, O World, leave me in peace!

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

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

View People Without Desire

The eye of desire dirties and distrusts.

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

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

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

Seeking Suffering

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

Acceptance.

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

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

Why He Admired Goethe

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

On Getting Old

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

Can you be patient as you age?

Can you age gracefully?

Can you find joy in what has happened?

And many more.

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

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

On Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections On Why You Should Take The Hard Path

To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. (Steven Pressfield)

We are incomplete beings. We are a form of potential. We are unlike other animals in this sense. A lion cub grows up to be a predator. It doesn’t require will power to become what nature intended it to be. Nature didn’t intend for humans to be anything. It left that choice to the individual. Each individual has the possibility to transcend what or who they are at this given moment and realize their potential. What stands in the way is Resistance or themselves. The voice that pokes at your insecurities, tells you you’ve worked enough, it’s good enough, that pain is bad, that struggle must be avoided, that you can blame someone else for the way you are (parents, lover, children, society, gender, race, culture), the voice that gives you an out which you actively and consciously embrace. The voice that speaks when there is a decision to be made.

To be more. To do more. To become more. Or to stay what you are.

Take the easy way or the hard way?

Easy way brings pleasure right now and makes you feel good but the chains of comfort keep you from soaring, growing, moving, changing, becoming and it robs you of time. To not work and procrastinate. To skip the last set. To have that conversation later. This choice can take your possibility away, can take your potential away.

The hard way is to do the more difficult thing right this moment and do that every moment of your life. Wake up early, workout, be disciplined, routined, have those difficult conversations, sacrifice the immediate gratification, sacrifice the warmth and comfort, embrace whatever it is that stirs the thoughts of procrastination in your mind. That’s the way. That’s the path. The discomfort.

You know what the right thing to do is because you have done plenty of self-experiments throughout your life. Plenty of times when you chose the easy way which only left you with guilt and without fulfillment. Over and over the same acts are repeated and little to no growth is to be had. The change is simple as well. You’ve known the way the whole time. You’ve avoided it each time you chose the easy way and were left with regrets later on.

The path is hard. This is the way that growth happens. You become the possibility nature laid out for you. The enemy is resistance. The reality is the shortage of time. The goal is to self actualize. The path is hard.

Stoic Lesson: Meditating On Death and Life

An ordinary journey will be incomplete if you come to a stop in the middle of it, or anywhere short of your destination, but life is never incomplete if it is an honorable one. At whatever point you leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is whole.” (Seneca, LXXVII)

What would be an honorable life?

One that is not wasted. A life where each day is used to its maximum. Where nothing that can be done right now, at this moment, is left for tomorrow. A life where you show love and appreciation for others. Gratitude towards your loved ones who have helped make your life a little easier. A life where you help others, ease their burden, aid their pain and suffering, improve someone else’s life. A life that is full of action which is directed towards a meaningful outcome. Achieving the outcome is secondary, the effort is primary. A life that can be viewed as an example, whether it be an example of what man can accomplish or if it’s an example of what man can endure or how to balance the complexities of life or how simple life can be. A life that brings joy to others. A life that is full of attempts, failure, and attempts again.

All of these seem to me as honorable aims.

What matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop whenever you will — only make sure that you round it off with a good ending. (Seneca, LXXVII)

Whats a good ending?

When those who love and care for you know that you love and care for them. Your emotions and feelings are relayed to them so clearly that when the end comes there is never a doubt. A good end is also knowing when it’s enough, knowing what is enough for you. There isn’t a maddening attempt to hold on to the past and you’re able to step away from the “limelight” and allow another to take an attempt. There is no honor nor is it good to try and cling on to the glory days. A good ending would be one where you have acted in such a manner that your actions can relay to others what your character was about, what you were about, who you were. There is no need for explanation. Lastly, acceptance of the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs and the finality at the end.

All of these seem like a good ending.

Stoic Lesson On Growing Old

Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending.

It is quite telling that Seneca dedicated an entire letter to aging. It shows how little we, as people, have changed or evolved from our ancestors. For the most part, the same daily concerns that circulated in the minds of Romans are the same ones that trouble us now. One of these concerns being the natural aspect of life: Aging.

In our current age perhaps this concern is more prevalent than before or at least it seems that way with social media. There are so many different surgeries that attempt to give you a youthful appearance, so many companies that sell products to keep you young and beautiful, or so they claim, and so many people who actively seek remedies to aging.

However, the Stoic advice on this matter is similar to their advice on many topics: Acceptance, emotional/attitudinal control and a change of perspective.

Aging is a natural part of life so by accepting it, it can change your perspective from viewing aging as negative to view it as positive. Another Stoic principle is to control one’s attitude. We always have a choice in how we react. Our attitude is one of the few things we control in this life. Once more it is a matter of perspective. We can either see aging as something terrible and sad or we can view it is a new experience, a chance to see the world from a different manner, a chance to transition into a different phase of our life and even live differently. With this perspective change, you can then see the benefits of aging.

As Seneca says:

In my opinion, even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own.

Not only is there a need to accept the natural aging process but also to accept our lack of control over it. It’s easy to see the self harm some people cause through plastic surgeries as they attempt to stop what is natural. Aging can be used to practice a virtue like grace. To age gracefully instead of fighting and manipulating yourself to cling on to what is long past.

Of course, the biggest concern associated with aging is death. The fear of death whether consciously or unconsciously is at the root of a lot of people’s attitudes and actions. However, the Stoics don’t see death as something terrible. Just as with aging, death is also natural.

If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

The Stoics almost recommend a daily reminder of death in order to lessen its impact if it does appear. The reminder is also there in order for you to live the present moment to its fullest extent. In this way, as one ages and death becomes more of a concern, the Stoics could see that as a blessing. By confronting that possibility we can then prepare our attitude and action towards it and in the meantime, enjoy the time we have left for when you truly acknowledge death, then each moment becomes more precious. We soon come to see what matters, what we truly desire, what makes us happy and fulfilled and on what things and with whom we would like to spend our time. So, aging can be viewed as a blessing to clear away all that doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.

For the Stoics, any hardship is an opportunity to exercise our wisdom and the strength of our character. For some, aging is a hardship and so, for those people, aging can be viewed as an opportunity to practice the right attitude, practice our control over our attitude and to practice the right mindset.

Book Referenced: Letters From A Stoic By Seneca

 

 

 

Bruce Lee On The Importance Of Being A Quality Human Being

You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being.

For Bruce Lee, it was important to identify himself as a human first before any race, gender or ethnicity. By emphasizing his humanity over anything else, it helped him transcend social and cultural barriers and at the same time, it allowed him to think broadly and to have his philosophy be attainable to any individual.

However, Bruce Lee’s goal wasn’t simply to be human. Rather, it was to be a human of “quality”.

The function and duty of a human being, a “quality” human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self-actualization.

Self-actualization means to achieve one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. Simply put, to become the best version of yourself.

In order to fulfill one’s own potential, it is important to hone the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection can allow us to detach momentarily. To see our own flaws and limitations so we know the areas we need to improve or strengthen.

We can ask ourselves: What habits do we need to break? What habits do we need to start? Where do we lack knowledge? Are we too passive? What part of our life requires immediate action?

For Bruce Lee, his goal was to actualize himself and he believed that should be the goal of all humans.

To promote the growth process and develop human potential:

To get through social role playing

To fill in the holes in the personality to make [one] whole and complete again.

The social role-playing part is important as well. We are social creatures and we have to do well by our community. It’s not a selfish attitude that Bruce Lee advocated but rather he believed in actualizing ourselves by performing our social duties to the best of our ability while improving upon our flaws. Both can go hand in hand. If we become the best version of ourselves then the ripple effects of that are felt by our friends, families and the community we live in. At the same time, by dedicating ourselves to being a productive member of society, it can help move us closer to our ideal state.

What the hell; you are what you are, and self-honesty occupies a definite and vital part in the ever-growing process to become a “real” human being and not a plastic one. Somehow, one day, you will hear “hey, now that’s quality; here is someone REAL.” I’d like that.

The key to being a quality human being is self-honesty. If we lie to ourselves and run away from who we currently are then there can be no improvement. Other people can point out our flaws but it’s easy to rationalize that truth and act as if other people are wrong. It’s also important to understand that who we currently are isn’t what we have to be. Bruce Lee also advocated constant change and this change has to come from within. We can only improve and grow if we wish to and in order to do this, we need to be honest with ourselves. Brutally honest about somethings. It can be uncomfortable to pick at our own flaws but there really is no other way to inch towards self-actualization. There needs to be constant ownership and accountability of our own actions. Perhaps in this manner, one day, someone can look at us and say “here is someone real,” just as Bruce Lee was.

Book referenced: Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living