I have made no secret about my appreciation for the philosophy of the Existentialists. I gravitate towards their ideas of personal freedom, authenticity, and responsibility as a means towards personal discovery and development and I have written a great deal about them in previous articles.
But you know what? You take the ideas of existentialism far enough and it can get really fucking bleak. I mean, you can find yourself staring into the abyss real quick if you grab on to it all and follow it to it’s seemingly necessary conclusion and stop there. Existential nihilism. That deep, yawning morass of meaninglessness. The abyss that Nietzsche warned against staring too long into.
From there it is a short step towards constructing an entire model of meaninglessness of life. Decrying the hopelessness of it all. Sinking into the stubborn malaise. Removing yourself from everything you once loved and valued. You basically turn into a teenager. Yes. Diving too far into the philosophy of existentialism may turn some people into hormonal teenagers who don’t know how to handle their feelings.
Sure, sure. Every existentialist offers his take on escaping the absurdity of it all. For Camus it’s immersion in the sensual. For Sartre it is authenticity. For Kierkegaard it is true faith. They all do their best to help us to escape the anxiety and anguish that can build when we consider the ideas of existential thought, but I think all we have to do is go visit a philosopher that came over 200 years before the first existentialist cried into his pillow over the emptiness of it all. A true polymath, wunderkind from France named Blaise Pascal.
Who was Blaise Pascal?
Blaise Pascal’s life is one of legend and tragedy. He died a young man. Though that did not dampen his contributions to science in the 17th century. A legacy that persists today. His name is a unit of pressure, a programming language, and a science database. Born in 1623, Pascal was quick to excel at all things scientific under the tutelage of his father. He was an inventor, mathematician, scientist and more. Pascal is pretty much the quintessential nerd of nerds. And like all great historical nerds, Pascal also dabbled in philosophy. Now, I won’t pretend to claim to understand all the mathematics and science of Pascal’s contributions. I am just your average nerd and my meager competence is in philosophy. So, that is where I will focus with Pascal.
One of the most famous stories about him goes like this; a devoutly religious man, Pascal had a famous run in with death on a carriage ride that revealed to him in a dream a vision from God. Pascal scribbled down the description of that vision and carried it sewn into every jacket he ever wore from then on in as a holy reminder of that vision. This vision, and the always carried reminder of it, sent Pascal deep into theology and philosophy and prompted him to offer some of his most famous writings. The most famous of these being the Pensées (“Thoughts”). A book published posthumously that contains the famous wager that bears his name.
What is Pascal’s Wager?
I would like to start by saying, Pascal didn’t need the argument of his wager. He already believed. He offered it as an opportunity for others to find a piece of God for themselves giving them a compelling reason to take that first step of faith. I offer the same. I don’t need the wager I am presenting. I already have my holy vision of the meaning of life sewn into my jacket. I am merely presenting a chance for other people who may be lost in the distress of meaninglessness to take a step in that direction.
So, here is the wager. According to Pascal, and many other philosophers, we can never have demonstrable proof that God exists one way or another. We just don’t have the tools. We lack the right investigative equipment and we lack the cognitive capacity. So, we just need to get on from that metaphysical clusterfuck and accept the fact that no devout theist or devout atheist is ever going to produce the proper evidence to prove or disprove that there is a God. Ok. Can we accept that?
Fine. I know a handful of theists and atheists are shitting their drawers right now and mentally formulating all the evidence they have for their point of view but if you really break it all down, it doesn’t prove anything. Not really. If God does exist the only way to know that would be through direct experiential understanding and it is not cogent to try to discover evidence of the absence of God. So, just work with me here so we can move on.
Now, since we can’t prove that God exists one way or another, Pascal argues that it is the best bet for us to put a wager on the fact that he does exist and then to act accordingly. Why?
For Pascal here are the wager’s terms:
|If God exists||If God does not exist|
|Wager that God exists||Gain eternal bliss||Lose nothing|
|Wager that God does not exist||Gain eternal damnation||Lose nothing|
This isn’t just some personal development nerd matrix here. There is legitimate mathematical evidence to support the acceptance of this wager. I won’t get into it here for many reasons, not the least of which is that my aptitude for math is piss poor, but there is a great article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website that goes into the math in detail. I encourage the serious math nerds to dig into that chicken scratch.
What I will do is offer a summary of the decision matrix above and tie that to our refutation of Existential Nihilism. And that goes something like this:
Rationality suggests that, when presented with two options of equal possibility of being true and no way to prove the truth of either, we should believe that thing that has the most utility. Why? Because the potential for benefit is greater at the same cost. It costs us just as much to believe in God as it does not to believe in God, but the benefit we gain from that belief, if it is true, is far greater than the benefit we gain if we don’t believe in God and God happens to exist.
It is important to note the first thing that may jump out at most people. This does nothing to prove the existence of God. You are right. It doesn’t. That was not Pascal’s intent. His intent, as I stated earlier, was to get people to begin to believe; to take the first steps towards belief to begin a relationship with God and approach for themselves direct understanding of the truth of God that is the only way possible of proving God. This wager is a gateway drug to sincere belief in God.
Pascal’s Wager Vs. Existential Nihilism
In that same way, using Pascal’s Wager as a refutation of Existential Nihilism obviously doesn’t prove anything about the fact that there is or is not real meaning to things in the world. The same conditions apply for proving meaning as for proving God. It’s just not possible. We have no means to measure or quantify the conditions and can not prove it one way or another. SO get over that.
As such, Pascal’s wager is the perfect argument entry point as a refutation of existential Nihilism because it has similar contingencies and assumptions. So we look to use it is a way to get people to take that tiny step towards belief in meaning. From there we commit to the activities that imbue our life with those meanings and come to that same experiential belief experience desired by Pascal. And by doing so, negate the drowning darkness of existential nihilism.
So, let’s take a similar approach to the original presentation of Pascal’s wager and look at what the decision matrix might be for believing in meaning in life.
|Meaning exists||Meaning does not exist|
|Wager that meaning exists||Live a meaningful life||Lose nothing|
|Wager meaning does not exist||Live a meaningless life||Lose nothing|
Here we have the same rational resolution of terms and the same reasonableness to make a bet on the something existing rather than not, as it serves the most utility for the same cost.
If we make the wager that life has meaning, and meaning does truly exist in the world, than we are left living a meaningful life, the meaning of which will extend far beyond the bookends of our birth and death. Because if life has meaning it has meaning that meaning would exist outside of us and we would be contributing to it, further refining and expanding upon the meaning of life through our contributions.
On the contrary, if we believe that life does not have meaning and act accordingly, and it ends up that meaning does exist in the world, then we are left with a meaningless life. Or worse, a life that is counter to the meaning we might have desired from it because we acted in a way that stripped the meaning from our lives.
Lastly, let’s say we wager that life has meaning and we live so, committing ourselves to meaningful tasks and values, and we end up finding out that life does not have meaning. I ask, what did we lose by still living a meaningful life? Nothing. We lost nothing by creating meaning in a meaningful world. What’s more, we have actually gained something. And this is something that Pascal did not directly cover, but by believing in meaning and acting as such, we gain a strength of purpose in our activities, regardless of whether there is real meaning in the world.
To those that would insist upon a model of life that has no meaning, you are walking a thin wire that hovers over oblivion. I have walked that wire. There is the very real potential for calamity if you are not careful in your balancing act. Shit can get really dark and really lonely if you lean to far towards the abyss. I fell myself into the existential void. I was lucky to recover myself before I turned entire to the gloom of it all.
That is not to say that I am now delusional in my approach to meaning in life. I am no Pollyanna. I know that if I look out there long enough that it is all just going to dissolve into the absurdity that it is; all the things I do and all the meanings and values I have placed on this tiny insignificant life I have will go up in a puff of smoke.
And I know that the whole of it is probably not going to matter a mouse fart in a hurricane, but the elements of it, the little pieces of experience that I get to create and encounter, they matter because this is all I get. So, if this whole wager argument is bullshit to you. Fine. I can understand that. Let me offer this little argument then; life is meaningful because it’s fucking valuable. This is the only life you get and the meaning of our life comes from the value of our life, from the precious minutes that tick away and harbor us to death.
Every experience we create is worth something, has meaning and value, because we will never be able to create it in just such a way. Life is meaningful precisely because it is the only one we have and the exclusivity of that opportunity makes it the single most valuable commodity we will ever possess. So, don’t waste it. Whatever that looks like for you. And when you need a little reminder, think back to Pascal and his wager. And bet again and again on meaning because it’s the bet with the biggest payout at the least cost. And, at the end of the day, you can not prove if life does or doesn’t have meaning. The best you can do is have faith in either argument and the real question ends up being; would you rather have faith in something filled with hope or faith in something filled with emptiness? I know my answer. What is yours?
I am a terrible parent. It’s ok. It hurt when I was first informed of it but I have had a few years for it to sink in and I am ok with it now. I can even say it out loud in front of people with a straight face and not a hint of a tear. What makes me a terrible parent? Well, if I am going by what others have told me it is because I am too honest with my son. Well that and I have a fucking potty mouth around him.
Now, I absofuckinglouetely agree with the latter part of that but the first part; no. I don’t accept that. I am honest with the boy. Yes. But I try and maintain some of the magic of childhood. There are still the wonderful mythologies of a Santa Claus and an Easter Bunny and the efficacy of your vote in elections. I still keep up those little fairy tales with him; keep some of the magic in his life.
But some things I just don’t believe should be sugar-coated – the real important wisdom’s that will serve in life – those have to be gotten into as soon as possible, child or not. There is no sense teaching them otherwise because unlike the myths of Santa and the Easter Bunny and voter efficacy, some things we tell our children about how the world works is going to stick with them for the rest of their lives. And I think we owe it to them to be as honest as possible, but in a way that prepares them, uplifts them, and makes them feel like a real person.
With that in mind, here are a few of the nuggets I have thrown out there for my son over the last 10 years. Some are more serious than others but they all have a place if properly presented and dissected in a safe environment and with a critical eye. Maybe you can bring them up with your own children. You know, like talking to your kids openly about hard shit. Yeah, that part of parenting. You can cut the profanity if you want but I recommend you keep it honest, sincere and intelligent. Children are more responsive to that then you might realize.
So, let’s get on with the wisdom.
Get over it and keep your shit together
This useful and evergreen piece of advice has been eloquently handed down from the ancient Stoic philosophers for generations, until it landed into the clumsy hands of a balding old man who drives a Kia in Wisconsin and became this laconic little gem.
We spend so much time whining and pining over situations that are out of our control that most of our life is consumed with lost possibilities behind us instead of the real possibilities ahead of us. I want to start my son early on understanding the difference between what you can control and what you can’t control and focusing all your time on the former and letting the latter go as often as possible. Being a child is basically a testament to how little is under your control and how much you just have to get over.
This means not throwing a shit fit when you don’t get what you want or something doesn’t turn out how you planned. Life doesn’t care about your plans and more often than not you are not going to get what you want. So get over it and keep your shit together. No temper tantrums. No whining. No sulking. Instead, let’s talk about it. How do you feel? Why do you feel that way? What can we do, that is under our control, to feel better?
But this piece of advice also means cultivating a sense of calm in difficult situations, because they will always come. From infancy to death you will be faced consistently with unbearable, heartbreaking moments that will be out of your control, and the value of them, the meaning and weight of them, will be had through how you react to them. What they teach you after the fact. And you can only be receptive to the lessons if you keep your shit together.
Don’t be a shithead
Little children are shitheads. Now before you throw a hissy fit about me saying that – with your eyes all wide and your mouth agape – be a serious human parent right now. Every parent has to admit that they have moments where there precious little angel is a shithead. If you don’t believe that then you are one of those parents that everyone hates because you either ignore the dumb shit your child does or you encourage the dumb shit your child does. Basically it boils down to the fact that children are masters at being irritating for no good reason except to see what they can get away with.
Like when you just take a toy from someone else for no reason because you want it. Like when you throw your food on the floor because you don’t want it. Like when you throw a handful of sand at a kid who stole your toy or willfully take a shit in your pants just because you don’t feel like using the toilet. Fine, maybe that last one is me, but the rest are certainly shithead behaviors of children.
The advice I give my son is about remedying the shithead behavior. Just be kind. Err on the side of compassion and understanding. Don’t try to make people feel bad. Walk away from small slights and only defend yourself in big slights if you really think it’s worth the pain; for you and for whoever is slighting you. Instead of all that shitheadery; be polite and open doors for people. Let people cut in line. Smile and say please and thank you. Do small things that make big ripples. Basically, just try to be that imaginary human that everyone talks about but no one really tries to be.
Get used to getting shit on
And this leads me to my next nugget of wisdom for the boy. Just get used to being shit on. Don’t take this to a pessimistic, people hating place. You don’t walk around hating the world because you know you are going to get shit on. You strut around in your best god damn suit, freshly dry cleaned, waiting for the world to do it’s best because when it does you will be dressed for the occasion.
Getting used to taking a beating in life is not bad advice. Its advice with science to back it up. Hormesis. The evidence of efficacy regarding Nietzsche’s philosophy that “what does not kill us makes us stronger.” I have written about Hormesis in the past, but what it basically says is; things that would otherwise kill us in large doses, when applied in smaller doses, can actually make us stronger in the process. Exercise is a simple example. You exercise too much for too long and you will die. But you control the dosage and manage the damage through rest and recovery, you get healthier.
Getting used to getting shit on develops mental resilience and strength of will. It sharpens an endurance that is necessary for succeeding in big things and above all, I tell my son to chase after big things, but get used to getting shit on in the process and never stop when you do. Having the fortitude to get back up when life knocks you down is a lesson most children already know. Walking. Potty training. Talking. These skills come in fits and starts with many failures. But they keep going. The best thing for a parent to do is translate that for them to the larger experience of life and let them know that it works the same way. You fuck up, or someone fucks something up for you, and you get back up and try it again.
People are assholes
I have already written about this topic as well but it bears repeating on a consistent basis; if only because it has never ceased to be wrong. People are fucking assholes. Oh my god. If you have a problem believing this, please send me whatever drugs, meditations, chakra cleansing enemas, secret doctrines, or magic fairy dusts you are using so I can catch whatever high you are on. Me, I think people are mostly assholes. Not really always assholes but certainly always capable of being assholes.
It’s understandable though. We are self interested animals and we have a hard time appreciating the reality that there are as many ways towards understanding the world and approaching happiness as there are people in the world. And having a difficult time putting ourselves in other people’s shoes makes it very easy to shit all over those shoes and rationalize it after the fact.
This can range from slow walkers in the grocery store to bullies at school to downright vicious acts of violence and hate, but the reality of life is that you are going to deal with a lot of difficult people. And I think the best way to deal with them is to try and have compassion for them. Seriously.
Most people are assholes because they hurt. Something bad happened to them or is happening to them and they don’t know how to handle it so it comes out in a shitstorm of anger and venom and vitriol. I know it’s not an excuse but it can be a reason for us to approach a bit of empathy for the pains in our lives and to realize how they manifest on others. As much as other people are assholes, each one of us is as well.
The only other way to deal with assholes is to be an asshole yourself. This is the nuclear option and I do not recommend it. Two assholes seem to attract more assholes and before you know it you have a whole Senate of Assholes. And yes, a group of assholes is called a Senate of Assholes. I just made that up but it should totally be a thing.
Everyone and everything dies
Oh, don’t look at me like that. You have already read the other advice I give my son so why should this shock you? It’s the most truthful piece of advice I offer him. The one that has the most validity and the most value.
Knowing that things are finite in this world is a wonderful motivator for all actions and behaviors. It gives us a perspective to love harder, live better, and be greater. You are finite. This is it. Every love you have will be in this world. Every accomplishment will be here in this world. Every person you meet and thing you do is anchored here and needs your attention and engagement. If you stop remembering that you stop living and start dying.
This is as much a statement of gratitude as it should be of relief. You should be grateful to have everything you have. To reflect on the loves you have or have had. The experiences. The chances and choices and the shattered glass resurrects of a heart that can still hold love. This is your chance. The only one you have. Be grateful you have even that shot.
And be relieved when your day comes. Relieved that you put everything out there into the world. Every drop of sweat and blood and tears and breath. You let the world have everything of you and you will be relieved to put down the weight of such a fulfilled life. You will have told your story and will be ready for the close. Those are the lessons of dying. It’s not a sadness, it is a possibility.
Now, before you get your puritan bonnets or undergarments in a bunch; this article is hyperbolic. Obviously. I don’t usually phrase the advice as bluntly as I have here. I can not fucking swear for 2 sentences if I want and I typically approach these conversations with a bit more eloquence and tact, as I have done with my son in the past. But sometimes you just have to give it to them plain. The way they are bound to hear it out there in nature because that’s what helps it to stick.
Yeah. Sometimes I lose my shit and it comes out as one of these pithy aphorisms. If that upsets you, eh. I am ok with that. Like I said, I am a terrible parent. I have plenty to learn about myself in this advice and I will keep working on it until I die. And besides, people are assholes. You should get over it and keep your own shit together. Don’t be a dickhead. You should be used to getting shit on and at least you can rest assured that everyone and everything dies. Including me.
A tree sways its thick branches overhead, waving to me in my lying repose. I stare up through the green canopy of leaves and watch the sun steal in among the movement, stabbing it’s bright heat to the forest floor and warming the fragrant pine needles that have accumulated like a mattress. I am alone. Alone but not lonely. I have chosen to retreat to this small patch of woods out of purpose. I desire solitude.
It is these moments of solitude when all things come into focus. When the constant movement of the world is shifted into my periphery and I can catch my breath; allowing my body and mind to recover themselves. These explicit occasions of withdrawal from the outside world are necessary, not just for myself, but necessary for all people.
Solitude is an oft neglected but necessary component for a healthy life. To be able to spend time with yourself, in quiet and contemplative discovery, is a gift of clarity and understanding. A gift that has no requirements outside of unburdening yourself of society. A gift that keeps on giving because if there is one thing I can guarantee, it is that you will spend every moment of your life with yourself, and the more comfortable you are with that person that is you the better you will be able to live with yourself.
But to get the most from those occasional moments of solitude we have to clear up some misconceptions about what solitude is, why it matters, and how exactly it works to improve our lives.
Loneliness Vs. Solitude
I think it is important to first make a distinction between loneliness and solitude, as there is an important difference. I have written about loneliness in the past. I refer to it as the tax on pursuing greatness. And it is that. If you pursue a path that is perilous and arduous there will be few people willing to travel with you and a path of personal development is one of the most perilous and arduous you can embark on.
But there is a difference between loneliness and solitude and we need to look at that difference.
Solitude is related to loneliness. They are close cousins but they come from different parents. Where loneliness is something imposed upon us by lack, solitude is a choice we make. We make a conscious decision to move into quiet communion with ourselves so that we may explore ourselves in a way not possible when we are surrounded by life.
One requirement of solitude is that you must be alone. I know that most people believe that loneliness also entails being physically alone but that is not always the case. Consider how often some people feel utterly alone in a crowd of people. The issue with them is not proximity but connection and that is the root of loneliness; lacking desired connection.
Solitude, however, is not a longing for others, it is a longing for oneself. It is a self-imposed hiatus from the demands of the external world to retreat into yourself and recover your senses and your thoughts free from outside influence.
Meaning of Solitude
When we chose to temporarily remove the influence of society by stepping into time with ourselves we are committing to a difficult but meaningful activity. It is an activity that few people are willing to approach but an activity that is necessary if we are to understand ourselves. Who gives a shit about understanding yourself? Everyone, I hope. Even if they don’t realize it or are not willing to admit it, I wager most everyone has moments of existential dread where they realize that their life may not be everything they think it is.
When we remove the influences and contamination from the constant barrage of instruction that is pushed upon us by every element of our social interactions, this is the time to start piecing together our own informed and analyzed beliefs from the swirling shit storm of others sway.
Our moments of solitude are where we categorize, compartmentalize, analyze, structure, refine and file away our thoughts, ideas, opinion and beliefs. It’s when we can do the clerical work of tidying the ever flowing memo’s of human experience. When we retreat into solitude that is when we can catch up on our mental paperwork because getting and keeping that paperwork in order is critical to being able to get access to it in the future and make informed decisions about future experiences.
Which brings us to another of the meanings of solitude, it gives us a chance to queue up the experience materials that we know we are going to need sometime soon. What this means is, when we know we have some difficult situation or experience on the horizon, choosing solitude is an opportunity to reinforce positive mental states that can help us to survive the impending difficulty.
We can retreat into meditation to induce calm as we move into a stressful situation. We can spend time in study to bring forth or reinforce knowledge as we prepare for an intellectually demanding experience. We can withdraw into quiet reflection and contemplation on larger problems of our life and bring forth the wisdom necessary to remedy them and move forward through the challenges.
That is the thing about solitude, it is an anchor for our minds in both the past and the future by putting us firmly in the present. By retreating into solitude we can gain perspective and find the true meaning behind most of our experiences in life.
Philosophy of Solitude
If solitude is associated with anything, it is associated with deep thinking. And there are perhaps no deeper thinkers than philosophers, and no creatures more prone to solitude. Philosophy is a solitudinous activity. Most great ideas need time to incubate and any good idea incubation is usually done alone. Oh sure, you eventually have to crack open that idea egg and hatch it into the world but the initial nurturing of it comes alone, through the philosophical activity of solitude.
It should come as no great surprise then, that a great many philosophers esteemed the virtues of solitude. Let’s look at what a few have had to say on the subject.
“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
The book Walden has become a manual for a life of solitude. When Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond and built his small cabin there, removing himself from contemporary society and entering into natural society, he did so with a mind intent on self-sufficiency and simple living. He did so to better understand the machinations of the world through a thorough personal introspection.
The quote above speaks to the comfort that a life of solitude can provide. When we make friends with peace and quiet through consistent forays into solitude, we are making friends with ourselves. We are letting life flow through us without the dilution of other souls to muddy the waters of our presence in the world. It is just ourselves and the universe and a personal communion with what the universe is to you.
“Solitude is naught and society is naught. Alternate them and the good of each is seen.”
A contemporary and friend of Thoreau, Emerson was also deeply involved in the transcendentalist movement that inspired both men to look to the solitudinal joys of nature as a means to deeper personal and societal exploration. Emerson did not go so far as Thoreau in his retreat from society. He believed in a balance between the life of solitude and the life of society. That they each have their role in exposing the joy in the other.
And that is a truth of solitude. It is not that we should run wholesale from society and entirely disconnect from our connections. It is that our connections to the world are made stronger by occasionally decoupling so that they can be reevaluated and better understood. Neither solitude nor society on their own can help us to fully understand and appreciate our lives, but together they offer the most complete image of a fulfilling and deep life.
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
If anyone knows the joy of being alone, it is Michel de Montaigne. A philosopher during the French Renaissance in the 16th century, Montaigne could usually be found in his castle tower library, a round room lined from top to bottom with books by writers spanning millennia. Montaigne adorned the wooden beams of his library with quotes in ancient Greek and Latin. Montaigne was a man of deep introspection and his philosophical essays came exclusively from the depths of his solitude and the personal exploration that is only possible in that removal from the world.
It is only in solitude that we can find a way to be with ourselves in earnest. Only be retreating into the thoughts, ideas, beliefs and assumptions we have floating around in our minds can we start to befriend the good and bad and make peace with all of it in a warm embrace of understanding, forgiveness and self-appreciation for what you have bore and what you have become.
Joy of Solitude
I have already touched on some of the joys of solitude simply by presenting the meaning and philosophy of it but I want to be more explicit with those joys.
Yes, it obviously helps you to better understand and appreciate yourself and your place in the universe. Allowing yourself time for quiet introspection through the gift of solitude will pull back the curtain of that great shit show in your head. And that’s ok. We want to do that. We need to do that. We need to understand ourselves. Our motivations and beliefs and values and flaws. You can only do that by removing yourself from the world and digging into your head alone.
But we don’t stay in that place. Solitude does not mean that we cut ourselves off from our friendships or obligations. Solitude is a temporary retreat from or social obligations so that we can return refreshed and reinvigorated to engage in those bonds with others that strengthen our joy of the world. When we spend time with ourselves we can better appreciate the friendships we have in the world because solitude has a way of sharpening our appreciation for others.
Perhaps the deepest joy of solitude is that it introduces you to yourself on a regular basis. How often is it that you feel out of touch with the world? I believe this happens because we are so often out of touch with ourselves. We do not check in with ourselves often enough and explore how and where we should fit ourselves into the world and that causes us to feel lost in it. And that is where solitude shines. It allows you to explore yourself and by doing so explore your place in the world; where you are and where you want to be. And when you return from your temporary retreat from the world, you return full of purpose and understanding.
There is a distinct difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is as possible in a crowd as it is by ourselves and it stems from a feeling that you are lacking connection. Solitude is only possible when we are alone and it is a conscious choice that we make to get connected to ourselves.
Moving into solitude is an active experience of working through the complexity of experience that assaults us daily. As new ideas and beliefs and situations are presented to us in life we work at a breakneck speed to keep up. There comes a time where we need to stop and sift through the lessons of those situations and that is where solitude shines.
Whether it is better defining the importance of certain values or beliefs in our own head before bringing them back out into the world, or it is developing a better appreciation for the lifelines that we have in society through temporary absence, solitude is an activity of personal introspection and deep personal engagement.
Throughout the history of thought, solitude has had its place high among the mantle of deep thinkers. But we need not seek out the answers to life’s most difficult questions when we consider the importance of solitude. We need only see the personal joy it can bring through an exploration of ourselves. That is where solitude has its place in the life of every person and that is where every person will find their place in solitude.
I walked down to the bank of the river and caught the sun’s light stabbing through the horizon line of pines on the other shore of the Black River. The sunrise after a rain is always so golden and green. A gilded gift of Nature for her pourings. The night before was hard. My son and I got into camp late, being waylaid by work and traffic and other conveniences of modern life. Hot on our heels was a persistent, chill rain that accompanied us for the rest of the evening. There is no joy in setting up a camp in the rain, and even less in a pitch black rain at night.
We scrambled in the mud to get up a tarp, tying some rope to a few trees and giving ourselves a rough lean-to. We dragged over the picnic table and had ourselves a dry space to work under. We found a spot that was not completely flooded on the ground and quickly threw up the small tent my son and I would share. It all came together loudly and frantically; curses being thrown around as often as the rain hit the ground. And believe me when I tell you that there is nothing that cuts through the rain of night like the high-pitched curses of a ten-year old.
With the tent setup, we thought it best to stake it down. Winds were ripping and it was already trying to blow around. And that is where it went from bad to worse. No stakes. No fucking tent stakes… We ran around in the rain, flashlight’s bobbing in every corner of the trunk and then on the ground, but no stakes were to be had. They were lost. Unpacked from the previous camping trip. No time for blame or grief. We needed to get this fucking tent staked down.
Sticks! I sent the boy out on a quest. Find me sticks of just so thick and just so long and bring them back for sharpening and stabbing. My son is born for quests in the rain guided only by flashlight in a foreign land. He returned quickly with a handful of sticks perfect for holding down a tent. One was even already carved into a spear point. Aha! I wasn’t the only traveler to come unprepared to these treacherous lands! We did our best to secure the tent. It stayed in place and that was a victory in itself. We had yet to eat so we huddled under the hanging tarp to cook a meager dinner of brats on the burner stove, with chips and water to wash it down. We were soaked and shivering and the mosquitoes noticed the safety of our tarp. They ate as we ate. They ate more than we did. At some point we could take no more. We crawled into the damp sanctity of the tent, blew up air mattresses, and let the rain tap rhythm to our sleep and the trees sing dirges with the winds and eventually we fell into a fitful sleep.
I tell this story for a reason. Because despite the fucking misery of that first day, and it was miserable, we made it into something more in that moment because there was no escaping it. We made it into an adventure; a myth. We made it into something that had to be endured for a greater story. We never let the difficulty and the strain, physically and emotionally, of that rain-soaked setting up of the camp to tarnish the shine we had for our camping experiences. And the boy and I, we love camping, so when nature threatened to make us despise it, we took the challenge and made it into a myth. A part of the narrative of our great camping stories.
Instead of complaining, we made it into a warrior’s tale of necessity. We had no choice but to build this camp, cut off as we were from our home regions. We were stranded adventurers and we made do with what we could find on the land to construct our shelter. We fought epic, bloodletting bugs to eat the meager foods we could scavenge and we turned in, grateful for out temporary reprieve from the rain and readying ourselves for the epic tales of tomorrow.
The Need for Myth In Our Lives
So maybe the truth of the story above isn’t so exotic and exciting as myth. But, the origins of most myth aren’t that exciting. What happens with most great stories is that they are passed back and forth and the details are embellished and the labors exaggerated, until you eventually land on a story that is honest in spirit but glorious with mythological detail to make it worth telling and hearing.
The rain from my story will eventually fall like a typhoon; tears of ancients Gods that mourn for natures demise. The mosquitoes will become great hulking monsters picking up stray adventurers and sucking them dry in mid-air before dropping bloodless bodies in their flight. Food will become what we scavenged or trick from the greedy, mischievous hands of wood sprites and other forest dwelling mysteries. All of it will will be magical but the moral of it, that we suffered challenges in the spirit of nature and to enjoy the great wonder of the outdoors together, that will remain in tact, and that is what truly matters. The point is, I will memorialize this story in such a way that it becomes part of who I am; part of the myth of my life. It will slowly morph into a story I often tell with grand embellishment because it will be one of those times that slightly changed me and defined my character.
The telling of our myths say something about our values and character. The myths of our lives become a small telling of ourselves and in hearing them you understand a little more about who each one of us are. That is what all myths are really. From those ancient ones we still tell ourselves of Heroes and Gods from a land long past. To those modern myths that spring eternal from our shared experiences. They are all a valuation of what we hold as treasures of our being. Courage. Strength. Fortitude. Patience. Humility. Whatever themes live and breathe in our myths are the themes of our lives and only by solidifying our personal experiences into myth can we garner the benefit of the values we work to embody.
That is why we have to make sure to mythologize our lives as often as possible, through the pursuit of experience and bearing well the inevitable misfortune and triumph that makes all myths worth telling.
So, how do we create stories of mythology in our own lives?
Keep Your Wits and Your Humor About You At All Times
I have a disclaimer to make before you set off on your own adventures, hoping to etch into marble the legacy of your own myth. Never, and I mean never, take yourself too seriously and always, and I mean always, keep calm and patient with the experience. The worst thing you can do when pursuing a life of mythology is to think that you are stronger than the Gods and wiser than Fate. You are a mere mortal running with powers that will always be just out of your understanding. That is the beauty of this magical life. Don’t fight it, embrace it. There will be plenty of other fights to be had that you can actually win.
The truth is, if you are going to have any sort of adventures you are going to have to suffer some indignities, some less than ideal situations, and some serious blows to your ego. No hero of any story was a hero to them self and they all bared great trials in order to be worthy of the myths we tell of them. Just remember that. You are not going to impress yourself with some of the nonsense shit you do. But that’s OK. Doing and failing is part of the hero’s journey. No myth is worth telling about the hero who got everything they ever wanted on their first try. We need the stories of struggle and adversity and overcoming. Those are the stories that all people want to hear and that all people can relate to.
The best thing you can do when you are trying to build your myths and you fail is learn your lesson, laugh it off, and try again. Whether this means laughing at yourself for leaving the fucking tent stakes under the tent (Yes, that is where they were and in my defense it was dark and raining and I was tired.) or allowing yourself to be dirty and wet and tired and just embracing the fun of a night in a cramped tent playing card games to the sound of rain outside.
Small Experiences Can Make Big Myths
We need not always undertake Herculean labors to create the seeds of myth in our lives. There are a million opportunities for small adventures every day. The only requisite for a myth is that there is an opportunity to exemplify some great attribute you would like to be associated with you. The beauty of myth is that from the small seeds of myth you plant the grand mythology will grow. It will become bigger than it was through the sharing of it with others, and in looking back on it you will realize how big, even those little things we do, truly are .
Go dance in the rain imagining that it is the joy shed tears of the Goddess of music, delighting in your movement. That myth says you are carefree and precocious and a graceful presence in an occasionally dreary world. Go run through the woods on a long trail envisioning a quest of delivery between Gods. That myths says you are strong and fast and agile and full of an endurance that can bear the long-lasting sufferings of the world. Go sit in a meditation retreat or church service with other souls aching to discover themselves and imagine yourself in Communion with the Gods, telling the world that you value wisdom and intellect and discovery in your mythology.
The point is, creating myth in our lives is as easy as getting clear about what we value and then finding opportunities, big and small, to emphasize them in our lives. If you want to be someone who is remembered as creative and colorful, pursue those opportunities to embody those values through your experiences. If you want to be known as a warrior, full of strength and fortitude, then pursue a life of fitness and bring into that mythical journey, opportunities to prove the worth of it through competition, with yourself as much as others. All these small opportunities are of great importance into creating the mythology of who we are and they will be the things that people tell of us when we are gone.
And when you really want to solidify the motif of your myth – when you want to truly prove your dedication to that value you want to embody – you should seek out some larger adventures that will define your commitment to the values and character of your mythology. Camping weekends. Adventure races. Travelling. Hosting events. Volunteering. Artistry. Those things that require planning and stretch out over a time and are deliberate expressions of who we are and what we care about. Those are the big adventures that are the cornerstones for our smaller adventures and are the larger structures of our myth.
Makes Other’s The Hero Of Your Stories As Well
Your stories can not be only about yourself. You need a supporting cast and they should be equally heroic and mythological in their feats. In your stories you will have a varied cast of characters. The Jester. The Lover. The Mentor. The Sidekick. The Adversary. So many other people will weave in and out of your myths and there is something you should remember, in their stories they are just as mythological as you are. They are the main characters of their stories as much as you are yours and we should treat them so.
We should not think ourselves so worthy of a good story that we would hurt others to get it. Whatever virtues and values you seek to embody with your mythological adventures, they should never be those that you would not want others to also adopt.
The goal in this fairy tale of life is not to get everything that we want by any means necessary but to tell the best story that says the most about who we are. The goal is to write a myth that we would want told about us and no one should want to be known as someone who hurts others to get what they wanted. That isn’t the story of a hero, but one of a villain and the worst thing you can be is a villain in your own story.
Myth is not something that is untrue, it is something that is true about an idea. It is a story spun from the bones of truth to tell a greater story about what we value in the world and in the characters that we most celebrate in the world. Your life is your myth. The stories you create of your living will be those told by others when you are gone and we should seek to create the greatest myths of our lives through the experiences we pursue.
Those small things that we engage in every day can be made so much more magical by seeing in them opportunities to embody the values that we hold dear in life and by making the experiences of them larger than they might be. So go out there and battle great monsters and have great adventures. Your myth is waiting to be written and your stories are waiting to be told.
It is not hard to understand why people would dismiss most religions. If their fundamentalist advocates are not attempting to subjugate some other belief system or committing acts of terror, they are propagating lies and deceptions in the form of pseudo-truths and misappropriated facts. I can not fault anyone for choosing to ignore religion. But what I can fault people for is choosing to throw away the elements of sacredness with the rest of religiosity, because I think that is what is missing in life for most people. A lack of the sacred. It is the cause of so much pessimism and disconnection and outright misery; that missing element of sanctity in all of this. The glorious divinity and chance of what it means to be alive. Now before you get all crazy atheist eyes on me or start jumping for joy that I am talking about your favorite religion. I am not, so calm down. This has nothing to do with religion and will not be an article advocating atheism, so quite down. All of you.
You don’t need God, a god, any gods, to make things sacred; to make life sacred. You don’t need religion and this is not going to be a religious article. This is going to be an article that explores a secular sacredness. A sacredness born of wonder and joy and attention and gratitude and ceremony. Sure, some of those things may sound religious but they don’t have to be to get value from them.
Why should we want to introduce the sacred into our lives? Because, there is nothing more important to us than the life we live now. Nothing. Because this is all you have. Maybe not, if religion is correct, but even if they are, this is still the only LIFE you have. The only time you are living. And that fact should be honored and consecrated and blessed at every opportunity we can find.
And how do we do that?
We take everyday elements of life and look at them and experience them in a new way, through simple, secular rituals.
But first we must begin in good faith. Oh I know. I said no religion and I mean that. So, let’s get clear about faith and what I am asking of you for this exercise in the sacred.
What Is Faith?
Though we often think of faith as a blind adherence to unverifiable ideas, there are actually two kinds of faith.
Cognitive faith is a belief in propositions or statements which one does not, and cannot, have true knowledge of. The unfortunate characteristic of this sort of faith is that people often take their belief and attempt to turn it into something stronger than it is. This is where the faith of most religions fall. It is not the sort of faith we are interested in for this article. I am not interested in believing in something that I can not at least attempt to put my finger on and the proof of God or religion is never going to be something we can nail down so let’s put this faith aside and move to the faith that we should really be interested in.
Affective faith is a positive emotional response to someone or something one has heard. This sort of faith is a confidence in an idea that inspires. It is a general understanding and reliance that life works according to certain principles and aims and laws and dynamics, despite the fact that we cannot always see those principles and aims and laws and dynamics. Now this is the faith I am asking for in this practice of the sacred. This is the faith that will keep you to the rituals even if they don’t always seem to be working. And this is the faith that requires only small leaps for big rewards. Keep this faith as you work on adding these elements of the sacred to your life.
Now that we are clear about what faith we need to bring to our practice of these rituals, let dive into what the rituals are.
There is no greater way to enhance the sacred of your life than to merely bring your undivided and sincere attention to it all, as often as you can. If there is anything that diminishes the thrill and unbelievable experience of life it is a lack of awareness that you are living it.
What is it to bring attention to your life? This takes the form of many practices and disciplines.
Meditation is a great practice for plenty of real world mental and physical health ailments. If you only do it for that you are doing it for a good enough reason. But if you take meditation and bring an element of divinity to it, you get more than just those practical benefits. Meditation opens you up to the moment of life. It forces you in to every “now”. Most of us are never really here now. We are digging through the past or staring off into the future. We are always looking behind or forward and never up or down to appreciate the spaces we currently inhabit. We never get to be that thin line of light that is moving through time and space at this exact moment. Meditation focuses your attention on that light and brings you back to you, now.
It does this by making you a captive audience to yourself. You sit your ass on the cushion. You breathe. You follow your breath and acknowledge the trillion crazy fucking thoughts that bubble up into your head, being gentle and kind and letting them go, and you come back to the breath. Rinse. Repeat.
Ok. That is obviously over-simplistic. If you want to incorporate a meditation practice, I recommend Vipassana or Insight meditation as it is otherwise called. It is a very simple, secular meditation that offers infinite possibility for the sacred and for understanding. Here is a great explanation of how to begin the practice of Vipassana. Whatever meditation you find, begin a practice. Even if it is not this sort of meditation start meditating. And make it a ritual. Light incense. Make it private. Commune with yourself in an intimate and vulnerable and important way and you will bring that back to the world as you move through it.
Oh, how I love to espouse the benefits of discomfort. I am starting to believe it is only because I desperately needs some companions in my occasional miseries, and I am trying to recruit other sufferers. But the truth is, it is a philosophical pursuit presented first by the Stoics that has been a sacred addition to my life and changed it for the better, and I think that others can find the same benefits if they give it an honest effort.
We are so disconnected from our lives that we often miss all the delight we have in our world. Most of us are surrounded by such luxury and comfort. Heat. AC. A car. A job. Food. Shelter. And a million other things. I think almost all of us take those for granted sometimes. You can improve your appreciation for those luxuries by occasionally taking them away.
I have written a fairly comprehensive article about this, which I encourage you to explore, but let me briefly explain here. Intentional discomfort is choosing some hardship for a controlled amount of time to better appreciate the simple luxuries you already enjoy. can take the form of cold showers. Rustic camping. Heat Immersion. Fasting. A number of practices that can improve our relationship with all the small and wonderful comforts that we have in this world that make it such a joy to live just being temporally going without sometimes.
The birthplace of all discovery is settled here; in the small child’s realm of wonder. It is a holy land that we should all make frequent pilgrimages to. Because inside wonder is the opportunity to maintain a certain awe for the beautiful and random complexity and mystery of the universe. In wonder is the possibility of discovery. Discovery about the world and discovery about yourself.
If you can move through the world with a constant sense of wonder, everything is an adventure and everything an exciting puzzle piece to be unveiled. I am not saying that you can’t come to accept some conclusions about the universe in your travels, but you should always wonder a bit about them. And you should always carry a few heavy questions in your back pocket, because they will slow you down just enough to better appreciate all the movement you are making.
The ritual of wonder is setting aside time each day to explore the world around you in a new way. It is making time to think about the big questions of life and of your existence and exploring the millions of possibilities for your existence. The ritual of wonder is found in deep conversation with close friends around a comfortable dinner. It is found in quiet moments alone where you ponder the billion tiny pin pricks of light that make up the night sky and imagine what sort of infinity is captured in that sky.
Stop. Just stop. I already know what you are thinking. “This asshole said he wasn’t talking about religion and now he is about to talk about prayer.” Well, to that I say, you are mostly right about the asshole part, but, I don’t think prayer is very religious. Hear me out.
Most prayers, in my opinion, are just a vocalization of a deep desire that we really want the universe to hear. Sure. Christian and Jews and Muslims direct their words towards God, but even before God or gods, I guarantee people were saying prayers. They were just saying out loud what they had in their hearts, because saying things out loud, hearing the vibrations of them, puts them into the world and makes them almost real. All prayers really are, are sincere and heartfelt hopes and wishes. And just saying them, out loud or in your heart, is pretty fucking powerful.
Wishes and dreams – those wispy, feather-light things we carry around with us that give life a certain magic – need wind to move. And by uttering them in prayer we breathe just enough life into them to give them the potential to be realized. That is what prayer is. The breath that carries our dreams to far off places so we can follow and make them real. It is enough then that we think of prayer as merely an act of vocalizing our wishes and dreams to the universe. Bring them to our minds and our lips so that we will not forget that they are there and we must breath them life into them if they are ever to grow.
Make more things ceremonial in your life. The most precious and sacred thing we have in this world is our time, and if we are going to often do something with that time, make it matter in a bigger way.
Put the elements of ceremony and liturgy around those activities that you perform on a daily basis. Do you enjoy working out? Then add as much liturgical ritual to that moment as possible. Try to make it the same time everyday. Put on the vestments of the gym. Listen to the music that inspires and motivates you. Sacrifice the blood and sweat and tears necessary to to get through that workout. Praise yourself for making the time for it. That is the ceremony of the gym.
And these sorts of rituals and ceremonial celebrations can be added to most things that we want to do on a regular basis, but find difficult to stick with. Adding ceremony to them couches them in importance and celebration and myth and it gives them a special power that can not be ignored. And that is what we should do with some of those things we do in our life on a daily basis; make them a ritualistic ceremony of achievement and greatness.
Adding ceremony to the activities of your life is a way of honoring yourself. Of honoring your time as the beautifully finite treasure that it is. And every minute that ticks off is one that is closer to death. So we add ceremony to certain events to acknowledge the gravity of their coming and going. To honor that we are here to experience them at all. And after you are done, as is customary with the end of ceremony, you celebrate. You celebrate the accomplishment of that task or the enjoyment of that activity.
Another great thing about adding ceremony to as much of your life, is you begin to see the places were ceremony would be foolish to add, and it helps you to recognize what you might need to cut from your life. I mean, it’s silly to make a ceremony out of binge watching Netflix every night. What is worthy of celebration in that? Would you add ceremony to that 4th glass of wine every evening? Or add ceremony to your nightly pint of ice cream? No. And you wouldn’t because they don’t feel worthy of ceremony and if something doesn’t feel worthy of ceremony in your life I think you should take a long, hard look at it and ask yourself if you should change that thing.
The greatest gift I have ever given myself is the regular practice of gratitude. No single, sacred activity has been more instrumental in flipping the switch of depression off. It doesn’t just flip the switch either, it keeps it turned off for amazingly long stretches. A regular practice of explicitly calling to those things you are grateful for, and offering them appreciation, is a magically transformative one.
I do this every night with my son. After our bedtime stories, and tickle fights, and other random manly shenanigans, we each say 3 things we are grateful for from that day. He usually tries to go with shelter and food and water every night but I have pushed him to be more specific to that day. And it usually doesn’t take him long to do so. I am willing to bet most of us are the same way.
When we are in the heated moments of living and wading through the deep and steady shit stream it is hard to recollect what things we could be grateful for. But I bet, if you slow down for a minute and really think of everything you have, you could think of a few things that you have to be truly grateful for.
Have food in your belly? Have a semblance of health? Have a friend or a child or a parent that cares if you live or die? Have shelter? Potable water? Have eyes? Ears? Limbs? Yeah, those are all things to be grateful for that we take for granted everyday, though we know that so many people live without them and would give anything for them.
The practice of intentional gratitude everyday reinforces that, no matter how fucked up our lives get, we can always find something to be grateful for, and out of gratitude comes a parting of those clouds that threaten their depressing rain. Out of gratitude comes recognition that, however fall we far, we can usually find at least a step towards getting back up. Because there is something out there we are grateful for.
Bringing an element of sanctity and sacredness into your life is not a religious thing. It is a living thing. It is bringing a secular holiness to this experience of living. Because regardless of what you believe about this world, it is a an absolutely delightful piece of magic and we should celebrate that as often as we can.
By bringing attention, prayer, wonder, ceremony and gratitude into our lives we are giving ourselves that opportunity to commune deeply with this experience of living. To dig deeply into the majesty of our own existence and celebrate it regularly. Alone and with others.
There is no religion in that. Only recognition. Recognition that what we have right now is quite possibly all we will ever have and if we are going to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate and honour this gift of life and presence, then we need should constantly create moments to venerate it. Through these simple acts of consistent ritual acknowledgement that we are here, this is it, and it is enough.
I run through the woods like a wolf. Pulled fast on feet that barely touch the ground and with the hungry eagerness of a predator chasing prey. The wind cools my sweat soaked skin and the slow, dull ache of overused muscles pushes again to the front of my mind. I stop amid the emerald green path of moss and dirt and work to catch my breath. There is a heat in my lungs that cools at every deep breath I can take. The million chorused voice of bird songs start to sing in the wind, with the great pines, stretched like spears towards a blinding sun, groaning like old men. The fragrance of heated pine needles overwhelms the air and it is in that moment I am taken by the beauty of it all and how magical it is that I can experience it in such a powerfully sensual way. With everything of my body and mind tied to this little stretch of forest and time where I take my runs, I feel alive and happy and full of purpose and meaning.
And in that wildly sensual experience lies the doorway of the philosophical escape route proposed by absurdist and existentialist philosopher Albert Camus when he came face to face with the meaninglessness of existence and our absurd attempt to give it such. But before we get to the meaning of his philosophy, let’s get to know our buddy Al.
Who Was Albert Camus?
Basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all, there is only absurdity, and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity. – Camus
If any philosopher was ever going to be featured in People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue, it would have been Albert Camus. I mean, this was a darkly handsome, motorcycle riding, chain smoking, slick backed hair wearing, freedom fighting, slab of masculinity. But beyond just a pretty face, Albert Camus was an important, if controversial, personage in the world of philosophy and the development of Existentialism. All despite his insistence that he was a neither a philosopher or an existentialist.
Albert Camus proposed an absurdist view of the world in his philosophy. He presented a world view that stripped all meaning from life and had man in the position of trying to give meaning to things that had none. His philosophy is no better illustrated than in his most famous work, The Myth of Sisyphus. Here Camus presents the ancient hero Sisyphus engaged in his fruitless and absurd punishment of pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it roll down again.
The action of Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill has no meaning because it will simply come tumbling down again. And for Camus, all human activity amounted to as much. Sandcastles washed away in the waves of life.
But he did not end there. Camus did not leave us out in the nihilistic playground where life just fades to grey and we are left with no reason to pursue anything. No. He had one parting resolution to this otherwise nihilistic philosophy. We must imagine Sisyphus happy. And how do we do that? We do that by appreciating the sensual aspects of his punishment and the meaning that it gives to the otherwise meaningless experience of pushing our boulders up the hill.
What is Sensual?
I can guess that the first thought that comes to mind for most people when they hear the word sensual is that of the sexual but that is only one small element of the sensual as it relates to philosophy. The dictionary definition of sensual is; “of or arousing gratification of the senses.” But if we know anything, we know that dictionary definitions be damned with philosophers and we are going to have to provide some nuance and qualification to this definition.
The sensuality of Camus’ philosophy does apply to an “arousing gratification of the senses”, but sexual sensuality is only a part of it. Camus also incorporates the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of everyday experiences that seem to pass us by as we are laboring to give meaning to the meaningless. The sensuality spoken of by Camus is one of sensory presence – a “nowness” as he calls it. That “nowness” is the most important connection we have to the world, as it is the only thing that all our senses can be directed towards collaboratively. Every “now” is the greatest opportunity to entirely engage in the physical experience of living. We don’t look back and try to give meaning to events, and we don’t look forward to try to cast meaning to future events not yet here. We remain “now” and with all of our senses open to the cacophony of sensual experience that swirls around us in every moment.
Now, I would like to say here that Camus’ was not the first philosopher to put forth the idea that the highest good of life should be that we look to enjoy the sensual pleasures of living. The philosophical concept of hedonism – the ethical value of sensual pleasure as a highest good – has existed for a long time.
The Cyernaics were a philosophical school founded in the 4th Century BCE by a Greek philosopher named Aristippus. Aristippus was a follower of Socrates and he is traditionally given credit with the original ethical idea of pleasure as the highest good.
Cyernaisim focused on the idea of not deferring any pleasures and giving no thought to future consequences of the pursuit of pleasure in the moment. The greatest good was to pursue immediate pleasures, and those of the body took precedence. Bodily pleasures took precedence over mental pleasures because the Cyernaics held to a skeptical epistemological position regarding what we could know of anything outside the senses. They believed that the only thing we could know for certain was the sensual experiences of living; and those things manifested in the body, were felt in the body, and gave rise to passions of the body.
The use of the word Epicurean today is largely unrepresentative of the spirit of the original idea. It has come to mean refined tastes for elegant and decadent things but that is far from the truth of this philosophical school founded in 3rd Century BCE by Epicurus.
Epicureanism calls for us to esteem, above all things, the simple pleasures of life and to cultivate a tranquility of spirit through the pursuit and enjoyment of those simple pleasures. A quiet, simple dinner with family. A warm bath. A long conversation with a missed friend. Reading a good book. Watching a sunset.
This is a very different sort of hedonism than that presented by the Cyernaics, but it is another philosophy that sees in life, the importance of sensual experience as the highest ethical pursuit.
How Camus Differs
I bring up these two philosophies, and could bring up many others that supply some variation on the “hedonistic” ethical position, because I want to distinguish them from Camus. Because there is something more to Camuss’ exit from absurdity.
Camus’ delight in the natural world, and the experiences there, are not nearly as so extravagant as those espoused in Cyrenaism and not nearly as asture as those espoused in Epicureanism. What Camus’ was proposing was a middle ground between these two philosophies. Not explicitly proposing, but he did land there in his attempt to provide a shred of meaning to a meaningless world.
I will not deny that there is a bit of Cyrenaism and Epicureanism mixed in with the ideas Camus’ proposes but the most important aspect of his philosophy – the idea of the Absurd – is lacking. Because of that lack, the ethical purpose of sensual pleasure seeking in Camus’ philosophy is done for a different purpose than most other hedonistic philosophical ideas.
As the world lacks meaning, and we are made absurd in it by trying to give it meaning, we gain peace from that absurdity by retreating to the safe haven and obvious potency of our sensual perceptions and we gain freedom by refusing to give meaning to the meaningless.
Delighting In The Sensual
The world does not have to have meaning to be beautiful and worthwhile. The natural world, while random and untameable and lacking any inherent meaning, is also fascinating and exciting, and to be able to experience the sensuality of it can be a source of constant joy and gratitude.
There needn’t be a why on the cool wind that runs over your sweat soaked skin on a hot day. There does not have to be any deeper explanation behind the swishing silk sound of skin against skin created by a naked embrace with another. No one need question the purpose of a child’s laugh, or the sound of rain, or the smell of fresh cut grass on those first spring days, to be able to enjoy them.
These things, and a million other sensual experiences, need no explanations if we choose to embrace them fully in the moment of their being. It is the goal then to immerse ourselves in the visceral, sensual, immediate pleasures of the natural phenomenon around us as much as possible. In that lies your salvation from absurdity.
This includes people. Exploring with sincere curiosity and sensual intent the being of another person is a magical way to find in them the little pieces of experience that make them more than another meaningless construct of consciousness bouncing around this big rock. In that person is a host of possibilities for mutual enjoyment, pleasure, meaning, and happiness. The same as in you, but we need to see in them, and offer up to them, all the sensual pleasures we can create.
It is necessary to fall in love… if only to provide an alibi for all the random despair you are going to feel anyway. – Camus
That’s what love is, after all. It is when two people offer each other mutually magnificent and significant sensual experiences. When two people come together who know how to offer the right level of nearly all sensual pleasures to a another person it spawns love.
The right level of speech through respect and interest. The right level of arousal through the visual physicality and through deeper physical touching. The right level of fragrance that solidifies the memory of them in the mind and offers the strongest reminders when they are away. Even the right level of taste, the flavor of kisses and of their “themness”.
When all of these things come together to the right degree, we fall in love. Through that shared sensuality that allows us the only real opportunity for meaning or purpose in the world. That is why love feels so powerful. Because we find someone who shares our sensual version of the world. The only version that gives meaning to our lives.
The Meaning Of Life For Camus
You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. – Camus
The meaning of life then for Camus’ is to return consistently to the ever present unfolding of experiences in all of our senses and to delight in their abundance and possibility. The mere fact that we are alive to experience such a thing as this world is a mysterious magic in itself, and that we were blessed with such beautiful modes of perception to experience it all is a great gift.
So, day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, we draw ourselves back to this experience of living. To the fresh cut smell of grass and the finger tap rhythm of rain. To the breath stealing warmth of a lover’s kiss and the new life smell of an infant. A million opportunities for meaning made of the sensual. Meaning derived from the sheer experience of it.
Go outside right now – I don’t care where you are -and your senses will explode. Sure, some of it will be undesirable. The smell of car exhaust. A screeching siren. An cacophony of voices. But that it is possible for you to feel at all, through your sensual experience, is the magic and meaning of life. That is the life for Camus’. That he is an experiencer of it. Of whatever random, meaningless, stretch of time this is, it is made magnificent and worthwhile because we can experience it now. Here. In this very moment. It is ours and it is everything and it means the world to us.
So, I have a confession to make. It’s a pretty damning confession from someone who writes about personal development and motivation and discipline. For those regular readers of my articles, you may have noticed that I have not posted in a while. Sorry about that. But holy shit, have I been in a rut. That is a hard thing to admit but God it feels good to say. Just admitting it makes it easier to accept. I don’t know where it is coming from. I have tried to dig it out. I just feel, hollow and lost. Like I am missing something in all of this or like I took a wrong turn somewhere. I know it is a temporary thing. It has happened in the past, and I will figure out the cause, but it has me in it’s grip and it is not where I want to be.
I don’t want it to be true because I want to maintain the image that I am constantly making mountains of progress and slowly evolving into the perfect version of myself since I decided to undertake this personal development journey in earnest a couple years ago. But it’s just not true and I don’t want to be disingenuous to myself or to anyone else.
The truth is, this is not a linear path, this life committed to bettering yourself. It ebbs and flows. You win sometimes and other times you find yourself staring down the repercussions of a regrettable situation, yet again. People think that as soon as you commit yourself to personal development that somehow, overnight, you just change and all the stupid shit you used to do you stop doing.
But that’s not how it works. Personal development is a constant fucking war. It’s messy as all hell and you are going to lose as many, if not more, battles than you win. But that’s ok. A war is won by losing the right battles and winning the right battles. And we focus on winning the right battles by knowing which fights are winnable and which are worth winning. By deciding where we need to focus our attention and retreating from the fights we just can’t win right now.
I don’t ever see anyone in the personal development world talking about this, though. No one is talking about the occasional stagnation and backsliding that happens when you are seriously committed to the difficult work of bettering yourself and your life. The reality is, we are all just sloppy, distracted monkeys trying to be better for ourselves and for the people we love and for the world and being sloppy, distracted monkeys we are going to constantly stagnate or backslide into old, negative habits if we let ourselves.
But there are ways that we can regain ourselves when we are threatened with stagnation or returning to old negatives and directionless actions.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
This is my go to move. As soon as I catch myself moving back into old habits I start punishing myself in my mind. That comes from years of abusive voices saying it in my ears when I failed, so I have been trying to soften that voice into my own, but I don’t always win that fight.
I do know that, when I am soft and compassionate and kind with myself when I eventually fuck up, I feel better. I feel stronger and instantly more committed to returning to my progress of development instead of focusing on the mistake I made or the old habit I returned to.
There is something about being able to nurture yourself that is empowering. To be able to scoop up the pieces of your own broken things is a remarkable talent and it is an instant indicator of future success. If you can heal yourself after a defeat. Fuck. That’s a superpower.
And we heal ourselves after our mistakes by remembering that nobody has all of this shit figured out and we are going to fuck this up more often than not. It’s hard work and it’s painful work and it scary, sometimes directionless, lonely, occasionally upside work but it’s worth it and if we are committed to it we have to take the ups and downs with compassion and understanding.
The world is going to throw punches and shade and all kinds of other painful potentials at you. There is no reason you should do the same to yourself. Try to be gentle with your mistakes and remember that you spent years doing the stupid shit you are trying to change. It doesn’t happen overnight and you get nowhere by beating yourself up when you make a mistake.
Revisit Your Inspiration
Something pushed you over the edge last time. Something stark and vivid and you need to return to that moment. Very few people turn to a life of reflection, wisdom, and improvement without some higher motivation that slaps them on the back of the head when they are not looking.
Sure it creeps in slow but the moment of inspiration is a lightning strike. It is a crystallized moment of undeniable force and intensity. A loved one dying. A near death experience. A desperately low point. An epiphany of philosophy. A visit from the divine. Some tragedy or revelation. Something exploded inside you to set you on a course to live a life in accord with something higher in yourself and you need to get back there with all your senses and bring that inspiration back to life.
Meditate on it. Bring that moment back with as much detail and veracity as you can. Feel it and breathe it and let it burn inside you again so that you are fueled by the fires of it. Memories are powerful things and powerful memories are sacred. Use the divinity of them to reignite your purpose and discipline.
Pull The Weeds That Grew
And when you are reinvigorated from the memory of your inspiration, you set your heels in to doing all the dirty work of getting started again. Yeah. That’s the price you pay for neglecting your progress for a while. You get to start all over. Ok. Not all over. But you do have some serious garden tending to do.
Near the end of his satire, Candide, French enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire said that we should all “tend our own gardens”. Voltaire here is suggesting that we are all responsible for keeping our own affairs in life and his metaphor is an apt one for my own suggestion regarding the work we must do after a hiatus from our progress.
In this beautiful garden we are striving to grow in our minds and our lives, we are responsible for the maintenance of it. Our decision to make changes in our life had us begin the tilling and preparation of that garden, and we slowly began planting new seeds in there that would grow in place of the weeds that grew there before.
But those weeds are relentless and they will grow again in your garden if we are not vigilant and take efforts to constantly pull them out as they surface. And those weeds will always try to grow back when we are not looking. And there will always be a few hanging around that we miss, but you have to make sure we are constantly pulling what weeds we see and making sure our garden is more of the seeds we planted and not strangled by the weeds.
Is that metaphor too convoluted? Fine. Moral of the story is this – when you neglect the attention of the good habits you are trying to build, those pesky, motivated bad habits are going to resurface in their place, so you have to restart the good habits and keep a close watch on there redevelopment in order to be successful with them. They take care and patience to be become the good habits we want to replace the bad we don’t.
Ignoring The Critics
Ok. So you backslid. Or made a mistake. Or got distracted for a month with travel and a lack of inspiration and motivation. Whatever. As soon as you try to get back on track and return to the progress that you were trying to make you are going to hit a brick wall of uninformed critics. I can promise that. People calling you out on your lack of authenticity or mistakes. That is just how some people are.
If you do anything even remotely abnormal, like trying to follow some pesky dream or trying to pursue some imagined better life, there are always going to be assholes who try to shit on your parade. Always.
But if we get comfortable identifying and devising a strategy for dealing with critics they become nothing more than testament to our progress. Because the more we improve our lives the more critics come out of the woodwork as they look at their own shitty, stagnant lives and try to bring you back down to their level.
These are people who just straight up don’t like your shit. They were never on your side, never pretended to be on your side, and are going to take every chance they can get to talk shit to you and about you. These are usually people who don’t know you. Their criticisms are usually false and fucking ridiculous but they can occasionally score a hit on some sensitive part of our lives.
When they do, we have to just let that shit slide off of our backs. Anyone who is actively pursuing an assassination attempt on your character or trying to dissuade you from a dream chasing idea or habit is obviously not worth your time. Easier said then done, I know, but a good strategy is to ask yourself what pain or misery that person has in their life that is prompting them to attack yours. Most people you criticize others are merely vocalizing the dissatisfaction they have in their own lives. If we can develop a little compassion for our critics we can easier accept their childish attempts at sabotaging our progress.
The most magical superpowers of the best critics is that they know exactly when to strike and how deep to cut. The best critics come out in the darkest parts of your night and they cut the deepest wounds. Friends and family are particularly good at this because they know you the best. These are usually your covert critics.
The reality is, most critics don’t think they are being critics. They think they are saving you from something. That by pointing out the impossibility of something they are saving you from some future hurt. You know what the problem with that is? By saving us from a future hurt you are just causing one perpetual one.
By telling someone that what they are going after is not going to work out, or it’s too hard, or now is not the right time, whatever, you are causing a constant level of doubt, dissatisfaction and anxiety that their dreams are unreachable. Who the fuck has the right to tell anyone that? Seriously. No one has any idea what someone else is capable of or what lives in their heart. No one has any right or reason to save anyone from a future hurt that is gained in the pursuit of a dream. I think almost everyone would rather fail in pursuit of a dream than succeed in the mundane.
So when these covert critics pop up and try to stealthily sabotage your progress, just remember that they are usually coming from a place they think is good and it is enough to smile, nod and go fucking prove them wrong.
If you are pursuing something great in your life, there will come a time when you are going to run face first into a wall and it is going to stop you dead in your tracks. It happens to everyone. Be it a lack of motivation, a general lack of confidence or progress, a fading of your inspiration, or the stinging words of critics. Whatever it is, something is going to threaten your continued progress down the path you want to take in this personal development journey of yours. But that’s ok.
It happens to everyone. Just because we choose to follow some great, distant dream of our future does not mean that the clouds will part, the path will become obvious, and we will skip our merry little asses towards it without any difficulty. In fact, the opposite is true.
Once you decide that you want to change something – that you want to go after something – that is when you prepare yourself for the impending war against the bad habits of your old self and negatives of the world that try to keep you from your progress. You will fight a million battles, each threatening to remove you from the battlefield, but every loss is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve and return again to the reasons for our conflicts and the purpose for our pain.
You won’t always get this right, and sometimes you will have large lapses in progress, but the goals isn’t to get to where you want to be following a straight line, it is to stagger your ass over the finish line in any way that you can. The only things that matters is relentless forward progress. Nothing else matters. And that means that every time you take a step backward or you stop moving, you find the strength and the reason to begin again. That’s all this is, this idea of betterment. It is a constant offensive against the powers, internal and external, that would have us lose the war for our happiness and well being. So, we fight like it matters and we never accept a temporary defeat as a sign that the war has been lost. You only lose if you stop fighting.
This is going to be one of those articles that I put out that is more catharsis than meaningful practical, tactical advice or wisdom. One of those articles where I open up a vein and bleed it out on the page, as Hemingway has always suggested. Maybe it will mean something beyond a bit of personal blood on the page to anyone who reads it. Maybe not. It’s OK if it doesn’t, because it means a lot to me.
What this article is, is a letter of forgiveness to an absent father now long passed and the lessons that can come from it. It is an attempt to find some closure and to release something heavy and burdensome from my heart. I know that this will not let it fully fly from my soul. His absence in my life will always be at least a small shadow. But this is the hope for a pinprick of light in that darkness, and maybe a beacon of hope to anyone who has also experienced something similar.
To that ends I want to say, I forgive you dad.
I forgive you for leaving a scared little boy to fend for himself. For leaving me to the viciousness of the men that came after you and for forcing me to pretend to be a man when I was terrified of the world and I needed my dad to shield me from the misery of life that is only barely manageable after you grow up. I forgive you for putting me in a position where I had to defend my mother and my sisters. For not being there to protect me from the beatings I took, mentally and physically. For the poison you put in my heart about love and security and my self worth.
I forgive you for never reaching out after you left. For never checking up on me or your daughters. For never sending a birthday card. For never taking us to the park or for an ice cream cone or sitting with us and playing a shitty, stupid game of Candy Land.
I forgive you for that phone call you made to me when I was 18. The one where you told me you were were dying and you need some of my liver. I never heard your voice before and it was strange to have a feeling so strong to want to know the man behind a stranger’s voice. I wish I could remember now what you sounded like. I might imagine the conversation went differently.
I forgive you for the shame and the grief that phone call caused because of the decision I made. The angry, petulant decision that ensured I would never, ever get to see you. I could have given you life. I suspect it would have been the same life you gave me, the one where we were never together, but I could have at least given you that. It would have been something and I would not have had to carry around this guilt for the last 21 years.
I forgive you for all this, because I want you to know something; the only space you have ever had in my head is a sad one and I don’t want you to live there anymore. I am cleaning out that closest and you can not stay there. You are an old, dusty thing that has been there too long and I need to unburden myself of those old hurts so that the new ones have a little room to breathe.
So you are moving out of that sad closet in my head and you can have a place in my heart. A small place where you put those small things that you are not even sure exist, but it is a place for you all the same.
You should know, before you go from my head to my heart, that my son will never know you, because I have no stories to tell him. I half believe he thinks I was immaculately conceived because he has never asked about my father and even if he did I have nothing I could tell him. He will not know you because I never knew you. Nothing. I have nothing of you except for the name we share. The name he now shares with us and the name I am working to restore so that when he walks around with it it means something more than what you or I ever made it mean. But I forgive you for that all that, as well.
And among all this forgiveness I offer you one solitary thank you.
I thank you because you did one thing right. You picked the right woman. You picked the right woman to create a child with and I learned what I needed about being a man from that woman. The woman you left with those three kids to fend for herself. The woman that struggled to provide for us, yet who made sure we were never truly without. I call her mother. My sisters call her mom. She is probably divine, but in her mortal form she raised that little boy you left and did what she could to make him a man.
I thank you because, while I wanted you, I never needed you. I had her. And while you get that small, still place in my heart, she gets the rest. She get’s the space that keeps growing.
I recovered from your absence and the brutality that came after you because I was lucky enough to be left with her. And when I teach my son lessons about being a man know that they come from her, not from you. I don’t say that to be cruel to you. I say that to be kind to her. Because she deserves the credit and I owe her that at least for the lifetime of hurts you and I heaped upon her.
With that in mind, here are only a small part of the things she has taught me.
Courage and strength come in many forms
The ability for a human to be courageous and strong has nothing to do with the dangling junk between their legs. The ideas of courage and strength have been synonymous with manliness for as long as they have existed but the lessons I learned about these manly traits never came from a cock.
They came from a mother who had the courage to stand up to men that wanted nothing more than to break us as individuals and as a family. They came from her constant battle against the forces of poverty and the hardships of a system that make women second class workers yet still finding a way to keep us fed and clothed and with a place to live.
But it’s not just struggle and battle that makes courage and strength possible. It is in vulnerability as well. It is in the capacity to keep loving after it goes wrong so many times. My mother is a professional at that. She has a shitty picker but a pliable ticker. Her heart has been broken, shattered, crushed under heel like a dry brittle bone, but she has never stopped putting it out there and that is one of the most courageous and strengthening lessons I have ever learned from her. And it paid off, because she finally picked a good one. Or that good one picked her. They picked each other and that was only possible because she kept opening up her heart and letting people in.
That’s something a man needs to be able to do. To be vulnerable and let themselves open up a little to the world. Does it suck sometimes to put yourself out there and open up and have someone nut-punch you for your efforts? Fuck yeah it does. But it’s going to suck even if you don’t do that. And it’s going to suck in a way that leaves you empty and hollow. I would rather face the pain and keep trying to get it right, than empty out all the possibility and shut it all down.
Power does not mean physical might
The first entry in the dictionary definition of powers is, “the ability to act or produce an effect”. That’s the power I am talking about here. Not the possession or control over others that men usually go for.
There is a delusional definition of power that is must come from physical presence or domination. That it must come from force and subjugating others to your will. I faced down those sort of power mongers. I stared them in their eyes floating in whiskey or beer and I felt the impotent strength of their power. There is nothing powerful in that. There is only lack. A sad emptiness that manifests as violence and rage.
Because you want to know what makes a man powerful? Sacrifice. Through doing what must be done so that others that rely upon him can do and have the things they need.
The kind that has you working late and hard and then coming home to make sure the house is clean, the homework is done, the ball is thrown, the bellys are filled, the kids are bathed, the beds are tucked and the day is done. All before you settle into a moments rest before you collapse down on the couch to do it all over again. Because it is the only way it would get done. That’s the sort of power I learned from my mother and that’s the power a man should have.
I also learned that sometimes power means resilience. It means exposing yourself to a world that you know is going to beat you down but doing it anyway in order to accomplish something bigger. My mother has always been good at picking herself back up when she has gotten knocked down. She is a heavyweight boxer in that regard. She gets in the ring with every opponent she has to face and, though she may take a handful to the chin, she wins every fight because she never stops giving herself to the world. I want to be that sort of man. That kind that has the toughness to face an opponent that he knows is going to demolish him, but is never sacred to open up and do it all over again.
Your Mind Is Great Gift
There is one secret gift that I prize above all others that my mother bestowed upon me. A gift that changed my life and allowed me to temporarily escape the madness of our situations. That gift was a love of reading. I suspect she knew the power in those pages. How it could take you away from where you were and bring you into a world that was so much more. I am sure that she gave me that gift so I could have a place to run to like she did. Whatever the reason, it saved my tiny soul.
If you were to enter my room when I was a very small child, after I was tucked into bed for the night, you would have found me with the comics of the newspaper. The green sheet, it was called. It started there. The funnies. I needed the funnies. It escalated to Garfield books and then to choose your own adventure books and further into the early classics, before I opened my mind and just started consuming it all. Every fucking book I could find. And we never had a shortage.
I have never stopped reading. I am like a man parched from thirst and the only healing liquid is the steady stream of words you can find in the pages of a book. That precious gift has made sure that, despite the school expulsions, the drugs, the random and disastrous fuck-ups I committed to in life, I had a place to retreat to and dream in. A place that would push me towards the achievement that I eventually accomplished. There is no power greater than that found in the constant search for more words – for more knowing.
Now intelligence is not merely a man’s trait, obviously, but it is a trait that I am glad my mother gave me, because it makes me more of a man everyday. To be able to think and consider and analyze the situations of my existence and come to reasoned and practical solutions has served me well over the years. There is an irrationality that comes from a lack of intelligence. Something that leaves you bare to the winds of life without a buffeting shield to consider which way they are blowing before you go out there and move in them. And in those books I also found role models that I would need to fill the chasm left by my father’s absence. Men that I could look up to and who would defines aspects of my being that is the usual duty of a father.
As I said at the beginning, these are not the only lessons about being a man my mother has given me, but they are the most powerful and have been the longest lasting. These are the core that I will pass on to my son in the hopes that he can continue to be more than I ever had the chance to be at his age. I have more now that I have learned from the experiences I have had and the books I have read. Those lessons will come as well. But they all spawn from what my mother gave me.
I see my son as a reflection of what I could have been had I the right environment, the right structure, the right foundation, and the right tools. My mother gave me everything she could and more, but a boy needs his father. He does. And that is what I am always going to be for him. But when he looks at me – the man that I have become – and asks me how I became that man, I am going to look him dead in the eyes, smile a wistful, knowing smile, and tell him that it was because a woman taught me how.
It has been sometime since I have vomited out a profanity laced article that tackles the lighter side of all this personal development shit. With that in mind, I want to tackle a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Dealing with assholes.
Perhaps it is because I have been an asshole as often as had to deal with them that I am so fond of the subject of finding ways to cope with them. Perhaps it is because the longer I live the more variety of assholes I find in this world. Perhaps it is just me getting old and miserly and growing fully into my curmudgeonly ways. Whatever the reason, I have never had a shortage of assholes to deal with in my life.
And because of that, I have found many ways to handle their assholery and even found a few ways of not adding my own particular flavor of asshole to the mix.
If you are offended by profanity, stop reading this. It only goes downhill from here. If you are under the age of whatever is acceptable for reading swear words, read this in secret without your parents knowing. Do not read this out loud if their are kids in the room and you don’t want them to hear “naughty” words, probably even if pets are in the room, as some pets can be highly offended by such uncouth language. In fact, you probably shouldn’t read this out loud at all. I am not sure what the universe is going to do to you for saying this many cuss words in such a short amount of time. You have been warned, and I refuse any negative karma you throw at me for writing this disgusting mess.
How To Deal With Assholes
Understand that everyone is coming from someplace broken
This is the best way I know how to deal with assholes. I just look into their eyes, their angry, sullen asshole eyes, and I imagine all the pain and sadness and hurt and accumulation of broken hearts and shattered dreams and ruined hopes that live in there and it is all I can do to not break down in tears and hug them and tell them that it is all going to be OK.
I mean, think about it. Every person you meet has gone through so much struggle and pain and tragedy in their lives. People dying. Broken homes. Abuse. Loss. Physical maladies. You have no idea how much suffering someone is going through at the very moment of their assholeness and that should give you a little space to open up to the possibility that they are really hurting right now and that is why the are being an asshole. I am not saying that everyone’s struggles and pains and tragedies are the same but everyone has had some and their experience of them is not very much different then your experience of them in most cases.
I am merely saying that we should appreciate that people come from a lot of misery, from infancy to adulthood, and they carry that around with them constantly. Is it fair for them to to shit all over other people because of that? No. But we can develop a little compassion in those situations where we have to deal with difficult people if we remember that most people are coming from a place of hurt when they are assholes and knowing that people are hurting should make us want to help, not contribute to their harm.
Remember that we all just want to be happy
Yes, most people don’t know how to find happy, so it comes out as screaming and yelling and overreacting to small, imagined slights or projecting insecurities on others in toxic ways, but at the end of the day, all anyone is trying to do is find a little fucking sunshine that they can hold on to in this world.
And that’s the problem. Happiness is just some formless, intangible, random heat. It can’t be grasped or held or captured. It just comes and goes when it wants like some flippant beam of sunlight and sometimes we slip into a little golden ray of it. And it feels all warm and fuzzy and we get those little tingles over our skin, until suddenly a cloud comes and throws us into shade again and happiness is gone and everything is cold and we go storming off to chase it down again and strangle the living shit out of it for being so flighty.
We need to remember that everyone is seeking that something that makes them feel warm and unfortunately most people have been indoctrinated with the idea that to get what they want they have to shit on what other people want. Hence, they become assholes. If we can understand that most people’s actions are merely their misplaced movements towards whatever happiness they can find, it allows us to see their struggles in a different light and develop a connection with their search and our own.
Focus on your reactions
Holy shit do I hate when people walk really slowly and I am stuck behind them. Seriously. You have no idea how many times I have fantasized about punching an old man in the back of the head because of how slow he is moving. What the fuck old man! I am super god damn important and have super god damn important places to be!! Can’t you hear how loud my footsteps are and all the purpose in my stride?! Move!!!
And in those moments, where I cock back my arm and make a fist, and find that shiny, soft spot in the back of his head I take a breath, I unclench my fist, and I remember that sometime the biggest asshole I have to deal with is myself. That voice in the back of my head that is whispering all this entitled bullshit into my ear and telling me to step on anyone else to get what I want. I wish I could punch that voice, because it does not good to respond to assholes with your own asshole behavior.
The assholes that you have the most difficulty with are not always going to be external. They are occasionally going to manifest as your own reactions towards others and the repercussions of those unskillful activities. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies and the only surefire way to deal with ourselves is to get honest and work to change those things that make us contributing assholes to this world. This means digging into what makes you tick and what explodes your excrement all over the world and rooting those things out in the slow process of awareness and self-improvement.
How To Not Be An Asshole
Keep your shit together
I have to let you in on a little secret. It’s a hard secret to know but it’s a true secret and one that you really need to understand if you are not going to be an asshole in this world. Ready? Ok. Here it is. Nobody gives a shit about your feelings. Boom. Fucking bucket of truth shit right there.
OK. OK. Some people will sometimes care about your feelings but the average everyday stranger, the people that we are most often assholes to, those people don’t give a flying fuck about your bad day or your shitty marriage or your sick grandmother. It sucks, but it’s true. And that’s OK. They don’t have to. You should definitely have some people in your life that care about your feelings, and I am sure you do, but usually you have to compartmentalize that baggage and emotional upheaval in a way that you are not constantly puking it out into the world because no one cares and no one understands. All they see and hear is someone being an asshole.
What I am saying is, we have to get better at working through our life issues internally and in reasonable settings and not drag it with us through our day and snapping at people who don’t deserve it or committing actions out of places of misplaced anger and aggression. Meditation helps. As does talking to people close to you in a comfortable setting. Giving yourself reasonable outlets for your sadness or anger. Hobbies. Fitness. Whatever. Just find other ways to deal with your shit besides randomly spraying it all over unsuspecting strangers.
Stop Being Negative
Listen. We all know this world is going to shit and we are flying down a mountain at a reckless speed in a vehicle with no brakes and the guardrails are off the road, but we can’t have everyone in the world running around like a fucking chicken with it’s head cut off. Some people need to keep their shit together because that goes a long way to not being an asshole.
Most of the time people are assholes because they let all their toxic, negative, pessimistic, garbage spill out of their dirty mouth holes. Everyone already knows the world sucks, so stop adding your particular disgusting flavor of doomsday prophecy to the mix. It’s not original and it smells just as shitty as everyone else’s.
Instead, why don’t you try to puke some rainbows? Maybe go naked-bareback-a-unicorn-down-a-yellow-brick-road this mother fucking world for a little while and spread some cheer. If the world needs anything it just needs more positivity. A bigger sense of hope. Something to look forward to. I am not saying turn a blind eye to the tragedy of all this shit. I am saying that none of it is as serious as we want it to be and a whole hell of a lot more to be hopeful about then there is to despair.
Remember that you are also a piece of shit
Ok. Ok. I am obviously not really saying that you, or anyone, is a piece of shit. Well. Some people are pieces of shit, but that’s besides the point. I am just being purposely salacious to get the point across that whatever asshole things you call out in people, you are full of asshole things as well. Infact, those things you see in others that drive you bat shit crazy, they are probably things you don’t like about yourself.
We are all so fantastically flawed. Everyone of us a broken diamond, and pointing at the little cracks and impurities in someone else’s shine means you are not paying attention to the cracks and impurities in your own. Most people know what is wrong with them. It’s why they are assholes to begin with, to cover those imperfections up, and no one needs you to point it out to them.
Better you spend a little time in trying to identify what character qualities you are lacking in yourself and turn your attention to improving those things instead of spending your energy on being a flaw detector in others. You have an opportunity in every agitation you find in others to find the source of it in yourself. And after having done so, you can root that shit out and have one less asshole quality in you that makes you less of a piece of shit.
Be Happy For Other People
You want to know a really easy way how not to be an asshole? Be sincerely excited about other people’s fortunes instead of turning it around as a reflection on the lack of your own fortunes. You know what I mean. When someone tells you some really good news and that pang of jealousy stabs your heart and the why-not-me’s start dancing around in your head and you steal the enthusiasm of the moment with a lackluster congratulations and a piss poor excuse for shared excitement. We have all been there. It’s natural but it’s an asshole thing to do.
Celebrating other people’s accomplishments is a way to celebrate the fact that the universe lets anyone achieve anything at all. The fact that good shit can happen to anyone is an awesome lottery to play. Sure, you are going to get shit on constantly, but every day you keep scratching that ticket and every once in a while you hit a jackpot big enough worth celebrating and when that time comes, you are going to want to share it with other non-assholes who will celebrate with you. So, be happy for other people and other people will be happy for you.
I am not even going to offer an apology for all the profanity in this article. I think each and every “asshole” and “shit” and “fuck” and every other expletive is necessary. Because all that offense is the hallmark of an asshole, and as I said at the beginning of this article, I have given as much as I have received in the asshole department.
But more than that, it’s all necessary, in my opinion, because it tempers some of the seriousness of the epidemic of people just being really cruel to one another for no other reason then that they are having a hard time working through the daily, weekly, yearly, lifetimes of pain and sadness that lives in all their hearts. Because they are really scared about what is happening in the world and their first reaction is defense. Because they honestly don’t understand how to be any different than a reaction to all this craziness of life.
But don’t be that person. It’s OK to be scared. It is. We all are. It’s OK to have all that pain and hurt and sadness inside of you and not know what to do with it or who to take it to and who to trust with it. We all feel that way. It’s OK to not know where this world is going and sincerely fear for the future of humanity. Every single one of us is unsure and we are all looking for hope.
But none of that is an excuse to be an asshole. If anything, it’s a reason to be anything but.
If you haven’t noticed from reading over my blog, I write a great deal about romantic love. It is something that interests and intrigues me like few other subjects. It is an emotional state like no other in that it can persist for such a long time and change us so completely. It is a root emotion, in so much as it spawns so many other branches of emotions in it’s growth and expression.
From love comes happiness, contentment, joy, excitement, sadness, jealousy, longing, and sometimes even hate. The entire spectrum of emotions is captured in the many stages and manifestations of romantic love and it is perhaps because of that great mixing pot of confusing feelings that so many myths have been brought to life and persisted in the name of love.
Romantic love is a beautiful expression of our being and, as such, it should be pursued with a recklessness of heart and mind. But I would like, as I like with all things, for that pursuit to be reasoned and if we are to do that we need to first debunk some dangerous myths about love that will ruin our chances of ever keeping it.
You Have A Soulmate
This idea of a soulmate was spawned from Plato’s Symposium, where the character Aristophanes relates the tragic myth of how we each came to be separated from our other half by the angry lightning bolts of Zeus. It is a such a beautiful allegory that has spawned a mountain of absolute horse shit ideas about the pursuit of love. This myth has co-opted our language of romantic love and turned our pursuits of it into “merging” and “finding the one” and other nonsense that has us holding out for some ultra special person that is only for us.
Let me be very, very clear about this myth. You DO NOT have a soul mate! You do not have a special, only-for-you, “other half” out there in the world and you should not be looking for your “other half” as a means to complete you. No one is going to fill you up, not in the way that you want them to anyway. You are already complete and if you don’t feel that way it is because you do not yet understand what it means to be complete.
You want to know what you should do instead of wandering around looking for your soulmate? Get into your own head and figure out who the fuck you really are and connect the pieces of your heart and soul so that you feel complete alone! I am not reinforcing the old adage of learning to love yourself. I think that aphorism is bullshit anyway. I know that I am never going to fully love myself. And I am ok with that. It doesn’t mean I can not love another fully. Because I know that what love really requires is not that we come to love ourselves but that we come to know ourselves. In that aphorism is the real power of true romantic love.
If you really want to find something close to your “soulmate”, then you have to know what’s is in your own soul. You need to know what values you champion and what virtues you esteem. You need to know what the good life looks like to you and in getting clear about that, about the whole of who you are and what you would like your life to look like, only then you can go out and find someone that mirrors those values and virtues and ideas about life. And only then will you find something that resembles a soul mate. Not because they were destined to be with you, but because you attracted each other through your common pursuits, values, and interests.
I am not saying you go out and find a perfect copy of what you desire in this world, but at the very least you should find a compliment to yourself, as that is what a true “soulmate” looks like. But you are never going to be able to do that unless you do some deep internal digging and figure out who you are, what you value, and what you want your life to look like.
True Love Is All About Passion
As the beginnings of love come with an overwhelming flow of intense passion and romanticism, we often feel like that is what the entirety of what love should look like. We believe that all of love should be surprise flowers and romantic dinners and intense sexual relations. It is portrayed that every moment should be a firework explosion of enviable desire and connection. True romantic love is not that, though.
Yes, romantic love should always have moments of passion. Moments of poetry and beauty that swim in your head and moments where you catch yourself with a smile for no other reason than you are thinking of your beloved, but it can’t all be that. This idea has been the catalyst for so many relationships ending before they had a chance to truly become something with depth and meaning.
Passion is easy. It doesn’t require any effort. It just happens. It is like getting sick. You are suddenly struck with something that you did not have before. And it overwhelms your body and your mind. But that feeling is going to fade. I can promise you that. You will learn things about your love that deflate that sense of passion in your every waking moment. Your beloved shits and it stinks. Your beloved doesn’t always look like an angel. Your beloved is a human being with flaws and pains and a million tiny cracks that need to be handled with care and concern and passion isn’t the right tool for that job.
And that’s ok. You can’t sustain the intensity of passion, anyway. It would burn you to ash. What you should realize and work towards is sustaining moments of passion alongside the moments of pragmatic romanticism. Work on a controlled burn of your heart. You need to realize that real romantic love, a real relationship, is just as much about those soft, subtle moments of connection as they are about the intense moments of passion. When you can get to that understanding you will approach a maturity of love that most people never achieve.
You Can Be Everything To Someone
Listen, as much as we would like to think that we can be everything to that person that we love, we can’t be. We are going to suck at some things that your partner really needs and wants in their life and, if you expect them to have to get those things from you, it is going to be a really shitty experience for them and they are going to eventually resent you for forcing that on them. And poof, there goes your love.
The alternative is to just accept the fact that your partner is going to look other places to have certain needs met and you should want that for them. If you really care for their well being and happiness, as love should imply, then you should want them to have their needs met by any means necessary. Now, this could mean so many different things to so many different people but the key point here is that we should not seek to keep our love isolated from satisfying their needs with other people. We should be secure enough in the strength of our feeling for them and the strength of our relationships to encourage them to find their love wherever they need to find it.
Love Lasts Forever
This myth is the hardest one to experience but thankfully the easiest one to forget. I think everyone remembers the first time they were faced with this myth in the flesh. The gut wrenching pain, the heart thumping sadness, the sudden hollow growing in your heart, and the sound of shattering glass as everything seems to break and crumble in your mind. You thought it would be forever. You thought that love was an eternity and to see it dissolve into an ice cold nothing is a pain that few pains can rival.
The reason heartbreak hurts so much is that when we enter into our romantic relationships, we are entering into a contract of sorts. We are entering into an agreement with an implicit end date of never, because our hearts are so tangled in the joy and excitement and nowness of our love that we can not imagine an expiration. Something about the initial stirrings of love make us believe that this is it. This is the forever we have always been waiting for.
But almost every love will expire, for so many reasons that are neither good nor bad. My concern is not to qualify the reasons we fall out of love but to get us to recognize that love does not promise forever. Love promises now and it should be approached as now because that is where the joy of it is. It is in those too short moments of togetherness that makes a love powerful and worthwhile and that is where we need to exist in it. Wanting your love to last forever forces you to hold onto it too tightly, to strangle it to submission, and what remains in its place looks nothing like love. It looks like captivity. Like a caged animal that we claim that we care for but never let out because we are afraid it will escape.
So, yes. That means you are going to love and lose many times in your life, if you are lucky. And every time you do so it is going to hurt like hell but in that hurt, if you pay close attention to where the pain is going and what it looks like, you will learn something new about yourself and about the direction of your life and you will jump back into that pool of love again. I promise.
Love Is Not Hard
No greater myth has contaminated the beautiful wellspring of romantic love than that created by Hollywood and its portrayal of love as something effortless. I am not saying that love should be a constant struggle of arguments and difficulties. What I am saying is that love – after the initial glow of those intense feelings wear off and the fading remnants of the smoldering fire you consummated are mere embers – takes effort.
You need to make time to be together despite your busy schedules. You need to tangle together your friends and families and deal with conflicting personalities and ideas from others about what your love should look like. You need to make occasional sacrifices. You need to give up something about yourself that doesn’t feed into the strength of your relationships. Not give up something important to your happiness but give up some things so that you can replace them with things that brings you closer together. All these aspects of love are difficult but necessary for a successful romance.
This means biting your tongue sometimes when your beloved does something a different way than you do. This means going to events you don’t want to go to with a smile because they are important to your beloved. This means holding back your beloved’s hair as she pukes her guts out because she is sick. It means helping her fight her battles that you think are silly or helping her chase dreams that you might think are impossible. It means doing difficult things that suck sometimes because in the long run they all add up to a collective strength and intimacy that immature love never approaches. All of these things add up to a love that is whole and lasting and none of it is easy.
The moral is, love is not easy. Anyone who tells you it is has never truly been in love. They have never moved into the more meaningful stages of romantic love that require effort and work to grow and flourish. The truth is, romantic love requires a great deal of labor and time and energy but if you do it right, all of that hardship is an investment leading to something greater than what it started as. You will move from that initial, unsustainable dopamine rush of passionate love into the more rewarding varieties of love that can last a lifetime.
Love Is All You Need
I love the Beatles, but they obviously don’t know shit about love. Despite what they claim, love is not all you need. You need so much more than that to make sure that the romantic relationships you have with people in the world are valuable and fulfilling and long-lasting.
You need respect, kindness, appreciation, patience, time, proximity and a million other small and large things to make your romantic love life a success. Thinking that because you have this strong feeling of desire and joy for someone it will be enough to weather the storms of love is setting yourself up for an amazing amount of pain, sadness, and failure.
The problem with this idea is that is trivializes all the complimentary work needed to create a fulfilling sort of love; a love that lasts over the ebbs and flows that are inevitable in a relationship. Your can not rest your heart entirely on the feeling of love in order to get the most out of it. You have to reach further into the uncomfortable emotions that spawn out of love and get intimately familiar with them and how they manifest in your life.
In that exploration you will find all the other things you need to make your romantic love a success. You will discover the foundation stones that need to be placed in your life together to make sure that what you have now will be standing 50 years from now. And what you have will surely be based on love but it will not be all you need to build a relationship structure that has longevity and strength.
Romantic love is a very real and wondrous thing. I do not dispute the power and force of it. It is beauty like no other when it comes into your life and it can be so magically fulfilling as to make everything else in your life just a bit brighter and a bit clearer but we have to be careful not to believe the myths of love if we are serious about making it last.
We have to be willing to put in the work to make our love successful. We have to be willing to let our beloved find what they need in others. We have to dig very deep into ourselves and discover what we really want from a partner and then understand that, despite all of our hard work, our love might still leave us.
All of these things are ok. They don’t diminish the magic of love. In fact, in understanding them, your experience of romantic love will be so much more rewarding and closer to the truth. And in that truth of love lies your opportunity to find something that actually lasts – a happily ever after that exists in something other than a fairy tale.