Oh, the river of useless platitudes that have flown out of the mouths of well-intentioned people, to which I must occasionally include myself. Yes. I know we don’t always mean to be so generic and unhelpful on purpose. Sometimes we just don’t want to be bothered to offer actual, practical advice to people and sometimes we are at a loss about what to say that might help. A lot of the times, advice givers do not want to feel the responsibility for impacting a person’s life decisions, so we keep it generic on purpose, letting the advice recipient make of it what they will. I can understand that.
But whatever the reason for our irrelevant advice giving, there are some pieces of advice that we should always avoid giving – and always avoid accepting – if they are not paired with some practical ways on how to put the advice into practice.
I guarantee you have heard most of these before, or some variation of them, and upon hearing them you probably rolled your eyes, threw up your hands and called bullshit because they were utterly useless to you. Well, maybe we can make them a bit more relevant if we add some substance to them.
Just Be Happy
Everyone gets it. Happy is a state of mind. It’s a choice. It’s not related to outcomes or incomes. It’s something that comes from inside ourselves and the only way that we get there and stay there is if we pursue it internally. Most people understand that but you know what? Sometimes that shit is just not possible and choosing your way out of sadness is not a viable option. Sometimes the only real, tangible and practical solution to the pain in your life is to dig in and suffer through that shit with some tears, some ranting, and some sadness.
Choosing sadness when you are sad doesn’t mean that you are not choosing happiness. It means you are choosing to be with your emotions, good or bad, and are accepting them as a necessary part of life. You don’t have to run away from your sadness to achieve happiness, in fact, running from it may just make you more miserable in the long run because you repress the natural inclination of the mind and body to process the pain of your life.
Embrace that frown sometimes and realize that life is going to give you plenty of reasons not to be happy. Some will be dismissible – knowing which ones will depend a lot on your personality – but some will require that you are present with them and accept the misery of them. You don’t have to avoid that to live a generally happy life. In fact, accepting and embracing it might be the only way you CAN be happy in the long run.
Do What You Love
This piece of advice comes in a few flavors. Do what you love. Follow your passions. Live your dreams. Listen, I absolutely believe that we should all have big, bold, scary dreams that we constantly strive for. Things that take us out of our comfort zone and give us a little tremble of fear when we consider what it would take to achieve them. But I have to be really honest with you – some of your dreams are not made to be followed. They are made to be the mirage that keeps you moving through life towards something amazing that could actually exist for you.
No matter what bullshit anyone tells you, you can not do absolutely anything you want. I’m sorry, but you can’t. I guarantee you can do a whole hell of a lot more than you might be doing right now and some of your passions are within your grasp if you work hard and stay disciplined, but don’t be so naïve to think that all you have to do is try to do what you love and your life will be wonderful.
Yes, it is important to have dreams. Yes, you can accomplish most of your dreams by busting your ass on a daily basis and making some serious sacrifices. But don’t think for a second that trying to do what you think you love for the rest of your life is going to always satisfy you or think that you can just blindly pursue your passions and somehow come out on top. You won’t get there that way.
You have to be somewhat practical and dangerously tactical. Set up a strategic plan of attack to achieve your dreams. Be realistic, but be uncomfortably bold. Be fearless and relentless and try over and over to do what you love but understand when it’s time to pack that shit in and follow a somewhat lesser dream that has a more realistic opportunity to succeed. I imagine you have a lot of things you would really love to do and neglecting all your other dreams because you are trying to follow one lofty one doomed for failure is not a recipe for happiness in life.
Just Be Yourself
Great advice, unless of course, you have no fucking clue who the hell you are. Authenticity is not something you just know about yourself, it is something you create about yourself. You are who you are because you have decided to be that way. You have decided that certain values and meanings and lifestyles choices are preferable to others. You don’t like who you are? Then you better decide to value other things and change your life accordingly, but never think that you just ARE yourself, without any effort. Being yourself requires serious work because you have to decide who you want to be and then put in the work to get there.
Every day you get to decide what it is you value in the world and what you decide to value is what you project of your authenticity to the world. Being authentic is a constant state of action, it is not a passive awareness. Your entire life has been spent becoming something through the influence of everything around you.
The first thing you have to do to live authentically as yourself is to evaluate the choices you make on a daily basis and decide if they align with the sort of person you want to be. Not the sort of person you already are but the person you want to be. Find mentors and role models that are the epitome of the person you would like to become and find out how they became that way.
Don’t copy. That won’t help you become you. But you can emulate. Take aspects of their successes and fold them into your life and your experience and by doing so create a perfectly unique expression of the values that you honor and that make you, you. Only then can you go around and “just be yourself”.
This is one that is similar to “just be happy”. The positive thinking mindset has been proven to be mostly new age bullshit. Sure, there is some occasional, obvious benefit to looking towards the brighter side of life and not getting stuck in an unnecessarily pessimistic spiral of negative thought, but there is nothing inherently wonderful or life-changing about trying to imagine the stinking piles of shit in your life into fragrant flower gardens.
I would argue that it is more beneficial for mental fortitude and resilience to practice something the Stoic philosophers called premeditated pessimism. Consider the worst-case scenarios sometimes and you can take the sting out of those possibilities. The possibility and repercussions of our failure or foibles become less powerful. Most of the times we inflate the impact that certain events will have on our lives, and that is what gets us caught up in a spiral of sadness and misery. We are not realistically imagining the outcomes of life’s difficult events.
Always thinking positively is a recipe for frustration and arguably a constant lie you tell yourself about the world. The world is not always positive. People die. People fall out of love. Bad things happen. You don’t have to always go on some fruitless, exhausting mission to find the silver lining in all this shit. Just accept that bad things will happen sometimes. Imagine the worst case scenario and realize things seldom get that bad. Accept that some things are out of your control and that, sometimes, the best you can do in a bad situation is embrace the pain of it all with some tears, some friends, some curse words and a sense of humor about the journey of life.
Life is not a motivational poster. There is necessary nuance to situations and pithy little nuggets of wisdom that are empty of application are fucking meaningless to people who actually need them. Usually when someone asks for advice they have already paged through the quote feeds on facebook so spare them these generic, empty affirmations.
I am not saying that these maxims don’t have some value when they are qualified with meaningful, personal and practical steps to achieve them. But just puking them out to people who are looking for serious, honest and heartfelt guidance is a really shitty thing to do and is always avoidable, even if you are at a loss for words.
Because the fact is, most of the time people are not looking for advice. They are merely looking for someone to listen to their complaints about life – to actually hear them with an open heart and an open mind and not just offer generic words to their personal situations. Nothing is so insulting as trivializing someone’s deeply emotional and personal lives and problems by making it seem like it’s so easily fixed by a few empty words.
We don’t have to try to give everyone the answers to their problems and we don’t have to take the answers others give us. We just have to remain engaged. Engaged with the people who need us and engaged with life in general through careful thought, consideration, and respect. I think if we can manage that, fewer people will ask for advice from you because they will see everything they need to know in your actions.
I have known a great many people that seem to have everything together in their lives. People that seem to have it all figured out. But as soon as any little wind tugs at their sails and pulls them slightly off course they pick up their ball and stomp away, decrying how unfair life is to put such a hardship into their life.
The fact is, any person can be controlled and calm and collected when their life is just fine, but who are you when your world is on fire? Who are you when the shit hits the fan and everything around you seems like it is collapsing – when you are struggling for breath against the weight of the mountain of obstacles that life has in store for you? Because who you are during those moments of your life will determine everything about who you can become for the rest of your life.
Asking myself this question and looking at the ways in which I, and others, react to difficulties in life has led me to understand that one of the greatest qualities a person can nurture of their personality is the quality of keeping your shit together when everything seems to be falling to pieces – of being a fucking fire fighter and not a fire starter.
I know it’s easy to breakdown when life has you against the ropes – to fall down into the fetal position and say fuck the world and fuck everything because I can’t catch a break and everything goes to shit anyway so why even try, but that’s the easy road. That’s the road that leads to mediocrity. To scraping by. To broken relationships that are never mended and to broken dreams that are never realized. To always being crippled by the push and pull of your emotions as you are slingshotted from shit storm to shit storm in your life. Nobody wants to live like that and nobody has to.
There is an alternative to being at the mercy of your emotions when confronting the struggles we all face. And that alternative is to work on cultivating a sense of calm, understanding and rationality despite the storms that rage around you. I will give you some methods of cultivating that at the end of this article but first I want to discuss why our reactions to life’s difficulties, both personal and public, matter.
Besides the obvious reason that it matters a great deal to your anxiety, happiness, and sense of efficacy in life, it matters more to the people that matter to you.
The Legacy You Leave
Look around you and you will see millions of reasons that you should seek to find tranquility in the chaos of life. There are all the people that need your quiet, steadfast and resolute guidance. Children that follow your example. Friends that look for your support. Family that needs your leadership. Strangers that need your reminder that in the midst of all the strange, unhinged and bat-shit-crazy nonsense that is going on in the world that there still stands some immovable beacons of calmness, sanity, wisdom, and rationality.
Oh sure. I know that rationality never finishes first in the horse races of dialog or politics or absolutely anything when dealing with irrational people and problems, but I am not talking about using rationality and sanity and wisdom and calmness to beat another, I am talking about using them to best yourself.
There is no stronger presence in a crumbling world than a person who stands unmoved and unaffected by the raucous inevitabilities of change. And if life is nothing else, it is constant change. Someone who has the faculty to search for solutions instead of adding to problems is someone who can rest confidently in the legacy they leave to the world and the people that matter to them.
If we could give no other gifts to our children or friends or family or each other as strangers, it should be to give the gifts of equanimity in the face of struggle, peace in the presence of pain and rationality in the company of ignorance. Those three things alone would change the entire world.
Navigating the Sociopolitical Landmines
But this idea of tranquility in the face of personal life problems extends further than the small sphere of our intimate relationships. It bleeds out into our interactions we have with people in the sociopolitical world as well.
We have a lot of people standing up for the wrong things right now. We have a lot of people screaming really loudly over fences built with bricks of ignorance, intolerance, hatred, and anger and all those voices are making a deafening noise of destruction.
Oh, they are saying things, Maybe things that should be said and things we should at least be able to discuss, but the way that they are saying them, nobody is ever going to hear it except for the people already shouting the same poisonous shit.
I know that standing in the chaos of that madness is difficult. It is hard not to scream right back and try to be louder than the pandemonium. But the reaction to that kind of insanity is not to stoop to their level of conversation. What we need to do is remain in control of our emotions and be the right kind of leaders.
Because what the world needs more than anything right now is leaders. I am not talking about rulers or politicians or bosses or superiors but leaders. I am talking about people who lead by example and do not have to resort to exaggerated control or bravado or puffed up pomp and circumstance.
The hallmark of a great leader is to be an anchor holding the ship steady against the beating of the waves. To remain calm and collected in the face of adversity. People see those people and they are naturally inclined to gravitate towards them. To lean in close to hear their calm whispers despite the volume of virulent voices around them.
I am not saying that we should not champion causes, that we should not fight for those causes or that we should not indulge the emotional connections we have with our ideas of right and justice and freedom and life philosophies. I am not saying we should not seek to oppose the forces of ignorance and intolerance. We always should.
I am saying that true leaders, the kind that deserves to be heard and followed and held up as leaders, are those that have a capacity for calm when all around them have been lit a flame. If you can be that sort of leader, you will always be a great value to a world that is falling apart.
Trying to Escape
The problem that most of us have is that when we are faced with some amazing struggle in our lives we instantly turn to some form of escape. Addiction, negativity, avoidance, anxiety, worry, anger. We rage against the world and we explode into emotional states that don’t speak to the quality of life that we are looking for. Obviously, this is not a desirable way of acting.
Throughout my life, I realized that the times it was hardest to keep everything together inside me were the times that I most needed a clear head and a concentrated awareness. The times when I felt most overwhelmed have always been those times that ended up being cornerstone bricks in the foundation of my growth. But it took me a long time to cultivate the composure necessary to be the kind of person that did not look to escape from my difficulties, but instead stood strong and immovable in the face of them, looking for a solution instead of adding to the pain.
So how did we become those kinds of people?
I have written before about the benefits of meditation but nothing has gone so far to help cleanse me of my natural inclination to rage against the struggles I face in living. Nothing has tempered the fires in my heart and the anger in my blood so much as my experience with meditation.
Now you don’t have to go off and study Buddhism with Tibetan monks or sit extended meditation retreats like I did. It is enough to begin a regular, committed practice of meditation in the comfort of your own home. There are countless websites and apps that can guide you through the process of meditation but the most important thing is establishing a disciplined practice. I guarantee that you will see the benefits quickly and the clarity and calm that begin to creep into the difficult moments of your life will be a soul saver.
I don’t know who you are reading this right now but I bet I know something about you. I know that you have weathered all the storms of your life up to this point. Oh, I am sure there are still some raging around you, but if you look back at what you have been able to endure already, you should be able to look at the wild winds that you face now and know that they will subside and you will come out of them stronger.
You should be confident in your courage to endure anything that comes your way because you already have. And knowing that you have the fortitude to withstand the constant barrage of shit that life brings, that should bring a quiet stability and confidence to your mind. Lean into that and know that you have a decision to make when the next struggle comes. You can feed the fires of it with negativity or anger or addiction or whatever and make it worse. Or you can stand against it, calm and collected and composed and create a plan to fix it, showing the world around you that you are stronger than your problems.
I know what you are thinking, isn’t this the same as escaping? No. It isn’t. Retreating is a conscious decision to temporarily remove yourself from a situation that is under your control. Escaping is getting away from something that has you trapped. Your problems and difficulties in life don’t have the ability to trap you. It might seem like it, but they don’t, so attempting to escaping them is only giving them more credence than they are worth.
With that being said, your problems, or the problems of the world, may require you to retreat for a time in order to collect yourself so that you can face them with a renewed vitality and a more reasonable perspective. There is nothing wrong with stepping back from a problem or situation and removing it from your mind so that you can recharge. In fact, there is a great value to it as the heat of the moment often exaggerates difficult situations.
Listen, if you can forgive my mixed metaphors and ambling analogies everything I am saying boils down to a simple nugget of wisdom that has been passed down through the ages. Poet Rudyard Kipling explained it beautifully in his poem “If” when he wrote,
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
[…] Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it […]”
But I would like to summarize that in my own words; Keep your shit together when the world is burning and don’t be an asshole just because everyone else is.
There are so many people who look to you as an example and there are already so many fire starters in the world. What we need more than anything, and what will make the most difference in your life, is to cultivate a sense of calm rationality and to be the sort of person who stands amid the blazing fires of their own problems and the world’s problems and offers water, not fuel.
The Stoic philosophers of Greece and Rome proposed a great many practices that were meant to be folded into one’s life to help them reach the ideal states of equanimity, fortitude and wisdom that was the goal of the Stoic Sage.
One of those practices involves deliberately seeking out some form of hardship, physical or mental, to encourage strengthening of your resilience in the face of adversity and to enhance your general sense of gratitude for what you already have in your life. I like to call it, Intentional Discomfort. Intentional on two levels. One, you are choosing to bring some discomfort into your life on purpose. Two, you are doing it with intent – with presence and awareness to bring about some result or understanding.
Now, when I say intentional discomfort I obviously do not mean hurting yourself in any way, on purpose. This is not sadomasochism. This is a mindful and healthy willingness to approach some of the edges of your physical and mental comfort zones through controlled application of some sort of reasonable, but difficult, physical or mental struggle. And you do it all to create a deeper sense of confidence in facing the troubles that may come in your life and to grow a deeper appreciation for all the great richness and comfort that life has already provided many of us.
This sort of self-imposed discomfort is not intended to simulate the very real and serious struggles that people are forced to endure every day. I would never trivialize such things by suggesting that a day or two of going without something comes close to the adversity that is forced upon some people regarding the mere fact of survival.
I am suggesting that we can come to a deep appreciation for the bounty that most of us have by occasionally going without or pushing our boundaries. I know when you look around your life it doesn’t often look so bountiful and the boundaries look unmovable but the practice of intentional hardship that was presented by the Stoics is a means to exposing you to all those aspects of your life you take for granted and showing you that most of your boundaries are illusions.
I want to take a look at some of the intentional discomforts I engage in, but this is by no means the only ones you can do. I am sure you can find some more and I encourage you to do so. As I have always stated, philosophy is a personal thing and only you can discover the truth of things for you. Some of these are daily, some are weekly, and some are more sporadic than that.
It is good to find a balance and sprinkle them liberally throughout your life. They will test your resolve and your limits. They will bring you confidence and they will bring you humility. A great combination to have in life. They will begin to shape your sense of gratitude – your courage, strength and grit. And best of all, these practices will help you to appreciate the things you have in your life in a way that only someone who understandings losing can appreciate a thing.
So let’s look at the practices I do and the reasons I do them:
I want to add a general disclaimer here; please use your best judgement and consult a physician if you have any conditions that would be aggravated by undertaking any of these discomforts. We are trying to gain value from these things, not harm ourselves.
A re-connection with the wilds, and shrugging off the mind and body numbing trappings of modern-day convenience in favor of the manual labors required to take a tent out into the woods and build a fire and live a bit closer to your body and your mind, is an intentional hardship beneficial only because of the way that most of us live. We are dramatically cut off from that inherent closeness that we seem to have with the beauty and majesty of nature. It is good to remind ourselves that we are all just a part of a really big thing.
There is something so primal and visceral and reaffirming of the wild, chaotic nature of life when you plunge into the woods. Everything seems to slow down a bit and every task is undertaken with a focused deliberation. As though it were all more important and more difficult.
That is the heart of camping as a discomfort. When we put down all the technology and convenience of our lives and focus on the everyday, essential aspects of being warm, having shelter, cooking food over fires and avoiding insects and animals, we realize how wildly convenient the world is for most of us and what’s more, we begin to appreciate the small things in our day-to-day living. The things that we often miss because we are not paying attention.
Now, I should state some personal bias here. Camping in a cabin or a trailers, or even a car, doesn’t count for this discomfort. Sorry. You can camp that way if you want but don’t think you are gaining the valuable lessons and benefits that come from the more rustic methods of camping. There is still too much convenience and ease in that sort of camping for it to register as a discomfort.
If you really want to gain the value of this as a practice, you have to try to approach it as simple as possible. When I camp I still have countless luxuries. An air mattress, a sleeping bag, store-bought food, a flashlight, etc. And it’s ok to have those things and still get something out of this discomfort. The point is not to see if I can survive in the wilds with nothing, it is to grow my appreciation for the everyday luxuries I take for granted. Warm showers, strong reliable shelter, convenient access to running water and bathrooms and so much more.
And I always come home from camping grateful for my bed and my shower and reliable sleep and the amazing convenience of my everyday life. The many days and weeks I spend camping help to grow an appreciation for those easily missed blessings of my life.
Oh my cold showers… I love them and I hate them. A daily blast of icy water after my workouts in the morning has become an occasionally torturous but welcomed discomfort that has provided me with more than just the significant and well documented health benefits that cold showers are known for.
This has become a ritual for me. There is a slow build up to me turning on the water. No matter the temperature outside or inside I turn that faucet as far to cold as it will go and say a sweet little string of cuss words before I plunge in head first, an instant tightness of muscles ready to embrace the blast of icy water.
And it hits and I gasp and I feel the fingers of icy water sliding down my back and my mind gets really clear about what I am feeling and what I can handle and how far apart those two things seem to be. But after a short time the difference between the two begins to close and it finally merges and I settle my breath and I calm my mind and I am able to push out the sharpness of the cold, getting to the short, efficient business of washing.
It makes for quick showers. It makes for focused showers. It makes for showers that allow for no time to let the mind wander towards the past or the future. You are just there in that ice-cold water, scrubbing and cleaning and realizing how god damn wonderful it is that you have the luxury of hot showers should you so choose.
Running far and lifting heavy
For anyone who has committed to an exercise routine that included a serious amount of weight lifting or long distances of running you understand that undertaking a routine like that is a constant lesson in voluntarily enduring discomfort for the sake of future growth and accomplishment.
The whole concept of lifting weights is that you chose to rip and tear and stress your muscles so that they can consistently take on more and more strain and stress in the future. That is the perfect metaphor for the practice of intentional discomfort.
I wish I had taken on weight lifting earlier in my life but once I did I found the philosophical parallels of its practice to the demands of life and it fueled my desire to continue to do it. To break myself down consistently so that I could come back harder and stronger in the future. I wanted that skill in life so I worked to develop it through my weight lifting as one method.
Ultra distance running, which is another intentional hardship I push myself through, is much the same metaphor though with less of the future state poetics. You run far – too far for the body to naturally be willing to accept – and you begin to hurt and ache in a way that seems impossible and maybe is. But still you push on, mile after mile, because the mind can push the body and knowing that has gotten me through plenty of shit in my life.
And that is what this intentional discomfort is all about. It is about understanding the limits of what is possible in our bodies and how they can be improved and stretched through hard work on them. By getting comfortable with some level of pain it’s not so scary when it get’s thrust upon you without your consent. But even more than that, it creates a fortress in that mind of yours. You know what’s it’s like to talk yourself through pain and doubt and fear.
When we get comfortable with those dream killers we are not as affected by the occasional physical sufferings that are going to enter our life. We are ready to weather them with the quiet dignity and steadfast resolve of a person that has faced it’s like before and is ready to face it’s like again.
Go without sleep
I know the story. There are early birds and there are night owls. I had started by calling this section “Get Up Early”, but I didn’t want to propose a specific way of doing this intentional discomfort just because I do it that way. The real meat of this intentional discomfort is to just have you willing go without sleep in the pursuit of some bigger goal.
Now that last part is important so I want to stress that it. You go without sleep in pursuit of some bigger goal. I am not talking about staying up late to pound whiskey and play cards with friends. And I am not talking about waking up early to hop in front of the PlayStation for 3 hours before work. Both of which I have done. I never said I had all this shit figured out all the time.
With this practice I am talking about waking up early and staying up late with your mind and body focused towards some larger ambition. A book. A business. A relationship. An education. A dream. Whatever. This is a practice of choosing the discomfort of a few sleepless nights so that you can make some serious progress on a hard target of future success.
If you can manage that, and still take care of everything else in your life, it is eventually going to open up some new areas of your life. Pursuing your goals has a way of doing that. You start seeing the same sort of people missing the same sort of sleep as you and you connect with them and you start to support each other to do the hard, vigilant work of pursuing your dreams.
What’s more, choosing less sleep to pursue some passion is going to be the perfect kind of difficult because it continues to be so rewarding as it goes. Yes it’s hard, but you get a constant pay out in happiness, confidence, pride and fulfillment as you see your goals and dreams come into focus and materialize.
Intentional hardships like this are the sporadic sort of hardships we can undertake. Going without considerable sleep should not be a regular occurrence. It will be counterproductive very quickly. But we can occasionally choose to do it to move further on our paths of accomplishment, while strengthening the mental and physical foundations we have for accomplishing even more in the future.
Abstaining from a vice
Sometimes, the most difficult discomfort to undertake is to give up something that we know isn’t good for us. Most of the above practices are things you have to start and have an instant value-added side to them. Now. you might think that the discomforts you have to start are going to be the hardest but I guarantee the intentional discomfort of abstaining from a vice is going to the hardest by far.
Because our vices – those things that we retreat to when we are wounded or scared or nervous or bored – those things hold back a lot of demons that we are reluctant to admit or face. Forcing ourselves to ignore the pull of our particular addiction for an extended period is to create time and space to get intimate with the reasons we have for those addictions and by knowing them come to soften their strength in driving us towards escaping.
Whatever your addiction is – food, social media, TV, technology, alcohol, cigarettes, sex – intentionally choosing to abstain from it for an extended period is going to benefit you. I guarantee it. And if you don’t think you have any of these addictions, or any addictions, then I applaud you and will kindly tell you straight to your face that you are full of shit. We are all a little cracked and some of your crazy spills out into the world, just like the rest of us.
So pick one or two of your particularly undesirable addictions or vices that you know you don’t like and go without it. Start small at first. Don’t say never right away. Just go a few days. Then a week. Then, if you are serious about enduring the ultimate intentional discomfort, give it up completely. It probably isn’t doing much to improve your life anyway, at least the way you are using it, and it can’t be a bad thing to let it go.
Choosing to go without food for an extended period is perhaps the hardest intentional discomfort to endure for the 1st world citizen. Food is cheap and convenient and we have this strange connection to it. Not a familial or societal connection to it, like you see in some 2nd or 3rd world countries that use food as celebration. We have a personal, consumptive connection with it. As though we must eat it all. It doesn’t help that we have been very consistently fed a lot of contradictory and confusing guidelines regarding our diets.
I am not going to suggest which is the right way to eat for anyone out there. Not in this post anyway. I believe we all have unique dietary needs, which you should discuss that with your doctor. With that being said, there are very few average modern, 1st world citizens that would not benefit from introducing the intentional discomfort of fasting into their life to some degree.
Fasting has many proven cognitive and health benefits, such as clarity of mind, immune boosting effects and metabolic improvements, to name but a few. But beyond that, fasting is a strong mental and spiritual practice of understanding.
We should all understand the gnawing of long developed hunger. We should understand the struggle of delaying the satisfaction of food. And also come to understand that we get to choose this discomfort for a reason and a benefit while so many people are forced into by circumstance and to their detriment. It is good to remind ourselves of that, if only to improve our empathy and gratitude.
Fasting is a weekly practice for me. Every Monday is a day where I will fast for 24 hours. I will eat at 6 pm Sunday night and I will not eat again until at least 6 pm Monday night. I still workout. I work. I drink water, I drink tea. I do my everyday, everything, but I consume no calories. It’s difficult sometimes, but it is always tolerable and it starts my week of in an incredibly present, focused and clear direction.
Occasionally I will add a longer fast. A few days. Those are very difficult and require me to back off the training and conserve my energy, but I can get through them. Some people take it much further. I do not recommend that without medical supervision or consultation.
The truth is, we don’t have to go without food for long to realize how much we take for granted the ability to instantly gratify our hunger. We are a culture of satisfaction and food is one of the primary driving pleasures of 1st world citizens. Fasting helps me appreciate the fact that I can nearly always have food whenever and wherever I want it. I am incredibly grateful and god damn lucky to be born in the situation and location to which I have been born. I won the lottery in that regard.
There are so many who are not nearly as fortunate and to be reminded of the pain and struggle of that is important to me and should be to you. You need to remember that, if you are on a technological device somewhere reading this, with a moderately full belly, and a shelter over your head, in a moderately safe place – you won the lottery and should smile for that mere fact alone because you are better off than a large part of the world.
A lot of this living is just random chance and luck and when you look at someone else you should recognize that in their situation. Develop your capacity for empathy with this practice because that could be you one day with nothing to eat and no way to satisfy that gnawing in your stomach. No matter how much you feel like you are in control of your life right now, we are all just a few bad breaks away from not having anything to eat.
I understand that some of these intentional discomforts are not framed in the most Stoic of lights. There is some modern artistic licence, applied liberally. I understand that I focus a great deal on using these practices towards a more personal and goal-driven purpose instead of the pure pursuit of the Stoic Sage. I do not think that is so far out of alignment with the original Stoic reasoning for putting these practices into action in the first place, though. The Stoics appreciated application above all things and I think they would agree with my modern application of this practice.
As long as we do not tie too much attachment into the outcomes of the practices – as long as we are not deceiving ourselves as to the true efficacy we have in our hands regarding the potential of benefit from these practices, – then employing them to further achievement will, at the very least, produce the pleasant side effects of endurance, wisdom, equanimity and strength of your character and the Stoic would appreciate those virtues.
Anytime you can push yourself out of your comfort zone it is going to be a learning, growing and changing experience. We should all seek to bring more learning, growing and changing experiences into our life. The Stoic practice of intentional discomfort is a perfect activity for inviting those kinds of experiences into our life to reap the myriad rewards of them.
From the dawn of philosophy, the division of the mind and the body has formed one of the classic dualisms. Many philosophers have focused their attention on the importance and superiority of the mind while ignoring the impact the body has on our general being.
This mind-body dualism essentially severed the body from the mind and further aggravated the divorce by denying the body its visitation rights in philosophy. Descartes insisted that the body, with all of its mechanical parts, lacked the ineffable freedom that the mind could entertain. The body was tethered to the world and the mind was something that could go wandering and exploring without the constraints of physicality.
And the Cartesian vision of the body is mostly true. The body is anchored in the phenomenal world. It is forced to abide by the rules of natural law and does not have the liberties that the mind can indulge. But in being grounded in the world, it is arguably the most important connection we have to the world. It is the only thing that you have of yourself that can be truly experienced by another. Experienced in a way that your mind can never be experienced.
Your body can be caressed and kissed and held and warmed. Your body is your means of demonstrating the emotional connection you have with people or things by exploring the physical connections that the body makes possible, and as such, it should be appreciated as a crucial continuation of your mind- as the finite vessel of your being, to be polished and cleaned and kept in good stead in order to hold all of the infinite, leaking liquids of your mind.
What’s more, we do not have to resort to a complete move into Monism to join the body and the mind. We do not have to say that the mind and body are one single entity of a joined essence and substance. They can be separate and apart, each having its place in the world, but both working together to create a whole that is stronger than if one is neglected.
To that ends, I believe we should explore the body as it relates to our lives and understand the importance of keeping it working as well as possible in order to get the most from your mind.
The Impact of the Body
There are a few philosophers that have had the courage and grace to bring the body into philosophy. It has always been seen as a dwelling place for our more base and animalistic urges. But some philosophers have seen the import of the body. Philosophers like Nietzsche and Montaigne, to name but a few. They understood the impact that the body could have on the mind and they sought to explore that impact through their philosophies.
Montaigne was vocal in pointing out that to be human is to be a composite of the mind and the body – of the sensual and the spiritual. Montaigne went to great lengths to explore the ways in which ailments of the body can determine the state of affairs in our minds. It is not difficult to see this connection when we are faced with our own physical maladies that seem to consume the space in our minds we would rather reserve for more reasoned thought.
Nietzsche had no choice but to explore the impact of the body as it related to the mind. His entire life was beset by illnesses of varying degrees that had him struggling for survival, let alone able to produce the copious amount of philosophical material that is credited to him. It was easy for Nietzsche to see how closely tied the conditions of the body and mind are, and how impactful the body can be in affecting the output and quality of the mind.
I think we can all see to some degree that the condition of our bodies impacts our reactions and engagement in the world. How we feel physically is a great determinant in how we will think and act and speak. Ask anyone who has suffered a long term illness that causes them constant pain about the influence that ailment has had on their mental state and you will understand how critical a sound health is for a sound mind.
If we let either one suffer we often find the other losing some of its sharpness and ability. And that is why we need to find a balance between the physical and the mental in our lives.
Symbiosis of Body and Mind
The intellect has always been the favored commodity among thinkers but the strongest intellect will never overcome the breaking down of the body. These two companions must be pursued in concert and we must seek to maintain a healthy harmony in order for the true possibility of either to be achieved. We must find the equilibrium between the satisfaction of our body and the satisfaction of our mind.
Imbalances in the body affect the mind and imbalances in the mind affect the body. There is a strong relationship there that is easily felt throughout our day. When we are anxious or agitated or angry or frustrated we can feel the bodily effects of carrying around that mental baggage. Our muscles feel tense, our breath is shallow, our heart races and our face feels hot. All of that translates to a yet deeper state of mental agitation because the body then begins feeding the mind and everything in our physical space is telling us to fight, flight or freeze.
The goal is to have the mind and body working in tandem so that they can support each other in maintaining a sense of physical and mental equilibrium. When the body is feeding the mind cues that we are in danger or we are angry, we need to find space in the mind to get comfortable with those feelings and not let them further feed our negativity. And when the mind is agitated and feeding the body negative cues, we need to engage the body in a positive way to distract the mind from its pursuit of negative things.
There are many ways we can do this. My suggestion is to find activities that force you to pay close attention to both the mind and the body together and observe how they work to support each other.
What activities are these?
- Weight lifting
These are a few examples of the activities that require elements of both body and mind in order to be effective, and as such, they are ideal for finding that symbiotic balance of body and mind that is important in maintaining the health and strength of both.
Making the physical, intellectual
Engaging the body in physical activity is a genuine catalyst for new ideas, creativity, and a deep, abiding mental satisfaction. How many great thinkers have said that their most brilliant discoveries and insights have come when out on a long walk? How many times have you yourself felt the hard stress and tension of a problem in your life alleviated by going to the gym or going for a run or by yoga or any sort of physical exertion?
When we engage with the body we are redirecting the focus of the mind to the present and tangible aspects of our being. We are bringing ourselves out of the infinite confines of worry and thought that can be had in the mind and returning ourselves to the phenomenal reality of our impermanent, physical existence and with that comes a deep awareness of the present. During physical exertion it is hard to be anywhere else but where you are in the moment and that presence lends itself to an improved clarity of mind and a more focused perspective on life.
Taking Care of The Body To Improve The Mind
Often, the first evidence we have of mental agitation manifests in the body. And ache in your temples telling you about the mounting stress. A tightening of muscles telling you about your growing anger. By paying close attention to our bodies we can become better aware of the shifts in our mental patterns by observing the changes in our bodies. And when we come to notice those changes in the body and connect them to the mental states of our minds, we can practice self-care in order to alleviate the suffering that can come from those mental states.
There is plenty of science to support the idea that getting involved in physical activity is a great way to clear the mind and let go of the constant stress we accumulate in our daily living. But you don’t need science to tell you that getting your body in shape will improve your general outlook on life and what’s more, science will never be as good of a motivator as just getting physical and feeling the kick of endorphins and the satisfaction of progress.
If you feel good physically – if you eat the right foods and get some exercise and rest and generally take care of your body – your mindset is going to improve. I guarantee it. You will become more confident. More energized – mentally and physically. You are going to feel better about being alive. You are going to find that once your body begins to improve, the mind has no choice but to follow it along and most every other aspect of your life will improve.
We are not mere thinkers, you and I. We must carry our minds around in the vehicles of our body and in order to get the most from our intellects it is important to take care of the vessel in which it resides.
This means understanding the impact the body has on the mind and finding the right balance of intellectual pursuits and physical pursuits. Making both a priority in order to get the most of either. It means pushing both the mind and the body to its limits on occasion because at the edge of those intellectual and physical boundaries are the weapons that will make us stronger and more resilient in the face of life’s physical and mental challenges.
What’s more, we must work to bring the physical aspects of our being into the intellectual spaces that we inhabit and see the improvements a sound body can have on our creativity and ingenuity of thought. We should take care of our bodies in a way that allows the mind to be free and open and unencumbered by the thoughts of physical discomfort or neglect.
The body you have is yours alone and it is the only vehicle you have to carry around the mind that is so heavily prized among us philosophers. If you treat it like a piece of shit you shouldn’t expect it to carry your mind very far, but if you work to keep it clean, shiny, polished and ready to travel, you are going to find that the trips your mind is able to take are so much more scenic.
You probably heard this at some point: chocolate isn’t good for you. People would say that chocolate causes tooth decay, obesity, and even diabetes.
Well, to an extent, these claims may be true if you are consuming milk chocolate filled with sugars. Especially if you overeat or do not take care of your body. However, what many people do not know is that chocolates have far more health benefits compared to its disadvantages.
Before we start, let’s just get one thing straight. When we say “chocolate,” we mean the dark, bittersweet, minimum 70% type of chocolate and not the sugary, milk chocolate kind.
Dark chocolate is just another kind of chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao. Typically, it has not been alkalized so the beneficial substances are preserved.
So what makes dark chocolate good for you? The answer to that is a substance called epicatechin.
Epicatechin is a bioactive compound classed under the flavonol group. Being a plant-based phytochemical substance, it is commonly found in different plant sources including the cacao tree aka Theobroma cacao. Different sources contain different trace amounts of epicatechin. But of all known epicatechin-containing plant sources, the raw or pure cocoa contains the largest amounts of epicatechin with quantities of almost 3mg for each gram cocoa.
The following are some of the most common health advantages of chocolate.
Enhanced Muscle Growth
When improving muscle mass, one should be aware of a protein compound called myostatin as it greatly contributes to the rate and intensity of muscle growth.
Myostatin is produced by myocytes in the muscle and essentially functions to prevent hypertrophy or overgrowth of muscles. The higher the amount of this substance in the body, the more difficult it is to increase muscle size, even when accompanied by intensive workouts and proper diet.
The epicatechin in chocolate help in this situation by inhibiting the production of myostatin, thereby lowering its overall level. As result, it will be easier and faster for the muscles to grow without acquiring any negative side effects.
Additionally, epicatechin in chocolates are also found to stimulate follistatin. Follistatin is a protein substance that plays a role in countering the effects of myostatin. It keeps in check the myostatin-signaling pathways in the body, thereby allowing enhanced muscle fiber building.
Increased Testosterone Levels
A study conducted by scientists revealed that epicatechin in chocolate also helps in the increase of testosterone levels in the body. When ingested, epicatechin stimulates the pituitary gland which is an organ responsible for releasing some of the most important hormones in the body. And after stimulation, this organ increases its release of hormones known as LH (luteinizing hormone), and GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone). These hormones subsequently signal the testosterone-producing organs in the body such as the testes, ovaries, and adrenal glands to produce more testosterone.
So what does this mean for you? Testosterone aids in building lean muscle mass. Additionally, it also improves a person’s overall bone and muscle strength. For reproductive purposes, it also plays a role in increasing and maintaining a desired libido level.
In men, testosterone specifically functions to help in the development of dominant male characteristics such as facial and body hair, deep voice, and masculine behavioral traits. Testosterone is also found in women, albeit in lower amounts. Despite that, this hormone also affects women in terms of increasing sexual arousal, improving metabolism, and enhancing energy production.
Improved Blood Circulation
The higher the amount of epicatechin in the body, the more nitric oxide is produced. This is the reason why chocolate is known to be a good natural improver of circulatory functions.
Nitric oxide is synthesized in the body to serve as a vasodilator. This means it widens blood vessels — the veins and arteries — thereby accommodating more blood and promoting healthier blood flow to various organs.
When blood vessels are dilated, a higher amount of oxygen- and nutrient-carrying blood can be delivered to different body tissues. As a result, it encourages normal functioning of vital organs, more efficient metabolism, as well as increased muscle growth. In the testes, improved circulation translates to healthier Leydig cells, contributing to increased testosterone production.
If you are a bodybuilder, you can also take chocolate or epicatechin supplements before and after a workout as a means to improving stamina, strength, resistance, and recovery.
Amplified Sensitivity of Cells to Insulin
Another effect of epicatechin found in chocolate is that it significantly improves cell’s responsiveness to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It aids in the absorption and usage of glucose in the blood. Moreover, it also plays a role in the conversion of glucose into glycogen or fats.
When cells are responsive to insulin, the normal blood glucose in the body is maintained. As such, diabetic tendencies will be prevented. And when glucose is readily absorbed by different tissues through the aid of insulin, sufficient energy will be supplied for them to maintain their normal functions.
Furthermore, body parts under stress or work overload will be given extra energy to prevent fatigue and promote growth. For example, during workouts, muscles will have sufficient energy to lift weights, recover its strength, as well as increase its mass.
Additionally, with the help of insulin, surplus glucose in the body is converted into glycogen or fats and is deposited in the liver and other body parts. These glycogen and fats serve as backup energy in case of starvation and stress.
It’s hard to believe but something as delicious as chocolates can actually reduce food cravings. This is because epicatechin in chocolates increases the production of a hormone known as ghrelin.
This hormone signals the satiety center of the brain to calm food cravings as well as inhibit hunger pangs. As a result, you are not likely to find yourself wanting to eat unless it is really necessary. This is especially useful for those who are on a strict diet, on a quest to lose weight, and those who are working out.
Dark chocolates are not at all unhealthy. As discussed, they bring a variety of benefits to the human body when consumed. However, just like anything, when consumed excessively in it’s sugar laden forms, chocolate could bring about undesirable repercussions. So anyone consuming chocolate for its epicatechin content should make sure what they buy has a cacao content of at least 70% to derive any benefits of this amazing food.
Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out his guide on The Ultimate Guide to Manly Cooking or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
I have yet to meet a heart that has not had its share of breaking. It is an inevitable consequence of something so powerful and fulfilling and overwhelming as love that it should also contain within it the capacity to be as debilitating, mournful, and suffering as a broken heart can be.
In my experience, the breaking of a heart comes in stages. There is the initial shock to body and mind, the slow physical and mental separation that follows, the equally slow approach towards recovery from the loss and the final stage of closure.
I have exercised great artistic license in naming and describing these stages, as I think love and loss demands something ornamental and poetic in describing it, but these stages seem consistently represented to some degree in everything I have read and talked about with others about their broken hearts.
Take it for what it’s worth. Read it how you will. But most of all, I hope there is something in it that can help anyone who has felt the breaking of a heart as deeply as I seem to feel it when it comes.
That initial breaking of a heart is a very real trauma to the mind and body. There are studies that point to a similarity between how our brain lights up during sensory pain and how they light up when they experience the pain of rejection that comes from a broken heart.
I can not imagine anyone who has suffered a substantial loss of love denying the real physical manifestations of it in the body. The nausea. The lingering tightness in the chest as though your heart were literally breaking. You can feel the impending separation in your body as real as something being physically cut away from you.
There are the first gasping breaths of your heart that come when you are hit with the sudden shock of loss that comes from the breaking. Like being plunged into ice-cold water, your body tries to catch up with the momentary loss of heat that you had inside you and everything in you screams for warmth and release from the strangling terror that is your sudden drowning.
And after you find a moment to catch your breath, the incessant pounding of your heart – aching to punch through your chest and flee towards a safer place – rattles your head and obscures your ability to hear anything but that thump that signals your hearts dying.
There is a swelling inside of you. Like a thing ready to burst. You can feel the tensing of muscles and the ripping of your soul. Your stomach twists and knots and turns over on itself and you feel ready to let out whatever is inside of you just so you don’t have to keep swallowing the poison of it.
Along with all of these physical maladies of a broken heart comes the far worse and instant afflictions of the mind.
There is the smothering sadness. A sudden black cloud in your mind that allows no light to seep through. And a driftless anxiety settles over you like a fog refusing to lift, obscuring your vision and leaving everything in view ashen and pale. The world loses its color because you lose the ability to see it’s brightness through the dark onslaught of memories and thoughts that come at you in the swirling mental storm.
After that initial physical and mental shock of shattering there is the scattering of the broken pieces and the dawning realization of what it means to no longer have the person you loved in your life.
You will spend lost hours combing over the arguments you had and what things you might have said that could have smoothed them over and avoided the extremity of the severing you two have made.
Memories, both good and bad, will flow through your head like a river uncontrolled and it will erode the boundaries of work and school and friends and family – and everything will be washed in the rushing water of your loss and everything will be a little touched and damaged by it.
You will find yourself pulling away from the world and retreating to places inside that can still be with the person you lost. You will catch their perfume or cologne on the bus and your heart will stagger as if broken anew. You will hear a song – a song that once was your song together – and it will be like an alcoholic smelling alcohol – something wanted so much for the familiarity but something that hurts as soon as it’s had.
In your lonely moments of separation, you will think towards the future as well. That temporality is not spared the shadow of a broken heart. You will think to plans you made together. The future family events where their absence will be a beacon of your failure. Birthdays and parties and trips and all the things of life that become intertwined and expected when you come to love someone.
And all those things will be empty because the future you can imagine where all these events will happen does not contain the one you lost, and therefore it contains nothing. It can not possibly contain another person that might fulfill you more deeply or love you more fully. No. It holds no one. As though the future were only possible through that one person that is now gone.
Because broken hearts can not contain any of the things that must be carried to see the future. They can not carry hope and trust and faith and happiness and excitement. They are broken vessels that carry only an emptiness that is as heavy as any burden that can be carried.
And this is the lowest stretch of heartache. The gut-wrenching hours you spend alone mulling over imagined scenarios where your heart isn’t broken and the world isn’t ending. You sit alone among all the scattered, broken pieces of your heart, like shards of mirrored glass lying at your feet, and you see all the million tiny reflections of your failure, and you can’t imagine ever having the strength or understanding to pick all this shit up and put it all together again.
But you will.
As the days and weeks slip past, you will realize that you can not continue on with all the broken things at your feet – walking across them every day and feeling the sharp bite of their presence in every step you take.
You will wake up some days and not feel the instant pain of absence. You will, in fact, begin to go long stretches where your life begins to normalize and the loss will only creep up on you in the few dark moments when you purposely go seeking out the memory of it.
And this is when we get on our hands and knees and begin gathering up the broken things of our heart and start to put it all together again. We put all the pieces in a pile and we begin by sorting out the larger pieces that are still mostly intact.
Those larger pieces that symbolize our love for friends and family. These are the edges of the puzzle of our broken heart that frames the rest. We put those pieces down and use them to begin to place the smaller pieces that may have shattered more. We use these pieces because they are the anchor of our hearts and they help us refocus on the image of ourselves.
And as we begin to collect and place all the things inside of us that we thought would never be whole again, we see the patterns of our life return. Those things that we enjoyed begin to once again take shape and find themselves in our life. The hobbies we pursued, the activities we sought out, the dreams we once had. They will slowly reveal themselves again and you will place them alongside the other pieces as they are found.
What’s more, if you look hard enough, you find new pieces that fit better in your heart then those that were broke. You will take up a new hobby. A new diet. A new exercise routine. If you do the gathering right, you will be able to replace the badly damaged pieces of your heart with new pieces that make you better than you were.
And when you are done with all the collecting you will realize that there are still pieces missing. Things that were so equally shared with the one you lost that they can never be fully pieced together because some of it was taken from you when they left. Those little holes are ok though. They will hurt when you run your fingers over them but they do not last forever.
Because one day you will wake up and you will check the shape of your heart and you will realize the little holes aren’t there anymore. They have fused with the larger pieces of your heart and, though they are still tender things, they are also clean, untouched things that can be colored with anything you want.
And that one day, when the memories have faded enough to become shimmering scenes, like landmarks in the distance of a heat fueled air, you will find that your heart has become whole again. You held the broken pieces together long enough for them to find themselves and reunite.
The world will return to full and radiant color. The future will lose its bleakness and the past will approach a fondness. You will look out over the horizon of those memories of the one you lost and you will be able to smile because somewhere in that distance you remember being loved. It will not matter by who you were loved or that they left. You were loved and you were capable of loving and that is a thing of constant hope.
Yes, a thin trickle of pain will still occasionally spill through between the pinhole cracks that never fully healed, but it will be the sort of pain that is easily ignored. The sort of pain that promises a reward if you just push through it. A pain that makes you stronger.
And that is when you will realize you are ready to give your heart again. A little cracked, a little flawed but put together in a better way and an entirely new gift to give to someone who might better appreciate it.
What’s more, you will realize the capacity and compassion to receive the broken hearts of others with a deeper recognition for the way that they were able to piece together the broken things of their own heart. You will find yourself running fingers more gently over the rough spots because you recognize the same in your own heart.
Sure, your heart might break again, but that is what a heart is for. It is a breakable thing on purpose. It is not a fragile thing, though, to those that understand it. It is breakable in the same way a puzzle is breakable. It can be taken apart but everything is there to put it back together if you are careful and you look hard enough. A heart is a thing of pieces and as many times as it is taken apart it can always be reassembled.
Yes, an often broken heart may be a thing of smaller, seemingly incongruent, pieces and it might require more effort to piece it back together, but it can be done and must be done, because it’s the only one you have and to leave it broken and lying at your feet is to remove the possibility of ever finding the pieces that might just make it complete someday.
I see you out there. Picking up the pieces of your life with that red-faced look of shame and that faint shine of tears that is swelling in your eyes. I can hear the thoughts swirling in your head, as well. The poison words you tell yourself when you make a mistake. I fucked up again. I will never get this right. I should just give up. I will never make this work.
I can see and hear you because I live in that space. The dark, dangerous corners of our minds that throws shadows on the possibility of accomplishment and joy. I live there in that space, with the taunting voices in my head and the broken fragments of my life pieced together like a puzzle that doesn’t quite seem to fit, and I cry my own tears and curse my own actions because no matter how much work I try to do to make myself whole, I always feel a bit broken and I always find a way to fuck up the beautiful.
But that’s ok. I have come to accept that space. Because I also inhabit another expanse that I think you do as well. A capacity for confidence and pride and of great, growing things that spring fresh and beautiful from all the things I try to do to make the world a better place.
I can sometimes look inside myself and I can run my fingers over the cracks and chips and broken little pieces inside my heart and feel an overwhelming sense of charity, compassion, and love for the beauty I have been able to hold with such a damaged vessel.
It comes and goes. And my focus wavers between the two parts of myself that I so struggle to handle. And through this struggle, I have realized something. In order to truly appreciate the person that I am; the person that I have become today, I must be equally understanding and accepting of what is broken inside as much as what is beautiful. I think we all have to come to terms with those two sides of our souls.
Recognize The Whole
Some people are only going to look at pieces of you, never seeing the whole. They will grab onto your broken things and they will decide that is all that you are. Others will grab the beautiful things of you and decide that is all you are. The problem is, they are not seeing you entire. You are neither completely broken nor completely beautiful. You are a little bit of both. And as soon as you come to terms with that, you can begin to be everything that you are.
That is also how we should come to view others. We should make a great effort to rummage around in the souls of the people that are close to us and feel for the jagged edges of their being that have not yet been weathered by time and experience. We should run our hands lightly over these sharp parts of them and recognize how they might impact the way that they are.
This is not a call to try to sand down the sharp points of someone’s heart, it is a call to be aware of them and acknowledge them as a distinct and important part of that person. Something that must come with having them in your life at all. It is a call to be sympathetic to the past hurts and poisons that can damage the mind and heart of someone because you are able to recognize how your own past has come to break certain parts of you.
But we must also come to cherish and shelter the beautiful things we find in people and ourselves. Those shiny belongings that pull us in and attract our attention. These are the things we should help to keep polished and glistening. Those are the things that demand our nurturing so they two do not become broken by a world that will do it’s best to crack us all.
We Don’t Have To Give The World Everything Inside You
There are things living inside you that you will never show the world. And thank god that you don’t. There are ugly things like revenge and madness and jealousy and rage. Festering, disgusting things inside you that smell like piss and shit and blood and venom. Those things should not often see the light of day but they should be recognized and investigated because they come from somewhere broken in you and make you who you are.
No one is so enlightened that they don’t have some ugly deep inside them. As Oscar Wilde once said;
“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
The best we can hope to do is make the beautiful parts of us the parts that most often touch the world. If you can do that, if you can diminish the shadows that twist inside you and darken the rest of the world, you are doing more than most and you will make the world just that much brighter.
Love Whats Broken and Polish What’s Beautiful
If you look closely enough at yourself and your life I think you can recognize what is beautiful and what is broken. When we find the shattered parts we want so often to run from them, hide them, shove them under the bed and pretend like they don’t live inside of us, but doing that will never let them be fixed.
We fix what’s broken by spending time with it. By caring enough about it that we would suffer through the potential pains of getting cut trying to put it back together again. We fix it by loving it so much that we are willing to spend the time required to make it whole again. That is what we should see when we see the broken things inside us.
What’s more, we should work hard to make the beautiful things inside us gleam like mirrors in the sun. We should spend a great amount of our time polishing and cleaning the beautiful things that we are and presenting them to the world like glowing beacons beckoning the rest of the world to our shores.
The point of all my meandering writing is to say that we should recognize the complexity that exists in each and every one of us. Recognize the pain and pleasure, the sadness and joy. Recognize that we are all such tangled webs of insecurity and confidence, and the best that we can do is not be too hard on ourselves or others when we brush up against the sharp, broken pieces of our hearts and we cause accidental pain.
It is also about cherishing and nurturing the beautiful things in yourself and others. Digging them out so they sit atop the broken pieces and making sure that the part of you that most touches the world is the part of you that you that is the most magnificent.
But most of all, it’s about accepting. Accepting that you are not going to find anyone in this world who is not a little damaged or who doesn’t have at least a little something breathtaking inside of them. The joy is in the searching. So keep your eyes and heart open and try to find the little bit of everything that exists in everyone.
I know that some people will never care about being the cool parent. I know that some parents see their role as a trainer, guide and disciplinarian, and believe that the best way to raise desirable adults is to not be too indulgent to their children’s whims. That’s fine. Everyone has their different parenting style and I can respect them all.
I definitely think that you can be a cool parent and still raise desirable adults, though. You have to find a balance. In fact, I think if you do it right, you can be the cool parent and your children will never know when they are being guided, trained or disciplined and that makes the lessons they learn from life so much more organic, lasting and meaningful.
Why did I want to find that balance of a cool parent? Because I think that when your kids see you as the cool parent – the one they can sort of relate to, that they can confide in, that they can have unabridged fun and openness with – that you instantly have access to an entirely different sort of relationship with your children. You stop seeing them as little projects that require the exact amount of a million different ingredients in order to grow properly and you start seeing them as already pretty complete little humans, even without all the micromanagement.
Now, I know that no matter how cool I am as a parent, there are going to be times when I don’t have the option to be cool. I have to say no a lot. I have to set some boundaries. I have to lay down some discipline. That’s all part of being a good parent and we should never sacrifice those responsibilities and duties for the sake of being cool. But if we do all the hard things in the right way, and we temper them with some of the ways that we can be cool – well, we get to be a bigger part of our children’s life in a way that makes parenting more than just authority.
But how? Well I know what I have seen work through my years as a parent and what I have learned through research, and it goes like this:
Play the way your kids play
There is an unstructured spontaneity in how kids play. It comes out of nowhere and takes the form of anything. There are usually few rules and the ones they have will constantly be added, dropped, amended, prepended and otherwise addendumized, to fit their needs and current play style. It’s amazing to watch but more incredible to get involved in.
Relearning how to play with your children this way opens up a whole new level of creativity and imagination, for you and for them. It brings you into their world of magic and wonder and perpetual joy. You get to return to your own childhood as well and recover some of the things you put aside when you donned the seriousness and responsibility of adulthood.
Direct, Don’t Demand
Occasionally, as parents, we let the authority of our lofty positions get the better of us and, instead of directing our children towards an ideal task or goal, we demand them towards it. What do I mean? Well, I often find myself saying, “Go clean your room.” It’s fair. It works, eventually. But it doesn’t earn me any cools points and I usually have to repeat it 100 times before it gets done.
Demands suck. No one likes to just be told what to do. You don’t like it. Kids don’t like it. Kids don’t like, “Go clean up your room.” any more than you like, “Go get me that report.” Even adding a please at the end doesn’t soften it much, in my opinion.
The other alternative is to make it a question. “Can you go clean your room, please?” I am not a huge fan of giving my son the option to say no to something that I am not going to accept that as an answer to. Not fair to either of us and sets us up for a drawn out discussion of why, if not a full blown argument that ends in the dreaded, parental, “because I said so.”
I have learned that it is way easier if I just make the things I want him to do a small step towards something he wants to do. “Buddy, I have an idea. You go clean your room and I will set up the game you really wanted us to play.” He doesn’t hear the misery of cleaning his room because I directed him through that to what comes after. Cleaning his room has a purpose now instead of a “because I said so!”.
Allow Controlled Chaos
My general rule of thumb here is, if it can’t explode the house, cause a forest fire or end in a frantic emergency room visit, I will allow it, within reason. There is a lot of potential for cool mischief and fun in that wide of a boundary. Children love to explore and create and walk the tightrope of insanity and chaos. I say let them do it.
Yup. They are going to get hurt. Yup. Things are going to break. Yup. Some of those things will be them and they are going to get casts and scars and stories and yup. They will almost start a fire in your sister’s bathroom with a book of matches they found in the junk drawer because they really wanted to see if the toilet paper would light on fire and… Wait. They might not do that. I certainly didn’t do that. Ever.
My point is, you can let your children have quite a bit of wild fun that they think is completely unstructured by putting it all in a very large structure. It’s like letting lions roam on a sanctuary. We still let those lions do everything a lion does but we don’t let them leave the sanctuary.
As parents, we have to get comfortable with the occasional emergencies of raising a child. You are not doing them any favors by coddling them and “saving” them from all the chaotic shit in this world. All you are doing is stealing away a great deal of the experience that is being a child.
So give them a nice length of rope. Not enough to hang themselves with but enough where they can think they have some authority over the way they play and the enjoyment they can have in it all.
Talk to your kids as though they understand and listen as though you do
Probably one of the more contentious suggestions for coolness but I think that raising the level of conversation and engagement with your children is a way to elevate parent and child. As a parent, we don’t have to constantly feel like we should talk down to our children. You would be surprised at what they can handle and understand when presented in the right way.
Now, I understand that some people would have a few topics off limits to talk to with their kids. I can respect that. I don’t agree with it, but I can respect it. I honestly want to be able to talk to my son about anything. Not only because I think knowledge is crucial to the world, but also because I think he might have some brilliant ideas that I never thought of.
Even more than talking to your children in a way that elevates the conversation, you have to strive to listen to them in their way. No, not in one ear and out the other, like we assume they listen to us. I mean listen to them from their point of view. Try to understand their perspective on things. Sure, it is usually epically blown out of proportion and incredibly childish, but try to think back when you were a kid and how hard it was to get a handle on the slippery, nuanced realities and emotions of life. We didn’t have a lifetime of perspective to temper the burning fires of youth. Even with that lifetime of experience we have most of us still blow shit out of proportion and end up looking childish from time to time.
It’s easy to forget how hard it is to be a kid, because it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to be an adult, but they don’t know that yet. So sympathize a little. Sympathize and tell them to stop whining but sympathize all the same. If they are going through some struggle, listen, hear and relate a similar story from your own childhood so they know that it is a natural part of growing up. And, if you give your children a little dirt on your childhood, it bonds you closer to them.
Coolest Advice Ever!
You don’t lose your authority by trying to be a cool parent. You lose your authority by trying to be a parent that always pleases. We know we can’t do that, but we can make an effort to be cool in the eyes of our children because there is a lot to gain from it.
You gain a level of trust, understanding, and connection that may just open the doors to a richer, deeper and more meaningful relationship with your child. You get an improved sense of authority that comes, not from your constant dictatorial stranglehold on your child’s life, but from a place of democratic camaraderie. Most of all, you get to share more of your life with your child and be involved in more of theirs simply because they want you to be.
And that is the heart of all of it. If I had to sum up all my ways to be a cool parent, it could be said with two words: Get Involved! The more involved you are with your kids, in their way, not your way, the cooler you become because they start to see you as one of them. And that is the best gift that my son gives me every day – a chance to be a kid again with the coolest one I know!
To my son,
I think often of the legacy I leave for you. I wonder how memory will color me in your eyes. If you will look back at the lessons I tried to impart and find value in them or if you will throw them all aside and see them as meaningless rubbish held by a man who had no real idea about the world.
Though I can not know what you will do with the lessons that I offer, I want to impart a few gifts of wisdom that I have accumulated in my years. My hope is that you will take them into your life to make it bigger than mine ever was.
Always protect those that are weaker than you.
As you are already such a compassionate and caring child, I imagine you will be even more so when you grow up. I have no doubt that you will be a man who is filled with a quiet strength that can only be born from a deep, confident concern for the world. Never lose that. I never had it and I want that you should never lose it. It makes you already greater than your father and that is all we fathers ever want our sons to be.
The world will try to convince you that your strength should be used to get what you want, and it should sometimes, but never at the expense of anyone else.
Use your strength more often to help others get what they want. You are lucky to have been born and lived in the circumstances and situations to which you were born. I was not so lucky growing up. Appreciate your fortune and always lend yourself to improving the world of those who were not so fortunate.
Give often and deep from the stores of your blessings. Be a light to the world and never a shadow. Do not be afraid to throw a punch to protect the people who need it. It is not ideal but occasionally necessary that we must defend, but we never attack.
Never be afraid to make some mistakes.
You are going to make mistakes, my son. Some big and some little. Some that will fill you up with regret and sadness, and linger like the smell of smoke soaked into your clothes and some that you will shake off like a cold, dry snow that does not stick but leaves you chilled. Never be afraid to move in the direction of failures. It is the direction of life changers and market makers.
If your mistakes be small; laugh them off. You should always be comfortable laughing at yourself and never try to take this living too serious. If your mistakes be large; laugh them off and learn from them. Big or small a mistake is nothing for regretting.
Regrets are born in chances not taken, mistakes avoided because of comfort too-long-held. Be happy with your mistakes and learn the lessons they teach because most of your mistakes will end up being the regrets of people who never had the courage to make them.
Be a renaissance man.
Learn how to dance. How to tie a tie. How to fix a sink and how to mend a broken heart. Never be afraid to cry and never be scared of the tears of another. Read poetry and memorize the poems that strike your soul. Read everything, in fact, and keep a book with you always. Keep your body fit and your mind sharp. Come to love and spend as much time as possible in the outdoors. Camping. Hiking. Running. Living. But come back to the world in a suit and a tie, with the manners of a prince and the wit of a bard. Live dangerous and free and full of passion. Travel often, everywhere, and live among the natives. Learn new languages and new customs and make friends with the world.
Be vulnerable. Love and respect your mother, and all women and people in fact, to the amount which is proper – fully and eternally. Expose your heart and soul to the world but never expect anyone to understand. Be the life of the party but never be out of control. Know how to carry on a conversation and how to make the world laugh, but recognize the need for sincerity and give your shoulder often for others to cry upon.
Learn to appreciate the arts. Support lost causes. Be a philosopher of life and never think that you know enough about anything to be certain. Wear the cool, quiet confidence of a wolf and keep a close pack of loyal friends. Work with your hands and your heart and your mind and your soul and be the little bit of the everything that a man should be in this world.
Chase the butterflies, splash in the puddles and catch the snowflakes on your tongue.
There will come a time when the world will tell you that the childish things you so much enjoy now are no longer befitting a man of your age. When they tell you that I want you to look them straight in the eyes, smile your charming smile and tell them that all the fun in all the world was invented from the pursuit of childish things and they can go fuck themselves.
Never give up the sillies, my boy. Never stop laughing your laugh. When your child is born, carry on our tradition of tickle fights and puddle jumping. Teach them of Tybalt and Mercutio with sword fights in the rain. Teach them the difference between a toot and a fart and the other important nuances of bodily emanations.
Do not ever let life convince you of its seriousness and always find a way to laugh and make others laugh. No one leaves this experiment alive so find a reason to smile more than you scowl and laugh more than you cry. The world will do it’s best to fit you in a mold but I want you to wiggle and jiggle and burst your way out; run naked and free catching snowflakes on your tongue, showing the world how fast you can run.
Don’t let the world steal your wonder. And never let them ransack all the beautiful, brilliant things in your head. Chase those flying things – your dreams and ideas and passions. Those colorful things that come into your life that beg you to be pursued and appreciated. Ignore all the snares of a traditional life and find a life that fits you.
Rebel as often as is necessary and as far as is required.
My single greatest want for you is that you cultivate a mind of rebellion. Intellectually, politically, socially and personally. Never be complacent with the status quo. Average will suck you into a hole and eat away your soul. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. You are better than average. Everyone is better than average.
I want you to interrogate the universe and never be satisfied that you have found the truth. Never accept a rule simply because it exists. Never accept a reason simply because it was said. Never stop searching just because you finally find a belief you think you can trust. You will come to hold so many beliefs in your life and the truth you hold now will be a lie to you someday. So always be asking if it should be this way now.
But rebel with respect and rebel with reason. Raging against every inconsequential slight is not a way to rebellion. You must choose the battles that matter – the ones that mean the most for your heart and soul – and move unwaveringly in the direction of your conscience. You should never seek to harm in your rebellion, only to remedy injustice by the least aggressive means. In that you will become the type of revolutionary the world can come to appreciate. And if they can’t appreciate that sort of rebellion – fuck ‘em! They are the ones you are rebelling against.
Interrogate the universe.
Grow up to be a thinker, my son. Come to reason well. Never let your sense of wonder be taken from you by the jaded misers of age and experience. Every moment of life is a wondrous explosion of improbability and uncertainty and to be here to experience it is a never ending gift of fortune and fate.
Celebrate your luck in being involved in the beautiful randomness of the world and seek to know the patterns of living by always asking why. Be a great conquistador of intellectual pursuit, not for the sake of knowing but for the sake of living. The currency of living is philosophy. It, above all things, will make your life worth anything. Find it early, explore it often and embrace it fully. The ideas you find there will change your life and the life of those around you.
Never lose your sense of discovery and wonder. Never cease to be awed by the everything in the world and never stop asking what it all means and how you fit in. Be bold in your inquiry but gentle with the answers. Do not lose yourself in your search. As David Hume once said,
“Be a philosopher but above all be first a human”
And as we are mere mortal philosophers we must be satisfied with the nothing that we will ever truly know but we must constantly search for the something that we can know right now.
Fall in love as often as you can.
If there is anything that you should look forward to in life it is love. You will develop an immunity to cooties someday and you will find yourself pulled inexplicably towards someone that makes your heart thump-thump and your mind race. Jump into that deep, deep water as often as you can stand. Despite the risk of drowning, it will always make a beautiful splash.
Yes, sometimes you do risk drowning, but to swim in the waters of love at all you must accept the occasional uncertainty of the depths. You can not stay in the shallow waters of your heart and expect to find happiness. You must always go deeper. Deeper is where the beautiful fish swim.
And when your heart breaks, I want you to pick up the pieces and take the time to repair it. Not the way that it is but with gold at the seams. Kintsugi your heart and let the gold at the broken pieces be a part of your history with love.
Because people you love will come and go, but you must never stop loving. Not ever. Giving our heart to another is the greatest gift that we have, but never believe that when someone trashes our gift that they are saying the quality of your love is lacking. Not everyone will appreciate your special kind of heart and your perfect kind of soul, but if you keep loving you will find the person who can.
Always remember that you are loved beyond words.
I have said a lot in this letter to you but I will never be able to say enough that will express the love I have for you. It is a never-ending, always growing, from-here-to-eternity, expanse of love that my heart holds for you.
If you remember nothing else of the wisdom and advice I have tried to give you remember this above all things; you are so deeply loved in this world. Not just by me and your mother and your family and friends but by the universe itself. It conspires to make you amazing and it desires to see you in joy.
But when I have to leave you I want you to remember – my love for you will always be there because it has no way to escape. It is too much for the universe to remove. I will never be gone from you and you will never be gone from me. Always remember that.
This is not the only advice I want to give you, my son, but it is the general advice that will serve you well. You can take it or not.
My secret wish is that you should throw all my advice away, crumple it up and leave it sitting on your bedroom floor and go live – go live a life that is true for you.
And in many years – as you go out and live your life, as you go out and become your own man, you find a partner, you have children, you become a success – that you come home one day and find that old ball of advice still there.
And you carefully uncrumple it and read through it with a smile, realizing that the wisdom stuck with you still and you became every inch the man I tried to help you be. And even better, you became so much more.
And you erase my name from the letter and sign it with your own.
And you go back to your home and slide it under your son’s door. Because you will want the same that for him that I always wanted for you. To be a light in this world that outshines all others.
Your Father, Your Friend, and Your Biggest Fan.
For the longest time, I thought I was the lone fuck-up in a world of over-achieving do-gooders. I thought everyone’s life was an unbroken string of success and that the charted trajectory of their experience was the steady, upward climb of progressively improved living. I thought everyone had their shit together and I alone was staggering in the dark trying to figure out what the hell I am supposed to be doing.
Holy shit was I wrong.
As I have come to dig more deeply into the lives of others and attempted to learn the secrets of their success, I have realized that nobody knows what the fuck they are doing. Everyone is just making it up as they go along and anyone who tells you different is a god damn liar.
The truth is that everyone in this world is just blindly stumbling through the shitstorm of life – wildly grasping at any sort of comfort that they think will give them a degree of happiness, pleasure, or security and when they happen upon something that seems to work they cling to it, thinking that they have found the secret to a successful life when all they have really found is a temporary high water mark on an otherwise tumultuous sea of constant drowning.
The problem is that we get high – achieving success in our work, our love, our social circles – and we start to feel like we have it figured out – like we finally mixed up the right ingredients for the recipe for success. Then suddenly, without a word of warning, life sees you getting a little too comfortable and cozy and backhands you off of your cloud and you are faced with the stunning realization that everything you thought you knew about living was just a temporary perspective that is now completely changed and you have to start all over and figure it all out again.
And when we have to start again we feel like failures. We feel like we should be further along and we just wish we could have it all figured out like everyone else.
Well, we have to stop that line of thinking before it ever get’s started and what follows are a few ways to help with that.
Beware The Social Media Inferiority Complex
Social media has created an epidemic of inferiority. Scrolling through the perfectly edited photos of friends and family and the stream of upbeat status updates that litter the feeds would have us all thinking that it is only our lives that are falling off the fucking rails at a breakneck speed.
Don’t believe the social media obfuscation.
Every life is a little broken and every glass a little empty. For every glorious vacation shot taken with the backdrop of a red and gold sunset scraping colors across the sky – with children smiling and husband and wife sharing a look of love – there are 200 other photos not shown that capture the hardship of the vacations all of us have known.
The pictures of the kids screaming bloody murder in front of the resort crowd because you cut them off at their 5th soda. Or the ones where you are huddled over the toilet with food poisoning. Or the ones where you look like an overdone crab because you fell asleep in the sun and are covered with a blistery sunburn. The arguments and stress and passive aggressive looks across the dinner table or agitated comments about whose turn it is to change the shitty diaper. Those photos rarely make the highlight reel of social media distortion, so don’t think that you are missing out on some magical, eternal moments of bliss and happiness.
However great someone pretends their life is on social media, there are things behind that smokescreen that hurt their souls. Things they don’t want anyone to see but they are the sort of things we all suffer through. And they are things we should all want to show to the world.
I suspect that all the people in the world have more commonality across their miseries then across their joys, anyway, and if we ever had the courage to admit that to one another I think we might find ourselves a lot more compassionate to the sufferings of others and ourselves.
So when you reach out to compare your life to someone else’s compare your hurts and your scars. Those are the things that are the most honest and long lasting about any of us and when we see them in others it is easier to find the beauty of them in ourselves.
Don’t Take This Shit Too Seriously
The greatest lesson in life is the one that is hardest to grasp for me. I want life to be serious. I want life to fall into line and start getting it’s shit together and stop being such a random, fucked-up mess of ups and downs and gut wrenching body blows that leave me sucking wind. I want to be able to know what I am supposed to do and where I am supposed to be.
But life doesn’t care what I want, and it sure as shit doesn’t care what you want. Life just wants to make sure you realize that none of this living shit is as serious as we make it, and that life is mostly made up of a series of sincerely comical jokes that the universe alone is in on.
Do you want proof that life is just waiting to make you the butt of its jokes? Ok.
Go park your filthy, unwashed car under a tree filled with birds. Leave for 30 minutes and come back. Not a single bird shit on your car, did they? Ok. Now go get a car wash. The most expensive car wash you can get. Now go park your car in an area that doesn’t have a single bird and leave again for 30 minutes. I bet my life that your car will be covered in bird shit by the time you return. That’s life’s sense of humor.
Once you get really polished and clean and feel like you have everything together – when you feel like you are avoiding the wrong situations and putting yourself in the right ones – life will take a massive shit right on your head because it wants to remind you that, even if you think you have it figured out and you know what to avoid and what to go after, all your plans don’t amount to shit in the grand scheme of things.
So don’t fight it. Fuck up often and laugh and learn from your mistakes. Life will laugh right along with you and, if you can get in on the joke instead of being the butt of it, you are going to enjoy living a lot more.
Live the Mystery
Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said;
“Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”
A long as you continue to think of life as something you need to figure out instead of something you should be enjoying you are going gnash your teeth at the incomprehensible madness and randomness of it all. So put that heavy question down.
No. I am not saying that you should just accept the shitty mess you’ve made of your life. You should try to solve the problems you have that are disrupting your enjoyment of living, but trying to work out the mystery of life – what the point is and what you need to do to appease the gods of happiness – well that search is going to take you far away from the things that will actually make you happy, which is living in the moment and appreciating the fact that you have a life to live at all.
There is Buddhist parable that goes something like this. Imagine you are walking through the forest and are suddenly struck with a poisoned arrow in your thigh. When this arrow pierces your body are you going to wait to pull it out until you know who shot the arrow, what the fletching is made of, what wood the shaft was carved from and what type of bow shot the arrow? No. You are going to first pull the arrow from your body to make sure the poison doesn’t spread and perhaps after that – after you are all patched up and healthy – you will dive into the mysteries that surround the arrows presence.
That is what we are talking about here. There is no point in trying to understand all the crazy shit of life when you are dying from the immediate poison of an arrow you refuse to pull. There will be time enough to ponder some of the deeper, darker mysteries of living and solve the problems of eternity when you are old and wrinkled and gray and need someone to wipe your ass for you. Right now you should be focusing on just living the mystery of it all and loving the chance to do so.
So, I guess if I had to distil this profanity laden diatribe about the futility of understanding life down to one salient point that you can walk away with it would be this:
It doesn’t matter at all what everyone else is doing. Just go out there, find those tiny bits of happiness that aren’t riddled with shit, and enjoy them while they are still clean. Because what you have and love today may be poison to you tomorrow and what is poison to you today may turn into the sweetest nectar tomorrow. Nobody really knows how any of this living shit works and the best that we can do is stop comparing ourselves to others, stop taking this all so seriously, and start enjoying the fucking mystery of it all.
That’s the great, secret recipe of life if there is one. The epitome of my worldly wisdom. Take it, leave it. I don’t care. I have no idea what the fuck I am doing anyway.