Jules Evans: 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism

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Note: The following non-italicized copy was originally published at Psychology Today, and I am republishing the content here for preservation’s sake.

According to Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems, a combination of philosophy and psychology is not only practical, but an effective way of approaching today’s problems. Not unlike cognitive-behavioral therapy, the classical ideas explored by Evans make use of the mind to deal with one’s less helpful emotions.

Of course, you can work with emotional pain in any number of ways. But for those with the tiniest bit of an analytic bent, or those who have been unhappy for way too long—like Evan’s himself was in his college years—this combo approach can be extremely helpful.

I found Evans’ book to be thoughtful and a pleasure to read, and even his appendices (especially Appendix 3 where he compares Socrates and Dionysus) are not to be missed. A journalist and writer, Evans is policy director at the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, and helps run the huge London Philosophy Club. He’s also one of ten BBC Next Generation Thinkers for 2013.

Consider the following ideas, in Evans’ own words:

8 KEY IDEAS FROM STOICISM:

1) It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.

The Stoics thought we could transform emotions by understanding how they’re connected to our beliefs and attitudes. Often what causes us suffering is not a particular adverse event, but our opinion about it. We can make a difficult situation much worse by the attitude we bring to it. This doesn’t mean relentlessly ‘thinking positively’ – it simply means being more mindful of how our attitudes and beliefs create our emotional reality.

2) Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.

Socrates said we sleepwalk through life, unaware of how we live and never asking ourselves if our opinions about life are correct or wise. The way to bring unconscious beliefs into consciousness is simply to ask yourself questions. Why am I feeling this strong emotional reaction? What interpretation or belief is leading to it? Is that belief definitely true? Where is the evidence for it? The Stoics used journals to keep track of their automatic responses and to examine them.

3) We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.

Epictetus, the slave-philosopher, divided all human experience into two domains: things we control, things we don’t. We don’t control other people, the weather, the economy, our bodies and health, our reputation, or things in the past and future.

The only thing we have complete control over is our beliefs – if we choose to exercise this control. But we often try to exert complete control over something external, and then feel insecure and angry when we fail. Or we fail to take responsibility for our own thoughts and beliefs, and use the outside world as an alibi. Focusing on what you control is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and assert autonomy in chaotic situations. The Serenity Prayer is a nice encapsulation of this idea.

4) Choose your perspective wisely.

Every moment of the day, we can choose the perspective we take on life, like a film-director choosing the angle of a shot. One of the exercises the Stoics practiced was called the View From Above: If you’re feeling stressed by some niggling annoyances, project your imagination into space and imagine the vastness of the universe. From that cosmic perspective, the annoyance doesn’t seem that important anymore – you’ve made a molehill out of a mountain.

Another technique the Stoics used (along with Buddhists and Epicureans) was bringing their attention back to the present moment, if they felt they were worrying too much about the future or ruminating over the past. Seneca told a friend: “What’s the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now because you were miserable then?”

5) Habits are powerful.

One thing the Stoics got, which a lot of modern philosophy (and religious studies) misses with its focus on theory, is the importance of practice, training, repetition and, in a word, habits.  Because we’re such forgetful creatures, we need to repeat ideas over and over until they become ingrained habits. It might be useful to talk about the Stoic technique of the maxim, how they’d encapsulate their ideas into brief memorizable phrases or proverbs (like “Everything in moderation” or “The best revenge is not to be like that”), which they would repeat to themselves when needed. Stoics also carried around little handbooks with some of their favorite maxims.

6) Fieldwork is vital.

Another thing the Stoics got, which modern philosophy often misses, is the idea of fieldwork. One of my favorite quotes from Epictetus is: “We might be fluent in the classroom but drag us out into practice and we’re miserably shipwrecked.” If you’re trying to improve your temper, practice not losing it. If you’re trying to rely less on comfort eating, practice eating less junk food. Seneca said: “The Stoic sees all adversity as training.” Imagine if philosophy also gave us street homework, tailor-made for the habits we’re trying to weaken or strengthen, like practicing asking a girl out, or practicing not gossiping about friends, or practicing being kind to someone every day. Imagine if people didn’t think philosophy was “just talking.”

7) Virtue is sufficient for happiness.

Stoicism wasn’t just a feel-good therapy, it was an ethics, with a specific definition of the good life: the aim of life for Stoics was living in accordance with virtue. They believed if you found the good life not in externals like wealth or power but in doing the right thing, then you’d always be happy, because doing the right thing is always in your power and never subject to the whims of fortune. A demanding philosophy, and yet also in some ways true – doing the right thing is always in our power.

8) We have ethical obligations to our community.

The Stoics pioneered the theory of cosmopolitanism – the idea that we have ethical obligations not just to our friends and family, but to our wider community, and even to the community of humanity. Sometimes our obligations might clash – between our friends and our country, or between our government and our conscience (for example, would we resist the Nazis if we grew up in 1930s Germany?). Do we really have moral obligations to people on the other side of the world? What about other species, or future generations?

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Jules Evans is a figure in the Stoicism community whom I respect. His website, Philosophy For Life, is exceptional. I’m looking forward to reading his book: Philosophy For Life and Other Dangerous Situations.

On Self-Control: Do Yourself a Favor and Watch This Video

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Finding this video is almost a bit uncanny because the creator literally references the very same concepts I came to know through meditation. These include the idea of our inner and our outer world, and the model of higher vs. lower consciousness. In addition to these paradigms, the video is focused on one of the core pillars of stoicism – self-control. I just can’t help but feel the forces of serendipity at work here.

And I recognize the internet has made self-help videos a dime a dozen and most of us are inundated with ‘experts’ on a daily basis – but this video is on point.

To paraphrase – I watch lot of videos – and most aren’t worth sharing. This is. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

I’ll certainly be watching more videos from this gentleman and revisiting this very often.

Edit: Wow, look at what the video’s creator has released…unreal that this is available for free. I’m tempted to set aside time everyday to watch his videos and go through his Blueprint.

‘Self-Talk is the Conversation You Have in Your Head’ & Expectations vs. Beliefs

As I get more into CBT, Self-Talk, and Stoicism, the line between philosophy and psychology is becoming more and more blurred – and I like that, because I’m coming across some amazing stuff that really can’t fit into one single bucket.

This relatively obscure video is golden – I might watch it everyday. It’s so simple in it’s message, yet so powerful.

It’s a great reminder on the power of expectations, rather than just ‘beliefs’.

To further kick your mind into expectation mode, lie down and do the following guided meditation, which focuses on creating positive expectations within your psyche.

Example Stoic Philosophy Regime

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7saturdays:

I find myself increasingly drawn to the wisdom of the Stoics – I find it’s a much more palpable and less abstract form of zen Buddhism – or perhaps rational is the right word. I look forward to writing more on Stoicism and CBT in the future but wanted to reblog this for preservation’s sake. It’s a wonderful resource that helps you understand that Stoicism is not so much an ethos as it as a manner of living in accordance to reason and nature.

Here is an excerpt from the post containing a summary of it’s contents:

Appendix: Summary of Stoic Practices

To give you an idea of the breadth of Stoic practice, I’ve added a bullet-point list of some of the techniques found in the literature…

  1. Contemplation of the Sage: Imagine the ideal Sage or exemplary historical figures (Socrates, Diogenes, Cato) and ask yourself: “What would he do?”, or imagine being observed by them and how they would comment on your actions.
  2. Contemplating the Virtues of Other People: Look for examples of virtues among your friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  3. Self-Control Training: Take physical exercise to strengthen self-discipline, practice drinking just water, eat plain food, live modestly, etc.
  4. Contemplating the Whole Cosmos: Imagine the whole universe as if it were one thing and yourself as part of the whole.
  5. The View from Above: Picture events unfolding below as if observed from Mount Olympus or a high watchtower.
  6. Objective Representation: Describe events to yourself in objective language, without rhetoric or value judgements.
  7. Contemplation of Death: Contemplate your own death regularly, the deaths of loved ones and even the demise of the universe itself.
  8. Premeditation of Adversity: Mentally rehearse potential losses or misfortunes and view them as “indifferent” (decatastrophising), also view them as natural and inevitable to remove any sense of shock or surprise.
  9. The Financial Metaphor: View your actions as financial transactions and consider whether your behaviour is profitable, e.g., if you sacrifice externals but gain virtue that’s profitable but, by contrast, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses himself.”
  10. Accepting Fate (Amor Fati): Rather than seeking for things to be as you will, rather will for things to be as they are, and your life will go smoothly and serenely.
  11. Say to External Things: “It is nothing to me.”
  12. Say Over Loved-Ones: “Tomorrow you will die.”
  13. Cognitive Distancing: Tell yourself it is your judgement that upset you and not the thing itself.
  14. Postponement: Delay responding to things that evoke passion until you have regained your composure.
  15. Picture the Consequences: Imagine what will happen if you act on a desire and compare this to what will happen if you resist it.
  16. Cognitive Distancing: When something upsetting happens to you, imagine how you would view the same thing if it befell someone else and say, “Such things happen in life.”
  17. Empathy: Remember that no man does evil knowingly and when someone does what doesn’t seem right, say to yourself: “It seemed so to him.”
  18. Contemplate the Transience of all Things: When you lose something or someone say “I have given it back” instead of “I have lost it”, and view change as natural and inevitable.

Originally posted on Stoicism and the Art of Happiness:

An Example Stoic Philosophy Regime

Modified Excerpt from The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010)

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Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2010.  All rights reserved.

It is difficult, probably impossible, to do justice to the variety of therapeutic concepts, strategies, and techniques recommended by Stoic philosophers in an outline such as this. Nevertheless, I hope that by attempting to do so in relatively plain English, I will help to clarify their “art of living” somewhat, in a manner that may be of service to those who wish to make use of classical philosophy in modern life, for the purposes of self-help or personal development. It probably requires the self-discipline for which Stoics were renowned to follow a regime like this in full, and I imagine that the intention was to begin by attempting one step at a time. I certainly don’t propose this as an evidence-based treatment protocol but rather as an attempt…

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Meditations: Session Four – On Fear

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Last night I dove back into my meditations, using the method I detailed here.

The fact that I haven’t been setting aside time for my meditation practice is partly a result of a lack of discipline in this area of my life, but it’s also a reflection of the massive power of my previous meditations. Their meaning has continued to become increasingly valued to me each time I’ve revisited them during a period of introspection and reflection.

Unfortunately, last night I made the mistake of going directly into action post meditation rather than taking the time to write down and capture my realizations. Simple excitement, but next time I will be sure to savor the process of outputting my energy, rather than simply running off with that high.

I wrote down a few notes over coffee this morning, and the rest below is coming from memory, so again – the importance of writing after meditation cannot be understated, particularly given the method I use for my meditations.

Boiling Down Fear

  • Fear often boils down to the belief that we aren’t greater than our present circumstance and as a result we fear that we won’t overcome it
  • Any belief about insufficiency is a product of insecurity
  • Insecurity is the reptilian, lower level part of our psyche that is responsible for fear
  • When we are living from fear, we are living from a lower level of consciousness, because there is a more rational and grounded voice within us that knows BETTER
  • Fear occurs when past expectations and outcomes are allowed to negatively change our perception of the future.

overcoming rising above Fear: Establishing and maintaining state

  • Since we know there in an inner voice within us that knows without a doubt we can accomplish and attain what we desire (This is the same inner-voice that becomes frustrated with our fears standing in our way and with our situation) – then we must establish this inner voice as our dominant voice.
  • Establishing our inner-voice as the dominant voice responsible for our self-talk enables us to maintain a chosen mindset that’s responsible for guiding our life and holding us accountable to a higher standard than the negative fear driven lower level consciousness.
  • It’s about establishing and maintaining state to raise your frequency to a level that’s equivalent to the worth of your desires.
  • The key to establishing state is introspection, reflection, and meditation – rituals that connect ourselves to our inner voice.
  • Self talk is the key to maintaining state – you have to hold your frame, by holding your thoughts inner voice accountable – it has to be congruent.
  • When we establish the right mindset (inner voice dominant self-talk) and hold the right state, we are effecting change the proper way – from within. We are also committing to perceiving the future from a place of empowerment and confidence.

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PostScript – Here are a couple relevant videos I am enjoying that relate to fear and self-talk:

Best part of this video starts at 5:35.

Interesting mindgame to shift inner perspective, i.e., the hero of the movie mindset, and imagining the documentary crew following. I think the other interesting and valuable points are the idea of tough (self) love and being able to take an honest look at your life.

One caveat I want to put forth is that I don’t think it requires ‘positive thinking’ or changing your mindset so much as fortifying yourself from lower level consciousness and fear consciousness by establishing and maintaining a chosen mindset that reflects your inner voice / so it’s almost a major shift, versus a thought by thought change.

Really glad I took the time to meditate last night. It’s nice to burn a candle, light some incense, and just do something completely alone for myself that enables such a healthy and positive state of mind. As an added bonus, I was doing sprints and crunches on the sand before sunrise and made a point to dive into the pitch black ocean simply because I didn’t feel like being afraid to do it.

p.s. Doing some more research on the brain in regards to fear and came across the following two videos, which helped me better understand how my physical brain operates in relation to fear and change.

Great info that reinforces the concept of the reptilian brain in regards to fear.

This from 10:18 on contains some extremely valuable / insightful content. Some really awesome stuff on the way we can use self-talk and thought management to effect change.

Also this clip frames fear in a very rational and grounded way:

And this from 38 min onward reinforces the the power of passion and goals over fear.

And as an interim conclusion on my meditations and thoughts on fear, I really feel like one of the major pillars of rising above fear is stoicism. Adopting a dominant inner-voice that’s rooted in a more rational, higher level of consciousness is inherently stoic because it’s the antithesis of our emotionally driven, and reactive reptilian brain.

I’ve long read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and think that the stoics had a wonderful grounding in reality due to their ability to master their emotions and put aside fear.

I just finished watching a talk on what Ryan Holliday calls “Stoic Optimism” and it provides some good examples of individuals who have overcome fear and the obstacles they have faced to ultimately become who they were capable of becoming. So, ultimately, fear is often our reaction to the obstacle standing between us and our potential. Being stoic allows us to rise up to meet fear with excellence, fortitude, and will, rather than cowering in meek defeat.

“The impediment to action becomes the action, what stands in the way becomes the way” – Marcus Aurelius

Flash Fiction: The Arrival

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He awoke tired and sluggish as any other day. There had been so many barren days in this untold chapter of his life. So many unfolded tears and so much frustration had amassed within him that his quiet corner of the world now felt like an island. His thoughts had marooned him there, and like coconut water they merely sloshed about, seemingly without a purpose.

Years later he would look back on this time, saying, I had wanted more than anything, just to cry, just to weep. But the tears never arrived, so I just kept waiting.

And so the day passed without event, without anything to distinguish it from the other thousand equally drab days before it. 

That evening another tasteless meal was had, followed by a cigarette on the porch stoop. Afterwards, he sat up staring into his computer screen. Typing, clicking, scrolling. He looked up only to glance at the tiny gap between his curtains and the outside world. It was dark now, but this only came as a small surprise to him. Night swallows day, he thought to himself.

Later that night as he lie on the tiny couch that served both as a settee and a bed, he suddenly was overcome with frustration. There was no singular target to his ire but he felt confounded, he felt conflicted, and he felt overwhelmed with a lack of understanding for his life. Why this night, why things had become like this.

He rose up and quickly paced a circle in the small room, saying aloud: “Are you kidding me”. But then he sat down and reclined back onto the settee.

The night crept on long and slow and silent, and he hated it – the dimly lit room, the softly playing CD in the background that had for so long repeated itself that it grew to sound like silence to him – he hated everything. And he lie there busy doing what had always kept him busy at night – his gears were grinding, and he was thinking about all the outcomes that had driven him here and all the possibilities that might free him. He was busy drifting in the space between tired resignation and purposeless anxiety. 

And that’s when it happened: suddenly he found himself staring into the open sky. He had blinked to find his eyes open to the starless, blueish-blackness of the city sky. The music was no longer filling the void with silence and the light in the room itself was hardly perceptible. There was nothing but the sudden awareness of his presence under the open sky. And he wasn’t shocked or scared – he felt nothing but alive; all he felt was fearless. But it wasn’t anything like the modern definition of fearless as we know it – it wasn’t anything boldly courageous; it was the rare feeling of being totally unafraid; it was the feeling of being totally alive. He existed in that moment without the human weight of worry or the fear that he, as all men, carry. And in that moment, he knew. In that moment, in that single span of time before he would blink again, he felt a dozen thoughts all giving him the same answer.

When he described this moment a decade later in a return letter to a reader, he called it: The arrival of my North Star.

Wicked Tuna, Serendipity and Zemblanity: The Zen of The Universe and The Power of Authentic Belief

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I hate to post something on the heels of my previous post, which meant a lot to me – but this has to be written.

Tonight I was talking to my dad and he was tell me about watching the show Wicked Tuna, which chronicles the stories of competing Bluefin tuna fisherman in Gloucester Mass.

What was interesting was my Dad’s observation about how the show really illustrated the concept of The Secret, but in a much more palpable and nuanced way due to the non-fiction nature of the show. What my dad observed specifically was the difference in the attitudes and beliefs of the crews on the most successful boats. He saw a clear distinction between the authentically rooted beliefs of the successful crews, versus the wishful or hopeful, or merely optimistic attitudes of the crews on the less successful boats.

Now, this is interesting. We’re talking about fishing. Clearly, there are a lot of factors that play into the crew’s fortune during the fishing season; from the Captain’s experience and the crew’s knowledge, to the fishing grounds, to the exact rig the fisherman are using to catch the Bluefin tuna – there are a lot of tangible, influencing factors beyond mere luck.

Now, I understand I may not be able to convince you that there is any correlation between authentic beliefs and success – but as I settle into my 29th year, I’m learning to trust in the serendipity of the universe more, versus attempting to understand everything in concrete terms; however, that being said, it’s not hard to imagine how authentically believing in your success aligns your actions more congruently with what’s required to achieve an expected outcome versus had you deep down expected to fail or simply didn’t authentically believe in your success . But we’re talking about fishing here, not selling insurance policies. So what gives?

Part of the open-minded fluidity of my own beliefs is understanding that there is tangible value in faith. And I’m not talking about faith as a noun, but faith as a verb. If you believe in something authentically you not only act accordingly in your actions and decide accordingly in your decisions, but you also think differently – you see the right signs, messages, and lessons – suddenly you start meeting the right people. And what this ends up looking like is that our beliefs actually shape the universe. Things have a way of falling into play that support our beliefs. And it doesn’t matter if our beliefs are positive or negative. Let me ask you, if there are two people and one believes that people are inherently selfish and mean, and the other believes that people are inherently generous and kind, what do you think is going to happen to each? Each is going to have experiences that support their respective beliefs. Beliefs are inherently self-strengthening because our subjective experiences and both our conscious and subconscious thoughts and actions are rooted in our beliefs. In this way beliefs can be thought of as foundational to human experience.

We experience life as we believe it to be. And to anyone who tries to use extreme adversity as a counter argument to this, I implore you to read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which recounts his experiences in four different Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942 to 1945, and the importance of finding meaning as a necessity for survival.

I’m both incredibly humbled and deeply uncomfortable using Viktor Frankl’s story as an anecdote for a blog post on belief as a means to success, but I suggest every adult read this book. It’s a treasure and will undoubtedly benefit you, the reader for having read it. One of the lessons I took away from Viktor Frankl’s writings is that when we give up hope, we have already lost.

So, how does belief affect the success of a fishing crew?

I think there is something beautiful in this question. I also think that we shouldn’t try to answer it, but rather use it as supporting evidence for the basis of our own empowering beliefs. It may be, as I explained above in this post, that we merely act in a way that influences the probability of a given outcome, but what I find so alluring and ethereal about this example [the success of a fishing boat] is that it seems to point to more than that.

For whatever reason, almost every time I have failed to succeed at something in life the underlying current has been that I didn’t truly believe in the desired outcome. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I wanted to see myself succeed – whenever I didn’t really and truly believe with the fiber of my soul that I was going to succeed, it just didn’t happen. However, on the flip-side, whenever I knew in my bones that I would succeed, I practically willed things into existence. Success, love – even happiness.

As this scene from The Tao of Steve shows, it’s all connected – and we can’t pretend – it has to be authentic.

And if you were to ask me about my spirituality today I would tell you that I believe in serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

But I think it’s more than chance. I think we can create serendipity in every area of our life when we believe in it with our entire being.

I also think we create zemblanity through our beliefs. Zemblanity is the opposite of serendipity:

So what is the opposite of Serendip, a southern land of spice and warmth, lush greenery and hummingbirds, seawashed, sunbasted? Think of another world in the far north, barren, icebound, cold, a world of flint and stone. Call it Zembla. Ergo: zemblanity, the opposite of serendipity, the faculty of making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design. Serendipity and zemblanity: the twin poles of the axis around which we revolve. – Armadillo, by William Boyd, 1998.

That’s kind of my spiritual belief system. It’s a paradigm for creating heaven and hell in the different areas of our life. We are constantly creating either serendipity or zemblanity in our lives based entirely on our beliefs.

Negative beliefs create zemblanity, and positive beliefs create serendipity. This is the yin and yang zen of the universe [for me]. And trust me, the universe has an impeccable bullshit detector. It knows what you are attuned to, whether that’s scarcity or abundance. The universe can responds only to authenticity, whether positive or negative. So it’s equally important to know that false beliefs and weak beliefs also create zemblanity.

So my advice for creating what you want in life is to work on aligning your authentic self to it. I wrote about this back in my Real Life Limitless series, describing what I called omnipotent beliefs.

Unfortunately I turned my back on my belief system because I was satisfied and I was lost in thought and unsure of my identity (Falling in love and going through a quarter life crisis will do that to you). But what this amounted to was that I was not authentic in myself and I was unsure of what I wanted. But today, I have returned to the pole of serendipity in a major way. And it’s unreal. The universe and I are on good terms again. I didn’t see it coming, but it’s been a long time in the making.

I just wrote the title for this post (I come up with title after I write everything) and I’ll be DAMNED if that doesn’t sound like an awesome book title: Wicked Tuna, Serendipity and Zemblanity: The Zen of The Universe and The Power of Authentic Belief

You heard it here first folks.

P.S. If you’re interested in reading more about how you can create authentic belief in your life, I suggest you check out this series from ordained Taoist David James Lee, The Law of Attraction or ‘The Secret’ a Taoist Perspective.

P.P.S. Albert Einstein said: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” In this same fashion, I believe that you can live as if everything is effected by your beliefs or as if nothing is effected by your beliefs. But please take my word for it when I tell you that the latter might rob you of all the miracles entirely.

This is Who I Am – Reflections on Quantum Change

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One thing I’ve learned about life is that we never know what the future holds.

Over the past four years I’ve been in a place of self-discovery – and as anyone knows who has been there, it’s a hell of a ride and it won’t let you off until it’s done with you – until you have gained what you needed to gain in order to move on.

And like the man shipwrecked, eventually you wash up on the shore and find yourself looking up at a clear blue sky.

It’s difficult to come out of something like this – where you are suddenly in a place where the fear is gone – and to start going all Eckert Tolle with your sudden clarity, but I wanted to share a resource I put together so that others may benefit from it.

And there is very much a part of me that doesn’t want to share things like this out of my own selfish inclinations to keep myself guarded, but that’s not how I want to live.

And as a note to anyone who feels lost right now: there is a rainbow of transformation at the end of it if you can keep your soul intact through everything; if you can remember who you are while being open to completely changing. Know that it’s possible to hold onto the parts of you that are sacred while releasing everything else. Take advantage of the opportunity to go through a quantum change and seize it. Eventually, all the questions you have been asking will answer themselves and the asking will cease to matter and you will learn to care far less about the things you think. And just maybe, you will learn that you are not a body and a mind, but a soul. And if that happens then you can step out of your head and change everything.

What follows are a series of reminders and affirmations about who I am and what’s important to me at 29. What helped me create these was taking a hard and honest look at who I am versus who I have pretended to be, as well as the mistakes I have made in my twenties, and the impact they have had on my life.

 

P.S. I never thought I would be so thankful for this time in my life, but at this point I am overcome with an almost undeserved gratitude at the fact that I went through this quarter life crisis of mine – despite all the pain I went through to get here. There’s just a lightness to my soul that I didn’t think would ever be possible.

P.P.S. The music of John Mayer has been a truly valuable and therapeutic tool in this journey of mine, from listening to ‘In Repair’ at my lowest, to ‘Gravity’ at my most melancholy, to ‘Stop This Train’ at my most nostalgic, to being able to finally get ‘Shadow Days’. (I could seriously write a novel on his music) As an artist he has really managed to define and illustrate the lessons of a quarter life crisis – something he admitted to going through himself. In fact I would almost say that he could be the Patron Saint of my quarter life crisis. I am so thankful for his music. And I don’t know if this particular song will speak to others, but for whatever reason it’s found me now.

Poetry: The War is Over

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I was stopped short of the start by every worry that ever gripped my heart
Because there’s a kind of squeezing that made me sick,
But there were no days off

Just a weekend’s denial to bury the fear,
I kept it at bay long enough to keep running,
I ran towards the dream:
The dream that one day everything would be okay

But it’s tiring living in the spectrum between fear and assurance,
It’s emotionally taxing to support the war of feelings constantly fought amongst your thoughts
Because it pulls you back on forth on a ride you secretly wish would stop
So you sleep – you lie in darkness,
Anything to shut that part of yourself off

These invisible thieves of joy could never make sense of your feelings,
And you can never find meaning in the nauseous emptiness they leave
Because ancient animal instincts never learned to factor logic into fear and worry
So we’re drowning daily in a flood of chemicals that barely know the difference between run for your life and hurry

So I’m penning a letter to the part of me I used to think was real:

Dear false self,

To all the thoughts that hurt,
To all the feelings that were never a friend -
You never helped me,
You only brought me down in the end

So I’m asking,
Isn’t it time I stopped caring so much about what I think?
Isn’t it time I stopped caring so much about how I feel?

Isn’t it time I let my inner voice do the leading, instead of believing all that my ego wants me to think is real?

Because I’m learning that I’m not what I thought I was,
I’m not what I wanted other people to see;
I’m not what I was, should, or could ever be

I’m simply me

The boy who saw a life of possibility,
The boy who dreamed of being empowered and free
I’m the guy who fell in love, picked my heart back up, and put the song on repeat

It’s time I recognize there are parts of me that would kill me before I could ever manage to manage them
There are parts of me no drug can suppress, and for which even therapy will not put at rest

There are parts of me that will never be free as long as I take them seriously

There are parts of me that given my conscious attention would forever leave me in a state of needing to meditate
These parts have kept me on the run far longer than was ever fun

These parts, forever wanting to get lost,
No matter the pain, never mind the cost

These parts -
These pieces divided
They’ll never be satisfied and they’ll never be decided
They will always measure, always question, and always compare
And following them I’ll forever be waiting on the day when I can finally say I feel alive -
But they’ll never let me arrive

I can’t wait on the day any more

I can’t pretend my life isn’t underway
I can’t keep being creative with the math to say ‘my life’s just begun’

I can no longer dream of the day when my house feels like a home and my thoughts are my soul’s choosing alone
I can no longer wait on the day when my babe will be there for me and I can forgive myself completely

I can no longer be headed home
And this is not a practice run – there’s nothing beyond but the empty unknown

This is it
My running is done and it’s finally up to me,
Not the skin I’m in, nor the eyes through which I see

It’s not my job to set a heart right that will never be ready,
And it’s not my job to calm a mind that will never be steady

So I’m stepping into my soul and no longer vying for control of a body that’s less than I am
I’ve accepted that the deed will never be done and that someday will never come

This is the song of a soul awakening
This is the resignation that I’ll never find an equilibrium between my heart and my brain

This soul is taking the reins – and while it’s not immune – it’s capable of understanding pain (and it doesn’t create it’s own)

I’m no longer a lab rat, chasing equilibrium
My wings are no longer clipped and I’m no longer marooned in a mind that’s waiting on the ship to come in
I’m shedding my skin and answering the call of my pulse

My soul is calling the plays and the fear isn’t as bad as I thought
The war is no longer being fought and tonight I’m finally able to give my all

And I know that never again will my inner voice and my purpose be forlorn by a body so small

This is a song of a soul in control
This is the release of worldly pain
This is the declaration that my inner voice and my purpose are one in the same

The war is over
He is home now
He is free
I’m no longer chasing equilibrium now that my soul is in the driver’s seat

###

Poem inspired by the music of John C. Mayer

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