I turned thirty Saturday.
The last time I felt this much psychic shock and bewilderment was after my first time making the angel with four wings. I was fairly young, but I remember feeling more alive, more at one with humanity, as if I had somehow deepened my sense of belonging.
Now a new chapter of life has begun, and I again feel markedly different. My twenties have been put to rest and all the fears they contained have been allayed by the reality that, like all fears, most never came true.
Of the fears that came to pass, I was – and am – no worse off, but, rather, better, stronger for having passed through the crucibles fate placed before me.
Some of the things I went through in my twenties hurt terribly and I scarcely felt I possessed the resources to survive, but I know better today – for I see the world through eyes that have seen much, and I know the depth of my soul as only one who has suffered does.
I have survived heartbreak and its aftermath. I have been scared and alone, and in times dimmer than I’d care to recollect – but I’ve never forgotten my dreams. I’ve kept faith in something bigger and brighter than my world when its felt small, and this has kept me whole, but I was not always this surefooted.
If I could pass on a message to my younger self, it would be:
You spend your twenties looking outside for answers, defining yourself based on the world around you, but eventually you learn the world has no answer equal to the silent, still voice of G-d rustling in the quietude of your soul. You are everything you have been looking for, and it is you. No one can complete you. They might help teach you how to love yourself, but ultimately the responsibility is yours.
I would be lying if I said my experience was limited to my own mistakes; my growth was seeded by those who left me breadcrumbs, people like Marcus Aurelius, Carl Jung, and Alan Watts. These spiritual grandfathers taught me that my world could be born of my disposition – rather than the inverse, which is the case for most people living today.
Disposition could be the defining word of my turning thirty. For at thirty the cement has begun to harden. Not to say you are stuck – but, in large, you possess a definite outlook at thirty, a defined character. The notion of disposition as something unique and inherent to all living beings (for even a dog has a disposition) is something I’ve only become cognizant of this past year. At thirty I am naturally mindful of my own disposition, and acutely aware of the disposition of others.
My Websters Dictionary defines disposition as, “The predominant or prevailing tendency of ones spirits; a characteristic attitude.”
I think of disposition as, the quality of baseline anxiety or peace a person has, resulting from their beliefs about the world. Maybe this belief-centered basis is why little outside love, the spiritual, and psychedelics has the power to alter our disposition. Perhaps Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – but even then, ones disposition is difficult to become aware of, much less alter.
Merriam-Websters defines disposition as, “The usual attitude or mood of a person or animal”. Viewed in this light, you can see how paramount disposition is in determining your happiness and wellbeing.
As Martha Washington stated: “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances”.
My disposition changed greatly in the course of my twenties, specifically the second half, and, naturally, there were times when it was clouded by a fog of transitory emotions. Times when my entire being was disrupted through loss and adversity, but, ultimately, I returned to my default set point, just as the sea finds it’s level between the ebb and flow of the changing tides, for change is constant and the future unclear, unwritten.
Aside from accepting that flux is guaranteed, studying Stoic philosophy (a passion of mine) and adhering to Stoic principles and practices has not only altered my disposition but insulated it from the forces of change.
Beyond the ancient and timeless wisdom of the Stoics, I’ve altered my disposition through mindfulness and meditation.
And of course, if you are so bold and so desire to alter the beliefs your disposition is founded upon, there is always the two trips of love and psychedelics – the latter of which I cannot in good conscience recommend – for obvious reasons, but I have heard when done in a safe setting and in a non-recreational context (i.e., you are at home, have done all your research, have someone sober nearby, have meditated and set your intention beforehand, have a candle and incense lit, comfy clothes on, water, and a journal to write in after) psychedelics can provide an expansive and therapeutic space, in which you can shift your perception, for the better, in ways that wouldn’t be possible without first altering it.
Of course, that’s not at all necessary but I’d feel dishonest had I omitted it. Just beware: psychedelics are a double edged sword and the dangers of their abuse, specifically from a mental health perspective, can far outweigh their purported benefits. Don’t think you can just go drop acid and you’ll be happy afterwards. It’s not that simple; although, if you are going to explore your inner world, I recommend you do all your research and approach it with the same reverence a shaman would. G-d help me if someone reads this and does something stupid or dangerous – please don’t. I do not view psychedelics as recreational fodder and I’ve partaken no more than a handful of times – beginning in my teens. At thirty, I feel no desire to use them again – but who knows, something major could change that, so, knowing their power, they remain in the far reaches of my toolkit – the day-to-day tools being: mindfulness, meditation, Stoicism – and spirituality.
At thirty, having a belief in G-d is one of my greatest assets. I won’t get into a theological dissertation, beyond stating that you can conceive of G-d in any manner you wish and in doing so you will give yourself a great gift – a gift modern, mainstream society increasingly denies its followers in favor of more vapid and commercialized idols. We all worship something. For some it’s money, looks, status, and other things bound to decay in time. For me, it’s the mysterious; the possibility; the unknown; serendipity; chance; the magic in my soul and the sacredness of my connection to it.
Finally, the habit of reading and writing has changed my disposition. I’ve published over two-hundred entries in the four years I’ve been writing on 7Saturdays, some quite transformative. Writing is therapeutic and beyond that I’ve written the things I needed to read, the things that allowed me to choose a stance true to myself.
In regards to reading, I read constantly. For most of my twenties, I read only non-fiction and only insofar as I hoped to better myself with the best pop-self-help books; however, today the non-fiction I read is primarily comprised of ancient religious and philosophical texts, and more modern books on psychology and literature – with an occasional biography of someone whom I greatly admire thrown in, so as to remind me of my duty to make my life count.
Given my passion and plans as a novelist, fiction accounts for the majority of my reading – thankfully, I love it. The best [fiction] always being that which alters or heals me.
Of the books I read this year, the most life altering and healing have been:
Another Country, James Baldwin
Home, Toni Morrison
The Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
But at the end of the day, you don’t need to read books to be whole. You don’t need to do a damn thing to try and change yourself. Simply taking control of the conversation in your head will do wonders for you. Learn more: here, and here. Books are, however, wonderful tools for helping you become aware of your own inner narration and dialogue.
Ultimately, you have to follow your own inner voice. My message in setting forth the methods I’ve used to alter my disposition is that you can change your relationship with the world if you change your relationship with yourself. I may have royally scrambled a few good eggs in my twenties, but I got the right things right: I took my own path.
I leave you with a current favorite quote of mine from Jung:
“My path is not your path therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life. Woe betide those who live by way of examples! Life is not with them. If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself. So live yourselves. The signposts have fallen, unblazed trails lie before us.” – C.G. Jung