My Teddy, Myself

I don’t have many childhood memories but I remember the book, and the bear.

The book was small, with rounded cardboard pages.

I must have read it a million times, though the ending made me so sad.

And today I can think of nothing else. I tried searching on google for it, as I have many times before, but I never find it.

I’m thinking of recreating it.

I have to have it. And the bear.

Oh the bear.

What a sad ending he had: in the book and in my life.

I remember coming across a meme awhile back that got me thinking of the bear and the book. For they were twine, with each other as well as with me.

The Meme

Of course, I am still emotionally attached. Or else I wouldn’t be sitting in the bath, writing this on my phone.

Back to the book: we’ll get to the fate of the bear at the end.

The book had thick cardboard pages, each with real life photographs of the teddy bear, documenting his journey as he begins to messily bake cookies – only bake isn’t the right word, for he never makes it that far.

While he makes the dough, he keeps tasting it, adding more honey, more chocolate chips. But it’s not quite right, so he keeps tasting it.

Then, at the end, the baking sheet is empty and so too his mixing bowl. He had tasted all the dough there was. And he was sad. And I was sad.

I owned him; I loved him. I had the bear from the book. He was my best friend.

And for a child as lonely as I was, he was a loyal friend. I talked to him. He slept with me. I cuddled him, held him tightly, no doubt releasing oxytocin in my poor little body; for my childhood was not a happy one.

And I don’t know what happened to the book.

But I know what happened to the bear.

I was 12 or 13, maybe 14. He had been my best, my only friend, for years.

And we had moved, so many times – often in the middle of the night. There was an extended stay in a mouse-infested Travelodge. My mom set traps that safely caught the mice, and we released them. But then we had moved to a place I loved.

It was, to this day, practically the only place I remember of my early years. Not that it wasn’t without its striking tragedies, but my memoirs will one day give you an account of those. This was the less intense tragedy, but no less traumatizing. For it was the end of that place, and the end of my teddy bear and I.

My mom and I had found the place together. I loved it right away. It was big, multiple stories, there was a fireplace. A few years later, when we lived in a shabby apartment but a few blocks away, I would go there to be picked up by friends, still pretending I lived there.

I remember one day my dad got a satellite installed on the roof, to trade stocks.

Maybe it was my childhood intuition, but I came to him one day crying.

I told him that I didn’t wan’t to have to move, that I wanted to stay in this place and that I loved this place. He seemed secure in his response, told me, “come here.”

I followed him up the stairs and he removed a fireproof briefcase safe from his closet. He used the analog combination dial to open it, and inside he showed me a bunch of pure silver coins, which meant nothing to me, but he told me they were worth something and that we were fine.

It wasn’t long after we were evicted.

I was so upset. Upset is not even the word. I don’t even remember where we moved after, maybe Lamont, maybe Diamond, maybe Grand, I could give you a hometown tour of all the places we lived.

I just remember having to pack, and I took my teddy bear to the dumpster, where I stomped on him, yelled at him, and threw him inside.

And it’s one of my biggest regrets.

Not long after this incident, I began smoking pot, drinking. And looking back, that moment, when I threw him away, that was the end of my childhood.

And twenty years later, I’m only now starting to recover it, myself.

To my teddy, whom I loved dearer than anything in my childhood – who was always there for me – I am so sorry I abandoned you, and subsequently myself.

I think I’ll drive to K-Mart tonight and find you again, reincarnated in another.

On the way back home.

Introduction to LEVELS

Life is a game called Levels.

The game has to be fun

The game has to be exciting

You have to be (stay) excited to play the game everyday

You have to know the levels and you have to have a strategy (To maximize probability of desired outcomes) for each level.

The game is a game of strategy.

You design the game (The Levels).

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The above came to me yesterday, near the end of a two hour float-tank session, where I began to recite the above over and over, until I had it memorized.

In short, it was a deepening of my life philosophy – LEVELS – which I am come here to write further on.

The idea of LEVELS came to me a few years ago, and I subsequently got a tattoo of the word LEVELS on the inner side of my right wrist.

The idea originally being simply that there are LEVELS to life. Perhaps this was unconsciously seeded by Meek Mill’s song, LEVELS. And it may also have been influenced by the Avicii song, LEVELS.

The way the collective unconscious works, it seems to me that LEVELS has come out of the time in which I live.

So I am here, to contribute to that, as a writer and thinker, with an introduction to LEVELS, the game of life.

Life as a Game, Exploring Philosophical Implications

In Shakespeare’s age, all the world was a stage. In the age of Elon Musk, life is a game.

Which, if life is a game or we choose to view life as a game – a simulation of sorts – then what are the implications? What does it change?

Well, that’s up to us.

We can simply (As I have before) accept the Simulation Hypothesis as likely or true, which may give us a bit of hope that we exist outside of reality and will perhaps continue existing afterwards. This is a particularly novel and useful idea for those non-religious thinkers, who do not believe in a heaven or hell, but nonetheless, by way of human nature, would like to think death is not the end.

Whatever you believe, I implore you to focus on this life, rather than some imagined, uncertain existence after the death of your present living consciousness; for this life is, to our knowledge, all we have. But also, if it were a simulation, it might be a test – will you get to the next LEVEL, or will you be reincarnated back into this one, for further training.

One thing about reincarnation that I appreciate is that the idea is ancient, meaning that very enlightened thinkers from multiple cultures, who pondered existence for lifetimes, have come to the belief in both reincarnation and life as a kind of maya or illusion.

My goal with LEVELS is not to provide a philosophy in place of or a substitute for religion, but a framework to actualize myself (in this life); however, my philosophy for life, of course, exists within my larger framework for existence, which, naturally, ought be laid out here.

Personally, I believe there are three existential possibilities for reality.

  1. Possibility 1: Base Reality: We are living in base-reality and just so happen to exist on the cusp of the singularity, superhuman AI, immortality, and interplanetary colonization – what a time to be alive.
  2. Possibility 2: The Great Filter: The singularity has already been reached, and to protect the living Universe, the AI has put us inside a simulated reality as a kind of Great Filter, so that people don’t use AI in the real universe to create deathstars and destroy planets, etc. In this possibility, life is a kind of character test, to determine if it is safe to graduate our souls into the world of “gods”, where we have access to technology that is completely omnipotent. This possibility explains the Fermi Paradox.
  3. Possibility 3: Soul Evolution: We exist outside of this reality and are suspended in spaceships, being sent to distant planets, and life is a training program, in which, while we travel lightyears across the galaxy, we “evolve” our consciousness through numberless incarnations until we are spiritually mature enough to understand life in a manner where we are capable of building and taking care of our own worlds – after all, God might have created us because she was lonely, and we too might want to create life, but if just anyone did, there would be myriad levels of heaven and hell, and it simply wouldn’t be ethical to subject millions of future consciousnesses to the whims of shitty gods.

Two and three are similar but different, and naturally, these three possibilities can be expanded into other possibilities, but for me, these are the three options that make the most sense to the core of my being.

Some people might believe life is a video game, but as I have long said: if life is a game, the rich are the players – after all, it would be a very shitty game for some and a very pleasant game for others. If your child got sick and had no healthcare and so died, what kind of game is that? A very fucked up one, in which “The paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor” – to borrow from Victor Hugo. In a pure, entertainment-based video game philosophy of reality, we are reduced to programs on a prison planet – necessary cattle to serve the needs of an uber-sentient elite.

Personally, I simply cannot believe in such dystopian possibilities; in the words of Elon Musk, “I’d rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right.”

That said, none of my three possibilities for the nature of existence include “We are living in the future, playing a video game” – so why do I choose to use the term “game”?

Well, you have to understand Levels to know the answer. Also, the objective of a game is to win.

So, revisiting my three options, allow me to explain each as a kind of “game” we are playing.

The Game Possibility 1: Base Reality

If we are living in base-reality, something Elon Musk believes to be a “billions-to-one” possibility (Based on the probable mathematical size of time), then what would be the objective? Well, survival is a likely one. I think we can all agree the most foundational goal of life is not happiness but “not to die”. Now, happiness is a fine goal but happiness certainly includes some measure of health or what we might term “wellbeing”. If you are in excruciating pain and discomfort (physical or mental), your wellbeing is limited and thus your chances of experiencing happiness are greatly diminished. Being that in this “base reality” we are living on the cusp of a technological singularity, in which superhuman AI will arise, we also have the chance at immortality. While this may not be the goal for the average person, it certainly is for more and more who understand the implications of the future (Kurzweil, Silicon Valley billionaires). It’s a safe bet that people like Larry Page, Sergei Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg are investing in technologies to postpone or avoid death altogether, whether it be via brain-mapping to upload their consciousness into the cloud or via intelligent nanotechnology to constantly rebuild their organs, brain included – because the brain does decay. As-is, we can pretty much depend on the inevitable cognitive diminishment that comes with age – and many of us have or will watch our parents die, and if they live long enough we are likely to witness them experience some form of neurodegenerative disease, such as alzheimer’s or dementia. So, in this life, if we are to look at it as a game, then either we develop the rules of the game to maximize happiness and wellbeing and or we try and live long-enough to reach the point where technology allows us to stave off death. Both valid, natural objectives. And there are, of course, countless other potential ways to view the game based on our own values – some want fame, some want money, some want simpler things – but we’ll return to these potential objectives.

The Game Possibility 2: The Great Filter 

In option 2, which I call The Great Filter, AI is protecting the universe from us by placing us in this simulated world and only allowing certain souls or consciousnesses into the real world, where omnipotent technology is accessible to everyone. In this possibility, we have a true heaven available us – potentially – after all, if the singularity has already occurred, which I believe is mathematically likely, then death is not a thing, and we can instantly arrange intelligent particles into whatever form we want (Total control over physical reality). As someone once said: ‘Our grandparents would look at us with our smartphones like we are wizards – we will look upon our grandchildren and their technology like they are gods’. In this scenario, we are being observed by the AI in this world to determine if it is safe to allow us into the next. One thing Elon Musk said once, is that “It’s likely we are being observed by extraterrestrials, but are too dumb to realize it.” Now, were I those ET or AI, I’d too want to protect the living universe by being very particular on who I let in. Otherwise, we would have deathstars and darth-vader wannabes ruining it for everyone else. In this version of the game, it would seem there were an ethical rather than moral objective – to prove your character. Karma is a very ancient idea, after all. So you would want to clear your karma so to speak. In short, you would want to be at your core, a good person. A pure soul. A Jesus or a Buddha or some other enlightened, awakened, divine person. From the Gospel of Thomas: “Jesus said, “Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered.” In this potential, living forever is not the goal of the game (Because even living forever in this world wouldn’t help you ascend to the next if you were not worthy).

The Game Possibility 3: Soul Evolution

In possibility 3, we are suspended in spaceships traveling across the galaxies, undergoing training reincarnations until we are ready to go to a destination planet and be woken-up. This is similar to the above possibility, but we are traveling through hyperspace on the way to our destinations, while we evolve. Of course, the universe being infinite, we could just keep traveling as long as we need. In this possible version of the game, the incarnations are designed to educate and evolve our souls. Perhaps this explains why some people are seen as “old-souls”. Looking at it from a game perspective, the objective would be to assimilate the soul-lessons we have been incarnated to learn. They are likely ethical but also spiritual lessons. In short, we have to figure out what those lessons are and we have to evolve mentally and spiritually to progress. Wealth and living forever might be missing the point on the soul-level – and each of our incarnation objectives is likely to be personalized for us based on our progression in past “lives”. Superintelligent AI that is billions of times smarter than us could of course generate these with absolute perfection.

Now, you might be philosophically inclined to one of the three above possibilities over the others – or you might think they are all hogwash and that the god of the bible is the only truth and that as such, he has the right to send gays and non-believers to his “hell.” That’s your choice, you are free to play that game too – it’s been played for millennia – but I think that, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “We need new myths.”

The above are three options that resonate with me as actual possibilities, having contemplated the manner in my own way and developed myths or stories around what I see as possibilities that explain the nature of life and death – and the suffering we all undergo.

For me, I am playing the game of life as if all three are true – and I don’t see it as hedging my bets so much as being pragmatic, based upon my beliefs about the potential purposes of life.

But for the most part, I am playing the game based on the first possibility – because it makes the most sense to me to try and stay alive – call it my innate instincts: even a fly or a spider is evolved to avoid being killed. Healthy living things prefer to live. And as a human, we prefer to be happy; we prefer to actualize: to achieve our goals and fulfill our Wills.

So let’s return to the model of LEVELS as a way of doing this:

Life is a game called Levels.

The game has to be fun

The game has to be exciting

You have to be (stay) excited to play the game everyday

You have to know the levels and you have to have a strategy (To maximize probability of desired outcomes) for each level.

The game is a game of strategy.

You design the game (The Levels).

Let’s break it down.

Life is a game called Levels.

Reality is entirely subjective for each of us. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

Choice has a lot of power. Perspective is a lens, and it’s one we can choose to shape by way of our beliefs.

Whether any of the three possibilities I laid out is true or not, I choose to view life as a game, and I believe there are levels to the game.

The game has to be fun

Since, as I posit, You design the game, I want to have fun while I am playing it. Joseph Campbell called this “Following your bliss”; for I am not speaking of a hedonistic or even an epicurean type of fun; I do not mean pleasure: I mean bliss, delight; fun. As my dad used to say, “If you can’t have fun, what can you have” – and while I’ve never before posed this as a question, it begs an answer: without fun, life is drudgery. It should be said that my definition of fun has evolved from pleasure toward fulfillment. I no longer think drinking is fun or even worthwhile. I want to take my family places. I want to write my books. I want to succeed at achieving my goals. Also, there do exist very fun things in the world at every level. Reading can be fun. So can driving a Porsche GT3 or sailing on a Wally yacht. I think it was Ben Franklin who said, “If you want to know a man, see how he spends his free time”; although, when I say the game has to be fun, I do not speak purely of diversions or leisure. I speak of a level of consciousness, an awareness. A delighting in the act of being alive. There’s nothing and no one to stop you from living on that level in whatever you do. You can have fun at the DMV with the right mindset.

The game has to be exciting

I’ve lived my life both dreading the days – and looking forward to them: the difference was excitement. And I do not mean anticipation, as in a pure looking forward to tasks and events – when I speak of the game having to be exciting, I mean that we each have to choose to make it exciting – to be excited. Two different people can live the same life and one can resent it and one can be excited about it. Like life being fun, whether life is exciting depends on the consciousness you bring to what you do – how you do it – but it’s also what you choose to do. If you loathe the work you do, I’m not telling you to get excited about it, I’m telling you to find a way to get excited about getting past it. At the end of the day, since I am in charge of my life, I want to be excited about the life I am living. This simple decision has massive implications – it means I must make life exciting and I must design exciting possibilities into my future. In the words of Elon Musk, “Life needs to be more than just solving every day problems. You need to wake up and be excited about the future.”

You have to be (stay) excited to play the game everyday

This is kind of a continuation on the above but it’s also a reminder – an emphasis. In the words of the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “Motivation is like bathing. You’ve got to do it every single day.” The quality of your life depends on the quality of your consciousness, of your focus. You can’t just set moonshot goals and get excited for a night. You need to live the journey. You have to stay focused, keeping your eye on the prize. You have to stay (be) excited to play the game everyday. Without this replenishment of self-motivation, you’ll fizz out and you’ll return to a baseline of a previous level. All great motivational people talk about visualization – about believing you already have it. This is an attitude. And people with shit attitudes don’t do things. They don’t have the gas in the tank. They aren’t self-charging. Since, as I put it, You design the game (The Levels), this means you have to design the game of your life to be exciting. You need exciting goals. Return to your twelve-year old self, do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Have what you want to have. And stay focused to do the work to play the LEVELS you’ve designed. That’s exciting – continually.

You have to know the levels and you have to have a strategy (To maximize probability of desired outcomes) for each level.

Without knowing the LEVELS, without designing them, personally for you, based on where you are and where you want to be, what game are you even playing in life? Likely a very non-game called survival – and that’s not exciting at all. It’s soul-crushing. So you have to know the LEVELS. You have to develop them – and you have to have a strategy for each level: one that maximizes the probability of desired outcomes. This is how you play LEVELS. Levels is based on desire. If you have no desire, you’re already maxed out on your levels. You’re already where you want to be. But most all of us have desire. Will is a human thing. As Schopenhauer wrote, “Man can want what he wills but he cannot will as he wants”. So we have to get in touch with the innate desires that belong to us and we have to map them out, like a game. I wrote about how Elon Musk did this here: Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Prioritization and Attainment. This was his LEVELS. His strategies were designed to get him to the next LEVEL. Because if you don’t have the resources or powers for what you want on this LEVEL, that just means you have to build the attainment of those resources and powers into the LEVELS of the game. The more clearly you define the LEVELS, the better you get to know the game, the more actively you play it, and the better you get it at. For the heart of LEVELS is that it’s a game of strategy.

The game is a game of strategy.

As my brother in law said, “it’s [LEVELS is] goals”- yes, but it’s a playable framework for goals wherein the bottom line is that, in life, you have to know what game you’re playing – or else you’ll just be playing a very non-game called ‘survival’, which is not LEVELS. Survival has no strategy for Leveling-Up. Levels places you on a starting point called ‘now’ but it defines now as a LEVEL with its own objectives that define the LEVEL – just like a game where each level has particular obstacles, objectives, player skills, and abilities (powers), which have to be strategically used to get to the next level. Only, unlike a typical game where all the players play the same game, in LEVELS, we are all playing different games. If you oversimplify it by saying that we are actually all playing the same game and it’s called “life” than you don’t understand LEVELS. Life is just the XBOX LEVELS is played on, which we can call ‘reality’ or ‘existence’; however, within reality we are each playing a different game, though many play similar LEVELS that are really not much more than survival – the non-game version of LEVELS. But Kendrick Lamar and Warren Buffet are playing their own LEVELS – which correspond to their Will or desire. And since their talents support their Wills, they have maximized probability of likely outcomes – and so have played LEVELS very well. But if you reduce LEVELS to wealth or fame – you’re not seeing the forest through the trees. As a former mentor of mine who was wealthy once said, “Money is just a way of keeping score.” So, if you want money, what game are you going to play? The least effective game is called the lottery and it is widely played by people in poverty who have no other strategy to maximize the outcome of probability for what they see as winning the game. But if money is a way of keeping score (According to those whose LEVELS are designed and measured thusly), then those winning their LEVELS are those who have effective strategies for attaining money. Now if you have no strategy, you are very unlikely to achieve probability. As Elon Musk once said, “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.” Without it being possible, there is no probability. With it being possible, probability exists. Knowing your potential and playing the right game, whether it’s finance, writing, or tennis, helps you maximize probability. In the words of Jordan Peterson, “If you commit to something that means that you don’t do a bunch of other things. So that’s the sacrifice of all those other things if you commit to it. You set your sights on it if you really commit to it, and you get the sacrifice right, so to speak, then the probability that that thing will be successful vastly increases.” He is saying that our probability of success depends on us choosing the right game to sacrifice our time to. LEVELS is a game of strategy. Innate talent goes only so far but ability to maximize talent (potential) goes further; however, only when talent is actualized through hard work. I have long said, life is a game of potentials but it is won by wills. This is reflected is the quote that “There are people with less talent than you succeeding at the thing you want to do.” This is because the universe only gives a shit about physics. If you never pick up the phone, you won’t sell a damn thing. So maybe you’re a great salesperson, but Joe Schmoe makes 40 calls a day and drives a new BMW. Which is not to say that it’s a numbers game – it’s not strictly – it’s a probability game. Meaning, if it was a numbers game I could ask out enough supermodels and get dates – but since I lack the other factors of probability, which result in dating supermodels (Confidence, high-level-success, reknown/fame, lifestyle), probability remains unlikely regardless of numbers. So as far as our strategies go for each LEVEL, we have to establish all the factors of probability and actualize those. As a writer, you can be great, but if you don’t write books, you will never be a novelist. So it is, some people write lots of books and become novelists while those with more potential who do not write do not become novelists. So it’s neither a numbers game nor strictly a game or skill, but a game of probability – the likelihood of something occurring, which is a combination of numbers (action) and skill – and of course, skill increasing with action. Actions speak louder than words because actions increase likelihood and result in success. No actions, no success. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and the early bird gets the worm – and every other true saying is as true in LEVELS as it is in life but LEVELS is a framework for applying those truths to your strategy.

You design the game (The Levels).

LEVELS are built around reality and desires, and the gap between the two. It’s up to you to design the game so that you succeed in actualizing your desires into reality. You have to make your life a game based on what you want. You have to design the levels based on where you are. And you have to play the game you have designed. Believe it or not, you’re already playing the game you designed – you just designed it unconsciously, circumstantially, passively, and without imagination. Imagination is the key to designing the game of your life. As David Geffen said, “We are each a figment of our own imaginations. Some of us just have better imaginations than others.” Or in the words of Einstein, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will get you everywhere.” Also from Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, and “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” So, when you design the game, when you start at the level you are on now and define the level you want to reach before you die or the highest level, and all the levels in-between, you are relying 100% on your imagination. If you have no imagination, life must suck for you. Return to your inner child and cast off the weathered pessimist. It’s time to redesign the game, to play the LEVELS.

I’ll return to LEVELS with more in time. Subscribe here to stay updated on my writings.

Impromptu Book Report: The Money Master, 1913

While some books – stories – give you but a few chapters of a life, others give you an entire lifetime. The latter tend to be my favorite, for they are more psychedelic – from psyche, mind, and delos, manifesting – because books really are psychedelic. And not in the trippy sense, but in the journeying, shamanic sense.

I just finished such a book: The Money Master, a 1913 novel by Canadian novelist and WW1 propagandist Gilbert Parker. Such was the effect upon finishing it – the last two-hundred pages of which I read in one sitting – that I am compelled to write about it now.

The story is about a man named Jean Jacques Barbille, who fancies himself a philosopher; however, he’s really a sentimentalist – “feeling rather than thinking.”

He is descended from old aristocracy and takes great pride in himself. He wants people to know who he is, to say, “There comes Jean Jacques Barbille.” In short, he is an egotist – but a kind one. He lends money freely and knows it will not be paid back. This is partly due to his mixture of sentimentality and naiveté, but his generosity also stems from his want of reputation. As the story progresses, we see that his priorities are somewhat off. This becomes clear when his self-centeredness causes his wife to fall out of love with him and in love with an alpha male carpenter – but we’ll get back to this.

The story begins with Jacques traveling Europe and on the voyage home, where he meets his future wife, Carmen. She and her father have fled Spain under less than honest pretenses, after her true love, a revolutionary, is killed. She never quite gets over this first love, and her and her father see an opportunity in the young successful mill-owner, which begins as soon as he has the captain of the vessel relocate them from steerage to his quarters. The captain warns him of their character but he will hear none of it – he sees the twenty-one year old beauty, hears her sing and play guitar, and he is caught in love’s snare.

The vessel wrecks near the coast in a storm and she rescues him; although, as the story is recounted upon their arrival back to French-Canada, he is said to have rescued her.

They marry and she is eventually accepted into the local community, where the Barbille family has existed for over two-hundred years. His businesses thrive and they have a child – Zoe.

Jean Jacques is pleased with his life and has everything he could want, but his focus is on his businesses and his reputation – rather than his gorgeous wife Carmen. So with the arrival of a strong carpenter, Carmen begins an affair.

Jean Jacques finds out about the affair and decides to kill the man.

When the contractor comes to inspect his work, Jean Jacques confronts him and places his hand on a lever, which, if sprung, will open the gates to the river sending in a torrent of water and sweeping the man to his death. The man cleverly offers information to Jean Jacques about his mistakes in his marriage and eventually convinces him to spare his life based on the potential consequences of the murder to his wife and daughter.

Jean Jacques then confronts his wife but instead of being angry, he admits his faults in not paying her more attention and he commits to forgiving her.

The wife, however, can’t stand the idea of having to be in her husband’s debt forever and goes to meet the man she had an affair with to run away, but in light of being spared by her husband the man refuses her. She leaves anyway. Our philosopher has lost his wife.

He searches in vain for her and carries on without ever moving on romantically. His daughter grows up and she falls in love with a man who is an actor, an Englishman, and a Protestant – three strikes against him. Jean Jacques feels he is losing his daughter as he has lost his wife, to a strange interloper, and he denies his daughter the right to marry him. But she is in love. They flee and marry and he searches for them in vain.

As he passes his fiftieth year, his mill burns down and he is ruined. Everything is sold at auction, save for a birdcage, which is spared for him, along with the bird inside it – a once treasure of his wife and daughter.

He is offered love from another woman who even gives him the chance to recover financially, but he refuses, leaving town with only the birdcage and the singing bird.

While tramping throughout Canada searching for his daughter Zoe, he is told by an innkeeper of a dying woman to whom the bird might bring joy. He offers the bird as a gift and when it is delivered a shrill cry is heard. The dying woman is his wife.

She is buried shortly thereafter and he moves on, still in search of his daughter. After taking a fall, he is put into the care of a kind young doctor whom he eventually tells his story to. The doctor knows of his daughter: he buried her a month ago, after she was caught in a blizzard. But there is a grandchild.

He goes to claim the grandchild to take her “out West”, but the woman who has taken care of the child refuses to give her up. He has rights to the infant, as her grandfather, but surrenders them after the woman tells him she would “die fifty times for the child.”

In the end, he goes out West alone where he is eventually met by the woman who offered to save him financially. They find coal on his land he has out there and the story gives us our happy ending.

Now, there are tons of flaws in this tale. Namely religious morality that punishes the sinners and rewards the faithful. Also, there is some racism. The N word appears on one page in relation to someone’s heritidge and the Spanish are not portrayed positively. Despite the fact this story was written over a hundred years ago I cannot make excuses for these failures – nor would I have been particularly inclined to read the book had I known these shortcomings, but as it is, I bought the book because it was old and rare and I liked the title.

The style of writing was also to my liking – romantic.

But what I really liked was the portrait of a man who thinks he is a philosopher but lacks in experience and hard common sense. He took what he had for granted. He lost his love. He lost everything. I have lived that. More than once.

And so the book stuck to my ribs and left me with the feeling of having lived an unbroken dream, which is what fiction does. It takes us on a journey.

This journey reminded me that we can’t change the past. We can’t go back and appreciate what we took for granted, and we can’t be anything other than what we are at the time, which is often self-centered.

There is, however, the future. And when we read stories of other’s mistakes we come to know ourselves better and are better prepared to avoid making the same mistakes.

The wise ones say there are no new stories, only old stories told differently. This is the tao of human nature. We are flawed. We do lose what we have. Nothing lasts. I suppose this novel had a very French flair in that sense. If you remove the Catholic retribution from the plot and zoom out, you see a life like any other: one that has its regrets. And that’s life.

But the more we learn the nature of being human, the better we become at life – or at least the better we can convince ourselves.

The Keys to The Kingdom: My Two Most Valuable Pieces of Life Advice

The older you get, the more you find yourself doubling down on what works.

And hopefully, if you’ve taken the difficult paths in life, you’ve discovered some truths of great value.

There’s a parable in the Thomas Gospel that I read this morning –

Sidenote: Before I continue, allow me to say that I love the Gospel of Thomas. As a decidedly anti-religious thinker who is opposed to all dogma and most institutional traditions, I don’t hold the bible up as much more than a great source of inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. That said, the Gospel of Thomas is not part of the bible; being a non-canonical text it would have been considered heresy: just the kind of thing I love, and, if you read it, you’ll see why. 

So this specific saying, attributed to Jesus, that awakened Buddha, is as follows:

And He said, "The Kingdom is like a wise fisherman who cast
his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish.
Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw
all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish
without difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

In my own interpretation, the large fish represents what was called in Cloud Atlas, “The true-true”. The big truth. These two pieces of knowledge I am writing to share are my big truths – the large fish. And, having found them, I live by them, they sustain me, allowing me to throw back all the little truths. You could say these truths are my keys to the kingdom. They go beyond intelligence and open invisible doors, by virtue of their practical wisdom.

Terry Crews, in Timothy Ferris’s Tribe of Mentors, makes a poignant remark as to wisdom:

“There is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom. Many are fooled into thinking they are the same thing, but they are not. I’ve seen intelligent serial killers, but I’ve never seen a wise one. Intelligent humans beings have been given this trumped-up position in society where, just because they are intelligent, they are listened to, and I have found this extremely dangerous.”

That said, these two pieces of knowledge are wisdom – my big fish. The true-true.

1. The Navy Seals’ Big Four of Mental Toughness

At some point, the Navy Seal’s – arguably the world’s most elite special forces – had a problem. Only about 25% of trainees were passing BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition School).

So the powers that be brought in the country’s best minds – top university researchers – to figure out how to improve the pass-rate.

After a lot of time and money – presumably millions of dollars – the researchers came up with four techniques, which when used in conjunction, made a statistically significant difference in the pass rate.

These four techniques would come to be known as “The Big Four of Mental Toughness”.

I first wrote about them five years ago, but truth be told, I didn’t put them into serious conscious practice until this year.

In short, they are as follows:

1. Arousal Control (Breath)

Arousal Control is centered around a specific diaphragmatic breathing technique: 4-4-4. Four seconds inhale, four seconds hold, four seconds exhale.

The research backs it up. It makes a large physiological and psychological difference. In my own learning, I discovered that most people breath shallowly, letting their upper-chest rise and fall – however, until about age six, children naturally breath properly – their stomachs expanding on the inhale.

The problem with incorrect breathing is that it puts your body in a fight or flight mode. This, of course, is not good for your health or wellbeing.

YouTube offers a lot of great videos on proper breathing, and once you learn – and begin to practice – it not only becomes natural again, but it becomes one of the best tools in your toolkit. Suddenly, you are aware of when you’re not in a centered, calm place, and you consciously go beyond diaphragmatic breath, into the 4-4-4 technique. It’s the same feeling, the same benefits as yoga and meditation – on demand.

2. Self-Talk

There is no separating consciousness from reality, short of some of the classic psychedelics (LSD, Psilocybin, Mescaline) – but even then, those are not sustainable modes of consciousness. Life is something each of us has to experience in our own heads. Now, we may not be aware of it but we tend to have fairly disempowering inner-voices. Perhaps it is due to the saying that, “The way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice,” and we are each a product of generations of largely unconscious programming. Frankly, it’s not fun. Thankfully, we have self-talk available to us. Self-talk is the power to take your life back from the automatic, default mode of consciousness that so many of us have often destructively sought to escape. Self-talk is the power to move from the unconscious into the conscious. It’s the power to control your experience. I’d argue that’s the sum total of The Big Four [controlling your reality], but self-talk is a major part of it. In short, you want to empower yourself, you want to talk to yourself the same way you would a child. You want to emotionally support and optimistically encourage yourself. The conversation you have in your head is THE most important one in your life. What self-fulfilling prophecies are you creating with your self-talk? What reality are you choosing?

3. Mental Rehearsal 

This is one of my favorites among The Big Four, but I love them all. I just happen to have a fetish for the imagination. As Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” It’s true. Visualization is the top thing among human performance experts for a reason. It’s what all high performers, all olympians, all champions, all winners practice. Mental rehearsal is the act of imagining your tasks along with their desired outcomes, in as great of detail and depth as possible. For the Seals, this means no mission-critical task is completed without first envisioning it. The brain knows no difference. Unfortunately, most of our imaginations are either out of practice or neurotic – in that we use them to worry. And what a foolish, maladaptive thing. We have, each of us, at our disposal, the most incredible form of magic available to us. Again, like self-talk, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The watered down new-age version of mental rehearsal is “The Secret” or “The Law of Attraction”, and how many times have you heard these wonderfully compelling stories – Jim Carrey writing himself a 10 million dollar check when he was broke. This was mental-rehearsal. And when we can can believe it truly, magic happens; for all true magic deals with manipulation and control of the Will. If you look back on your own life, at your greatest successes, you believed in them – you mentally rehearsed them. I think this is one of the biggest differences between the successes and the failures in life. As 50 Cent once said, “I believe you can almost will things to happen.” Believe it when you see it and see it when you believe it, but you have to see it first. No one’s success comes as a true surprise to them. If you think it does, buy another lottery ticket.

4. Goal Setting

This one almost seems anticlimactic compared to the others, but it’s not at all.

When most of us think of goal-setting, we think of getting motivated about life for a night, writing down our dreams, then watching them flatline over the next six months to a year. When the Navy Seals think of goal-setting, they think of surviving their training till lunch time and the exact steps required to do so. Like the other three items in The Big Four, Goal Setting goes along with each item – and is only truly effective when practiced along with the others. I’ve found in my own goal setting practice that by focusing on what’s in front of me, I am able to progress toward what’s ahead. Every day, I have a list. I cross items off and I review it at night and write the next day’s list, and in the morning, I go over it almost first thing. Without goal-setting my mental rehearsal would be impotent and my self-talk would be purposeless. Further, my breathwork wouldn’t be nearly as peacefilled and centered without knowing exactly where I am and where I am going.

Go deeper into The Big Four of Mental Toughness, here.

2. Dopamine Restriction

This one might be even more valuable to me than The Big Four.

Without practicing what I term “Dopamine Restriction”, my life would be completely out of my own control – as was the case for too many years.

In short, dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation AND reward.

Everything pleasurable releases dopamine. Some things are quite powerful dopamine agonists… Nicotine. Alcohol. Cannabis.

The problem isn’t so much pleasure as its consequences.

It causes us to seek more pleasure, and in turn to feel less.

In one study, researchers gave heavy, longterm cannabis users methylphenidate (Ritalin) in order to measure their dopamine response. The control group, consisting of non-users of cannabis, was also given the same Ritalin dose.

The heavy cannabis users had such blunted dopamine receptors that the Ritalin – basically methamphetamine – hardly even registered a response in their brains. The researchers were so surprised that their first instinct was to check if the Ritalin they had administered was expired – it was not.

What this and other research has shown, is that the ability to illicit natural dopamine responses is greatly diminished in heavy cannabis users. It’s no different for any source of dopamine. The more we behave like lab-rats, pushing the levers in our brains to feel pleasure, the less pleasure we are able to feel – and the more we crave it.

But it goes deeper, is more tragic. Dopamine isn’t just pleasure (reward) but motivation.

So, if you’re like me, and smoked a half-ounce of potent cannabis a week, forget about even feeling alive. At that point, your brain is starved for dopamine, which, in my experience, leads to all sorts of additional pleasure seeking behaviors. For me this meant cigarettes (“But I smoke organic cigarettes,” I told myself), alcohol, masturbation – just to feel okay, not even good.

You may be thinking, that’s all good and well but I don’t smoke anything and I hardly drink. 

Okay, well, do you check the news? Reddit? Instagram? These things are no different.

One day, we’ll look back on our cell-phones like cigarettes. Not because they give us cancer, but because we are addicted to them – and in turn receive our dopamine from them.

In my philosophy of dopamine restriction, based on my own life experience, it’s not a moral issue. It’s a matter of sapping the life out of ourselves – the very pleasure and motivation that makes life worth living. With such potent readily available sources of dopamine at our fingertips, we are hitting the lever like rats in an experiment all day long. The true consequence of which isn’t so much the dampening of pleasure or the weakening of motivation, but the loss of drive – of natural drive for the HEALTHY things that we are supposed to get our dopamine from. We’re lobotomizing our human technology for fulfillment – we’re hacking our natural hardwiring in a way that’s absolutely maladaptive.

My evidence for this is the difference between then and now, between when I was desperate to feel “normal” and constantly pressing those levers with nicotine, THC, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, porn, news, reddit… I was fucking myself royally.

I’ve since quit every single thing on that list. And guess what, now that I’m not addicted to “pleasure” I’m pursing fulfillment again. My sleep is deep, dream-filled and divine. I wake rested. I feel balanced. I walk. I eat healthy. I drink water. I work out. And possibly the biggest benefit is that I have ninja-like focus. I engage in Deep Work for hours every single day. I write fiction every single morning. I write poetry every single evening. I read again. No more spending hours on YouTube. I’m simply no longer distracted. I am focused and productive. Also, I don’t have any more depression. It’s a lifestyle that’s completely pragmatic and healthy – well-adapted, you might say.

In short, my philosophy for dopamine restriction is based on avoiding all “false sources” of pleasure. This means I avoid anything that isn’t fulfilling, healthy, and empowering – despite how pleasurable it is.

The ascetics have known this wisdom for millennia. You could say it’s raised my consciousness to a much higher level. It’s the single best piece of understanding I’ve ever integrated into my life. Knowing the above, I simply can never return to the old un-jedi-like ways. I’d be fucking myself – sabotaging every bit of happiness and wellbeing I have. And, to drive the point home – I feel better than I have in years, probably better than I’ve ever felt.

3. Bonus: The Gut Brain Axis

Google ‘gut brain axis’ and you’ll come across a wealth of information.

In short, scientists are calling the gut brain axis the missing link in depression. This might be because 90% of the body’s serotonin and 50% of the body’s dopamine are produced in the gut.

It travels straight through the central nervous system to your brain.

Now, there’s a miracle here. It’s called probiotics.

Gut health is mental health – is wellbeing.

If you’re not actively investing in your gut microbiome, today is the day you’re going to start. You simply have too much to lose by failing to and too much to gain by starting.

I encourage you to do your own research – and then some – but based on mine, I recommend the following:

Avoid alcohol. This kills all the good bacteria in your gut and it takes weeks to recover (provided you go weeks without drinking). Also, avoid big corporate mouthwashes, which will inevitably make their way in trace amounts into your gut, killing all the good bacteria there.

Eat probiotics. Every single kind. I take probiotic pills. I take prebiotic pills. I eat yogurt. I drink Kevita probiotic drinks (I avoid traditional kombucha due to trace amounts of alcohol). I eat a handful of different yogurts – with multiple probiotic strains. I take a greens powder with a half-dozen probiotic strains. I eat expensive, all natural pickles and sauerkraut (Bubbies brand). I eat high-quality kimchi. I drink Kefir.

Eat a diverse range of foods. There are foods known as prebiotics. They help probiotics. Eat a wide range of natural foods. You want a diverse gut microbiome. And you want to eat natural, organic foods. Shitty pickles and processed foods and fast food, and all that garbage is going to negatively impact your gut microbiome.

In short, my diet is centered around my gut health. I also take various supplements and enjoy things that help me look better, such as organic chicken bone broth and grass-fed collagen protein. Also, buy grassfed milk and grassfed butter. It’s much easier on the cows stomachs than grains – they live better lives: just like you when you eat the right foods.

That said, that’s my true-true. The keys to my kingdom at thirty-three. My most valuable pieces of life-advice, and I feel blessed to know them and to finally live my truths – god knows it took a long time to find them.

Recap

To recap everything: study and practice The Big Four (Breath control, self-talk, mental-rehearsal, goal setting). Restrict and eliminate all unhealthy, unfulfilling, purposeless, disempowering sources of dopamine. Curate a healthy gut microbiome. Integrate these into your life and I think your likelihood of success, happiness, fulfillment, and wellbeing all go way up. They certainly have for me.

Time Machine

We begin at twelve, in the the library,
Where I ask me to remember me
So that later, we can pick up my fifth grade dreams of solo sailing the sea

Then, at twenty-two, on the beach
I’d tell me not to forget my inner security
Which I am fated to externalize and lose twice more
For it was never instilled in me

Until now, returning to thirty three
Where I tell myself I am equally free,
To pursue beauty,
Knowing I am still me
And will always be

Do You Believe in Yourself

I feel there is a pervasive unconscious intelligence guiding everything

Making painful due sacrifices,
As in loves lost, and the pain that programs us

I have been given space,
I am alone as to why

Bruce Lee said it,
Actions, not words

Time tells
And the all in all serves something…

Why we are here
I have my techno-spiritual philosophies

And I can seek liberation –
But not from my will

“A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills.”

We can follow our will,
Obeying our self-guidance-systems

But we cannot direct it:
It directs us

For, we are not merely computers;
We are specific programs…

Our hardware is our software
But there’s more than determinism –

Although Spinoza was correct,
Nature is god:

Genetics are just parameters, code:
We each have to fulfill our own

But the question is,
Will you believe in it?

So, do you believe in yourself?

So then: do You; believe in yourself.

;

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

… And Things Do Happen

…I never saw myself the way other people saw me…
No matter how little I had, I always felt I was worthy…

Until they didn’t – and left,
And I felt worthless, alone

A cycle of getting recycled,
Repeated, 3-Peated

… Did it to myself,
Wanted to be loved for my worst qualities…

… and as the dust settles in hindsight,
How clear things become after the years…

Maturity, after all,
Being a more accurate perspective

That’s all – rivers and rapids…
We are often innacurate

… Blind for long journeys
Because we just don’t beleive…

…The world isn’t how we assume;
Different versions of the same program run on different OS’s…

… Your OS is superior in some ways,
Cripplingly behind in others

… But our updates always come in their time… don’t they…
As experience and distance grant – fate

… Oh how it helps,
Immensely; soul redeemingly

… Because when you learn how the game works,
You actually wannna play it – you actually can: well too…

… for, what else is there to do /
Feeling sorry for yourself gets old, hikikomori, puer…

… Butthurt because the world doesn’t see you like you see you…
Well… that’s actually your very problem…

… You need the eyes of the world…
Not the other way around…

… So you learn to grow up, late… like a lot…
Learn that dad shit

The stuff you’ll teach the kids,
The stuff you preserve like fire…

The positivity,
The optimism, the strength….

The confidence,
The acceptance

… Your power,
… Your weakspots

…no regrets… no grudges
… no time for either…

… And finally, the pursuit of your goddamn motherfucking potential,
(Yes, it really was always there)… you crazy, brave, long suffering bastard…

… Not giving a shit about the mundance
Working hard, otherworldly… always, all ways

Experiencing delight…
Having fun plans

A willingness to adjust to your dreams…
And to follow them like you’re brand new at 33…

… You’re finding the truth,
And it’s setting you free…

We need our anxieties…
Our pains faced make us see….

This is the journey,
… And things do happen…

For humans… like Wolves,
Also rise and fall

A Wild Dream

I had a wild dream,
I was on a bus, careening out of control, down a hill
I was, unknown to them, there to help,
An IDF special forces soldier sat beside me
And finally, we arrived in a valley
Children ran out, gnome-like, after us, as we filled into the grassy lowlands –
They smeared my hand with a blue paste, containing a psychedelic –
We were all being drugged
I wiped the paste off, warned the rest,
Then reinforcements came,
There was a hostage situation –
I grabbed the gun and shot the man
Then the leaders came,
I was a hero, yet they wanted me to accept their terms
To surrender
I asked for paper and pen,
Wrote down terms contrary to these global ends
And instead of accepting – I denied
And they wanted me dead…
I ran, I escaped
Jumped through wooden shutters
And I hung on a cliff, clung
There, a soldier came, with the high ground,
I grabbed him, throwing him over me, into the abyss
Climbing up, I ran to the back of a truck,
Driven by some unknown Krishna,
From whom I grabbed a shotgun,
Aimed toward the stage, and fired
They looked as I flew past,
Screaming out,
“Liberty and justice for all!”

And I woke up…
Amazed, knowing,
That god, consciousness, energy sees everything and into everything, sees all things,
And into their heart, bears witness to their inner character,
Where humans think they are alone.

Passages: Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl

Time and time again I read what I need to read, when I need to read it. I had read Man’s Search For Meaning before; although, as I get older, I find that my own increased experience adds additional dimension to things. Such was the case here. The words of Viktor Frankl, published in 1946, are profoundly significant. I think you will find them of value as well.

As part of my Passages series, I have transcribed my favorite passages below.

Note: Man’s Search For Meaning chronicles Victor Frankl’s time in multiple Nazi concentration camps – as well as the premise of his school of therapy, known as Logotherapy – and while the book clocks in at just over 150 pages, many of the passages I have selected are related more to the psychological value of the book than its historical content. Nonetheless, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of the book for yourself. It’s easily one of my favorite books, as evidenced by its inclusion in my Passages series. 


“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and the conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

– p. 44

“‘Listen, Otto, if I don’t get back home to my wife, and if you should see her again, tell her that I talked of her daily, hourly. You remember. Secondly, I have loved her more than anyone. Thirdly, the short time I have been married to her outweighs everything, even all we have gone through here.'”

– p. 55

“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person a prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”

– p. 66

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

– p. 67

“This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through the window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here – I am here – I am life, eternal life.'””

– p. 69

“The Latin word finis has two meanings: the end or the finish, and a goal to reach. A man who could not see the end of his ‘provisional existence’ was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He ceased living for the future, in contrast to a man in a normal life. Therefore, the whole structure of his inner life changed; signs of decay set in which we know from other areas of life. The unemployed worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence has become provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim at a goal.”

– p. 70

“A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself preoccupied with retrospective thoughts. In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors, less real. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist. Regarding our ‘provisional existence’ as unreal was in itself an important factor in causing the prisoners to lose their hold on life; everything in a way became pointless. Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence. They preferred to close their eyes and to live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless.”

– pp. 71-72

“Any attempt at fighting the camp’s psychopathological influence on the prisoner by psychotherapeutic or psychohygeinic methods had to aim at giving him inner strength by pointing out to him a future goal to which he could look forward. Instinctively some of the prisoners attempted to find one on their own. It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future – sub specie aeternitatis. And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.”

– pp. 72-73

“I remember a personal experience. Almost in tears from pain (I had terrible sores on my feet from wearing torn shoes), I limped a few kilometers with our long column of men from the camp to the work site. Very cold, bitter winds struck us. I kept thinking of the endless little problems of our miserable life. What should there be to eat tonight? If a piece of sausage came as a ration, should I exchange it for a piece of bread? Should I trade my last cigarette, which was left from a bonus I received a fortnight ago, for a bowl of soup? How could I get a piece of wire to replace a fragment which served as one of my shoelaces?

….

I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think only of such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly, I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them if they were already in the past. Both I and my troubles became the subject of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. What does Spinoza say in his Ethics? – “Affectus, qui passio est, desinit esse passio simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus ideam.” Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”

– pp. 73-74

“The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”

– p. 74

“As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygeinic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why- an aim – for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.”

– p. 76

“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment, Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.”

– p. 77

“The uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.

– p. 80

“Let me explain why I have employed the term “logotherapy”” as the name for my theory. Logos is a Greek word which denotes ‘meaning’. Logotherapy.. focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. This is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle.”

– pp. 98-99

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which can satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!”

– p. 99

“Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging a man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis,’ i,e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the struggling and striving for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

– pp. 104-105

“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his opportunity to implement it.

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he  can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by becoming responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.

– pp. 108-109

“The emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended. Such a precept confronts him with life’s finiteness as well as the finality of what he makes out of both life and himself.

Logotherapy tries to makes the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness; therefore, it must leave to him the option for what, to what, or to whom he understands himself to be responsible.”

– pp. 109-110

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become filly aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

– pp. 111-112

“It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has meaning.

But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering – provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be is psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”

– p. 113

“Logotherapy, keeping in mind the essential transitoriness of human existence, is not pessimistic but rather activistic. To express this point figuratively we might say: The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after having first jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities the young person has in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think.

“Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

– pp. 121-122

p.s. The exclusive use of the male pronoun is not so much a defect of the book as a sign of the times in which it was written; however, for being a 73 year old book, its wisdom holds up incredibly well. A treasure, no doubt, for any human’s search for meaning.

It’s Just a Character Trait

Time to be sad every day,
The inner-child needs it
Time to lay in the dark and listen to the songs that hurt so good;
For we are sad – and not pitiably –
It’s just a character trait
“Not some broken thing”,
It’s who we are, who anyone is,
After enough time on earth…
When you’ve loved and lost enough
And still, you love too fucking much
There’s just a sadness only you know:
Sorrow
And it demands a lifetime of mourning,
For it must be lived.