Most great stories have something in common: a relatable main character. And with the main character, the more characteristics we see of ourselves in them, the more invested we become in their story. Their journey becomes our own. Throughout their story, we become inspired, depressed, trapped, liberated–everything they experience–as our own experience. In our own lives, we might gain strength to proceed forward from whatever is holding us back. This is one of the reasons why flawed protagonists tend to be more interesting: because they need to overcome obstacles like us in order to succeed. In this sense, a great protagonist becomes a supporting character in our own life that encourages us to keep going. A good protagonist becomes a great supporting character when we learn from them, because we are the main character in our own lives. Perhaps one of the goals then, is to live in such a way that we inspire others by realizing ourselves.
Hello friends, and thanks for joining me today. This week, I wanted to do a breakdown on an excerpt from Swami Vivekananda. Alan Watts would often reference The Upanishads and Vivekananda when talking about the non-dualism of the universe and aspects of Eastern philosophy that the texts influenced (i.e. Buddhism, Jainism, etc). I won’t be going into Vivekananda’s biography or significance much here, but I wanted to break down an excerpt from one of his teachings that has helped me to understand myself better. I hope you find the following helpful as well:
“But the last and greatest counsel is that you need not weep at all. You need not go through all these ceremonies, and need not take any notice of how to regain your empire, because you never lost it. Why should you go seek for what you never lost? You are pure already, you are free already. If you think you are free, free you are this moment, and if you think you are bound, bound you will be.” –Vivekananda
Caterpillars & Butterflies
There are many people today who miss and grieve their younger days being gone. But according to Vivekananda, the best advice is that we shouldn’t be sad over losing ourselves, especially if we’ve never lost it. For some of us, “younger us” felt like a different person who was happier and more full-of-life, compared to the “older us” who feel isolated and damaged by traumatic life experiences. We are miserable over losing this energetic and better part of ourselves, but the thing we fail to see is that we are still one and the same person. We haven’t lost ourselves, because we are still here!
For example, when we look at a butterfly we often don’t imagine the caterpillar from where the butterfly came; it is still the same organism at a different point in its experience. You could say that the butterfly was always in the caterpillar, and/or that the caterpillar is always within the butterfly because we could not have one without the other. Similarly, parts of our life experiences makes up one entire life. There is no need to be saddened over the person we once used to be, for that same person is still within us– there is no need for sadness.
Sometimes, we’ll do creative and silly things to regain that person (or nostalgic experience) back, and call them “rituals.” Many of us have a morning or evening “ritual” that we feel will give us some control over the day, not realizing that our perspective is truly the control over everything. When we look back at ancient cultures, we laugh at their primitive traditions because now we can see the futility of what they were doing. Every Ancient culture had something strange, and we look at them as crazy because they were attempting to influence uncontrollable things like the weather and cosmos with rituals. This is what the Ancient Aztecs did, when they sacrificed living people for a bountiful harvest. This is what the Ancient Polynesians did, when they would cannibalize their enemies to gain their power. But even though we’ve come a long way from using physical barbarism to influence the unknown, it is the same fear of the unknown that drives us to be attached to form and routine today–now in an effort to control our brains. Today, we commit the worst mental barbarism with psychoanalysis, medication and expensive self-care and gurus. Perhaps future generations will look at what we are doing today with the same disbelief as we do of our ancestors today.
The Empire Of You
Many traditional philosophers would reference “empires” in their work because many of them would work as royal advisers to Kings and Queens. Sometimes, the rulers would be philosophers themselves, people like Marcus Aurelius or Emperor Asoka. These scholars were learning how to govern themselves so that, by extension, they could rule their empire just as effectively. While we do not have rulers and empires today, if we look at the word “empire” as our own personal life, we can begin to build, improve and manage different aspects of ourselves to engineer a better life. How we see ourselves is ultimately how we see the world.
Is life truly so painful, that many of us seek to be sedated with things like food, music, poetry, alcohol and drugs? What about life makes it so painful, that escaping it seems like bliss? I wish I knew. Yet we pursue our poisons in excess until they kill us: our love of food becomes heart disease and diabetes, our love of alcohol becomes failed organs and relationships, our love of drugs dulls our awareness and make terrible things seem okay. And what about poetry and books, where we live the memories of the authors instead of creating our own? We need higher and higher doses for the same escape each time.
Is reality really too much information to take in? So overstimulating, that we need to dull our senses to enjoy the beauty of it in small pieces? Perhaps there is no escape from making the choice of which poison we choose to escape the normal discomfort of reality. It’s much easier to create our own world which makes us ignorant of everything around us.
Just like how when we look at a rose, we ignore everything around it in order to focus on the Christmas of its red petals and green leaves, the thorns and its fragrance. It seems like the flower itself has a universe of its own that becomes more apparent when we ignore our own. Maybe we are looking for our own roses.
Uncertainty is a terrible thing to wake up with; uncertain if we want to go to work today, uncertain about the partner we wake up with, uncertain if we are doing the best we can for ourselves. It diminishes our enthusiasm for the day, as if our car tires hit a patch of quicksand. When we are slowed down, instead of choosing what to do, we revert to old habits (and by extension, our old life): brush our teeth, have our coffee–then autopilot–end up at work again. Years go by because we become accustomed to the uncertainty, habits and worrying. I think the answer to uncertainty is audacity. Ask for that raise, apply for a better job, tell people how you truly feel, go after the things and prove your self-doubt wrong. It might feel like familiar things are breaking down at first, but we can’t create something new unless we move on from the old.
Today I’d like to talk about the concept of time and how it’s often valued less compared to money because of its intangible nature. Money is tangible and can be used to buy things that others can see: houses, cars, electronics–pretty much anything that can elevate us in our social hierarchy. But we need time (and energy) to make money; money we can always make more if we have time, but we can never make more time. At the end of the day, each minute we get back from our busy schedule is time that we can invest in ourselves.
If not yet, I hope you can begin feeling the empowerment that comes from being able to reclaim your time. And while it is true that many of us don’t have time for things we enjoy doing, it is also true that if we don’t make time for it, we will never have it. Before long, we will realize that we are becoming older; that time has slipped through our indecisive fingers. Now is the time to demonstrate courage and take back your time that is being stolen by manipulative people and useless gossip. Every moment, whether we give it to positive causes or negative feelings, our attention builds what comes tomorrow.
We’ve finally made it to one of the most sought-after days of the week: Friday. The majority of the week is behind us, and now we can start planning to do some actually fun stuff! Except, this is probably not true for most of us. As the week progressed, the “laundry list” of things to do (including laundry) piled up and now we have a shit-ton of things to catch up on. But still, its not so bad because for at least a couple hours this week, we will have some time for ourselves to sleep in, listen to music, see more of our family, friends, dog, and others we care about.
But, we’ll probably be exhausted and trying to recover from taking the beating of the week. Driving somewhere far might not seem so fun. Staying out late means adding to the sleep-deprivation we already experienced throughout the week. Our bodies are literally in a state of trying to re-establish an equilibrium, except we are only giving it just a few hours to undo the entire wreck of a (minimum) 40-hour work week. And that’s only if we are lucky and not working a salaried job, or coming in on the weekends to spend more time doing work. But at least we made it.
While we were growing up, a family member or some person of authority told us that “life would be hard” and that we had to, in one way or another, “suck it up.” And somewhere along the line, we equated doing things we didn’t want to do as a part of life. But often, the people who say these things live the majority of their life doing things they don’t want. We definitely need to work hard, but what if what we are working towards in not something that we even want for ourselves? What if this whole time, we’ve been subconsciously following the rules of people who, like us, don’t really have life figured out any more than we do?
Are we not as qualified to disagree with them, and make a better quality of life for ourselves? What’s the point of working hard and doing things, when we cant even fully be present with the company of others, see our family often, and go on a trip without being a stressed-out physical wreck?
I hope that as you’ve joined me on this journey this week of breaking down each day, that we had the opportunity to reflect and make sure that we spent some time each day to work towards a way out of this unpleasant cycle, and creating a new one that would at least let us enjoy our lives a little more. I hope that each day that you daydreamed this week, you did a small action that will allow you to achieve those dreams into reality, be it a hiking trip in Hawaii, delicious food-trip in Thailand, building-gawking in Europe, or a spiritual journey through India. In any of those endeavors, I wish us well in our actions, to be that much more peaceful and happier. You can do it, we can do it. Because the next thing we know, Monday will be here again. Let us meet each week as a different person each time. Happy Friday.
Wednesday doesn’t exist. The days of the week don’t mean much to us anymore, because we often don’t even know what day of the week it even is. It’s almost like we turn on autopilot on Monday, and we don’t snap out of it until someone mentions that it’s “almost Friday.” It’s as if we live in a trance, inside the artificial world of our workplace where in order to to have financial freedom, we play the role of an extra in a really shitty theatre play, interacting with other uncommitted characters.
Most of us are wise enough to know that most jobs aren’t designed to create wealth, but rather help us make just enough to survive and help pay rent and minimum payments on our loans. And yet, we still participate in the race because it is more acceptable than branching out and doing something of our own.
We need equity in companies, investment in ourselves and businesses and a lot more education (financial and spiritual) to exit the rat race, and actually begin to not only taste freedom, but handle it well. To be independent, we must take risks and begin to act as independent people. And then, we can work with other equally independent people to develop our own inter-dependent network.
But for any of this to happen, we must begin to start snapping out of this trance, this autopilot, the illusion of a dream-killer: that we always have tomorrow. We can’t really live today in constant anxiety of securing our future when that anxiety is what prohibits us from taking risks and taking the actual steps to building a better today, each day. The future will eventually arrive, but let’s not drug ourselves with a paycheck until we finally get there. Let’s meet it as if we were preparing to meet a good friend–intentionally and consciously–and preferably in good health.
Fear is like a virus that is passed down from generation to generation. And unfortunately, the only people who have the strength to overcome it are the ones who suffer the most.
Think of war, particularly our white blood cells that attack foreign objects coming into our bloodstream. When we get sick, it is an immunological response to something foreign that may kill us. Our body temperatures will rise, we may vomit frequently and just feel like total hell–but if the body didn’t have the capability to fight, we would just be dead. Pain then, is actually a way for the things we can’t see, to tell us that the smaller forces are doing their job.
As Jiddu Krishnamurti once stated, fear is a result of thought and time. The more we think about something that has happened, or of what might happen, the more fearful we become. Many of our parents, peers and coworkers have built a life based on the blueprint of someone else; and yet they are surprised when their decisions don’t allow them happiness. This is where the fear begins, because memories of failure are compounded over time with the pain they cause.
Seldom in our lives, are the comments that are made about us, actually about us. If you’re not good at something now, you can get better. If you have flaws that bother others, you can always work on them–no one is without them. But most importantly, if you didn’t have what it takes to win, you wouldn’t be suffering right now. Because suffering (in the positive light) is a bitch of a blessing for living.
Nature has an interesting way of organizing things. Let’s say we take a look at something as small as an atom of an element. We can find that it has its own set of properties. Depending on its characteristics, the atom will either bind with more things of the same element, or combine with something else to make an entirely new thing — to help that element find its most balanced state. This is very much like us as humans. We often hear the phrase “in their element” applied to people who are comfortable in their surroundings, and perhaps in the flow of what they are doing. To be in our element implies that we are the most simplest version of ourselves, amplifying our true self into the world through our words, actions and creations.
Often times, when we attract things into our life that don’t seem to feel right, people will also be prone to saying that “I’m sending out the wrong vibes into the universe.” There is some truth to it, but it is not as abstract or mysterious as we think. But rather, living any version of ourselves other than our true nature requires energy. There is a reason why actors go through intense emotional detox, possible psychosis, or take a hiatus from acting after a serious role: it requires a great deal of energy to pretend to be something we are not. When we yearn for the weekend, a drink, a vacation, or anything else outside of ourselves for a release, we are actually seeking release from the role we have convinced ourselves to play. Instead of giving ourselves permission to leave this play, we continue acting and hiding the true element of ourselves — the irony being that what we sought has always been within us. To find the people who are truly valuable to us, who bind well with our element, and to create the tribe or community we seek to enrich and uplift, we must first have the courage to expose our vulnerabilities and strengths, and unearth the hidden element of ourselves.
One of the things that many of us have in common is a past we cannot change. We’ve often heard many life coaches and motivational speakers talk about continuing to work on the present and moving forward, that we should keep the past behind us. As appealing as this advice may be, I feel that ignoring an important part of ourselves isn’t really complete advice. Ultimately at the end of the day when we are by ourselves and we become introspective, where does our mind go? Often to the past.
Since the past isn’t something we can change, it’s important that we look at it from different perspectives. Just like with people and situations in our lives, if we can’t change them, it’s important to change our perspective. As I sit here, I think about all of failures I’ve had in the past. For some, reflecting on things that’ve gone wrong might be debilitating and discouraging. But with the right perspective, it can be liberating. Each time we’ve failed at something, it means we’ve displayed courage and took a risk. And most importantly that we’ve survived.
We fell down seven times, but something made us stand up an eighth time. What was your reason for continuing to keep trying? And can we cultivate that into a passion that keeps us interested in life?