Having lived in India–land of sages–for over a year now, one may wonder whether enlightenment has taken hold. Let me share some of the nuggets I’ve gleaned. This isn’t what I found chiseled on walls in Sanskrit. It’s what living and thinking in the modern world have wrought.
1.) Anger is just fear in a red dress.
It’s all just frustration / unease / discontent with one’s limited domain of control.
On a related note, I read a relevant quote from Irmgard Schloegl recently: “Look at getting mad from this perspective. If you had but five more minutes to live, and it would still be worth getting mad over, then by all means do so.”
2.) Secret paths to wisdom are bullshit–the theory is simple the practice is arduous.
It all boils down to living in the moment more, being aware of your mind, and exercising your will.
First, you start becoming aware that you were recently a jackass.
Next, you begin to realize you’re in the process of being a jackass.
Then realize that you’re about to be a jackass–but you can’t help yourself and end up with jackass’s remorse.
Finally, you begin to preempt your inner jackass.
The latter is wisdom, and it’s not for lazy people who like shortcuts.
3.) There’s no ratchet effect on wisdom–no one-way trip to enlightenment or nirvana.
Either you accept that life is a glorious lifelong struggle to be the best version of yourself, or you wallow in a sty of mediocrity.
4.) The words “just a…”–as Catholic nuns say of masturbation–result in immediate blindness.
There’s nothing that will blind you to the deepest beauty of a person, place, or animal faster than saying it’s “just a…”
5.) Stop thinking of the body as an “empty vessel.”
It results in your treating it like a rental car. You aren’t a bar of gold being hauled around in a manure spreader. You were endowed with a Rolls Royce with on-board access to a Cray super-computer, and you risk turning into a Yugo with an abacus when you fail to keep it tuned and quietly revel in its magnificence.
6.) If a teacher is happy that his students almost reach his level, he’s part of a dying tradition.
In a growth tradition, some students will surpass their teachers, and that’s only likely if the teacher wants it to be that way.
7.) Be a scalable hero.
Human beings are terrified by their smallness, impermanence, and ultimate insignificance. In geologic time, everybody is an inconsequential blip. You can’t get around this, but you can pick a scale of time and space in which you matter. That space is here, and that time is now. In the here and now, you can be a giant–figuratively, of course. Here and now you can’t be everybody’s hero, but you can be somebody’s.
8.) Start your pursuit of virtue by doing no harm.
Begin being virtuous by capturing the advantage in those quiet moments that need nothing but a lack of interference or insinuation. Then go on to active expressions of virtue.
9.) Vicarious living ain’t living.
Don’t sit around watching others live life.
10.) Don’t count yourself free if your impulses overwhelm your conscious mind.
People worry a lot about the control that external forces and authorities exercise over their ability to act, but often spend far too little time on whether they’re working towards liberating themselves from raw impulse, habit, and reactionary living. Epictetus used to piss high society types off by asking them whether they thought they were truly free.
If you’ve been following the science of free will, you’ll know that the current prevailing thought lands against the notion of free will. This is because brain imaging has made it possible to see how decisions are biochemically made before the mind consciously ruminates and “makes a decision.” However, the verdict is still out. The question isn’t whether we ever fail to exercise conscious free will. Of course, there are many times we fail to, maybe even most times. The whole point of emotions is to help us make decisions without adequate information to make rationally optimized decision. However, the question is whether we can learn to exercise free will. Scientist long ago verified that some yogis and monks can exercise conscious control over autonomic bodily functions (e.g. controlling heart rate from a static position.)
There it is: wisdom for the modern age stuffed in a nutshell of bullet points.