When I scanned through the Twitter tweets put up by the people I follow, a few days ago I saw a link to "9 Mind-Bending Epiphanies That Turned My World Upside-Down."
I am a regular guy who has beat up his biggest demon. To make a long story short, I used to find life very difficult and now I don’t. For a while I was having such a rough go at it, I scrounged deep and hard for anyone who could tell me what I was doing wrong.
I experimented. I sought peace and ease through all the traditional means: piles of self-help material, religion, overindulgence in drugs and food, sheer hoping and wishing, even misanthropy. I tossed out what didn’t work and kept what did, and the result has been something of a Frankenstein of different life skills, philosophies, and goals.
Somewhere along the way, something clicked, and life got about ten times easier. I started sharing what I’ve discovered with other people on online message boards, and people kept telling me how much I’ve helped them. I began to gather that I have things to say that people want to hear, and so I started Raptitude.
The best way to understand where I’m coming from is to read my articles here on Raptitude, and my philosophy will become apparent, but the essential themes are:
Appreciating humanity in spite of its faults
Taking responsibility for the quality of your experience in life
Learning what humans are not so good at, and getting better at those things
Self-examination and self-improvement
I resonated with most of Cain's epiphanies, though I felt a bit jealous that the guy had been able to suck so much wisdom out of life before he was thirty. When I was his age, I was largely clueless.
(Which isn't so different from how I am now, twice thirty and then some.)
Browsing through some Raptitude posts, it's pretty obvious that Cain tilts toward a Buddha'ish outlook on life. I don't get a sense that he's doctrinaire in any way, though, which is appealing.
Epiphany #4 pointed me in the direction of a Raptitude mindfulness post, which I enjoyed.
4. Most of life is imaginary
Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.
As noted before in my criticisms of notions about "pure awareness," neuroscience tells us that it is impossible to perceive something just as it is, because there is no such thing as "just as it is."
Our human brains filter reality, just as the brain of my dog does. While I'm focused on a beautiful sunset during our evening dog walk, she's got her nose to the ground, fully engaged in sniffing some fantastically enticing scent.
But I definitely agree with Cain that life is more satisfying when experienced as directly as possible.
I can simply see that someone ahead of me is driving slowly on the five mile no-passing-allowed stretch of rural road that leads to town, without thinking "That jerk is going to make me late for my Tai Chi class... don't they know the speed limit is 55... pull over, pull over... let me get by!"
There are lots of ways, including mindfulness, to make our steadily shrinking supply of life-moments as pleasurable and productive as possible. Cain is into experimenting in a fairly organized fashion, whereas I'm quite a bit looser.
What's important, though, is trying out new ways of thinking, doing, and being, no matter how we go about this. Life is short, and getting shorter all the time.
My brother-in-law died last weekend. The Tuesday before he was an hour late for an appointment with his attorney. They needed to handle some final legal issues associated with the death of my sister (his wife) last December.
The attorney said that he arrived all agitated, because he'd gotten lost and couldn't remember where the attorney's office was. She strongly urged him to see a doctor right away. I don't know if he did. A few days later he had a massive stroke. Getting lost almost certainly was an early sign of the much bigger brain trauma that was to come.
His death got me to thinking. Eventually I'll be living my last week, and then my last day. Like my brother-in-law, I probably won't know when that will be. It'll only be obvious in retrospect to the living, which won't include me.
Every moment is precious.
I'm thankful that David Cain is sharing ideas about how we can make better use of the ones we have left. Religiosity isn't the answer, at least not for me. I don't want to be distracted from experiencing what is real right now by fantasizing about what might await me after death or in another life.
Another interesting Raptitude post is "Who We Really Are" (which has a Part 2). I'm not sure if Cain's musings are correct. That's not really important though. He's doing his own diving into what life is all about, as am I, as is each of us.
As Cain says in "This Is Your Life's Work" (another great post):
Throughout life you will move blocks around, and once you die your last contributions have been made. Why did you move the blocks you did? Were they meaningful to you? If you lived life as a carpenter, having left hundreds or thousands of houses in your wake — did you do it just to get paid and buy a bigger TV, or does your legacy of bungalows mean something to you?
Do you spend your energy heaving around blocks that don’t matter to you? Are you just doing what you feel like you’d better do in the moment, or is there a discernible purpose behind it? Is your life a project, or is it more of an endless laundry list? Will those who follow you be thankful, resentful, or indifferent towards your life’s work? Do you care?
You may not — there is another school of thought here. Some might argue that all they want to do is make this block-moving period (maybe 70-80 years if one is lucky) as fulfilling as possible, and it doesn’t matter what they leave in their wake.
If that sounds like you, fair enough, but perhaps the block-pushing part is most fulfilling for those who care where they all end up.
Don’t forget: No matter what you’ve been up to, you’ve been doing your life’s work.