As I was doing my new year reflections I wanted to put together a list of advice and reflections I would give to past me, a dear friend, or a future child. I hope they’re not interpreted as instructive, but rather as humble morsels of insight I’ve gathered from personal experience. Without further ado here are 30 pieces of unsolicited advice:
1. “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” Are your thoughts and actions coming from a place of fear and contraction? Or a place of release and love? My best decisions in retrospect have always come from the latter.
2. “The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he who’s (desires) are many goes astray. “ In Chinese philosophy, the concept of Wu Wei is about “trying not to try”. It is the practice of taking no action that is not in accord with the natural course of the universe. When I go with what is vs what should, the outcome is always favorable.
3. “Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.” - Joan Didion’s phenomenal essay on Self-Respect. I don’t think I truly became an adult until I swallowed and embodied this often “hard to swallow” pill. Taking responsibility for your life doesn’t mean resigning to the shitty things that have happened to you in the past. It means accepting their occurrence and taking responsibility of your perception of them. It’s about choosing to rub the piece of coal roughly and at all angles, until it becomes a small sparkling morsel of wisdom that you can bring into your present and future selves. The Chinese symbol for crisis (危机) is comprised of two characters: one indicating “danger,” the other, “opportunity". Take responsible for making everything into an opportunity.
4. Self-esteem is really just the by-product of picking yourself up from the ground over and over again. I’m pretty sure natural-born confidence is a farce and arrogance is a house of cards. The mere act of trying to be something, means that you are not that thing. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is quiet, enduring, and needs no introduction. It is the byproduct of staring failure and self-pity straight in the face and choosing to keep going. Overtime it calcifies into resilience. As a friend once told me, “be more loyal to your dreams than to your fears.”
5. Remind yourself that it is a privilege to simply be alive. Start your mornings by internalizing this quote: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” - Marcus Aurelius. Like John Kabat-Zinn once said, as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong. And do not fret about growing older. The only difference between you and someone young, is that you have been young for longer.
6. The soft can overcome the tough. In life there are frustrations, injustices, setback and failures. Do you meet these challenges with hardness and an unyielding attitude? Or are you soft, flexible, and yielding? The former cracks like broken jade, while the latter survives intact. “Like water, which can wear away the harder of stones, when you are flexible, patient, and open to alternatives, you can weather even the most difficult challenges.” Be like water, my friends.
7. Doing and being are not in conflict, if you let go of the outcome. In my monk vs. capitalist post, I wrote about the concept of Karma Yoga. Karma means “action,” and Karma Yoga is performing action without attachment to the outcome. It’s a way to be in the world, without being of the world. To dutifully do your work, whilst attaining self-liberation from the ego concurrently. Do the good work, but disregard the outcome.
8. Which leads me to the realization: the journey is the point. Cliche but true. I realized I could spend my entire life taking shots at my life mission, without any fruit, and still be happy. The point is to live a life where everyday is an expression of my authentic self. That’s the point. If I follow this philosophy, the results take care of themself. If they don’t, oh well - I’m happy living authentically anyways.
9. When you’re in a mental rut ask yourself: Is it true? Is it actually true? How do I react when I believe that thought? Who would I be without that thought? Turn it around. What if that thought came true? Find 3 reasons life would be better if it came true. These questions are c/o of Byron Katie.
10. Find your why. "He who knows his why can bear any hows” - Friedrich Nietzsche. I recently was able to better articulate my life’s mission and it’s been the piercing beam of clarity for what types of projects, people, and places I chose to present to. “How do I help people create a space between stimulus and response. Between thought and action. A space to nurture reflection and access ones authentic self, in order to go back out into the world to share ones gifts. Where those gifts come from a place of love and deep self-understanding vs. fear and fulfilling others’/society’s expectations. The space can take place over a couple days of meditative retreat, or over thousands of instantaneous moments that drives ones decisions everyday. How do I help people cultivate this space?”
11. Amor fati means "love of fate" or "love of one's fate". It is an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one's life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary. The culmination of your life’s experiences has always happened for you, not to you. Take heart that you are exactly where you need to be at this particular moment.
12. The sum of people and ideas around you raise the ceiling of your self-belief. I’ve noticed that the most underrated and not talked about force that drives “successful” people is self-belief. The belief that you are not just deserving of higher goals, but capable of getting there. Ivy League institutions, prestigious fellowships, etc. are just manufacturers and self-fulfilling prophecies of self-belief. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.” Surrounding yourself with people and ideas that project a higher ceiling of self-belief than your current threshold, raises it through osmosis. You see that these people are self-doubting and flawed just like you, yet believe in themselves. You can too.
13. Another note on who to surround yourself with via ribbon farm: Don’t surround yourself with smarter people. Surround yourself with people who are free in ways you’re not. People who are playing just a slightly different game than you are - awakening you from any finite game you might be already asleep in.
14. Embrace silence and solitude. (Especially in the mornings when you can do your deepest work!) When I was in my early 20s I craved going out and hearing what other people thought. Now I look forward to an entire weekend at home where I can hear myself think. “An old friend of mine, a journalist, once said that paradise on earth was to work all day alone in anticipation of an evening in interesting company.” - Ian McEwan
15. Happiness is the automatic by-product of progression in consciousness. The endless pursuits for happiness external to yourself like possessions, approval, awards, and degrees never bring lasting happiness. When the mind is agitated, we experience sorrow. When the mind is tranquil, joy arises. Happiness is therefore, measured by the tranquility of one's own mind.
16. See relationships as wonderful assignments to help improve your level of consciousness. "If I accept the fact that my relationships are here to make me conscious, instead of happy, then my relationships become a wonderful self mastery tool that keeps realigning me with my higher purpose for living." - Eckhart Tolle
17. “It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great (wo)man is s/he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” - Emerson. It is easy to meditate in a cave for all of eternity. It is much more difficult to maintain a rooted and peaceful mind amidst the whirlwind of society and daily vicissitudes. This year I was able to establish a (mostly) daily meditation practice, but when a string of challenges came up towards the end of the year - my mindful countenance flew out the window in a second. Luckily, my meditation practice enabled me to stabilize much quicker than before. But in this flurry of stress, I realized the point of mindfulness is for it to be constantly tested. Like muscle-building, it needs to undergo strain, tear, and repair. Remember that we take care of our mental and physical selves in order to prepare them for battle, the ultimate strength-building practice.
18. Do not turn away from the pain. When we have a unpleasant thought, it often leads to unpleasant emotions and sensations. When this happens, we tend to withdraw or avoid the discomfort. Either through switching to happier thoughts, or doing an action that can provide relief. This may ofter short-term relief, but in the long-term it reinforces the “badness” of the thought subconsciously and reduces confidence in one's coping ability. Instead of turning away from the pain, stay with it. Breathe into it and drop into where it shows up in the body. Only through metabolizing distressing thought loops, can we let trauma soften and dissipate over time. The only way out is through. Human strength isn't found in powerful miracles but in the quiet mind of one who faces situations as they are.
19. Live in day-tight compartments. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” - Annie Dillard. In order to practically extrapolate being present into my life, I’ve strived to live one day at a time. Instead of constantly living in the realm of future goals and possibilities, I try to bring my mind back to this question: What can make today great? Today you can control. Today you can take action towards your values. Habits, of course, are a big part of book-ending days and setting yourself up for success for the meat in the middle. If I tend to my morning and evening routines the day often takes care of itself. I.e. Good sleep, a mindful practice, moving your body, nourishing it with healthy food, consuming high quality content + conversation, expressing gratitude, and processing thoughts through journaling - all enable me to live the best day possible.
20. The only standard you should compare yourself to, is who you were yesterday. In striving to achieve your goals, do your best according to your own capacity. And take solace that you are on your own divine timing. As D.H. Lawrence puts it: "Some people have a lot farther to go from where they begin to get where they want to be—a long way up the mountain, and that is how it has been for me. I don’t feel I am getting older; I feel I am getting closer.”
21. It is better to be alone than to be living life at half throttle. Don’t settle.
22. “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” - Basho. Especially as organized religion is in decline, there’s lots of vulnerable souls eager to be handed meaning and an instruction manual to get there. This manifests through the rise of celebrity fandom, “cult” brands, online communities, spiritual gurus, and even crypto mania. You can now buy self-realization through meditation retreats, sound baths, and chakra crystals. People are eager to be handed a sense of meaning, without doing the hard work of self-realization and first principles questioning. These surrogates of meaning are all illuminating in that they reflect a core need for spirituality we have. Furthermore, teachers may guide us towards Truth, but they themselves are not Truth. “The great path has no gates, thousands of roads enter it. When you pass through this gateless gate you walk the universe alone.” - Mumon. Think for yourself, always. Truth has a way of recognizing the soul, regardless of its delivery medium. I wrote a bit about my unraveling journey towards finding Truth in this poem.
23. Keep your ego in check. Knowledge can be weaponized to make the ego feel intellectually superior. Entrepreneurship can be weaponized for the ego to feel it has control in the world. Being “self-actualized” can be weaponized as being spiritually superior than others. Check your ego regularly.
24. To mitigate suffering, understand what your values are, and then live towards them. In my post Why we Suffer, I wrote that values are splint into 2: ‘Personal value’ - what I expect from others. And ‘Obligatory value’ - what I expect from myself. When you compromise your obligatory value despite still holding the personal value, you create a conflict in yourself. As such, your quality of life always suffers when you becomes split. Once you realize this, it’s a no-brainer to always adhere to your values and never compromise them for short-term gains. In Japan, they have a word for this: 心 Kokoro - The intersection of heart, mind, & spirit that's a person’s essence, soul, or center. Instead of being treated separately, they are one. eg. "She has good kokoro" = her heart, spirit, soul & mind are aligned.
25. Mood follows action. What we do, is what we are. Sometimes when I am feeling down or unmotivated, the best thing I can do to change my mental state is to change my physical state. If I’m down or in a rut, I force myself to move my body, even if only a little bit. This helps shift my perspective and resets my operating system—and more often than not, I’ll feel better. Furthermore, I often follow this checklist to see if any physical or mental bias’ are distorting my mood: Get out of my head & into your body, become aware of physical + mental deficiencies, and ask if my perspective changes as I time travel.
26. Success is not being on the top of the hierarchy, it’s standing outside of all hierarchies. One of the biggest accomplishment of my 20s is realizing that most career ladders are just treadmills, most promotions already undervalue you, and all I care about is building cool shit with people who energize me. As I wrote in my definition of success piece: What is my happiness? I’m still figuring it out. But I no longer measure it in terms of levels jumped, zeros added to my pay stub, the hype of the company/field, or the number of people I manage. I’ve begun to measure it in what my days look like and the consistency and quality of my creative expression
27. You are both everything and nothing at the same time. We should see identities as clothing we put on to navigate the world, while the soul beneath is pure and devoid of labels. Why? Because problems arise when we think we are the clothes we wear or even the bodies beneath. Like iron, our identities only become clearer once they’re put through the fire of experiences. To die, decombust, recombine, and renew upon ever-compounding plateaus of self-knowledge. As a result, they are never fixed or homogeneous in nature. Your personal identity portfolio is never locked into one final permutation. Instead, it’s an abounding and bustling sampling of what alights your soul at any one point at time, and for plethoras of “point-in-times” thereafter. And this thought, for me at least, is incredibly freeing. To continuously keep your identity flexible and open, is to be truly anti-fragile.
28. “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” — J.D Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
29. We don't seek world peace. We seek self-peace. We hanker after world peace because the idea gives us a sense of self-peace. The truth is that if everyone in the world found peace in themselves, the "world" would forever be at peace.
30. Measure life by moments of ambedo (n.) - a melancholic trance where one is absorbed in vivid sensory details: raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in coffee. A brief soak into aliveness. Done purely for its own sake.
Happy new year <3