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All of us are concerned with living well.
We may not all be philosophers, though we all, at times, engage in philosophical thinking. It is my view that whenever a human being engages in philosophy, especially regarding their life—whether their identity, their moral status, their purpose or any other issue—they are doing the single most important thing possible. All of us wish to live better, and when we philosophise and think rationally (rather than emotionally), we are extremely likely to improve our life in a variety of ways. As such, I am going to present three trains of thought for you to consider. The number three is arbitrary; my life is dedicated, in essence, to the task of improving my and other’s lives. The number three is, however, a catchy number, and because it will lead to a short essay, will allow me to write three things that I doubt anyone can reasonably argue with. As such, by focusing on just three very simple but very important things, their impact should be that much more profound.
I often make a habit of writing similar notes, but once again: please think through each point extremely carefully. Undoubtedly, the three thoughts here will be ones that you have not only heard before, but will have thought about—but what I am asking you to do here is to consider them very precisely, carefully and slowly. I will phrase them in simplistic terms, but the power and import of each idea has, in reality, the power to change your life. In truth, it would be impossible to ever really drain each of them of their vitality and full meaning; so anything you can gain from them will be most helpful. I know that I, personally, continue to learn about them and myself every day I continue to exist.
One other thing to note is that the points may actually seem to contradict one another. This is precisely what I was referring to earlier: misjudging the true important of words and concepts, and thinking “Ah, yes, that old cliché”, rather than actually considering what it would be like to put that concept into action, allows very subtle thoughts to be construed only as generalisations. I shall touch on this point later on, but I thought I should note it here at the outset.
By “better”, for the record, I mean more successfully, more happily; the term can really mean whatever you want it to mean, but for me, the best life is the one filled with the most success, the most positive emotion, the most strength, the most power and influence and the most authentic fulfilment of one’s potential.
1. Be ambitious.
Life can so easily become a matter of finding ways to “fill” time that it requires an entire paradigm shift to undo this way of thinking. With the gluttony of distractions around us (the internet, television and phones being the obvious examples), we become seduced into finding pleasure solely in other people’s creations. For me, this is as bad as it gets. Certainly, enjoying the works of others is one of the greatest things we can do—but when it becomes your soul purpose, you are wasting life. The case in point here is television. The extents to which people will dedicate their lives to consuming one of the many highly-polished American television shows which purport to be about meaty issues—but which are really quite vacuous at heart, covered up well by admittedly superb production—become an escape. There is nothing wrong with escapism, and indeed I believe it to be an essential element of the modern human condition. But there is a limit.
When your life is defined by the television shows you watch, there is no question that you have surrendered the greatest part of your self. As always, there is a logical grounding: if you are too busy enjoying—read: worshipping—the creations of others, how can you be making the most of your own? Creations here can mean literal works of art, or it could mean the cultivation of personal relationships. More broadly, though, let us speak of goals.
If your day is defined by how many episodes of the latest addictive television series you have watched, where does that leave your goal? Slotted in somewhere later on? If so, it has already been demoted from the place it should be. More likely, however, is that it has been lost altogether. There is a phrase I have been very taken with since I conceived of it, and it is a litmus test for how you value your days:
Each night when you go to sleep, ask yourself a question. Was the day you just experienced essential to your existence? Could you have lived your life without this day? If you find that it has not been an indispensible day, I would argue that it is a waste.
I have never heard a single counter-argument to the idea that every human being should have a series of goals: a large, all-encompassing goal—their life’s dream, then broken down into more and more specific and manageable goals. The reason I have never heard a counter-argument is because anyone who disagreed that this is the soundest way to live—regardless race, age, religious persuasion or intellectual ability—would not know themselves well enough to argue the point. In order to know who you are, and survive the strongest test that life affords, one must know what it is they want out of life. By formulating one’s life dream, they will know what they stand for, what they are willing to give and what they are not willing to give.
Having a dream is, for me, the single most important thing you can do.
Now, a dream could well be modest: “to be happy” is the ‘dream’ I hear most often of all. No doubt this is a sensible thing to say; but is that really all you want? It is perfectly happy to be an utter hedonist and be happy. You could sacrifice your family, friends, intellect and existence to heroin, for example, and be very happy. I believe that most people do not understand that happiness is not an end-result: it is a by-product. Happiness can only result under the right circumstances; an unfortunate event can ruin any moment, and that is truth. A far more powerful thing to aim for is a real goal, a definable goal.
Let us presume that the same person who wished for happiness has now defined their goal to be “very good at their profession”. I would, again, challenge this. Why not be more ambitious? Certainly, this was already a solid step. But why not change that goal to being “the best in their profession”?
The important thing to note here is not the likelihood of the outcome—not at first—but rather the paradigm shift I mentioned earlier. The moment one has a goal like this, a variety of things happen.
First, there is a clear path. To be the best in your profession is not a fuzzy or confusing goal. It implies a mastery of all the skills required, and the need for a superb reputation. This, in turn, gives a path to the goal. If the end-goal is to be the very best, then there will need to be other goals between: to be one of the best; to be very good; to be good; to be proficient; to start in the proficient. Each denotes a stage in both the dreamer’s life and can be broken down further. There is an obvious starting point, and it is likely that it has already been surpassed. Next, the acquisition of basic skills is required. Then, practise. Over time, as goals are ticked off, there will be a real sense of achievement—and hasn’t it been earned? It undoubtedly has.
Now, to return to the original point—what has happened to “filling time”? That awful phrase is no longer in the vocabulary of the ambitious dreamer. There is still time to indulge in escapism—and indeed in the very same things—but there is a new mentality. This time, they are rewards for hard work—not ends in themselves. Never again will the ambitious dreamer congratulate themselves for watching an entire series in a day. If they did do that, they would scold themselves. Filling time is no longer an option, because their time is precious. Their time is used. More than that, it is savoured. Because of their unflinching dedication to their goal, and their addiction to the feeling of success and consistent achievement, the idea of having to fill time has become a relic of the past.
Their lives are not only richer, for having put themselves and their dreams before pointless recreation—they are still able to engage in the recreation they would have abused, but do so with a much clearer mind and a far greater sense of self.
I hope you agree that in this case—and for anyone who chooses to be ambitious and thus driven—their life is infinitely richer than it would have been through sheer modesty alone.
2. Enjoy life at every moment: enjoy what you have now.
Here, then, is where the contradiction may seem to be to the unthinking. How can I ask the ambitious dreamer to enjoy every moment of their life—if they did that, how could they possibly want more? Isn’t that greed?
Being ambitious gives a life meaning—regardless of belief in God or philosophical position. It leads to a drive that allows days never to seem like stale ponds, but a flowing river. Life has a direction, a purpose, a reason. This does not mean that at each stage during the journey to the goal life should be looked at as unsatisfactory.
Life is life. Achieving one’s goals does not change this inherent quality: it only means that one has achieved what one set out to do, which brings with it a sense of fulfilment, pride, happiness and a real sense of control. Achieving a goal is something to do in life, but life itself remains the same. Having long dispelled meditation as something ‘I would never be into’ (this relates to the third and final point), my mind gave me the following gift, which I now share with you:
If you cannot be happy with what you have now, no future acquisition will grant you it.
This is almost Buddhist in nature. Though I dislike attributing my thoughts to any system, the power of this thought was about not just material goods, but goals, too. Existence is existence. If we cannot enjoy the smells, sights and sounds of our lives now—we will never enjoy them. There is no excuse for not making the most of one’s life. If you cannot appreciate the staggering feat which is your existing at this very moment, it is highly unlikely that any far less important and impressive achievement—for example, temporarily possessing a lot of money—will ever satisfy you. Life is our most precious resource, and it is the single most pleasurable thing we will ever be given.
In tandem with ambition, then, there are already numerous benefits. If you are both happy with your life now, and each day undertake work to make it even better—could there be a simpler or more solid journey to happiness or success? No lottery win could rival the pleasure of enjoying life both before and after success, especially if that success was earned, rather than randomly gifted. The authenticity of feeling not only comfortable, but confident, in one’s own skin, are assets that should not be taken lightly.
There is an objection that I am sure will be brought up by some who resist the attempts of all to help them restructure their lives, partly because they are driven by emotions more than reason, and partly due to their inability to assess themselves as well as they do others (though realistically, either they can assess themselves but are too weak to do so, or are equally as inept in their judgements of others). This point is: ‘what if I’m not happy? Then what? How do I just “enjoy existence”?’
This can sound tempting, but it is an error. In fact, there is nothing quite so refreshing to a mind exhausted by dark thoughts that contemplating something that is more fundamental even than their negativity. If you can close your eyes and hold your mind still, attempting to clear all ideas from your consciousness, and simply quieten down the universe… you can discover, with practise, that as intense as those pressures and issues on your mind seem, there is something deeper. Something underlying even these issues—which could be death or loss. That something is your existence.
Consider the depressive who is really tired of life after a year of depression. If they could meditate in this way for just a few seconds, they would immediately feel relieved—if only for the duration of the meditative period. Initially, this may stem from the fact that they are quite literally no longer thinking of what consumes them—they have focused in a novel way, and are considering first nothing, and then their own existence—the fact that they are there at all. What is more powerful than this simple dislocation of painful ideas with more intriguing ones, is the special nature of these thoughts.
I have always found particular solace in the fact that the only beings that experience pain, or have any idea of its existence, are those who are alive. The only people who can feel pain are the only people who can experience love; the only people who can smile, the only people who can triumph and the only people who can craft a life and look back at it. To be in pain is a badge of honour. The great secret to coping with pain and hardships of all types, I have found, is not to attempt to escape the pain—not to blindly take drugs to numb it, to self-harm oneself into oblivion—but to embrace the pain. By accepting that pain is only ever temporary—for we are all born terminally ill, and are heading towards death at a steady pace—we can then sensationalise the pain; we can dramatise the pain.
What is more appealing: suffering pain quietly, or engaging with the pain—savouring it even?
For me, it is always the latter. There is no inherent dignity in absorbing pain and trying to hide it, especially when such an act leads only to far worse repercussions later in life when we flare up and resent those who could not see through our carefully-woven disguises. To embrace the pain, to let it be known that one is in pain and to make it clear that one is fighting the pain all the way—that is a far healthier way to live.
And what has this to do with enjoying life at all times?
Well, to embrace pain is to be happy.
Hiding—whether a secret, a lie or one’s true self—is never a pleasant activity. To be honest to and about oneself is another form of accepting one’s existence. Accepting one’s existence is not good enough, however: I demand that you who are reading this be proud of it. I demand that you think of it as the most incredible thing you have ever heard, as you would the birth of a child. The ultimate paradigm shift is the one in which one’s existence takes centre stage. None of the trivial and arbitrary things in life—like money, societal position and status—can ever come close to the purity and magic of existence. They are nothing without it—they would not even exist. Without the impossible reality that is our being alive, and having just one life—the perfect amount—none of these things would matter.
To understand that existence is our most precious asset, and to embrace and enjoy it by placing this fact at the centre of one’s life (and thus doing those things one truly wants to do, avoiding those things one truly does not want to do and by becoming the person you truly want to be)… is undoubtedly to live a better life.
3. Always be open to new ideas—even about your deepest beliefs. Always seek truth before reassurance.
It may, potentially, be claimed that this idea in some way clashes with the first (be ambitious). The thought might be that in order to be ambitious and fulfil one’s goals, that one should be dogged and unflinching, taking on no new challenges to the thought processes that led to the agreed goal and path. The distinction is between being dogged and dogmatic. Being tireless, and truly giving one’s all, is exactly what is required—being dogmatic (that is, unthinkingly following a path) is precisely what is most harmful of all. The case may be that the goal you have chosen is wrong. Wrong in the sense that is either unattainable, or unhealthy, or unhelpful. On the grand scale, there is really very little to be said against any particular goal if it was chosen authentically and its fulfilment will truly grant happiness and wellbeing to the person attempting to attain it. There is, however, a problem in that we are all fallible—specifically, here, in terms of zealousness.
To use an example, consider a devoutly religious person who was brought up as a Christian from birth. After the usual crises of doubt, and perhaps realising that no child is actually able to be religious (rather, it is a form of brainwashing, akin to saying that there is such a thing as a “Tory child”, when of course the child knows nothing of politics—and even less of religion), the person finds themselves at a crossroads. At this point, they take my advice and decide to devote themselves to God. Perhaps their goal is specific—the attainment of some sort of nirvana perhaps, or some goal of establishing a religious group, book or family. As I said before, there is really little to be said against this decision if it is intended to bring wellbeing and fulfilment not only to the person involved, but to others. Except this:
There is something disgusting about living a lie.
This is a personal position of mine that has driven much of my life, to the extent that I have sacrificed much happiness for the sake of truth. Depressing truths are more important to me than pleasant lies. This is not true of all people, and indeed many people actively seek the latter. All of my writing is persuasive in its attempt to promote truth as the best driver of life, and this will be no different. Here, the crisis does not lie from my personal denouncement of religion of all forms—this may well be irrelevant to the case at the hand. The point is that a goal chosen authentically may not be authentic. Over and above the fact that, to me, a person who devotes their life to organised religion—rather than their own spiritual and philosophical journey—is heading in the wrong direction, it is almost certain that at some point they will have another crisis of doubt—only this time they may not “recover”. They won’t recover because, in this example, they have discovered their real belief: that they do not believe in Christianity. The example can be replaced with almost anything: a realisation of one’s sexuality, a realisation of one’s love or lack of love for another, a realisation that one has been living a lie or even—and this is especially relevant for me—a realisation that one has been hiding away from their talent, hiding away from the activities that they should be doing.
Being too dogged—to the point that one will ignore clear evidence, and push away those trying to help them who see more clearly than they do—can lead to wasted time. This, as I have said before, is a waste of the most precious gift we have—life—and is the closest thing to a sin I can conceive of. As Seneca writes, “life is short—if you know how to use it”. To commit to something—as passionately and honestly as anyone who has lived—may well lead to a realisation, many decades down the line, that you have wasted the best part of your life on something that you not only do not agree with, but despise.
To be always open to new ideas, challenges and debate—to always read widely, critically and thoroughly—is to futureproof your life. By being aware of your own beliefs at all time, you will be doing yourself a wonderful favour. There are three reasons in particular that I believe this is an important thing to do.
Firstly, you do not risk wasting your life. Any niggling doubts you have about your choice—for example, your faith or sexuality—are addressed immediately. Undoubtedly, there may be a latency period; it may come at the end of a tough few months—but isn’t it better to confront problems after months rather than years? Being proactive in addressing difficult issues is always the swiftest root to productivity. If you find out that you have taken the wrong path, it is always better to find this out when you have wasted the least amount of time. That being said, I am not advocating quitting: doubt is natural, but doing something you utterly despise and know is not really for you, isn’t. Faith is one thing; being ignorant is another.
Secondly—and I think this is the most persuasive reason—you validate your goal. If you constantly challenge your beliefs (such as faith in God) by seeking the strongest counter arguments and you still believe—your faith is that much stronger, for you have challenged your belief, thought critically about it and still have faith. It may even be more useful to consider your belief as starting anew: to know that your beliefs—the most important part of you—are also current, is a wonderful insurance policy that you are living your life well.
Thirdly, you open up an entirely new world for yourself. At any point in your life you may realise that the decisions you have made are not the same as those you want to make in the future. At no point should a human being—who is possessed of freedom—feel trapped. That is slavery, and is universally condemned: why, then, would you wish to enslave yourself? If you “know” that the next forty years of your life are going in a certain direction; if you know who you will be with, what routines you will fulfil and where you will end up—is that really a life worth living? I do not care how wonderful one’s future is: to know every aspect of one’s future before living it could never be worth it. If I had no choice to change my life at any moment, and to head in any direction, I would hand back my ticket and leave life immediately. This point cannot be stressed enough: there is literally no telling what your life could be like if you are always open to ideas. Dogmatism of any kind—even of a positive principle like humanism—is a disease. The only time one can apply a label to someone’s beliefs with any accuracy is after their death—but even then, that does not capture the entity in flux they were. Why, then, would anyone wish to curtail their freedom and proclaim themselves a “life long” anything? I question my faith regularly—about my lack of faith of God, my faith in myself, in my path, in my goals, in the people around me, in my wish to continue living. This may sound bleak, or even perhaps harsh—but remember what I have just said. Each time I continue to re-validate those things, my love for them grows: I am proud of my beliefs and the people around me because I know that they are not only emotionally, but logically the right choices: I believe in them. I honestly believe there is nothing more healthy one can do than to challenge themselves in the most drastic way possible.
Can anyone honestly dispute the point that it would be better to challenge their beliefs—and be found that they still agree with them—than to go on living with what is essentially, old mental furniture? Fondness for the past is one thing—attempting to live in a time that no longer exists is quite another.
These, then, were three ways in which I believe any life can be improved. As I said, it was entirely arbitrary: the content, however, was not. Regarding the ideas, I will most likely expand upon them in future essays (I am thinking here of my form of meditation and a detailed exegesis in ways in how to challenge oneself). The seeds, however, are there—and I believe they are all powerful and simple enough to be incorporated into your life immediately, if you so choose. I hope they are as useful for you as they have been for me.
Doubt—and its murky brothers, depression and despair—are the least useful states of the human psyche, leading only to the atrophy of existence and the waste of the most precious entity there is: life itself.
They lead to nothing other than casual inactivity and misery, and, surprisingly, are entirely the fault of the man who doubts. For, though it may not seem it, and though many people diagnosed with depression (either by themselves or by others) believe this not to be true, the reality is that at all times the human mind is in control of itself. This is an astonishing fact, and in reality, it is a simple one too—the confusion is that “the mind” has so many subtle varieties of meaning that it is hard to understand quite what one means by the term at any given moment. Even here, as each sentence and thought runs on to the next and is later reprised, the meaning shifts slightly. As such, I would like you to take “the mind” to mean the total entity: different aspects of the mind play different roles (regarding self-doubt and faith in oneself) at different times. The system is closed, however: regardless of whether one’s doubt and misery stems from a mistake they made, or a situation forced upon them, the reaction is—and can only ever be—theirs, and theirs alone.
Needless to say, there will be much resistance to this idea, from various quarters. ‘How can it be my fault that I feel like this, when they said such hurtful things about me?’ ‘How can it be my fault that I feel like this, when my own mother died?’ ‘How can it be my fault that I feel like this, when she broke up with me?’
No doubt these points seem reasonable at first—for, who of us has not used them ourselves?—but if we are being truly rational, and really are prepared to get to the truth of the matter, rather than simply make ourselves feel better, the simplest response is this: how could the way you are feeling ever be anyone else’s fault? After all, is it not you who feels the way you do? Is it not you who fuels the anger, the misery, and the grievance? ‘How dare they!’ Well, no one is doubting how vile humans can be to one another, but the more important point is this: if you simply responded to said event with the words ‘Well, what a poor excuse for humanity they have displayed. I have learned how not to act, and I may congratulate myself not only for acting in a far greater manner, but I will allow myself a smile of either contempt or confidence: continue to act that way. It not only displays me in a greater light, but fuels me.’
Granted, one does not have to respond with that exact phrase—and, indeed, the actual words used are irrelevant, and will differ from person to person and from circumstance to circumstance—the difference was solely in attitude. The first response (‘How dare they!’) was based on a mind-set that is pathetic in two ways: the first error was to allow the weakness of another to cause weakness in oneself, and the second was to assume the arrogance of a non-existent moral high ground. On this latter point, one should always remember that what another does is, really, none of their business: no one of us is in such great and consistent control of themselves that they have enough energy to manage and control another human being as well. Let others do as they please, and expect them to allow you to do the same: intervene where necessary, but remember that you cannot force another human to do anything. Freedom is the most important value of all. No hurt of your own displaces that fact. Their life is theirs, yours is yours—which relates to the former point, which is really the subject of this essay. To allow the mistake of another to precipitate in yourself the error of depression… is really to double the original mistake:
If you see what you consider an error, or a powerful wrong, do not complain about it—do something more profound. Never forget that mistake, and do all that you can to never make it yourself. Set the example for yourself and others—and take pride in that fact.
In being told that depression and self-doubt are always, at core, the responsibility of the suffer, there are a number of automatic self-defences that are brought up instinctively. It is most natural to defend oneself when being told that you are in the wrong. It may be the case that you are expecting me to argue that these must be strongly countered, for it is this sort of instinctual thinking is what the irrational lies in. In most cases, this is absolutely what I would do—but, in fact, the reverse is true here, and it proves my point most effectively.
The moment you began to consider that each time you have been depressed, have doubted yourself, or have felt miserable, it has really been because you were not able to stave off those feelings, you undoubtedly felt offended. ‘How can I be in the wrong, after what they did?’ Well, if we ignore the content of this retort and analyse what underlies it, we see that really this is borne out of self-confidence. Indeed, even during our darkest times, when we feel so low as to want to die peacefully—or perhaps painfully—so as to extinguish what little life we have left, we are always able to summon this self-belief. ‘I may feel awful, but you disgust me. You are in the wrong.’
This is fascinating—and a most important fact that can serve you as well as any drug can when you are desperately seeking an amelioration of your mood and sense of self.
It will help, at this time, to use an example—though please remember that the principle underlying this is universally true. No matter how down and out you may feel, no matter how timid and weak you consider yourself, no matter how much you fear the gaze of company or another human, there will always be within you this capacity for outrage. It may appear only briefly, or seem to you quite frail in itself—but it will be there, and it will guide you out of whatever dark corner of existence you find yourself in.
Consider again, then, the man who has found himself newly single—due to the actions of his partner. As always, there will be a multitude of emotional angles (the anger, the misery, the confusion, even a sense of the absurd) but what we are interested in here are two: the standard feeling of rejection, and the much more interesting feeling of anger. ‘How has this happened? We were so perfect…’ Such will be the words spoken post-break up. Once the break-up has occurred, and is certain, there will be a sort of wall between the past and the present: this wall will stop the man in misery from realising what actually caused the break-up. Quite clearly, this couple was not ‘perfect’—far from it. Despite this obvious fact, the (quite possibly broken) man will continue to chime that ‘the relationship worked—I’ve got to fight on; I’ve got to give it another go. This is what love is all about; fighting for one another…’ Then there is an all-important pause, and what seems like a logical thought runs on: ‘besides, I don’t deserve this.’ Here, here is what really matters.
Though at times the same man will be found spouting nonsense, blaming the break-up solely on himself (‘I pushed her to this…’), the reality is that no relationship is even remotely perfect, and it is not only clear that all relationships must end, but it is healthy. It is especially healthy considering the amount of time and attention people give their obscenely-badly matched relationships rather than their life, but still the man may well continue to lie to himself: ‘she is the one for me… I’ve got to get her back! I’m such a dog, such a monster; how could I have wasted my opportunity!’
All of this is pointless.
The vital thing is to return to that moment when the man argues to himself that ‘I don’t deserve this’.
In truth, it honestly does not matter: perhaps he did deserve it; perhaps he did not. It is more than possible to reason either way, depending how persuasive the argument. What matters is that nestled in between those moments of despair, depression and doubt, is a little glimmer of hope. The moment the man stands up for himself, and realises that he is an individual—that all he can ever really control is himself, and himself alone—is the moment the man has in his hands the secret to a successful life. The question is whether he can close his fingers around this precious object—or if it will slip right out of sight. It is a powerful thought: that in one’s darkest moment can be found a secret to heights he has hitherto only dreamed of.
And how, you ask, is this moment so powerful? How is it used?
The answer is already in your hands: by understanding that you control your mind.
Within you is the capacity of misery and for triumph, for desolation and powerful control of all around you: this is a fact. The difficult part is simply in learning to accept this truth. It can sting a vulnerable ego, but the rewards are so impressive it is worth almost any sacrifice. In the example given, there are two outcomes. The moment can be ignored, or considered equally valid to the despair, and if this happens the despair will utterly consume the man and all will continue again. (It is worth noting that mistakenly identifying two unequal things as equal can have truly dire consequences. It is important to get things right; important to identify the truth in matters that may not seem vital.) The second is what will constitute the latter part of this essay: grasping that moment of control and holding fast to it. Controlling the mind is a simple logical point. To achieve well it requires dedication to the idea and a conviction to seeing it through.
Rather than build the argument further, let me demolish the alternative. Far from being needing persuasion, for such a wholly positive and helpful idea, it will be a far greater use of time to destroy the other option. Let us consider, then, the idea that we are not in control of our mind. What then?
If this is true, every success, every moment of happiness, every moment of confidence… stems not from you, but from somewhere else. Where? Your partner? Your friends? Your family? Strangers? Is it really logical to say that it is the down to every single person who is not you that you feel the way you do? You, the only person who has experienced every moment in your life… the person who feeds, cleans, maintains and carries around your body, develops your mind and cultivates an image—that person isn’t in control? The point becomes even more absurd when you consider that these other people are really dependent on everyone else. Take your role model: is it really the case that they are not in control of themselves, that everyone else is responsible for their success? It may seem convincing to argue that certain people can cheer you up when in a darkened mood—and there is no doubt that they do provide a stimulus. But who has not felt awful when really they should have felt much better? If you are not able to stimulate yourself to smile when receiving good news, it is as if that news was of an entirely different nature. If you are not prepared to receive help, the help is useless.
I am not trying to say that we are all alone, all isolated from each other—clearly, we are all connected. What I am utterly convinced of—and I hope that you, too, agree, for it is a profound thing to realise that one has control of their life at the most fundamental level—is that whether euphoric or despondent, the key to sustaining or changing your mood, status and your entire life, always has been and always will be, entirely within your hands. As you read this, you already possess all that it takes to fulfil your dreams. Whether they are modest or ambitious, there is nothing stopping you except yourself.
This is not simply uplifting news—it is also a burden. If your success (be it financial, romantic, physical or philosophical) is entirely yours to craft—so too is your downfall. If you cannot motivate yourself to use each day, rather than let it pass you by, it is no one else’s fault but yours. Indeed, a death, break-up or terrible mistake may well provide a persuasive reason to spend months in self-pity, but in reality, it is your choice to escape this. I say this not from a height: too many times I have found myself questioning my talents and my character, my chosen purpose and my very existence—and too many times have I wanted to end it rather than continue. I have sunk to the depths of doubt more times than anyone could ever wish to know.
But I have risen, each time, and it is from these depths that I have drawn this knowledge. These dark times could easily be described as a waste of my life, but for the fact that each time when staring in the mirror and asking myself if I was ever really worth of the things I dreamed, and which method of suicide would be the most noble, I have realised that to come from such a depth is a powerful act in itself. To stare at your life at the most abstract level and condemn it as worthless… and then to realise that, no, a life is by definition an opportunity, and to literally pull oneself up and rebuild oneself again… is the most important thing a human being can ever do. To crawl from one’s lowest point to health is worth the misery. One learns more about themselves and life itself than most people ever do.
To rebuild oneself and to know that all time is now a gift—though it always has been—is a precious mind-set, and leads to greater relationships, a greater use of time and a powerful focus. To come from wanting to die to wanting to live more than anything, is a majestic feeling. It may be tempting to think of that person as forever weakened by their lows, but the reverse is true: recovering from those depths is testament to the strength of the human spirit—its will to live, its will to survive, its will to flourish.
Indeed, we have moved on several stages from where we began—but such will be your journey if you accept that you are responsible for everything in your life: the successes and failures, the decisions you make, the friends you keep, the actions you commit to, even the moments you choose to back away; all define you, and all are yours. To finish, then, let us return to the man suffering despair after a break-up.
His eyes are sore; his body is weak. He awakes each day from nightmares, feeling as though he really has no control over his life. And yet, as his thoughts continue to run and run, to the point that he feels nauseous at their speed, he continually finds one persistent thought cropping up—just for a split-second—every now and then.
I don’t deserve this.
Again, from a purely logical view, there is only one sensible action. If you are now convinced that, at heart, it is important to take control of your entire life and everything in it—including what powers others hold over you—there is only one thing to do now: take control. Re-cast the words in whatever manner you see fit. Vitally, make the move from being offended at being broken up with, to being offended at feeling the way you do. Saying ‘I don’t deserve to feel like this’ is a far more helpful thought than ‘I don’t deserve to be broken up with’. It is the right of everyone to break any contract they wish. It is the right of any partner to end a relationship at any time, even if the circumstances may paint the situation ‘unfair’ (right before an exam, for example). The truth is that we only have one life, and to waste any of it for any reason is a disgusting misuse of the most precious resource we have. The partner had every right to end it, but the man is right: you don’t deserve to feel like this.
Fasten on to this thought, hold it dear. Let sadness dissolve and let anger take its place: the same intensity of negative emotion can find a much healthier outlet in anger. No emotion should be ignored; all have their place. Anger, however, is a motivator—unlike sadness, which is a menace that only incapacitates otherwise powerful human beings. By all means, grieve—though by this time we are assuming the man is finished and is fed up with sadness. It is time to stop blaming others for your position, and realise that how you feel is a reflection of the type of thoughts you think.
If you think negatively, and long for the past—you will experience only negative situations, and will be anxious about the future.
If you think positively, and long to change your future for the better—and if you have the passion to see it through when challenges arise again—you will dominate all ahead of you, and you will become a successful human being fulfilled at both the simple and grand level.
All of this truly stems from this vital step: taking control and accepting responsibility. The man in this example made the decision to enter the relationship, and with it accepted that it would end (either by a decision, or death): to pretend that the break-up is not his choice is a grave error. The same is true in all walks of life: if you can read these words and process them, you have control of your life.
The thoughts here may well be controversial to some, and if they are too challenging, then these people are entitled to let them lie—but they will have to accept that when those who take full control of their lives are succeeding in all their goals and relationships, it was, in reality, their choice not to take the advice. There is no escaping this fact; there is only acceptance or denial.
The question, then, is this: are you prepared to extend that feeling of satisfaction you take when you know that you have succeeded because of the choices you made… to your feelings of despair? If you can, you are in possession of an incredible piece of knowledge—a life changing piece of knowledge.
The thought is simple, but its power is as profound as life itself:
Your life is yours, and all that you do is a consequence of your decisions—whether you choose to embrace it or not.
The problem isn’t what to do
Because nothing is worth doing;
The problem is what to do
When it’s all worth so pursuing.
The intricacies of indecision
In harbouring the inadequacy
Of clear-cut moral precision.
Half-heartedly playing society’s game —
Whole-heartedly holding on to the pain;
Elliptically remaining the same,
Stunned by the cyclical appreciation
Of art and “artists”, of people and values
Who congratulate depreciation
And believe what’s on the news.
The world has so much more;
Untapped, because upheaval
Doesn’t interest those with interest
Adding to their wealth.
But wealth is not an evil —
Who stated such a lie?
Wealth isn’t money, or greed — it’s
How it feels to comfortably get by.
So who is really rich?
The bankers or the businessman?
The ones who scratch the itch?
Wealth is to understand.
Yes — to know that life is worth living.
If only because death is written;
One may as well see it out
In the hope that one is smitten.
Sweet sorrow in parting, as such —
That’s the spirit; realising that
We all possess a certain
Lying awake, concentric circles
Channel Christ in the dark —
Not because he’s a supposed God’s son —
But because he got things done.
His life and death mattered,
If only in allegory —
But who could ask for more
Than a part in the story?
And so the pages press together
As the syntax encapsulates semantics;
We hold fast to optimism
Because we’re all Romantics.
The problem isn’t what to do
Because nothing is worth doing:
Life is glorious because each day
Is endlessly renewing.
Life is meaningless. If you can’t see that,
Open your eyes. Work to the bone —
Work hard with the weight of the fact.
Smile in crowds — cut when alone.
You and I both know that all of this
Is but dust in the wind. Make
What you want. Shit. Clench your fist:
In the end, she’ll take
It all. There’s no getting out alive —
But why succumb? Why be a slave
And waste your greatest years? You could thrive.
Instead, you’ve earned got a pension and a cosy grave.
Alienation’s a buzzword — but why not use it?
I was born to die, and I know it well:
I’d rather spend it all than lose it.
You know, I really believe in hell:
It’s a life spent from 9 till 5 in the search for cash.
You have a boss? Well good for you:
I’d rather spend 70 years being thrashed
Than do what someone else tells me to.
You know what — why finish this?
Why fulfil your fucking expectations?
Why splell correctly? fuck correxions.
I’ll do whatever the fuck I want. Whether love or hate, birth or death — whether writing in rhyme or spilling over the fucking line — FUCK YOU whilst I sail away and drown myself. Stop reading this poem and passing judgement; quit your job and quit the society too. None of this is real. We’re animals grazing in the mud. Enjoy it. You have the ability to think, to love and to give weight to “being”. Do that. Don’t answer your fucking emails. Don’t finish your fucking degrees. YOU CAN’T TAKE THEM WITH YOU. Yes, you need money to eat. (You don’t.) Will money keep you happy when you’re sleeping alone because you wanted to make money rather than spend another night with your lover? You’re already dead. I’m going to be depressed in the future, and I’ve been depressed in the past, but right now? I know the secret to living life. That’s to take what everyone says, spit on it and write your own story. I couldn’t give a fuck what happens next, because right now I know exactly what it was all about. So to my future self, and everyone else: do something, or kill yourself. You’ll never catch me up cause I know what really matters more. Can you guess? Is it FUCKING MONEY, or a FUCKING KISS?
What pre-dates a predator?
One vacuous bitch with transparent motives,
Flimsy morals and who’s life’s a bore —
So much so that she broke a votive
‘Cause she’s a wannabe nihilist trendsetter —
But you’ve no idea how to do it,
So I’ll help you one last time in this poem-cum-letter.
Start with your greatest mistake, and rue it:
Multiply that shit, and turn around —
Fear the shadow of the person who failed,
And ask who could argue so unsoundly,
And believe that they were unjustly jailed?
Yeah — you — now what’s a predator to do?
Two options really: — no, make that three —
Kill yourself, obsess about it, or start anew.
What’s the difference between you and me?
You’re a wannabe bad girl, an impersonator;
You’re an arrogant blonde bitch and libido terminator —
And whereas you live life through stale memories, I force mine to fade:
You’re the biggest mistake I ever fucking made.
“The Nihilist” is my second novel.
It is a philosophical/literary drama that is in three volumes, currently in its first draft form at 105,000 words. Part one is 25,000 words, Part two is 35,000 and Part three is 45,000.
The novel’s major themes are nihilism, life without meaning, modern-day relationships (and the nature of the love therein) and acting.
The three main characters are Razvod, the world’s great actor, and Dylan and Ella, an otherwise normal couple who, due to a chance meeting, all become utterly intertwined in one another’s lives.
Déjà Vu is one of the few specific experiences in life that poses a genuine personal problem for me.
When I feel Déjà Vu, nostalgia, become confused about a memory is a dream or reality or feel an impossibly strong wave of love and euphoria, I am forced to try and describe the state it puts me in. This is a problem not because I am a writer, but because I am a human being. As a rational being, I wish to understand the world. This is often achieved through labelling things. In the same way that “love” is utterly ineffective as a synonym for the feeling itself, the label becomes a symbol. These labels do not allow one to recall the emotion, but they can, if considered for long enough, bring about a faint memory of them. Because of the sheer intensity that the above experiences give me, I have always sought to find some short-hand for them. As an atheist, however, the only words I’ve ever come close to trouble me: “spirituality” and “transcendence”.
This is not an essay about religion. I will re-state once more that I do not believe in God (or any higher power) but I will also state my perhaps controversial view that I do not believe science is any more useful than religion in this particular issue. In the same way that “you feel God” is a dissatisfying manner of describing Déjà Vu, so too is “it is the neurotransmitter X crossing synapse Y”. This is not to say that science is not a fundamental need and essential tool of humanity — but I am not seeking for an explanation of these experiences. I am attempting to understand what they feel like and what these experiences could mean. In this way, I am firmly entering the domain of philosophy. Not only this, but it strays into the realm of linguistics and aesthetics. There is a reason I consider myself a writer and philosopher, and not a scientist. I am simply most interested in those issues which can only be explored through these two subjects.
What, then, of this word: “spirituality”? It should be said at the very beginning that all organised religions are, in my view, not only wrong, but dangerously so. Any truth must be discovered for oneself — never through a book. At best, the ideas of others can lead one to understand their own. I would never take another’s word for gospel. As such, organised religions are the pinnacle of self-deception. With regards to “the spiritual” and “the transcendent”, then, any definition will be of my own definition (I hope that, in reading this, you find your own definition). Firstly, the onus is on me to explain why I have chosen these word to attempt to describe the feeling that accompanies the above experiences. Here, I would like to note that I am going to avoid the word “spirituality” and focus on the word “transcendence”. Because of “spirituality”‘s connotation of a spirit in some sense, I will avoid its usage and focus on “transcendence” as it already had a secular understanding. I will focus on two particular aspects of “transcendence” — not in an attempt to describe how it occurs (neurochemically), or even why — but simply what it feels like.
I’ve been writing poetry for years now. Never once have I written a poem and thought: “I can stand by this”. I am making it my goal to change that fact. I am aiming for perfection in my poetry now. Not objective perfection, but perfection as adherence to my own standards for my work. I may have come close with some poems before, but I am dedicated to writing poems which distill my life into the few words the poem contains. I am happy to stand by my novels, and I believe that they are true works of art — now I am embarking on the path to achieving the same pride in my poetry.
* * *
The search goes on, although
The rules never change.
Views hang like mist, but
Beliefs remain. We are
Locked in to who we are
Trapped in a thinking cage.
Poke your fingers through:
Hope to touch
But resign to your nature.
You cannot escape.
The human condition
Governs us. From
First to final breath, from
Birth to ugly death.
Feel free to dream
And hope –
These are your provisions.
Ration them. Do
Aim for peace. Do
Learn to love the cage.
Bang against its rusting bars
And bleed your aesthetic throat:
Do it to mask the fact that
Though you know these truths,
The search goes on.
Do it to pretend that
The rules never change.
This is an essay I wrote for the “British Undergraduate Philosophy Society” but, due to the unfortunate timing of food poisoning, I was unable to polish and send off in time. However, I still feel that this should certainly be in the public domain. So, if you’ll excuse the fact that the references don’t denote page numbers, this is an original essay on a topic that I believe I am a pioneer in: philosophical depression. Specifically: the road to (through nihilism) and the way out (through existentialism). I hope this is an enjoyable read but, more than that — is useful.
Nihilism, Existentialism and Philosophical Depression
“. . . [A] philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example.”
– Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
If the above is true, then acceptance of nihilism necessitates detachment from society, a self-imposed isolation and even a philosophical depression – perhaps suicide. By ‘philosophical depression’, I mean that a clinically depressed subject reached that state through philosophising – specifically, through realisation that the nihilistic doctrine is either true or inherently plausible.
Nihilism can take many forms: the meaning can be stripped from any and all fields (ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, etc.). The brand of nihilism that tends to lead to philosophical depression is the most general form of existential nihilism: that there is no meaning of or to life. All human endeavours, if this doctrine is true, are fruitless. All achievements are really inseparable from failure. Good and evil are both empty concepts: they are both nothing. Morality is nothing. Love is nothing. Humanity is nothing. Life is nothing.
The move from answering the question “Is there a meaning of life?” with “No” to depression is not a difficult one. In fact, it seems the only sincere move. If philosophy has any significance whatsoever, then – regardless how shocking, dark or difficult it is to accept the results – if one believes that a thesis is true; this realisation must influence their life. To philosophise and ignore the results is not to philosophise. As Camus, paraphrasing Nietzsche, wrote, the philosopher who ignores their reasoning does not deserve our respect.
Thus, the vital question arises: what is the nihilist to do? What options are open to the nihilist who denies that life has any intrinsic value? In this essay I shall argue that the creation of subjective meaning – even arbitrary meaning – is not only compatible with nihilism, but is what the nihilist who continues to participate in society is tacitly committed to.