This above all…
“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”
― Baruch Spinoza
While sitting in a cafe in Northern Thailand, a book on the shelf across the room caught my eye. It was called “Money and the Meaning of Life”. I grabbed the book and scanned through the table of contents.
I opened the book to a chapter named “Is there a way in life?” where the author Jacob Needleman speaks of the “path of the warrior” by explaining the epic dialogue between Arjuna the warrior and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and the Zen master Hakuin’s idea that “true meditation lies distinctly in the favor of the warrior class”. I was hooked.
I stopped cherry-picking and started reading from the beginning.
Needlemen begins by explaining how we allow our desires to define our sense of identity. He illustrates this by describing a scene in Dante’s Divine Comedy whereby the author begins to feel pity for the men and women in Hell as he sees them suffer.
“Do not feel pity, Virgil tells him; they are getting exactly what they want. Hell is the state in which we are barred from receiving what we truly need because of the value we give to what we merely want. It is a condition of ultimate deprivation, that is, poverty.”
How do we avoid this “ultimate deprivation”? How do we begin to understand what we truly need?
A good place to start is to realize we don’t know ourselves as well as we may think. After all, we interpret our reality through a subjective lens which comes with a cognitive bias, illusory superiority, leading to an overestimation of our own abilities.
Self knowledge can also be a difficult practice and, according to my hero Bruce Lee, is an ongoing process.
“…to know yourself takes a lifetime.”
- Bruce Lee
Creating white space.
In a keynote speech, author Jim Collins said, “Effective people take time to think. Begin the discipline of putting white space on your calendar… and engage in the glorious pockets of quietude…”
I decided to experiment with this by committing to and protecting the white space on my calendar .
This time is used to strengthen my meditation practice and to journal through/explore different thoughts on my mind. This is a place where I can learn more about my fears, passions, strengths, challenges, and desires.
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
- E.M. Forster
These two rituals, journaling and meditating, take little time and can bring substantial mental clarity and effectiveness in a short period of time. I would strongly suggest experimenting with this consistently for 3–5 weeks without expectations to see how it grabs you.
This is a low risk activity with a high upside.
Meanwhile, what can we do outside of this white space?
I picked up a habit from listening to one of Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Notes (highly recommend). This is the habit of asking better, more empowering questions which has aided me to shift my focus to constructive interpretations, especially in times of confusion or uncertainty.
Just as the dojo is used to train for the battlefield, daily writing and meditation allows us to better control our interpretation of our worlds while out in the field. We alter our experiences, develop practical wisdom, and bring this back to the dojo for reflection.
Essentially, this process creates a self-knowledge feedback loop.
Investing in ourselves.
This, of course, is just a suggestion. What is important is that we invest time, energy, and money into self-knowledge.
In the same book previously mentioned, Needleman boldly claims that “Money must become a tool in the only enterprise worth undertaking for any modern man or woman seriously wishing to find the meaning of their lives: we must use money in order to study ourselves as we are and as we can become.”
What are some tactics you use to study yourself?
Be sure to check out this great video on self-awareness Gary Vaynerchuk posted about a week ago.
“This above all: to thine own self be true…”
― William Shakespeare
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