A sociologist writing a self-help book - not caring about scorn - good pre-emptive thing when doing something unusual

For a sociologist of today— an analyst of social phenomena and societies— to write about how you and I can live our lives better is nothing short of ludicrous. I belong to this last category: the ludicrous. I, Hanzi, a sociologist and philosopher, hereby write a self- help book with no apology or excuse. I have a vision of life, an intimate and subtle practice, and I intend to share it. Yes, may scholars cringe and casual observers laugh: I shall carry their contempt as a cross. Those naive souls who dare defy the scorn and laughter of others are the true rebels of our time,

Summary of Jordan Peterson’s approach

A key idea in Peterson’s work is that you can change your life by changing the stories you live by, by seeing which drama is playing out inside of you. It’s thus a good idea to know some profound patterns of how such dramas have universally played out in mythologies, religions, literature, and our own psychologies. The point of much of his work is that you can become the author of that drama. And indeed, I agree, you should pick up the quill of your will and write your own story, beginning by correcting faults and loopholes, starting out with the little things, such as cleaning your room.

Sublime Mediocrity

This book could equally have been titled Sublime Mediocrity. This is the core principle of all the twelve commandments I issue. The aim, then, is not excellence or to be outstanding— but mediocrity. The word “mediocre” literally means to be average, ordinary, unexceptional.

Do you want to live in a world where true satisfaction and sense of meaning belong only to the exceptional? I, for one, do not. What a miserable world that would be.

Our lives and feelings matter just as much, even without exceptional talents. Sublime mediocrity has plenty of space for our rather frequent exceptional sides. No need to flatten ourselves out and pretend we’re not special. We are.

ending our search for status

Our search for status turns out to be more unquenchable than any of those other drives. I guess our search for meaning is the only real contender. I hold that we’re wiser to try to tame our hunger for status once we feel okay about ourselves (either way, it’s very often a matter of filling inner holes through therapy and healing rather than getting yet higher status) and cultivate the search for meaning instead.

Why don’t we embrace mediocrity, this seemingly inescapable “ground of being”? Our culture and the social media- induced narcissism of our age have taught us to disdain mediocrity. We insult by calling each other mediocre. We fear that we should be subsumed by the masses of the unexceptional. We look for signs of our exceptionality, for signs of our subtle chosenness (a lingering mysticism that whispers: “yes, you are special after all, meant for greatness”). But what if all of this is a grave mistake— one that is impeding us from truly playing with God or [insert appropriate placeholder for what is of ultimate significance] and the cosmos? No, I’d go further yet. Why don’t we master mediocrity? Why don’t we love it and shine it like a pair of dirty fine shoes?

no end to the status seeking game

After all, if we’re all aiming at becoming exceptional, it will always be crowded at the top, and we will always have to play different stupid games just to gain and maintain our relative positions. Most of us are going to be mediocre in most ways anyhow— that is a fact of life; indeed, it is true by definition. And all of us are going to be mediocre in at least some ways.

fear of death

Facing that inconvenient truth, we’re all tempted to create some kind of immortality project: some contribution to humanity, some legacy, some children and heirs, some ever- lasting fame due to exceptional talent, some truth we serve that will stand the test of time, maybe even a literal heaven or paradise for the religious. Or, better yet, our own personal Wiki page. These projects seem to escape the clutches of death, and let us cast at least some sense of immortality onto an indefinite horizon of the future. Yet, even these things will die. Complete annihilation awaits. Even for the best mandolin player south of the Sahara. And her Wiki page. This isn’t news. So why am I saying this? It’s not a fascination with the morbid. It’s because I want to make it clear that this book does not serve your immortality project. It is not about ascension and greatness. It is just about living life, and then dying, disappearing forever, being forgotten. If you’re entirely honest with yourself, this is a surprisingly hard pill to swallow. Something in you (or at least in most of us, myself included) resists: “No! Maybe I’m meant for more, maybe there’s a destiny for me after all! Maybe I wasn’t born in vain!

I have come to believe that a life well lived reduces our existential (if not biological) fear of death, even if it never quite extinguishes it. The better we live, the less we need immortality projects. And I think that the immortality projects tend to stress us out more than they reassure us; they nudge us towards an unnecessary level of self- importance.

healing over growth

This path of sublime mediocrity prioritizes healing over growth. Any striving to “grow” must always include inner healing. Roughly speaking, for every one “unit of growth”, we need two “units of healing”, if we are to be healthy and balanced people. The world doesn’t need more highly developed people on the verge of mental breakdown.

Happiness as a reasonable sublimely mediocre goal

We’re not talking about valuing happy people over miserable ones. We’re just talking about setting reasonable goals for the sublimely mediocre life. And happiness, understood correctly and realistically, isn’t such a bad goal. Of course, if you focus on “wanting to become happy”, that tends to decrease your happiness

happiness is when things can come alive to us in a crisp and rich manner. It’s about being tuned in to existence, to life. As such, happiness is not really a thing in and of itself; it is rather the inner clarity that allows for other things to be fully experienced and playfully participated in: the moon, the stars, the fresh flowers of spring, the breath of cool air, the corny but funny joke, the bananarama cocktail, our lover’s gaze, the purpose we work for. We’re looking for that which feels entirely ordinary, only sprinkled with the subtle presence of the tremendous (despite our ordinary lives, it’s a pretty tremendous universe, after all, with its rich history and mysterious cosmic expanses and all of that).[ 24]

we keep ourselves at level 7 to avoid going deeper down

Children, of course, also go lower than “7” much more easily. Very small children don’t seem to frequent it at all. One may conceive of state “7” as a strange and slightly broken state we adults keep ourselves in so as to avoid falling down to states “6” and below— but by doing so, we stop returning to state “8” as the natural setpoint.

1 - Live in a Mess, Moderately

People deeply invested in truly fun and meaningful projects often simply have better things to do than keeping their homes in perfect order. They accept a certain level of messiness as a part of life, and move on to things that truly matter.

When people feel clean, they also feel more morally entitled to judge others.

Dangerous to associate one’s level of personal order with moral superiority

no end to personal cleaning possible

Of course, there is more to the idea of getting one’s house in order than tidying up and feng- shuing the hell out of your living room, or even your schedule. It also has a deeper meaning (especially in Jordan Peterson’s chapter on the matter); it’s about setting our personal story straight, admitting our weaknesses and mistakes and owning up to them, cleaning up our inner turmoil, and “showing up” for life in one fairly solid piece. These things are undeniably important. But when exactly will you be “done” with that inner cleaning? How long will the world and your dreams and contributions have to wait?

2 - Fuck Like a Beast

Being trapped by Inhibitions is not good

As long as we are trapped by our inhibitions, small and great ones, we never quite feel alive and connected, no matter how much we meditate or how hard we work. That’s why it’s called “cosmo”- eroticism; it’s about centering our attention on our lust- driven relatedness to reality, our love affair with the cosmos.

Many of us have been conditioned to inhibit ourselves sexually, often from an early age. From sneaking out an orgasm silently as a teen so your parents wouldn’t notice you masturbating, to deliberately keeping the noise down so you won’t disturb your neighbors or roommates, to not showing the extent of your excitement out of insecurity that your partner will think you’re weird or “of lower status” (why else would you be that excited about them?), we’ve been trapping that poor animal inside more than we should, because to truly meet its needs has often been socially, or otherwise practically, impossible.

Accepting our erotic nature

The principle of cosmoeroticism states that, even with great care to foster compassion for others and transcendence of one’s own ego, one will lack proper grounding for it all, unless one also, and preferably first, takes seriously the fact that we are creatures of lust, of drive, of will. It is a question of failing to account for our inescapable longing for sensual connection in all of its forms. That’s the honest “ground zero” we all have to start from: the erotic core of our animal being, the hungry belly of the beast.

Learning how to feed the child-adult beast

Pleasure often doesn’t “hit the spot”; it doesn’t feed and rejuvenate our souls. Maybe we feel we don’t deserve it, because we were supposed to be doing something more productive, or maybe we pushed the same “pleasure button” too eagerly and repeatedly, or maybe we won’t allow ourselves the rapture because something within us is afraid of giving in, of opening up and possibly being hurt and disappointed. Even among great pleasures and luxuries, even in “the pleasure palace”, the inner beast can go hungry. And indeed, hungry are the damned. We need to become good at actually feeding that inner beast, at actually giving it pleasure that does its job: to create inner gratefulness, fulfillment, and joy.

This erotic basis of our “inner beast” is strangely enough both at once a child and an adult. It is a child in that it consists of raw, real emotions and drives. The beast is childlike in its complete lack of reasonableness; it wants a lot of things, even conflicting things, largely irrespective of what the needs and wants of others may be, or of the long term interests of our future self. For sure, our inner child also has deeply rooted moral emotions of fairness and compassion, even guilt and conscience, but this does not mitigate the inherently unreasonable scope of its dreams and desires. But the beast is also an adult in that it has specifically sexual drives and needs. These can only be fulfilled when and if we learn to relate, seduce, and to be sexually competent.

feeling the pain awakens the child

And there it is, the central principle of how “the child returns”: It is only when I was capable of feeling the deep pain of my old wounds, now forced open by a difficult situation, that something could be budged within me, that the old wounds could heal and the cosmoerotic flows could burst through and replenish my system. There, when the pain had been truly felt, I also regained my capacity to feel childlike joy, romantic love, and a sense of being truly alive.

3 - Live Sincerely, Ironically

Sincere irony is the principle that you need to be as ironic as possible in order to be truly sincere and authentic (and vice versa). The two only look like opposites— in reality, they are two sides of the same coin. Not only that: the deeper your irony goes, the greater sincerity you can muster and the more authentic life you can create.

internalize ridicule

If you internalize the ironic ridicule of others before they have a chance of applying it to you, you can more easily shrug it off; you can work from a place of near invulnerability, and thus dare to be truly vulnerable; and thus bravely constructive, finding and suggesting new pathways for yourself and society. Mastery over irony, turned- on- itself, allows for new sincerity. And extreme sincerity

Yes, I will be laughed at and looked down upon, accused of “cringe”, eyes will be rolled and all of that. But the very acknowledgement of that fact releases a creative spark, a freedom of expression that runs deeper than any bill of rights could guarantee.

My note

sounds like a goodpracticeexercise to try doing

making ourselves gullible to magic

So, once you’ve truly killed God, you can take the blue pill and begin to use those sought- after both- ands of science and spirituality and the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Here, you can combine ruthless reason with the perfectly unreasonable longings of the (scientifically speaking, non- existent) soul. Before the proper death of God, magic will always sneak in, not as a wonderful reenchantment of the cosmos, but as an endless source of deceit and disappointment.

To do both- ands well, you have to define the two opposing elements non- arbitrarily, in manners that make sense on a deeper level that clarifies and enriches both sides. And you do this by first differentiating between the two, separating them out fully, and only then do you experiment with combining them.

By making ourselves intentionally gullible, for just a moment, we get all the real (even biochemically observable) advantages of a stronger placebo effect. One such placebo effect is happiness, optimism, a sense of direction, a sense of agency and even free will, a higher “subjective state” in everyday life.

My note ways of looking and Imaginal practice. We can decide to believe in something because it's skillful to do so (remembering that it's neither real nor not-real)

Sounds a lot like Rob’s

Real magic is felt, not believed. Or let me restate that a bit more precisely: Magic is an experiential, not an objective, category. Magic is never in the thing itself, it’s always in the context, in the relationship. Magic lives in the larger weave of relationships within which “the thing” arises as a part of our experience. It’s about the sense of connection to wholeness, to oneness, that is accessed through our way of experiencing that particular thing.

it’s a dangerous path

You think you’re going on a deep spiritual path, with your critical mind intact, but before you know it, you’re posting childish gobbledigook about miracles on Facebook to prove that your religion is the true one after all. You have lost touch with all shared reality, and as such you’ve lost all relevance to the world we live in. Why does this happen? Because you invest your life’s entire project in the narrative of one religion, to the extent that you so badly want all of its premises to be true, to be The Truth.

Pragmatic romanticism

So if the world has been divided between pragmatists and romantic souls, it appears that a most fruitful paradox to meditate upon becomes pragmatic romanticism. The two may perhaps never be happily married, but in the both- and that attempts to grasp them in one embrace, there is creativity and hope to be found.

Informed Naivete

The sci- fi author Ursula Le Guin once noted that, in times prior to democracy, the end of the divine right of kings was unimaginable, and that today, the end of capitalism is equally so. Yet, democracy did emerge, once the conditions were ripe for it. It is by being students of such conditions of transformation and change that we can adopt and live by an informed naivety. Such naivety keeps some of our childlike qualities, like innocence and directness of experience, but attempts to marry them to the discerning and protective mind of the educated adult.

4 - Turn Workout Into Prayer

emotional strength to pursue our values (awkwardness leading to evil)

Yes, a very large part of the evil that men do comes down to them being unable to tolerate just how awkward it would get if they spoke up. As long as awkwardness runs your life, as long as you cannot push through it or dissolve it, your body and mind will fold whenever any kind of social or emotional pressure is applied to you. Inhibition. Buttons for others to push, to control you. If your body and mind are too exhausted, or weak, or untrained to contain negative emotions, you will be easy to steer and to get to work against your own values

My note

hinting to apracticeexercise of holding negative emotions

layers of experience

Gross layer: the obvious things you experience, like an icecream you’re eating or your feet touching the ground.. Subtle layer: the subtler sensations that you may have to make an effort to take note of, such as a soft tingling in your fingertips, and this includes your feelings. Causal layer: the background frame within which other experiences arise, including your deepest emotions and basic stance towards life. Non- dual layer: your awareness; the very fact that you experience anything at all, and that it all arises effortlessly— all the good and the bad and the ugly contained within it.

People who have chronic pain can often still report having periods of inner peace and happiness; so while the gross body is aching, the subtle layer with its oceans of emotion can still have pleasurable flows. In other words, one’s subjective state is more dependent on the subtle layer than on the gross one. Here’s the thing: the gross layer always exists within the larger, hidden subtle layer. It is only “the surface” of our lived experience. The subtle layer is a larger world, one that encapsulates and holds all of what goes on in the gross layer.

practiceexercise box breathing So the idea is basically to start practicing breathing slowly, through the nose, at about 5.5 + 5.5 seconds (with long exhalations to match the inhalations), subtly and quietly. Just a few minutes a day, or longer if possible, and try to get into the habit. The longer- than- natural exhales are crucial: during the exhale, you’re activating the “parasympathetic nervous system”, which basically means that you’re calming down.

ascribing status to others and ourselves

Interestingly, the lower status you ascribe to someone, the more unidimensionally you tend to view them: a smart person becomes “only a nerd”, a pretty person “only a bimbo” or only a sexualized object, a loyal person “only a side- kick”, a member of a disdained ethnic minority only an exotified, shallow cliché, and so forth. High status people are viewed more as the protagonists of the story of life, as the main characters of the world, as whole human beings with multiple dimensions. They can be perceived as a thinker with their own opinions, a skilled professional, and an emotional or sexual being with a rich life story— all at once. When we perceive someone as having high status, we somehow find the patience for viewing them with nuance,

status is socially constructed and context-bound

However, once we realize just how transient, context- bound, and socially constructed social status truly is, the whole matter reappears to us as a kind of cosmic joke, where fools become kings and vice versa by the spell of new settings and little details. As such, it makes sense to “see through” the games of social status— but still to put in the effort to affect how others perceive us. Might as well work a bit on our posture and aim at a relaxed, self- controlled body language, and practice a bit of assertiveness in social interactions if needed. Otherwise, people will interpret us negatively, even in terms of our moral virtues and intentions. And that’s a bummer, especially since our moral convictions will seem much less genuine and persuasive to others. So we can take social status into account, even for ethical causeswe just don’t need to take it as seriously, now that we know it’s all one big joke at the expense of the human spirit.

The farther a person progresses in their own personal development, the less “authoritarian” they tend to get; that is to say, the more they will have tamed the primitive impulse to size everyone up and relate to them hierarchically and with little appreciation for nuance, uniqueness, and context. As we develop into more complex modes of sensing and being, we naturally begin to circumvent the eternal question of whether a person is “above or below us”. We can always learn from everyone, and everyone has some advantages over us, non- human animals and small children included— it really is about context. As we mature in our personalities, we begin to see “sublime mediocrity” everywhere: seeing the sublime in our seemingly mediocre fellow creatures, and spotting the quite ordinary in the seemingly exceptional ones.

Ambiguous status hierarchies cause anxiety and make people test us

if you appear impressive in some regards and less worthy of respect in others, people likely won’t be able to help themselves but to feel uneasy and they will thus want to test you by trying to put you down a notch, so as to lessen their own anxiety. It’s not nice, but it’s the games we have to live by as social animals. The status games will be there, but we can relate more or less productively to those games, see through them more or less, and go for more win- win ways to play them.

5- Quit

minimize resentment, not conflict

Conflicts are a normal part of a healthy life— sometimes even keys to a positive transformation. The principle to apply in our own everyday lives and relationships is: Don’t minimize conflict, minimize resentment. We shouldn’t stir conflicts or keep them alive for no good reason, but remember that the crooks and exploiters of the world always seek to change the subject, to silence, to bury, to hypocritically forgive and forget when it is oneself that has wronged and thus appear magnanimous.

freedom to say no is freedom

After all, and again, if we cannot say “no” to life, or to the things in it, we aren’t actually free to say yes to the things in life, either.

And if you cannot easily quit, or at least go on strike, you’ll be ill- equipped to stand up for yourself in a confrontation; and failing that, there’s no real common ground from which to find compromise, let alone find positive transformations of the relationship. The whole idea of being a slave is that you can’t quit. So the power and capacity to quit, even the skill and willingness to quit, provide a foundation for cultivating genuine relationships. In many ways, then, the fundamental social empowerment is the power to quit. It thus makes a lot of sense to become really good at quitting.

My note

If I’m ready to leave at any point, I can be me unapologetically and ready for conflict

freedom to quit is POWER

The capacity of quitting, of saying no, is the essence of freedom. The slave is defined by their incapacity to say no; the oppressor has cut off all viable routes of escape. In that manner, unless we are literally trapped or enslaved, we can also increase our sense of freedom in everyday life, by always remembering that we have the capacity to quit, to say no. Think of what the power to say no means: When our jobs get tough, we can always know that we’re choosing to be there, that we could quit and take the brunt of the consequences. When a romantic relationship becomes dysfunctional, we can work through the issues and go through the fights, while knowing that nobody is forcing us to stay, and that can make us not feel as helpless. When peer groups disrespect us, we can know that we could quit the group and find others who respect us more.

if we’re just too insecure, connecting to our power to quit can be almost impossible. The point is, that we should identify it as being of primary importance, and then cultivate this capacity. This is done not least by investing in multiple pathways in life and multiple sources of strength and support. But most of all, we need to practice quitting throughout our lives, which implies sometimes quitting as an active and conscious choice, including the quitting of small things. This capacity to quit creates the preconditions for a solid foundation of deep personal freedom, as well as mutually authentic relationships flourishing in our lives.

By the way, one of the real values of having money and resources of all kinds is to retain the power to quit. If you can secure money, food , and shelter without any one particular source, there will be nobody who can threaten you to stay in any relationship. But for the same reason, it only makes sense to secure a living honestly— otherwise people get more hooks and leverages on you than you can count. Sure, joining the drug cartel can make you rich, but is it easy to quit the mafia?

can be quitting “small things”

The secret here is to divide relationships up into their smaller, constituent parts. Maybe you don’t need to “quit your inlaws”, but you may wish to quit certain meetings and shared rituals, or certain responsibilities that have been heaped on you. If you do it sooner rather than later, and communicate well around it, everyone will be better off for it in the long run. Maybe you can keep that friends’ group, but skip beer on every Thursday and Friday, if it doesn’t serve your life the way it once did. Maybe you need to quit certain topics of discussion. Maybe you need to quit a certain role at your job, but not the job itself. Maybe you need to set a boundary around a certain kind of behavior that others are subjecting you to; then you just quit that bad part of the relationship, and you keep and strengthen the rest of it.

the more you can quit, the more you can commit

In other words, the better the adult self is at quitting, the more the authentic child can roam freely and commit more deeply, to greater and more universal things. When the inner child commits, the heart commits, and there is real connection, tuning in to life, resonance. That makes music beautiful and life worth living. You can go deeper into the labyrinth if you know how to get out again. This is another version of what I previously called “the sound of both- ands clapping”: two opposites are conjoined: a greater capacity to quit fosters deeper commitment. Commitment without the inner child, without the heart’s longing for joy, is a forced commitment, and it cannot be genuine. When we commit while disconnecting from our own inner spark, our sense of responsibility becomes hollow. In the name of responsibility, one part of ourselves is oppressing another. We’re being bad parents, tyrannical parents, to our own inner child.

the capacity to quit is “medicine” for the soul, because it protects the child from that which would harm it, and holds in place a basis (the staff itself) for the child’s further expression, renewal, and development. And so, quitting is instrumental to refining the depth and scope of our life’s larger purposes and key relationships: the clearer these purposes become to us, the easier it then becomes to assess when and what relationships we should quit, aligning more and more of our personalities and habits, across wider and wider fields of endeavor, to one and the same purpose, to a larger pattern that connects our values and desires to each other.

To return to Camus’ eternal question of suicide (or why not Beck’s question from the song Loser: “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?”): One reason not to kill ourselves is that it would be excessive; we don’t need to quit everything all at once; we need to quit just the right thing, at the right time,

6 - Do the Walk of Shame

Why work with shame and guilt?

if you’re not inhibited and held back by shame (and the fear of shame), you can take on tasks that you otherwise wouldn’t dare for fear of the judgment and contempt of others. That’s bravery. Need I point out that this is a process of freeing yourself, of emancipation? You can act in more ways than you otherwise could have.

We become virtuous, not by “not being sinners”, but by noticing the log in our own eye (before the speck in our buddy’s), and by admitting to ourselves that we’re not that good after all. And accepting it.

Changes how we see others

When functioning from a place beyond shame and guilt, we begin to see others in the way they would like to be perceived: with dignity and respect, because we can notice their strengths and beauties more clearly when judgment and contempt are out of the way. If you’re very well acquainted with your own shame and guilt, you don’t need to look for the weak spots of others; it’s just entirely self- evident that every person you meet is also more than a bit pathetic, and so your gaze no longer needs to be spying for such things in them, to “reveal them” and then perversely commend yourself for the effort.

Instead, standing out in relief against the background of human pettiness, you begin to notice that which now surprises you: their heroic qualities, their tragedies, their struggles, their uniqueness. And that dramatically improves your social skills—you spontaneously stop looking for what to disdain and judge in others, and start asking the questions that find out what you respect and admire in them. This is because you no longer, at a deeper level, disdain and judge yourself.

When you see the genuinely good stuff in people, what do you think happens? These good sides are reinforced: as with “magical realism”, you turn someone else’s potential into actuality by meeting the other with a purer gaze. The virtues and beauties of others are strengthened by being seen and recognized (at least on average, over time). And people become grateful for your noticing their particular majesty and preciousness, their own inimitable form of sublime mediocrity. You co-create the best in people. This is not just the eye of the beholder, but the eye of the creator.

As you heal, as your participatory gaze is purified from judgment and contempt, you begin to see the dignified versions of other people: the beggar becomes a struggling hero who has been through more than most of us can imagine; the awkward low- status person becomes a renegade outsider; the nasty bully becomes a fallen angel whose soul has been twisted by a life too cruel and tragic, and can now be met as a worthy adversary; the ugly duckling becomes a swan. There aren’t really any “trivial” people— not even the masturbating geeky 14- year- old— because they are all in the serious business of dealing with death, and they are all expressions of the unfolding of being since the Big Bang, and all creators of the future.

Own all the ways people might see you

We can make totally different impressions on different people, who’s our true version?

The idea here is to “own” the entirety of different ways in which people have seen you. From the worst (whether based on misunderstandings, unfair judgements on their parts, or correctly spotted mistakes and faults on your own part), to the medium (they just thought you were normal and bland), to the best (you somehow rocked their socks off). You “are” that whole spectrum. Or we could place the quotation marks differently: “You” are that whole spectrum.

If you want to meet your true self, you do so by seeing, understanding, and fully accepting the entire field of how people have seen you, warts and all. Because, well, that’s the truth of the matter. That’s the mirror, the “looking glass self” as Charles Horton Cooley termed it in 1902. Own that, and you have not only reached a higher grade of self- acceptance and self- love, you have also expanded your sense of self to a richer and more multifaceted view. That way, you don’t need to hate that anti- self so badly, or run away from it, or fight it. It’s a part of who you are, in all of your sublime mediocrity, but still it somehow doesn’t define you— because no one image of you exhausts the entirety and richness of your being, of your way of showing up in the world.

the anti- self loses its power over you, also to a large extent its power over how others see you, if you fully own up to it and are no longer ashamed of it.

Both see the brutal caricatures that have been drawn of you (in all their grime, meanness, and partial truths) and be extremely kind and accepting towards them. I suppose all of this is yet another way of saying: Embrace your sublime mediocrity.

Guilt Exercise

What guilt?

We’re not talking the cute kind of guilt, the one we like to brag about: “I sometimes feel guilty for taking the airplane” or “I feel guilty when I think of the poverty of the world”, or even “I feel guilty when I see friends in need but am too busy to step in myself, not knowing how to help”. Nor am I exactly talking about the kind of guilt that sneaks up on parents whenever they feel their kids play video games too much, or even the guilt for procrastinating and failing to go to the gym. We’re talking real guilt, where you, with very good reason, are guilty as charged for being a lousy piece of shit. When you abused[ 102], betrayed, let down, bullied, humiliated, hid in the crowd while enjoying another’s misery, and so on.

Even if you perhaps don’t have a story like that one (but many people do, so some readers will, too), you did something royally rotten at some point in your life. The stuff that’s so buried and denied and relativized and excused and explained away that it almost never happened. Actually it didn’t happen at all. Which stuff? Who, me? Couldn’t be.


Just going through all of the things I genuinely feel I did wrong, on a moral level, and acknowledging and feeling through the guilt until I can accept it and let go of it, seems to be working. Strangely enough, I don’t feel worse for it: I feel better for it. I feel stronger, more whole, more in control. I can see more clearly the evil that men do, in myself as well, accepting it, learning my lessons.

Next hint. Look for situations where you’ve been at a great advantage over someone in terms of power: unpopular kids who wanted to be your friends but you were less enthusiastic about and even a bit embarrassed of, smaller and younger siblings who couldn’t reasonably fight back, employees or work subordinates, lovers who were desperate not to lose you, weirdos you didn’t really get at all, old family members who wanted more of your time than you of theirs, people of much lower social class who simply weren’t part of your world, people in the service industry, non- human animals[ 105] and even the insects you tormented when you were little… If you’re completely honest, you weren’t always kind to all of these.

Another hint: Have you been the underdog, the righteous rebel? The more convinced you’ve been of your own moral justification, the more likely it is that you’ve actually acted in ways that others rightfully viewed as awful.

Just see how it sits for a moment. Let it soak, be calm like a bomb. What if you think you’ve been striking upwards, convinced that “little you” can and must defend yourself, but you’ve actually been the attacker, kicking downwards, whacking the living crap out of someone smaller and weaker, who perhaps wouldn’t have wanted to harm you in the first place?

More guilt radars. If you ever followed a “leader”, at work, or in a friends’ group, or elsewhere, chances are that you abdicated from your own responsibility and judgment. You hid in the herd. I know this one is hard to admit; we all like to think of ourselves as more independent than most others, more resistant to group pressure, and so forth. But, of course, we’re social animals and we all follow leaders at times.

7 - Sacrifice Immortality

Working with fear

We also understand that, even if we personally happen to pass away fairly painlessly, there is always the risk that sheer horror might come to anyone we care about. The fact that this universe contains the undeniable potential for “very low states” of lived experience (real hell, in other words) brings with it a certain kind of seriousness, a certain kind of inescapable terror of being itself. So, find your fears. Hang out with them, in manageable quantities. And feel through them until they lose some of their intensity. The process is similar to working through shame and guilt, except that, here, you often have fears that aren’t even directly related to what happened to you personally or to what you did. The terror is more universal. It resides at a yet deeper level. But if it is released, the healing is yet more profound

Feeling the fear of the worst to be less bothered by small daily fears

I don’t think it’s realistic to face the deepest possible fears, but I do think that we can “go to the gates of hell” from time to time and try to bear it. It makes us genuinely unafraid of all those lesser monsters that come our way in life. The fear even underlies shame and guilt.


Others will likely feel threatened by any such attempts; they may even feel insulted. When you start facing your deepest fears and start to act more freely, you may notice a murmur around you: Who do you think you are? All the rest of us have paid the price of mature adulthood and given up on such childish and pompous ambitions; why should you get to treat yourself like you’re so special? Well, we won’t play along. And so, strangely enough, we are not only shamed for our weaknesses and vices, but also for our strengths, virtues, and talents. When we hold ourselves back in this manner, when we are ashamed of our highest potentials, this is what I call Sklavenmoral (a German word, popularized by Nietzsche but with a somewhat different meaning), or “slave morality”. Sklavenmoral is the internalized envy of others. It is an incredibly subtle feeling, one we generally don’t notice, by which we close down our hopes, ambitions, and conscience. Jungian psychologists like to call it “the golden shadow”. If “the shadow” is all of the bad stuff you won’t admit about yourself and turn a blind eye to, its golden counterpart would be those marvelous qualities in yourself that you also turn a blind eye to. Talents and strokes of inspiration do, after all, call us forth: they demand something of us—to take a risk, to face possible humiliation, to take up a great burden or responsibility.

You’re mediocre, always will be, sure. But chances are you’re also glorious; at least in some ways; or at least you likely could be given the chance. And if you’re like most of us, you have become ashamed of that part of yourself, your noblest and most unique part. Trying and failing at something great is pretty much the meaning of “pathetic” in a nutshell. A little kitten trying out its lion’s roar—but letting out a measly squeak. And we’re all afraid of seeming pathetic. So Sklavenmoral tends to get the best of us. We should surmount our fear of our own greatness, our shame of our higher aspirations, and thus allow ourselves to be truly pathetic; that is, ironically enough, to be truly glorious.

It’s okay for an ordinary person to do heroic and rare things. Or to publicly trip and fall when trying. Your attempts to do greater things may make others feel uncomfortable, but that’s only because they themselves are stuck in envious Sklavenmoral. That’s not fair or just, it’s just sad. Like David Foster Wallace said, the real rebels are the ones who risk ridicule.

Connected to envy

Just as shame is paired with contempt, guilt with moral judgment, and fear with aggression or hatred, so Sklavenmoral is paired with envy. When we work through our own Sklavenmoral, when we release ourselves from the envy of others which we have internalized, we also reduce our own reasons to envy others. We can begin to wish others well, not just as in “hope you’re happy and healthy”, but as in “may your highest potentials manifest in the world”.

if you envy someone and don’t admit it to yourself, you tend to experience it as though the other person is super arrogant and somehow attacking you, even if you cannot think of any big or concrete things they did to you; you just feel a righteous anger towards the envied and an impulse to put them back into place.

Unearthing one’s golden shadow - Exercises

Look for your dreams, for your core values, for your conscience, and see if there are things you have been holding yourself back from. Notice if any shame arises when you picture yourself acting, for real, in your real life, towards such goals. Notice if you have memories of trying to share your ambitions and if any ridicule or questioning, or even accusations of vanity or arrogance, appeared in others. (Hint: Have you found yourself excessively admiring someone? In such cases, that might be because they represent some disowned potential of your own. Our pedestals are made of disowned potential, as they say. So that’s one place to look for your golden shadow. For instance, a lot of people excessively admire Jordan Peterson—and what does that guy do? Yes, he’s very good at freely speaking his mind in public. So a lot of people probably need to work on that issue and would perhaps have something better and clearer to say if they did.)

Study how this Sklavenmoral works in your life: it’s not about wanting or doing unreasonable things, it’s about not unreasonably stopping yourself from exploring your dreams. Feel through the shame and apprehension that arise when you think of the highest and best thing you could do with your life. Get used to it. And let it subside. Then check again if there is anything that can be tried, anything that must be done

We cannot live out all of our dreams. But it’s a damned crime for us to suffocate those few dreams and potentials that are in fact realistic and reasonable just because we didn’t know how to get them to fit in socially.

GP: Is this the issue? To get dreams to fit in socially?

Dissatisfaction inventory

it’s difficult not to feel at least some resentment, or at the very least some deeply ingrained dissatisfaction around some issues and periods in our lives. From not being seen and appreciated by our parents, to not finding friends as a small child, to not getting the love and sex we want, to not getting the job or professional identity we aspire to, to not getting the home and living standard we had hoped for or expected, to not playing the social role we’d like among peers, friends, and family, to not having children, to just the plain old lack of recognition— it all leaves us with a mute sense of “hmm, damn, okay”, of disappointment, of dissatisfaction. For many people, it may even be about food, health, or rest. Or a lack of fun and meaning or engagement. It’s the opposite of feeling alive. And every time that happens, even if it’s just walking past an attractive stranger and feeling drawn to them, and our longing cannot realistically be met, we need to constrain ourselves a bit. When that happens, we feel a little bit of anger at the world. We can tell ourselves it’s okay, but a part of us feels that we’re being treated unfairly. Some periods in our lives can be so fraught with dissatisfaction that it haunts us even in later life phases: if you never got to feel that aliveness of being a youth, with romantic adventures and great fun with a peer group, that can leave a mark throughout the rest of your life.

Just as we can go through our shame, guilt, and so on, so we can go through our dissatisfaction in life by remembering and feeling through the emotion, getting to know it in detail. Both historically and as it occurs from day to day. If we can’t be the boss or sleep with this or that person, at least we can admit the desire to ourselves, and feel through the dissatisfaction, letting it be known and integrated.

imagine you got what you wanted

Okay, here’s the counterintuitive technique: When you feel the dissatisfaction linked to a certain event or issue in your life, tell yourself that you actually did get what you wanted. Fantasize for a while. And say “Okay, so what if I did get that lady of my dreams? What if I was met with respect and recognition then and there? What if I did land the dream job and was successful at it?” or whatever it may be about. And then let your inner child, the hunger, the beast, get what it really wanted, even if only in a daydream. Stay with the daydream until you start to feel joy and the satisfaction of your longing and desire, no matter how unreasonable. Look for a little “spark of joy” and stay with it. The different scenarios you fantasize don’t have to add up. Maybe you were in love once when you were 20 and then again once when you were 21, and got neither of those objects of romantic desire. And yet, you can stay with both scenarios and imagine how you had long, fulfilling relationships to both of them. If you want to sleep with more people than what is even logistically possible, tell yourself that you already have slept with all of them, even if it makes no sense in practice

Imagining as if desires are satisfied already, not craving for them An important distinction to be made here, before proceeding with any of this, is the one between “coveting fantasies” and “satisfied fantasies”. The distinction is subtle but absolutely crucial. ● The “coveting fantasies” are the childish and immature practice of thinking “ooo, if I could only sleep with so and so and have this and that much money”. These drive our focus and attention towards what could have been, and implicitly, keep us languishing is what is not, and will never be. ● The “satisfied fantasies” instead go: “I am already sleeping with everyone I’d like to, and I already have what I need in terms of money, and I feel gratified and rich.” They’re different from the reflex reaction. They’re just there to calm down the unreasonable demands of the inner child. It takes a bit of practice to master. To be clear: Avoid coveting fantasies and cultivate satisfied ones!

how this works

Now, the reason this technique is controversial is that it sounds like you’re lying to yourself. Why not face the hard truths, right? Should we be telling ourselves things that aren’t true? But the reason this works well, I believe, is that we’re naturally still very well aware of the difference between reality and the daydream. We’re not actually fooling anyone. We’re not staying with a daydream to covet what we don’t have. We’re bringing our unfinished emotion, our inner drive, to its conclusion, feeling through the joy of that fantasy, so that we can feel more whole and let go of it.

GP: Sort of feels like Rob’s stuff. We’re aware fantasies are not real, and yet they also are (have a real effect)

Fantasies is not self-deceit. In fact, it’s the other way around. Our accumulated dissatisfactions are reactions to the harsh facts of life, yes, but on a subtle and emotional level, it’s them that are lying to us: always telling us we don’t have what we need, that what we’ve got is never good enough, that there is some void to fill. Self-deceit comes from the dissatisfaction itself. And so we go through life not appreciating what we’ve really got, the beautiful realities of our daily lives, because there is always lingering dissatisfaction with one thing or another. By communicating directly to our primitive inner beast, and, at an emotional level, giving it what it wants, we can cultivate a sense of abundance. Sure, we also do need to fulfill real needs for food, rest, connection, and gratification. I am not arguing that all real fulfillment of needs can be exchanged for fantasies. What I am arguing is that dissatisfaction is a negative emotion that gets stuck inside of us just like the other ones, and that it can be healed

We have every right to use our active imaginations to create satisfied fantasies and to reprogram ourselves away from the downward spirals of lost faith in ourselves and our lives. Simply put: We don’t owe it to the universe to feel bad about not succeeding or failing to get what we want. Nor do we owe it to other people. So, cast off the chains of failure. You don’t owe your failures to the universe. Things might have been slightly different, and then you would have got this or that thing you so desired. Pretend for a moment you did. And continue doing so until a spark of joy emerges, and until the sense of dissatisfaction subsides.

Reverse Death Therapy

If working through fear itself, including the fear of death, and then through our dissatisfactions (all the “little deaths”) is “death therapy”, then reverse death therapy means to work through the things that we did get and now take for granted; the things we feel are our birthright. And, to speak sociologically about social justice, I guess you could add: our privileges. So I call it reverse death therapy because we’re not working with death and dying, but with life and living. It’s still a kind of death therapy, though. It’s the opposite of going through our dissatisfactions: we go through all the things that shine for us, all the things that went well. Here, again, the imagination is our greatest tool. What are the things you are most happy, grateful, and proud of in your life? How attached are you to them? What would it have been like to never get those things, never experience them? What would your life have been like? Here, you use your imagination to fantasize about what life would be like without these things. What if your lovely husband would have rejected you instead of marrying you?

You don’t have to guess correctly what would have happened, you just need to vividly imagine what it would be like to not have something that you have. You are building stability into your emotional system by accepting that these things could just as well not have been.

8 - Heal with Justice

change your life and the lives around you by first finding out what you truly believe is just, and then by standing up for justice.

Primacy of Emotions

As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio famously quipped: “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think”. Emotions are what direct action, they pull the strings of movements of the body. We are, essentially, puppets of our emotions, and our thoughts just follow suit and rationalize to the best of their ability, sometimes correcting the direction here and there. If you remove emotions, we literally cannot make any decisions, and so we can’t actually do very much at all. emotions direct our actions

Integrity as integrating thoughts, actions, emotions

Trouble can arise—there can be “cognitive dissonance”—when thoughts, actions, and emotions contradict one another. When such dissonance is there, the different parts of us are not integrated, and so we lack “integrity”; we lack a certain sense of wholeness and resonance through our being. integrity as integrating thoughts actions emotions

undealt with emotions distort perception and cascade

With distorted perceptions (perceptions corrupted by our own undealt- with emotions), we might even bring perverse “justice” to the table, say, punishing a person for their perceived arrogance, when in fact they were genuinely trying to help us. And so the emotions can rumble around and around with no resolution, with no ending in sight, making our actions incoherent and erratic, too. Those actions will then cause further confusion and further unresolved emotions in ourselves and others, where your story and mine will diverge more and more. That’s how we make enemies out of friends and family. my note: Is my perception making me make enemies out of friends and family?

Again, “truth is God”, and while we can never have absolute truth about what happened (our perceptions are too biased, our memories too flawed and skewed according to our present emotional flows), we can come closer to it by examining how perception, emotion, thought, and action emerge together. In that sense, doing this work brings us closer to our own deepest truths, our emotional truths, and thus closer to God.

One person standing with justice is often all it takes to heal whole groups, whole companies, whole families. It can turn the tide.

example and practice

He started with his own shame (an emotion), and this led him to his thoughts and stories, and this led him to reevaluate his perception and interpretation of the situation, and this led to a new view of his own actions, and what actions should be taken now. If the guy would have only worked through his shame but didn’t reevaluate the bigger picture, there would still have been, on some level, something wrong with the whole story, and it would have continued to be bothersome. Only justice, a clarity concerning what one genuinely considers to be just when one has worked out one’s thoughts and emotions about the issue, can truly heal.

uncover and acknowledge emotions, correct stories told, change perceptions, and act to close the moral gaps that appear. Just remember that simplified and flattened calls for collective justice make up some of the most common grounds for new large-scale crimes to be committed.[115] In the end, bringing each emotion to its conclusion also means bringing our inner stories to their respective conclusions, to their little “happy endings”. Reaching such an “end of the story” in turn changes our perceptions and actions, which of course changes how we feel about the whole thing in the first place. It makes it easiest to let go of it, to leave it behind as just another chapter in one of the books on the shelf.

Identity thoughts

Thoughts cause emotions cause behaviors. And among the very strongest thoughts to create a reliable habit is to think in terms of identity: “I am the kind of person who…”. So the identity of standing up for justice in your own life and relationships is one of the best thoughts you can have in your mind, because it sets you up for habits that generate stability and happiness for yourself and others over the long term.

justice as the most fundamental value

Sometimes people say “When in doubt and difficulty, think of what is the most loving thing to do.” It’s not such a bad piece of advice. But if you think about it, you can come up with scenarios where the most loving thing to do is not necessarily the most just one. Should you “love” a school shooter? If you flip that around, however, you’ll notice that the most just thing to do will also be the most loving thing, at least in the long run. No, don’t love the school shooter, because that would be callous and disrespectful to the other kids and families involved. The same goes for that other cherished notion, fairness. Life isn’t always fair (in fact, it rarely is). Something can be fair but not just (“We both got one half the pie each, but my half was acquired by stealing half of yours, after you had made it for your kids”… which would be fair in a narrow sense, because we got the same amount of pie, but hardly just). But if you do what is just, it will also end up being the most fair thing, in the long run (“Your kids get the whole pie. I’ll wait for my turn to have pie.”). Justice is thus the more fundamental value—underlying the other ones. If something is loving and fair, but unjust, it’s simply not all that desirable. If something is just but, at face level, unloving and unfair, it was still genuinely the best we could do in that situation.[117] If we bring love and fairness to their conclusions, all things considered, we’ll end up doing what is just. That is to say, with the current definition of justice: We end up aligning what we do, with what we think, with what we perceive, with what we feel. We end up finding out the best truth available, and going from there.

Hints you’re out of integrity

Actually, it turns out there are a few rules of thumb that, most often, reveal when there is injustice on your side—i.e. when you somehow have a story that does not match your actions, nor what you have perceived, nor your true emotions. Look for these hints in yourself—I suppose they are self-explanatory as to why they would be signs of inconsistency: You find that you need to tell lies, even little ones. Concealing key information or omitting certain parts that grant another picture of the whole also counts as lying. You avoid sitting down and talking through the issues and decline offers to do so (something feels too off or scary about the prospect, and that something will appear, upon closer inspection, to be that you’d likely lose face if you’d have to argue your case, or explain yourself, because unconsciously you already know it doesn’t hold up.) You find that you need to “maneuver” by telling one person one thing, and another person something else. You carry secrets for someone else at an emotional and social cost. You notice strange memory lapses and that people can remind you of; things they say you’ve done but you only vaguely remember. You get strange fits of rage that seem out of character (exception for this is if you’ve been directly targeted by abuse

assertiveness towards justice - broken record

Now, when you assert your justified will, you still meet resistance, even fiercer than anything you’ve seen before. But with this level of certainty, you can just do what they teach people to do in “assertiveness training”, namely to repeat your position and argument “like a broken record”. It’s called, simply, the broken record technique. You calmly acknowledge the other person’s reactions, and then restate your case, again and again, until the resistance falls flat to the ground. Their excuses become cheaper than chips. If you’re right and justified—and they’re wrong—that soon becomes apparen

Ninth Commandment: Burn Your Maps

ideas are tremendously powerful bad theories tends to harm and kill people (some interpretations of Marxism come to mind, or phrenology and human race theories, or lobotomy in psychiatry

recipe for good ideas

The truly powerful way of getting new aha-moments is a combination of a few things, all of which we have actually already discussed in this book: Keep yourself in a higher “inner state” so that you’re continuously open enough and simply have the energy and composure to be enthusiastic about new insights that come your way. Basically, do your “state management” as we discussed earlier. When you’re “tuned in to life”, the chances of being genuinely mind-blown increase. Get yourself into the highest states (beyond “state 8”, into 9, 10, and beyond) as often as possible: this is when your mind is the most open, most plastic. Make it a life duty to always be learning new things—through books, yes, but also by always having some kind of learning project, some course or something you’re working on to learn more about.

Always obsess about there being big holes in your map that you just can’t see, because you’re being blind to some perspective that other people, even in your direct vicinity, may understand but you simply don’t. Remember that these holes are what can turn your life inside out and trick you, so that you wake up one day as the bad guy and the deluded one. Happens to the best of us.

collect perspectives

And what’s the best way to always keep learning and improving upon your map? It’s to become an expert on what maps are out there and how they compare to one another. It’s by understanding other people, and how they see the world, and how they think that the world works. You collect perspectives. You become a listener. That’s why I like to say, only half-jokingly, that whoever has the most perspectives when they die wins. Become darn good at listening to and understanding others, always suspecting they understand something you don’t, no matter who they are. That way, you multiply your number of teachers, and that increases the chance of getting aha-moments and a good map. I can hardly think of something more valuable to invest in. Even if you get into conflict with all the people you’re listening to and learning from, your sense of justice will have a greater chance of prevailing in the end if you understand them more accurately. That involves understanding the stories they tell themselves, regardless of how false those stories may be from your perspective.

clarity is a red flag for delusion

A total sense of clarity is not a sign of actually reaching the answers. It’s just a red flag that you’re becoming deluded or your mind being short-circuited. Rather, expanding your world map always entails an opening into a renewed sense of mystery. It can make you more sure about certain things in the world (Einstein predicting the observation of gravitational waves and so forth), but it leads you to wondering more and more. A better world map is one that increases your capacity to wonder. And to live with a sense of bewondered awe is not so bad.

If anything, the insight that we all have world maps and that these are by definition incomplete, and that the maps can red pill one another, inoculates us against the tendency of becoming “true believers”. Yeah, sure, you may have had a stroke of insight that felt cosmic, that shattered the earth and sky, that gave Mother Gaia herself an orgasm, that lit up the worst terrors of the universe with a burning light of love, and all that jazz. But what do you think the others were doing meanwhile—just sitting there and being boring? Are you so sure they don’t understand something equally or even more radically transformative that you don’t? Maybe you’re far above a person, but that person is simultaneously far above you in a manner you cannot imagine? Maybe they’re just playing with you, watching you in see-through, from above? Maybe you’re a child to them, just as they seem a child to you, only in ways you cannot understand. Maybe what you’re telling them is awfully predictable. You have this experience with other people, don’t you? Don’t you think others have it with you? The world doesn’t need preachers and proselytes—it needs ironic prophets, the believers who don’t quite believe themselves, because they trust in a reality bigger than themselves. The earth will be inherited, then, not by the meek, but by the sublimely mediocre.

Tenth Commandment: Do What You Hate

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”—Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Your diagnosis depends on your therapist

If you have anxiety issues and you go to a therapist, your diagnosis will likely largely depend on who the therapist is, not on your issues or symptoms. If you’ve arrived at the reception of a psychodynamic therapist, they’ll probably conclude that you’re having unresolved childhood and family dynamics issues and that you really need to be deeply listened to with care and attention to realize it yourself, step by step, with the help of some sensitive probing questions. If you’ve come to a cognitive behavioral therapist, they’ll conclude that your issue is that you’ve developed unhealthy and negative thought patterns as well as harmful and incorrect assumptions about yourself and reality, and that you really need to learn to challenge and develop those. If it’s a logotherapist, they’ll conclude that you need to find your own inner voice, stand up for your life’s purpose, accept that it entails suffering, and reconnect to the deeper meaning of your life’s story. Jungians will believe that you need to integrate your shadow: the stuff you’ve denied in yourself and are projecting out onto others. If you’ve come to a somatic (bodily, subtle body) Rosen therapy practitioner, they’ll be absolutely positive that your issue is that you have old tensions and blockages in your body which are keeping you from being fully alive.

the therapist you pick is likely the wrong one for you

The diagnosis does not depend on you or your issues, at least not primarily. It depends on the therapist, their proclivities—their intellectual allergies and infatuations—and the setting they’re working within. And if you stop and think about it, there’s something rather backwards about that fact. Sure, the therapist in any of the above examples may be right. Who knows? They might bull’s eye their way to just the right healing or pathway for you. But chances are, they won’t. Chances are, you picked the therapist that is most like you in terms of philosophy and worldview and that their way of grasping your issue is only “true but partial”. Chances are you’ll find and stay with a therapist who will do almost exactly what you would already have done in that situation: feel more (if that’s your thing), think it through properly (if that’s your thing), do hard drugs (if that’s your thing), and so on. And chances are that’s exactly the wrong kind of therapist for you. They’re probably the bull’s eye for someone else, but all wrong for you. The thing that the “therapist you love” focuses on is what you’ve already been doing all of your life

Doing what you hate, safely

Therapy—or coaching or whatever it is you need—is about that Achilles’ heel. It’s about treating your Achilles’ heel, about redpilling yourself out of your worst blindspots. It’s not very glamorous, because 90% of everyone you’ll ever meet just doesn’t have that particular weakness, issue, or problem, so you’re basically taking a red pill that almost nobody else needs. In this regard, you’re worse than all those normal people. But, on the other hand, they all have some pathetic side that they really need to work on, too. The glory of sublime mediocrity is that you can admit to yourself that you do have such weaknesses, just as anybody else, and that by working on them, you can radically improve your life. Again, it’s about doing what you hate—just in a safe and therapeutic environment where, yes, it may be painful, but no, it won’t harm your confidence, self-esteem, or reputation.

improvement on weaknesses is non-linear

We are all accustomed to thinking linearly around our potential. If we’re a 1/10 at something (in the worst tenth of people performing this thing), why work our asses off just to become a 2/10, right? Better focus on something we do well, no? I mentioned that you might be held back disproportionately by that one Achilles’ heel, and if you improve upon it, your whole life improves. But the most magical part, I haven’t mentioned yet : It’s that it is very often the case that if you have a weakness and work through it, it’s not that you are transported from a 1/10 to one step up—you actually tend to go straight to the top, no holds barred. So a person with dismally bad social skills can, for instance, by having had to do a bigger lift to function socially than anyone they’ve ever met, become a social genius. An afraid person can become the bravest one you’ll ever meet. The one who lacks assertiveness can suddenly become made of steel and then some. It’s not true of everything, but it’s quite often true of psychological qualities and capacities: your weaknesses are hidden blessings.

Hanzi’s therapy advice

Okay, so if we do accept that the form of therapy you hate—the dorkiest one you can think of, the one you wouldn’t lower yourself to doing—may in fact be the one you truly need, what are some rules of thumb to look for to find your best, and most passionately hated, therapy? It’s generally the case that we need the kind of therapy that is opposite to our personal proclivities and biases. We men very often have trouble accessing our emotions in manners that are just stupefying to most women. They cannot believe their ears when we reveal the poverty and vagueness of our emotions. It’s as if we were emotionally retarded—and we are, I guess. And so men generally need emotional therapy to help name and feel emotions fully, psychoanalysis to admit our buried rage and shame, and most of all somatic therapy to skip right to the raw feelings of the body itself, beyond any thoughts or excuses. But the crowd of clients for all of these is always mostly women

Well, there are therapists who you don’t need to listen to, who just work through your body and its raw emotions, leaving you to do most of the thinking that can come up: somatic therapists, like Rosen therapy. Other forms include hakomi, sensorimotor psychotherapy, and neurosomatic therapy. Worth a try, isn’t it? If you’re already good at thinking, and still have sorrows and troubles holding you down, why not work on that which lies beyond mere cognition?

Eleventh Commandment: Kill Your Guru, Find Your Others

gurus can be harmful

The simple and short version of it is that we do well to resist the lure of trying to find one really wise and powerful mentor, one designated-person-supposed-to-know, one guru with so much of the answers to life—as these actually deplete our personal power and independence, gaining power over us and drawing us into rabbit holes we’d rather avoid. Instead, we can invest our energies into cultivating equal and lateral relationships with tight networks of friends with whom we can go on great adventures.

Excessive admiration of a great figure is almost always a projection of potentials in yourself that you’re disowning for the fear of the responsibility and risks that come with actualizing them—or because of Sklavenmoral, the internalized envy of others. You also tend to postpone the real work of becoming a constructive parent to your inner child, because you project that responsibility onto a “screen person” instead.

Obsessing about what others think

The secret to life is not to “not care what others think of you”, but to care even more about it, to even obsess about it. But the problem is that most people will think very limited things of you from very limited perspectives. Hence, their thoughts of you will be largely incorrect, very narrow. And it’s caring about those narrow and incorrect perspectives that deprives life of its meaning and gets us into the impossible lose-lose game of maintaining ten different positive but flat and false views of us that even contradict one another. Or trying to disprove the negative and equally flat views of people who disdain or dislike you. So, for certain, we need to cast off our dependence on the incorrect and flat assessments of us that really have almost nothing to do with who we are and what we do. That’s what people really mean when they say “you shouldn’t care what others think” (or what they would mean if they could think it through properly).

deeper relationships free us to act how we truly want to

Goffman famously observed in his studies on the Shetland Islands north of Scotland how people walking across the grasslands up to the houses of others would change their posture and demeanor as they approached. We habitually put on a show from the moment we have gained a social self-identity, from the moment we become aware that others see and evaluate us. We can’t help ourselves from doing it. Right now, this very moment, I bet that there is someone out there who genuinely believes that you disdain and disrespect them, even if you do not. There is another person who believes you to be much less brave than you actually are. There is one who thinks you’re less honest than you are, less talented, and so on. And all of these impressions, these little mental avatars of you that others keep in their minds, guide how they relate to you, and those modes of relating to you set the boundaries for who you can show up as in your life and in your relationships. It sets the limits for that most social of all qualities of your life: your freedom. You become free only by getting people to have useful images of you in their minds—and useful images have to be both positive, nuanced, and realistic. If they either despise you or worship you, it doesn’t make you free. So it’s by planting correct and sane assessments of yourself in the minds of others that you win in this game of life—you just have to avoid getting stuck in trying to live up to disprove or images of you that are too narrow and one-sided. And how do you do that? By really getting to know others, by deepening your relationships with them, so that they can get a rich and nuanced view of you in your many dimensions. But truly knowing people is hard. And that’s why you’ll need to work on finding and cultivating that meta-team every day of your life: the close network of people who really know you. And, unmistakably, they will notice that you are both mediocre and absolutely sublime.

true power

Humanity often slams herself for her will to power. But at the end of the day, people pursue status with greater ferocity than with which they go after power. This is backwards—we have it all wrong. We should hunger for more power and we should rise to grab it. It’s just that power, if you really look into it, means that you are free, cared for, unafraid, creative, and committed to something that is true, just, and beautiful. And that power emerges only in and through very high quality relationships that span from your innermost core towards wider circles of inclusion, care, and brotherly love.

Twelfth Commandment: Play for Forgiveness

What’s even forgiveness about?

Forgiveness is about the rules of the game being breached. And so, its ultimate goal is to re-establish fair play and cooperation once justice has been attained. (If anything, this underscores just how important it is to find your own sense of justice: without it, you won’t even know if you have anything to forgive.)

When we talk about forgiveness, we usually not only make the mistake of thinking it’s a thing we can just choose to do (“score a goal against Manchester United, otherwise you’re a bad person!”). We also make the mistake of assuming it is a matter of black and white. Either you forgive, or you don’t. But, of course, it isn’t. If forgiveness is a direction, we can divide it into steps. It is sometimes appropriate for us to take just one step, sometimes several or even all the steps. We go as far as we can in the direction of forgiveness, judging on a case-by-case basis how far to go.

not faking it - keeping it as intention It is helpful to know and to understand fully that forgiveness is the direction of life, whether we like the thought of forgiving someone particular or not. And it helps to know that you can work in that direction by intending to forgive, if you don’t force it upon yourself, offering only repression and fake forgiveness—or confusing forgiveness with accepting and condoning unacceptable and unethical behaviors.

Forgiving yourself

Whereas we surely could find examples of how the commandments clash or contradict, I believe that most readers will agree that for the most part they form synergies by reinforcing one another. There’s a current that runs underneath them and interconnects them. This greater whole is about accepting everyday life, as well as our quite ordinary selves, and still finding ways to go beyond the mundane and delve into struggles larger than ourselves, into aspects of reality more magical than what everyday life normally allows. This is what I have called “sublime mediocrity”. It’s about being honest about our flaws—some minor and some downright awful—and accepting them, allowing us to really appreciate ourselves and what we can contribute. Following these rules leads us to a state of simply liking ourselves. From there on it is much easier to go on to work for a better world.

Forgiveness is a capacity more than a choice

Forgiveness is something you do for you; it means letting go of resentment, rumination, and prolonged inner self-harm. It is a capacity rather than a choice, but it always involves making a choice: to try to let go of hatred and animosity. Bitter emotions and the ruminations that come with them always present themselves as “your only friends in a dark and hostile world”, but they are not. Rather, hatred and animosity are the enemy, more so than whatever real-life foes or betrayals life throws at you. Forgiveness is victory over the pettiness and suffering of your own mind: it is the path to inner peace.

true forgiveness comes from the (inner) child - set him up accordingly

Well, the same thing holds true when it comes to forgiveness: real, heartfelt forgiveness can only be offered by the child. If the adult tries to force forgiveness upon the child, it is a form of self-violence that will end up creating harm, resentment, repression, and eventually violent upheaval. The adult plays the games of life, setting things up for forgiveness to occur: setting boundaries, clearly seeing what’s just or unjust, standing up for oneself, going through difficult emotions and self-scrutiny, taking a higher perspective. But the child alone forgives. All the adult can do is to play the games of life in a manner that makes it easier for the child

we were all hurt, but we pretend we weren’t

There is a game of appearances that we must play with regards to others, pretending that we were always treated with respect, so as to instill in them a sense of respect for us. If they knew about all the ways we were looked down upon and disrespected and failed to defend ourselves, they too would fail to respect us. And we would be unhappy if this disrespect spread to others. Best pretend it never happened, or it might happen again. Best to not even remember the truth. And so we are tempted to play the same game of appearances with ourselves: to deny that we were hurt, to pretend we were not. The truth is, of course, that we all were hurt. You too. That’s how life works, simply because human beings are equations that don’t add up; we’re walking paradoxes.

divine anger

This divine anger—admitted to, surmounted, integrated, felt, and contained—is agency unleashed and power gained. The rage is your friend, your unending source of rejuvenating strength. But never let it be your boss. Anger is powerful, but it is never wise. So your task is to tame the dragon, and only then to unchain it, to ride it into the glory of sublime mediocrity. Anger is weak and cruel when it does not serve justice, i.e. the greater whole of social resonance. But when aligned with your deepest sense of what is true and right, when aligned with ends for which lies need never be told, because all of your actions are self-explanatory, your rage can shake the foundations of the experienced cosmos and salvage mankind. So the ends do not justify the means. They never do. Justice, by definition, is when your means, not your ends, are clearly justifiable;

righteous anger, unafraid of critique is not painful

Hence, righteous anger is defined by being unafraid of openness, of the free flow of information, of scrutiny and critique. It needs no secrets. That’s why it is the real source of courage, the capacity to contain and overcome fear—even the deepest existential terror, which is the flipside of the rage. You need not fear being questioned, because you do have an answer, or at least you are set upon finding the very best answers to justify your actions. Not excuses, but the real answers for why you act the way you do. And here’s the thing: anger brought to such usage, to such holy war, ceases to be painful for its carrier. It sings and chimes, through every cell of your body: I am here, I am responsible, and I am alive. Struggle is reborn as play.

enemies are just as useful as friends - do not destroy them

my note: Your enemies hold a part of truth, may be giving the greatest gift by eliciting the sense of injustice

Thereby, we land at a crucial point to understand how anger must be tamed: your enemies are not truly your enemies—not in the eyes of God. God contains multiplicity, God has all perspectives, the “gaze from nowhere” that belongs to no particular single being; all of us particular beings must by definition just be a part of the whole.[145] Thus, people who you come into conflict with may seem dastardly and damned from where you sit, a fuck-ton of evil garbage. But if you fight them all the way to the gates of hell, to the darkest corners of human existence, you will see that they have been your brothers and sisters all along. They’re part of the whole, and the fact that they elicited your sense of injustice and rage may very well be one of the greatest gifts of your life. I’m not saying you should be kind to them; I’m saying you should follow your righteous anger to its proper end, but always keep it within the bounds of ethics, retaining a playfulness of the struggle. Therefore, never try to destroy your enemies. Savor them. Respect them. It’s understandable you want to go Django on their hypocrite oppressor asses. If you’re perfectly honest with yourself, you do. But your enemies are just as useful as your allies and friends, only as intimate partners in life. Together, through conflict, you are bringing each other closer to a larger truth, even if that truth may only be reached by someone else entirely at a later point in time—perhaps someone who reflects upon and learns from your conflict. This is, I believe, why Gandhi insisted upon never killing any living being: you thereby destroy a part of the truth, i.e. the unique perspective of that being.

productive conflict fuels agonistic democracy

To make a sociological reference: The Belgian theorist Chantal Mouffe formulated what she called agonistic democracy, i.e. the stance that democracy and its resulting policies evolve just as much through the conflict of ideas and interests as through friendly discussions of common interests. The aim of our democracies is to contain and tame these conflicts, so that they are productive rather than destructive. The same can be said of conflict in general and the rage that fuels it: Sure, maybe there is a larger kumbaya in which all is oneness, but this kumbaya must contain all of the rage and conflict as well. Otherwise, it does not truly contain all. The eyes of God are loving of all, yes—and that includes the part played by the rage. Otherwise, it’s a thin kumbaya, a hollow hallelujah.

Forgiving the world, and forgiving God

When the grief takes over, we physically hurt throughout the body. Our guts and hearts ache. It’s an otherworldly sadness: heavy, dark, awful, and strangely beautiful all at once. Once we get to know it, we begin to truly approach forgiveness of the world and of existence itself. It is a sadness even beyond tears, beyond loss, beyond death. It’s a sadness for the existence of suffering in the universe, about the fact that there is nothing you can ever really do about it. No matter how well your life turns out, no matter how much good you do for others, suffering will exist in quantities you can't imagine. If we begin to feel and accept the existence of that grief, we are coming close to forgiveness of a more cosmic kind: becoming grateful for the world even if it is unfathomably unjust and terrible. It is, after all, also immensely beautiful. Maybe it’s not all “worth it” and maybe there’s nothing we can do about that. But we can forgive the world and love it nonetheless. I guess we have to. This cannot be a “Stockholm syndrome” kind of love, loving the world because we’re too scared not to, as hostages love their captors. The only sane aim, the highest spiritual aim, is forgiveness of the world despite all the suffering its existence entails.

Rather than inverting the idea of good versus evil, or the idea of humble submission versus proud individualist rebellion, one should reverse the direction of forgiveness. It is not God that came down in human form and forgave us; it is we who are here to forgive God for all the mediocre crap He made, ourselves included. The atheist Stephen Fry was once asked what he would say to God if he, to his surprise, should meet Him in the afterlife, at the pearly gates, and thus find out He was real. Fry replied not that he would regret not believing as the interviewer seemed to have in mind but something along the lines of How dare you? He then proceeded to list the evils of the world that an almighty creator must be held responsible for—and for which the almighty could only reasonably be condemned.

forgiving is a divine power - but we also need satanic rebellion

In the end, the position I suggest lands closer to Christian forgiveness than to Satanic rebellion. Forgiveness is still the key, but it is yours to give after you’ve taken a proper bite of the cosmos. Perhaps our tendency to worship a forgiving deity is a form of projection of our own capacity to forgive. Think about what an awesome power that is. Maybe it seems too great for us, for our little all too human selves, to hold such a divine capacity—too incredible to be true. And so we figure that God must be doing it, not us. Or rather, Isuggest a synthesis of both positions: forgiveness and rebellion, both in higher and more completed forms. If Satan is a symbol of the ultimate rebellion and individual self-assertion, he somehow fails to make the cut: forever stuck in a world where he is below someone else, forever resisting, gorging on pleasures and power but always still in anger and spite. Wouldn’t it be a greater and more total rebellion to take the power back and forgive God for the suffering of the world?

A fourth teological position - religions as repositories of truth claims

We have all been taught to believe that there are only three possible fundamental theological positions: To believe in a religion literally (or some much more light- weight version thereof, such as playing a bit with the thought of believing from time to time). To not believe (to be atheist or strong agnostic). To believe in religions as repositories of deep, transrational truths, which hold true on an existential level, more so than even many of the most ardent literal believers tend to realize. But if we follow the reasoning we just outlined concerning the inversion of Christian forgiveness, a fourth position presents itself: To view religions as repositories not necessarily of transrational truths but of transrational or existential truth claims— each of which can always be reevaluated, deepened, or in some cases downright rejected. In other words, the fact that you take a transrational stance on religion does not imply that you need to accept its existential answers. It means you try to read those deeper truths as clearly as possible and then seek to advance them to their highest (or deepest) form. If we do that with the doctrine of forgiveness, we end up with a new game of life— one where the ultimate victory is the forgiveness of God, the universe, of everything, everywhere, all at once. Fundamental Truth in all religions?

Power of Crying

Speaking of meeting the grief: We all tend to cry too little. Or, really, most of us do. And the most emotionally powerful way to cry is not alone, pale, and crouched into a fetus pose under the noise of the shower. It is to cry publicly. To stand by our tears. To own our sorrows. You may have noticed that—as sociologists like to say—everyday life is ritualized. There are rituals, rules, and norms for when and how to appropriately do what. And there are, unfortunately, rather few rituals for truly crying and mourning. It’s a flaw of our modern culture: always being too upbeat, too concerned with signs of success.

What can we do instead? Well, if modern culture has stupid elements of emotional correctness, and we approach it with sincere irony, we can always hack it. We can play according to its rules for deeper benefit. Indeed, it turns out that there are public spaces in which you can legitimately sit and cry: namely, graveyards and churches (or whichever temple you happen to frequent). There are even, in the graveyards, memorial groves that honor many dead or the tragedy of death itself, not the passing of one particular person. Such memorial groves are for sorrow and grief what nudist resorts are for nudity. There, nobody can legitimately blame you for resting on the bench and crying in public. **So cry. Let your tears run, my friend. It’s been a hard life. It will get harder still. But if we can cry, if we can feel the grief and let it take over our bodies and fill our minds, if we can embody it, hold it, contain it, animate it, we are forgiving the world and healing it from the inside out, making room for new beauty and happiness to be born, for our hearts to love life and reality itself. **This, I believe, is the surest way that we can truly take responsibility for the world we create together