When I think of Hope, all sorts of things come to my mind. From Leia’s message to Obi Wan in the original Star Wars, to the feeling I get after walking out of an interview for a job I would really like to land. I think we all have a good understanding of what Hope is. It is the yearning for something; it is us looking forward to a result or a happenstance that may or may not come to pass. We hope we will get a raise, we hope that those we love are having a good day, we hope people we miss come to visit. Just like Anger and Wrath hold very different contexts to me, I think it may be better to look a little deeper into the difference between Hoping and wanting.
Why is Hope so virtuous, I always wondered, until I felt despair and saw others in states of despair. I think to fully understand Hope, we must first fully understand its shadow. There have been many times in my life where I have despaired. Whether it be losing a job, a significant other, or simply feeling like a rat on a wheel, working hard but accomplishing nothing. So far, I’ve made it through every single hopeless situation, relatively unscathed. Thankfully, I’ve always had a great support system in my family and friends. When I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel and gave up, somebody was always there to drag me out. For that, I’m forever grateful. But what good was I in that state? I certainly wasn’t anybody’s hero when I was a wallowing lout. I was a burden, not because I wasn’t capable of making positive changes, not because I didn’t have the ability to move on, but because I’d given up Hope.
So when I think of Hope and what a difference it could have made in my life, and how having it would have eased the burden of those who love me, I see the virtue to it. When we think of our favourite heroes from books and movies, they are always faced with seemingly impossible challenges. If they gave in to despair, their story would never be told. It always comes down to their belief in a brighter tomorrow, and their relentless effort to see it unfold. Without Hope, nothing would ever change for the better. Without Hope in having a good day even getting out of bed in the morning is daunting and difficult.
So how have I done, so far, when it comes to possessing the Virtue of Hope? I would unfortunately not give myself the greatest rating. Too many times I’ve despaired, too many times I’ve given up, and all too often when I could have made the effort to go forward, I have walked away.
I think back eight years, and I remember the recession, I remember my paychecks being cut in half. I remember keeping my lights off in my apartment and using headphones to watch TV so the Strata council wouldn’t know I was home when they came, again, to collect the money I couldn’t pay them. I remember getting my credit card bills in the mail and throwing them in the trash straight away because I couldn’t bear to look at them. That went on for months at a time. I was ashamed of myself, I had lost all Hope, labelled myself as a failure, and hid from the world. Soon after I declared bankruptcy, quit my job and moved back in with my mother. Right after that my girlfriend left me, and if I hadn’t already given up, I certainly did at that point. If it weren’t for my friends picking me up every morning and taking care of me for the next year, I most certainly wouldn’t have survived that year.
Eventually, something clicked. I decided that I wasn’t going to die at 24 years olds, and that if I was going to continue living life, I was going to do my best to at least make it enjoyable. My Hope returned to me, and with it, I went and found new work, and started over, fuelled by my wish for a better tomorrow. Getting my life back was entirely because of Hope, without it, I wouldn’t be here, and I’m sure a lot of others wouldn’t be either.
So how about now, all these years later? I lost another job in the meantime, but I didn’t despair, I went and found a new one the next day. At that point I believe I admirably demonstrated this Virtue.
Today as I write this, I’m feeling stuck, like the rat on the wheel or Sisyphus eternally rolling the boulder up the hill. I realize that I need to do something to break the cycle, I need to make a move or a change. The difference this time is that I know that I am capable of making things happen, and I have a clearer vision of the future I want to create for myself. So you could say that I have Hope, this time around, and have the state of mind that will allow me to act on that.
So I suppose in conclusion, at this point, I embody this Virtue in a satisfactory manner.
Hi everybody, its been a while. Too long of a while. Life gets hectic sometimes. I thought I'd share with you something that I'm working on. I'm not entirely sure if it is an essay, or a report, or what have you. I've been deeply evaluating my sinful and virtuous nature, and here's a sneak peek. My first topic is on the Deadly Sin of Wrath, so here it is.
I lived a childhood and adolescence riddled with feelings of anger; towards myself, towards my family, towards my friends, employer, and the world in general for it’s unfair and cruel nature. As stated in my previous book, I embarked on a journey to completely overhaul my outlook of life, and followed certain, specific practices that have helped me overcome negative feelings and live in a constant state of inner peace. That being said, I am certainly fallible, if not by predisposition from my past, then by human nature, and suffer from the same negative feelings as anybody else.
The first of the deadly sins on my list to examine is commonly listed as Anger, however I opt to use its less common name, Wrath. I prefer to refer to it as Wrath, as it has a certain intonation of extremity. The reason I lean towards one over the other stems from their very definition. A quick glimpse into the dictionary and you will find anger defined as a “strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” or “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” This certainly isn’t a positive emotion, by any sense, and we would much prefer that we live a life free from it. However, it doesn’t have a sinful resonance to it. In fact, I believe that anger is an essential part to our humanity. I believe feelings of anger when we are hurt, or threatened, or we feel as though we have been wronged are crucial to our ability to stand for what we believe in. I don’t think we could feel joy or elation when we meet someone, or happen upon an event which aligns with our goals or creed in life without feelings of anger when the opposites are true. Anger has caused many great changes in our world. When a government is wronging the people, an employer causing the employees distress, or people perform harmful acts to each other, it is the feeling of anger that lights the spark in us to inspire us to stand up and make a change, or fight for our rights.
If it wasn’t for people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X becoming angry at the current state of affairs when it came to how African Americans were treated, they may not have made any progress in their struggle for equality. The same goes for the women’s rights movement, the LGBTQ movement, the Russian Revolution, so on and so forth. Anger is, I believe, a necessary emotion that enables us to stand up, and push towards a better tomorrow.
Wrath, on the other hand, is defined as “strong vengeful anger or indignation.” We may say “my father is angry with me,” or “I fear inciting my father’s wrath.” They have very different intonations. A husband who is angry at his wife may not speak with her for a few hours, and that’s one thing, but a wife who suffers her husband’s wrath, that is something else entirely.
At this point, I would like to point out, again, that in writing this, my primary focus is to conduct a thorough investigation into my current state of being, and examine carefully how sinful or virtuous I am in my life. My previous book was written for the benefit of the reader, I already practice everything i wrote about. These writings are for the benefit of myself, so that I might become a better person. My goal at the end of my investigation is to live a life filled with Virtue, while at the same time minimizing my Sin. In saying that, I also hope that while reading this, you take the time to examine your life, as I have mine, and reap the same rewards that I hope to find as I dive deeper into my own psyche.
I like to be open with my writing, and share my innermost feelings and secrets with you all. In Inner Peace Made Easy I shared stories about my life which I had never previously shared. I put out in the open my accomplishments as well as my shortcomings and failures. I fear these writings may be more riddled with mistakes and failures than they are with my successes, however, I am happy to share them, in hopes that my inquisition may benefit all of us, in some way.
I am proud to say that I consider myself fairly competent when it comes to living my life on the right side of Wrath. I have become very level headed, and that is ever strengthened by my disconnection from what you may refer to as “real life.” I spend most of my time inquiring into realms beyond time and space, and the current reality. I am much more interested in the many lives I live in my dreams than I am in the ongoings or non-goings of the waking life. I have resigned myself to the fact that this life I have been born in to is full of suffering, disappointment, hardship, challenges and struggle. I no longer fight against it, I simply accept this truth and work with it. My disconnection from reality has led me down a path with few friends and few expectations. At one point, I had a great number of friends, too many, in fact, that I was always letting someone down to please someone else. I couldn’t keep up with it all. And so in my quest for inner peace, I culled my acquaintances until I had the very select few people that I call friend and interact with, and even then, if you ask any of them, you might find that they will tell you that I am completely absent from their lives unless they are either in dire need of my support or I am in need of theirs.
That may seem unrelated, and somewhat off topic, however, I feel it lands right on the money. It is impossible for me to fight with my brother, as I speak with him on holidays and special occasions. He has no opportunity to incite my Wrath. The same goes for my sister, my coworkers, or my friends. I manage to live a life that is almost entirely free of the Sin because I have taken away the opportunity for others to call on it. The government hasn’t done anything so impactful to incite it, and my employer leaves me alone to do my job, for the most part; even my mother, who lives with me, gets very few opportunities to disappoint me or let me down on a large enough scale to summon this Sin as I spend most of my time on my own in my own private space.
For me this is perfect. I prefer to be alone, and I would rather sit alone and ponder life, the soul, the universe, so on and so forth than to interact with other people. I could be the poster boy for introversion. Some people prefer company. I believe most people do. We are a social animal, and we crave social interactions and social status. It is hardwired in to us to acquire status, and to work as a tribe. I would never suggest to anyone to become as distant as I am. In fact, I feel a lot of guilt. I feel guilt constantly. I know my father would love to hear from me more often, I believe my siblings would love a phone call once in awhile. I know my mother would love for me to tell her about my day, about my successes, failures, worries, relationship, plans and dreams. But that isn’t who I am, and if any of them are reading this, please accept my apology.
But the point is, I give others very few chances to upset me, and so I rarely feel Anger, let alone Wrath, except, of course, for when I do. I can count on one hand, with a finger to spare, how many people have been subject to my Wrath. Unfortunately for them, and for me, my Wrath has always brought tears. On none of the four occasions have I not done an immense amount of damage to the victim who suffered it, as well as myself, there have been tears on both sides, every time. Not only were tears shed by the recipient of my Wrath; in every instance I have shed them as well, and I remember and carry the burden of guilt for each instance. I suppose the immense damage done to myself and others is the very reason why Evagrius Ponticus named them Deadly Sins. Worse yet, three out of four of the victims of my Wrath have been my biggest supporters, people I love dearly and, in times of clarity, are people whom I would swear an oath to never hurt.
I am proud to admit that I have only attacked, never physically, mind you, four people in a state of Wrath. I am loathe to admit, however, that even for all of my training on attaining inner peace, the last time was but last week. Somebody very dear to me made a decision that was important for their own well being, simultaneously breaking a promise to me which was important for mine. I was counting on them, and, as I said, I count on very few people for even fewer things.
I wish that I would have been able to step back and think things through. I wish I could have fallen back on all my practices of inner peace and drawn the strength I needed to view the situation from their viewpoint to better understand what was happening. However, being human, my cortisol spiked, and I drew both guns and held nothing back. In the short span of a couple of hours, I had done two life times worth of emotional damage to them, to myself, and to our relationship with each other.
What could I have done differently? What could I have done to prevent this slip in to the devastating Sin of Wrath? I will give it careful thought and meditate on it, and return to it later in the book. We can never undo what is done, but a phrase resonates in my mind, “What is broken can be reforged.” I hope that in the future I do less reforging, and simply find a way to choose a path free from Wrath.
I will spend a great deal of time pondering this and return to it later in my writings. Hopefully I can come up with an answer.
There is a lot that can be said about the sky. Sometimes it is blue, sometimes grey. Sometimes it’s bright and sunny and other times dark and stormy. But one thing is for sure, no matter what it looks like at any given time it is a sight to behold.
When we were children we used to gaze up at the clouds and find shapes and figures in them. Why people stop doing that is beyond me. It is one of the most relaxing activities you can do, at any age, anywhere. If you ever find yourself needing a moment of respite from life, do yourself a favour and go look to the heavens and see what you can see there. Even if there are no clouds to find shape in, marvel at the wonder of the grandness above you.
When I look at the sky I can’t help but marvel at the smallness of my problems and my successes; I find it very humbling. Not only do I see the grandness of the sky but I also realize there are billions of people who can see the same sky, from different angles. Depending on where people are looking at it from, they see a completely different sky. For some it may be night, for others cloudy, sunny, stormy, clear or maybe a beautiful sunset or sunrise. All at the same time, all from different angles but all the same sky that connects us all. That reminds me to see situations from different angles as well. Something that we may at first think of as a problem or an issue can become a blessing or a boon if looked upon from a different angle or perspective.
Take the time to look at the sky. I’m sure you will find your answer there.
Tonight I’d like to touch on a big subject, death. I don’t claim to have an answer as to what happens after, but I do believe that part of living a peaceful life is to contemplate and be prepared for it.
Every religion that I have knowledge of has some idea or concept of what happens after death. There is the concept of judgment and entering heaven and hell, reincarnation, reunion with the source, ascension into higher dimensions so on and so forth. Atheists also have a concept, albeit total annihilation of consciousness. I’m not sure which is right, but here is why I’m not worried and you shouldn’t fear it either.
I’d like you to consider the words of the Taoist sage Chuang-Tzu when he said “How am I to know which is better, living or dying?” as well as “And how should I know the dead don’t wonder why they had ever clung to life?”
I’m not going to focus on the happier endings like heaven and ascension, I’m going to focus on the scenario which scares people, particularly atheists; we completely cease to be.
The reason that I find this scary to people is they have a very difficult time imagining non-experience. Somehow when we think of annihilation of consciousness we imagine ourselves stuck in a dark room for all eternity. That simply wouldn’t be the case. We experience non-experience every night, sparing dream states. We go to sleep and some hours later we wake up and the time has passed. Whether it be two hours, four hours or twelve hours of continuous sleep it makes no difference, that time passes without us being aware of it passing. We could sleep for a hundred years, and when we woke up it would be the same. Maybe we would miss our long deceased family members, but we would not have any feeling about the time itself. So the same would have to be true for cessation of consciousness. If we die and that’s it, then it would be no different than experiencing those 8 hours of sleep. We simply wouldn’t observe it. It wouldn’t make us happy or sad or lonely.
Realistically speaking, if we become conscious when our brain starts functioning and cease to be conscious after our brain stops functioning, then we must also have been dead from the beginning of time until we were born, and do you have any recollection of that time bothering you? Of course not, and you wouldn’t be bothered by the time after death, either.
Back to the quotes I asked you to ponder, what if it is, in fact, better to be dead than alive? We have no way of knowing that it isn’t and so we shouldn’t fear it. Because I pondered these points I was able to overcome my fear of death. I won’t rush towards it in anticipation of seeing what it's like to die but when the time comes I won’t have any fear of what’s next.
Who are you? A seemingly simple question, but one that I think a lot of us don’t quite understand the depth of, or how that depth can change our lives for the better.
Let’s say that you ask me to write a two page paper about who I am, and then you ask my mother, my girlfriend, her sister, my brother, my barber, my coworkers and my friends to do the same. I guarantee you that while there may be some similarities, you will find more differences than anything else in their description of who I am. Ask the person who I bumped into in an elevator who I am, another different story, based on their limited understanding of who I am from that brief encounter.
So which one is me? Well, all of them and none of them. They are all different visions of what I am understood to be, and they are all right and they are all incomplete. We can only know somebody so far as we have experienced them. If I meet you on the worst day of your life, my entire understanding of you will be of you like that, which I would assume would be an incomplete vision of you.
So every person you meet or have any contact with whatsoever has an image of you, their vision of you, made up of their experiences with you. That vision is both you and not you, but the life changing realization comes from when you understand that that limited vision is their complete version of “you”. One of my favourite quotes is “Aspire to be the person that your dog thinks you are.”
How does this information change our life? Simple. When we understand that when a person speaks about us to ourselves or anyone else, they are not speaking about us, they are speaking about their vision of us. When they say something insulting, hurtful or offensive they can never speak it about us, they can only speak it about their vision of us.
So when we come to realize this, we become unoffendable. We become more understanding, and more open. Instead of being hurt by someone’s words we might instead try to understand why they see us that way, assuming we don’t agree with their analysis.
When we are told “don’t take anything personally” we really shouldn’t, because nothing can be personalized to a full version of us, only a limited, fragmented vision of us, a shadow, so to speak.
So go about your life with this understanding, stop taking things personally. If someone says something hurtful attempt to understand instead of retaliating or becoming hurt and I promise you will find your life to be much more enjoyable. You will stop worrying so much about what others think about you, because you understand they can’t think about you.
Think it over. This understanding changed my life for the better, I hope it helps you in yours.
When storms are raging and the winds are howling, we can look to the trees and see that they sway uncontrollably, sometimes looking like they are about to snap. When we watch the treetops in the wind just like when we look at ourselves in times of hardship, we may think it is utter chaos.
What we forget, however, is that the top of the tree is not the tree. Only a part. Just like in our lives our current situation is not our life, only a part. What’s important to do, is to step back and look at the bigger picture. The tree, which looked so fragile and weak when we looked at the top swaying, has a stable base. A strong foundation. Deep roots. We are the same. When things in our life are going awry, maybe we are having family trouble, stress at work, an overwhelming amount of homework, whatever it may be, it is important to remember our foundation and our roots.
Our emotions can only sweep us away if we allow them to. We are not them, not entirely, and so we should not be consumed by them. We may be shaken by despair, depression, anxiety, worry or grief, those are our versions of strong winds.
When I feel out of control, I breathe deeply and see myself as a tree in a strong wind. I see life knocking me back and forth, but I also see my strong roots and trunk which I know will survive the turmoil.
I suggest you try it too, the next time you feel like life is tossing you this way and that. Close your eyes and imagine yourself as a tree. See your top being blown about, but focus on your trunk and roots holding true.
This is one of my favourite quotes from the Tao Te Ching, which is the building block of Taoism. Lao-Tzu advises that its best to be like water, which nourishes the ten thousand things and does not contend. In the same verse he goes on to advise:
Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when it is time.
When we look at what water does, from providing a home for fish and other aquatic life, rising to the sky just to fall back down to nourish the soil and help plants grow and give animals something to drink, to flowing down the stream nourishing all in its path, it sure seems to be a benevolent life-giving source, assisting everything else in their struggle to grow and develop. When it is done it does not ask for payment or recognition, it simply helps and then moves on.
"I think if we were all a little more like water, nourishing and helping without self-interest, the world would be a much better place to live."
You will also never find water in conflict with other water. If one river or stream comes across another, they do not contend or try to win dominance over the other. They simply merge together and continue on their way.
Later in the text, Lao-Tzu states that "the Sage acts and expects nothing, accomplishes and does not linger, has no desire to seem worthy."
Does this not sound like water? What a great way to live a good life, to do good deeds and good work without relying on recognition and reward. When we act like this we call it altruism or philanthropy.
I think if we were all a little more like water, nourishing and helping without self-interest, the world would be a much better place to live.
(Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Addis & Stanley Lombardo 1993 Hackett Publishing Company, Boston)
What is happiness
I think a big part of attaining happiness in our lives is to first understand what happiness really is. I find it is a very misunderstood concept, most people mistake joy or ecstasy for happiness.
I think of happiness like this. I'll use the analogy of a ship, or a boat on the water. Water can be choppy, with high or violent waves, or calm and settled, much like life. When the boat rises up on a wave, this is joy. When the boat goes down lower than the water level, this is sadness or despair.
What matters, then, is the depth of the water itself. In the middle of an ocean, going up or down a little won't impact the ship very much, but in shallow waters, going down below the water level may cause the boat to smash into rocks or reefs, rendering sometimes catastrophic damage.
Happiness, then, is the depth of the water itself. If you live your life in a state in which you have a great depth of happiness, then the lows won't bother you very much. The highs are still highs as you ride the crest of the wave.
I was having a conversation the other day, and the topic at hand was the fact that I talk slower, walk slower, do everything slower than most people these days. I thought I'd share the reason with everyone. The reason I do everything so slowly is that it gives me the time to do it deliberately. Every step I take, I take deliberately. Every word I say, I say deliberately. What I respond to and how I react is deliberate.
Most of us are living reactive lifestyles. Something happens and we respond immediately. Something is said and we shoot back a response, often times regrettably. We rush through life, missing most of what is happening around us and within us. We don't stop and smell the roses, so to speak. So I think a big part of attaining inner peace is to slow down. Do everything you do at 50% of your regular speed, or 75% of your regular speed. Slow it down, talk slower, walk slower, and look around. Revel in the moment you're in. Smell the flowers, enjoy the sky. Think carefully of what you're going to say, listen carefully to what someone else is saying.
Give it a try, for an hour, a day, even ten minutes, slow yourself down and use the extra time you've garnered to really live in the moment and appreciate it for the miracle that it is.
In Taoism and Zen Buddhism, life is often compared to a river. Rivers flow downstream on their way to the ocean, or their final destination. In the Liexi or Lieh-tzu there is a story of a man who comes upon a river, and fears to cross. As the man stands staring at the river he notices another man, swimming gracefully. The swimmer goes under with the current occasionally, and pops up for air occasionally. The man who wishes to cross does not understand how the man is so graceful, so when the swimmer comes up on the shore he asks him "What is your method of swimming?" to which the swimmer replies "I have no method of swimming, I simply go where the water takes me, and in doing so I always arrive exactly where I am going!".
I think this is an important story because we spend so much time fighting, stressing and wishing we could do things in our life. It is like swimming up stream or against the current. Maybe we can make a little headway against the current, but we would definitely end up exhausted quickly.
"It is much easier to go with the current, or, if anything, make our way to the riverbank to the side instead of trying to go upstream."
I find life much more enjoyable when I go with the flow, accept what is, how it is, and don't fight against it but go with it. Give it a try the next time you want to fight against life. Try letting go.