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Self Actualization – The End Goal or a Delusion?

This is Abraham Maslow.

He is considered one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century because of his association with the famous hierarchy of human needs.

This hierarchy depicts the idea that human needs can be categorized into different tiers. Tier one includes physiological needs, tier two includes safety needs, tier three includes belongingness and love needs, tier four includes esteem needs, and the final tier includes self-actualization.

An interesting fact, however, is that Maslow never really used the term hierarchy to explain his theory. He merely suggested that there is a causality between lower tier needs and higher tier needs by virtue of prepotency. Most probably, the pyramid was an illustration designed by one of his publishers in order to offer to the reader a more visual representation of Maslow’s ideas.

In his three most important works, “Motivation and Personality,” “Toward a Psychology of Being,” and “A Theory of Human Motivation,” he delved deep into the topic of self-actualization; a theme that attempts to overcome the limitations of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and introduce a new scope in the way humans endeavor to actualize their potential.

He joined a branch of psychology called humanistic psychology that has its roots in phenomenology, existentialism, and eastern philosophy. Its main premise is that the ideas put forth by the traditional psychoanalytic theory are innately pessimistic and this constitutes an impediment in the way humans progress through life.

Maslow was a positivist and a pragmatist. The basic framework of his theories was that only through a life devoted to personal responsibility and constant self-improvement can an individual ever be truly happy.

A catalyzing factor in the development of his ideas was the advent of WWII that produced so much pain and suffering around the world. He firmly believed that humans regress to more aggressive behaviors when their path to self-actualization is vague or obstructed by calamities that disorient their true purpose.

His whole journey through life connotes an attempt to investigate the ineffable mysteries of the psyche through a focus on what can be done rather than on what cannot be done. His work wasn’t ostentatious, but rather it provoked thinking via a thorough analysis of the human condition.

Most of his interest in this area emerged from his examination of people that fulfill the conditions of a self-actualized person. He looked at people like Albert Einstein and he saw figures who met the standard of self-actualization and could act as archetypes for the rest of the world.

In a way, Abraham Maslow can be considered the forefather of the contemporary self-development movement.

The four pillars of self-actualization

If we remove the biological parameters from the equation, as well as every other trait that can be bequeathed to a person from their lineage, a human is a tabula rasa. That is, one has the capacity to develop and evolve to a state that one truly desires insofar as one invests heavily towards that state.

According to Maslow, that state isn’t something obscure or elusive. After a lot of contemplation, he came to identify some major patterns that repeat throughout instances of people he called self-actualized. In the wake of extensive research, he formulated a framework of self-actualization that works as a great foundation for personality development.

In his seminal book – Motivation and personality, he attempts to lay out the characteristics of self-actualized people, after a study he did on people who, according to him, met the criteria of self-actualization. These people were contemporaries of his time as well as important historical figures:

Excerpt from the book “Motivation and Personality”

The main characteristics that he identified are as follows:

1. More efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it.

The relationship between a person and reality is a very intense one. Reality constitutes an amalgamation of known and unknown territory, thus rendering our perception of it quite challenging. Maslow argues that self-actualized people embrace the unknown without fear and that “doubt, tentativeness, uncertainty, with the consequent necessity for abeyance of decision, which is for most a torture, can be for some a pleasantly stimulating challenge, a high spot in life rather than a low.”

He also points out that people high in neuroticism can actually distort their judgment, and even reality itself, because of their neurosis.

2. Acceptance (self, others, nature)

Here Maslow puts emphasis on the idea of responsibility and, to some extent, stoicism.

“They (self-actualized people) can accept their own human nature in the stoic style, with all its shortcomings, with all its discrepancies from the ideal image without feeling real concern. It would convey the wrong impression to say that they are self-satisfied. What we must say rather is that they can take the frailties and sins, weaknesses, and evils of human nature in the same unquestioning spirit with which one accepts the characteristics of nature.”

That way, acceptance can offer clarity to one’s perception and allow one to make more sagacious choices.

3. Spontaneity; Simplicity; Naturalness

Spontaneity, simplicity and naturalness, all can lead to less artificiality in the way one orients himself in the world.

“His (self-actualized person) unconventionality is not superficial but essential or internal. It is his impulses, thought, consciousness that are so unusually unconventional, spontaneous. and natural. Apparently recognizing that the world of people in which he lives could not understand or accept this, and since he has no wish to hurt them or to fight with them over every triviality, he wiII go through the ceremonies and rituals of convention with a good-humored shrug and with the best possible grace.”

Unconventionality, in itself, is a somewhat puzzling trait. Indeed, a self-actualized person goes through life with a critical attitude, but at the same time he or she won’t obsess over unconventionality and constantly experience friction, especially in trivial matters.

4. Problem-centering

“Our subjects are in general strongly focused on problems outside themselves. In current terminology they are problem centered rather than ego centered. They generally are not problems for themselves and are not generally much concerned about themselves; e.g., as contrasted with the ordinary introspectiveness that one finds in insecure people.”

The detachment of the ego, when one attempts to tackle a problem, constitutes a fundamental precondition to effective problem-solving.

“They (self-actualized people) seem never to get so close to the trees that they fail to see the forest. They work within a framework of values that are broad and not petty, universal and not local, and in terms of a century rather than the moment.”

5. The quality of detachment; The need for privacy

The ability of an individual to seek and enjoy isolation is considered paramount in one’s pursuit of self-actualization. Without a certain amount of seclusion, one cannot dive deep into complex ideas and also develop a significant level of self-discipline, self-decision, and self-government.

That, however, does not convey that the self-actualized person is antisocial, but rather that he or she prefers to invest in less superficial relationships.

6. Autonomy; Independence of culture and environment; Will; Active agents

“Since they are propelled by growth motivation rather than by deficiency motivation, self- actualizing people are not dependent for their main satisfactions on the real world, or other people or culture or means to ends or, in general, on extrinsic satisfactions. Rather they are dependent for their own development and continued growth on their own potentialities and latent re- sources.”

Here Maslow attempts to create an interesting osmosis between the terms autonomy, independence, will, and action taking. This attempt highlights a proclivity towards a worldview that can help the self-actualized person maintain a relative serenity in the midst of circumstances that would, usually, make other people extremely uncomfortable.

7. Continued freshness of appreciation

Gratitude is a virtue. But throughout the twists and turns of life, we end up forgetting how critical gratitude can be in appreciating all the little, but immensely beautiful, things that life has to offer.

“Thus for such a person, any sunset may be as beautiful as the first one, any flower may be of breath-taking loveliness, even after he has seen a million flowers. The thousandth baby he sees is just as miraculous a product as the first one he saw. He remains as convinced of his luck in marriage thirty years after his marriage and is as surprised by his wife’s beauty when she is sixty as he was forty years before. For such people, even the casual workaday, moment-to·moment business of living can be thrilling, exciting, and ecstatic.”

8. Peak experiences

“Apparently the acute mystic or peak experience is a tremendous intensification of any of the experiences in which there is loss of self or transcendence of it.”

The loss of self can lead to tremendous revelations in the way our cognitive apparatus perceives different experiences and, to a certain extent, the world as a whole. Peak experiences have a mystical aspect entrenched to them and they act as mechanisms that can allow the self-actualized person to transcend the ordinary in order to connect with the sublime.

9. Gemeinschaftsgefühl

According to Maslow, “this word, invented by Alfred Adler, is the only one available that describes well the flavor of the feelings for mankind expressed by self- actualizing subjects.”

This is a German word that, roughly, translates to “sense of community.”

Our need for identification, affection, and sympathy is deeply embedded in our constitution and it is this need that drives our desire for the pursuit of a greater good.

In a nutshell, Gemeinschaftsgefühl describes the capacity of the self-actualized human to develop a vision bigger than himself.

10. Interpersonal relations

“They are capable of more fusion, greater love, more perfect identification, more obliteration of the ego boundaries than other people would consider possible.”

Here Maslow is tapping into the characteristic of self-actualized people to seek deeper connections in their interpersonal relations. Loyalty and a small dedicated circle are favored over a plethora of shallow connections. Selectiveness can offer a sense of clarity in our relationships and allow room for further interpersonal evolution.

11. The democratic character structure

“They can be and are friendly with anyone of suitable character regardless of class, education, political belief. race, or color. As a matter of fact it often seems as if they are not even aware of these differences, which are for the average person so obvious and so important.”

The ability to not discriminate and to adopt a democratic stance when it comes to judging others is a fundamental constituent of a self-actualized personality. A certain degree of humility is required to demonstrate such an attitude, as well as the proclivity to judge people more by their character and less by their status and racial characteristics.

12. Discrimination between means and ends, between good and evil

The line that divides right from wrong, evil from good and moral from immoral can oftentimes be quite vague. Our ability to make sane decisions when we orient ourselves through every social ecosystem is predicated upon our capacity to understand the importance of that vagueness. Nothing is absolute and many truths can be rebutted. Self-actualized people understand that well and try to act as if their life is designed around that idea.

Moreover, “self-actualizing people most of the time behave as though, for them, means and ends are clearly distinguishable. In general, they are fixed on ends rather than on means, and means are quite definitely subordinated to these ends.” In that sense, they are more likely to appreciate the doing itself for what it is regardless of the result that it will lead them to.

13. Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor

Humor is a very debatable topic, because humor, most of the time, is directed towards someone and this can implicitly communicate a level of hostility towards that someone. For self-actualized people things are quite straightforward:

“Characteristically what they consider humor is more closely allied to philosophy than to anything else. It may also be called the humor of the real because it consists in large part in poking fun at human beings in general when they are foolish, or forget their place in the universe, or try to be big when they are actually small. This can take the form of poking fun at themselves, but this is not done in any masochistic or clownlike way. Lincoln’s humor can serve as a suitable example. Probably Lincoln never made a joke that hurt anybody else; it is also likely that many or even most of his jokes had something to say, had a function beyond just producing a laugh. They often seemed to be education in a more palatable form, akin to parables or fables.”

14. Creativeness

There is no limit to the degree one can engage in creative work. Creativity has an axiomatic character and that can help push through any mental barrier the thinking human may face.

“It is as if this special type of creativeness, being an expression of a healthy personality, is projected out upon the world or touches whatever activity the person is engaged in. In this sense, there can be creative shoemakers or carpenters or clerks. Whatever one does can be done with a certain attitude, a certain spirit that arises out of the nature of the character of the person performing the act. One can even see creatively as the child does.”

15. Resistance to enculturation; The transcendence of any particular culture

The idea of enculturation is akin to the idea of groupthink. Maslow tries to shape the type of thinking that self-actualized people have maintained in order to not allow cultural imperatives to define their reality. Cultural influence does have pros and cons and, therefore, Maslow argues that in a world that attempts to impose certain norms upon us, it is the duty of self-actualized people to question those norms.

The End Goal or a Delusion?

Reaching the stage of self-actualization is not an easy thing.

Maslow attempted to portray the archetype of the self-actualized person by collecting an amalgamation of characteristics exhibited by people he considered to be the perfect representation of this archetype.

As far as I am concerned, this constitutes a problem, for he relied on a very narrow group of people in order to create an all-encompassing narrative that can make his case sound epistemologically solid.

Indeed, figures like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein are celebrated by the whole of society as individuals that achieved remarkable things and whose personality and attributes we usually define as exemplary.

However, his choice of people seems elitist and factors such as environmental, racial and biological influences haven’t been taken into account in order to understand how easy it is for someone to reach a self-actualized state.

In the grand scheme of things, the possibility that such characteristics can be attained by anyone seems utopian to say the least. 1

To dwell within the boundaries of this utopian pursuit is to inhabit a space whose intellectual topography is modeled almost entirely from ambitious assertions and the purpose of these assertions is to reinvent the meaning of our lives.

Self-actualization isn’t the end.

But self-actualization isn’t a delusion either.

It is none and both at the same time.

We can call it a mechanism.

It’s a mechanism that acts as a compass whenever the moral, intellectual and intuitive processes that orient us towards what is good for us are out of sync.

And this happens far too often.

The chaotic nature of reality leaves no room for alternatives.

But such an endeavor, regardless of how demanding it seems, can be within our reach.

The person who wants to be self-actualized believes that he is worthy of self-actualization. And it is so because he makes it so.

In closing

As it is mentioned in “Toward a Psychology of Being”: “Abraham Maslow doesn’t pretend to have easy answers, absolutes, or solutions that bring the relief of finality, but he does have a deep belief in people.”

Self-actualization constitutes a vision for humanity and should be treated as such.

Our constitution is fluid and it is this fluidity that allows us to constantly innovate in the way we approach our relationship with ourselves and with each other.

Ontological questions grow our appetite for life and through an interplay between the known and the unknown we will always define our mode of being and become more enamored with the machinations of the cosmos.

It is this interplay that will define if and when we can all reach this fascinating state that is self-actualization.

When you want to discover the right path towards self-actualization, a simple daily action plan can create monumental changes in your life. In “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” project, I have collected the most interesting daily habits, inspired by renowned individuals, that aim to help people reinvent the way you approach life and focus on adopting practices that are not only feasible but also enjoyable and meaningful. You can check it out here.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox the moment they are published. It is awe-inspiring, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will await you once you confirm your subscription:

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Schopenhauer Made Me a Pessimist. And Then He Helped Me Enjoy Life.

“The world is my idea:”—this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness.”

This is how Arthur Schopenhauer introduces us to his most celebrated work, “The World as Will and Representation.”

Such a potent way to introduce your audience to your inner world requires quite some audacity.

And Schopenhauer showcased a considerate amount of that throughout his life.

He was the philosopher that preceded Nietzsche and succeeded Kant.

These three philosophy moguls created a continuation of critical thinking and life-defining concepts that influenced the western thought like few.

In my mind, Nietzsche has always epitomized the idea of the quintessential philosopher. He was strong-minded, poetic, inquisitive, romantic, and has brought abstract reasoning to a whole new level. In a nutshell, he knew how to absorb the totality of my being. And this ability of his to captivate my attention so effortlessly has rendered me somewhat snobbish towards other philosophers.

I thought that Nietzsche has said everything that needs to be said and that I should veer my attention towards other disciplines in order to expand my cognitive repertoire.

Unfortunately, this naïve assertion alienated me from very important thinkers in human history and limited my ability to understand how different schools of thought were connected to each other.

If you look at the history of philosophy (or at least part of it), beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending with, let’s say, the post-modernists, you will clearly identify thinking patterns that not only are connected to each other but also complete each other in an attempt to adapt to the epoch that they represent.

Let’s take, for example, the topic of religion which was an incredibly hot topic among philosophers in the 18th and 19th century. One can identify that the criticism formulated in their writings was fierce and unapologetic. For religion was such a dominant force during that time that all the great philosophers considered it a personal responsibility to criticize it in order to help the populace unshackle from the dogmas that it was trying to impose upon them.

Today, religion is rarely discussed in philosophical circles and that is because it’s dogmatic nature has been reduced. Instead, other ideas, such us the political system or societal dynamics, are considered more relevant and important. But, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that it was because of the 18th and 19th philosophers and their critique of religion that we now have the luxury to philosophize more on different matters.

Nietzsche stated in “Human, All Too Human” that:

“A lack of historical sense is the congenital defect of all philosophers…. They will not understand that man has evolved, that the faculty of knowledge has also evolved, while some of them even permit themselves to spin the whole world from out of this faculty of knowledge…. But everything has evolved; there are no eternal facts, nor are there any absolute truths. Thus historical philosophizing is necessary henceforth, and the virtue of modesty as well.”

One ought to realize such details in the way the human mind interprets certain ideas and events. For me, such a realization didn’t just constitute an inflection point in the way I view certain philosophers and philosophical movements, but it also urged me to dive deeper into their works and lives.

Schopenhauer was a man of great depth who tried to understand the maladies of the human condition and propose pragmatic ways to deal with it.

Through his writings, I discovered notions that not only re-engineer the ways we think about ourselves and our relationship with reality, but also transcend the way we view the very fabric of reality.

These notions I endeavor to lay out today in the most lucid way possible.

But first, some history.

Schopenhauer’s Life

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in the city of Danzig (present day Gdańsk in Poland). His family was quite wealthy and well-educated. His father, Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, was a “Voltairist” 1, a supporter of the French revolution, and an Anglophile that admired England as the land of freedom and intellect.

Schopenhauer’s House in Danzig

In 1793, his family decided to move to Hamburg, after opposing Prussia’s invasion to Danzig. Arthur stayed in Hamburg until 1797 and then he was sent to Le Havre in order to immerse himself in the French culture. In 1803, he rejoined with his family who were touring around central Europe due to his father’s merchant business. Later on, he attended a school in Wimbledon where he came to despise the strictness and pretentiousness of the British educational system.

His father died in 1805 (suspected suicide). Despite the seemingly turbulent relationship Arthur had with his father, he admired him a lot and always talked about him in a positive light. On the other hand, he didn’t share the same sense of admiration for his mother, and their relationship deteriorated due to temperamental differences.

Young Schopenhauer

When he entered adulthood, in 1809, he joined the University of Göttingen where his appreciation of Kant and his writings started to commence.

His main source of income was an investment he made in government bonds after inheriting part of his father’s fortune.

During his 20s, Schopenhauer studied philosophy, traveled a lot, fought a lot with his mother and his stepfather and also exchanged letters with Goethe who admired his dissertation and the spirit of the young philosopher.

Schopenhauer as an adult

His most popular treatise, “The world as will and representation” was published in 1818 but did poorly.

Arthur was an interesting young man who found himself constantly tapping into new ideas in order to answer life’s most challenging questions. He was rebellious and complicated. He attempted to lecture in the university Berlin, but unsuccessfully.

Throughout his life, he remained a controversial figure that was characterized by his contrarian views, but also by his lack of empathy towards philosophers whose views he didn’t agree with.

One could argue that his works were mainly influenced by Plato, Kant, and Upanishads (ancient Sanskrit texts that influenced Hinduism).

Schopenhauer in his prime

Schopenhauer had many disputes with other philosophical figures of his time, but he also amassed a significant following during his late days.

He died in Frankfurt in 1860.

The Main Ideas

Schopenhauer’s work was dense and his language assertive. He was a pessimist but also a pragmatist. He detested puerile arguments and wanted to get the gist of things. Most of his postulates emerged from a strong desire to live a life that was within his scope of understanding, but also face the truth about reality, notwithstanding how harsh this may be.

He was a great admirer of Kantian philosophy and more specifically his ideas about the thing-in-itself and transcendental idealism.

The thing-in-itself: This is quite self-explanatory. The thing-in-itself is the object as it is, regardless of how we perceive it.

Transcendental idealism: Schopenhauer described transcendental idealism as a “distinction between the phenomenon and the thing in itself.” In essence, what Kant supports it that the human experience is totally subjective and disengaged from the nature of the phenomena we perceive. For instance, we can observe and interact with a dog, but we can’t really have a dog experience as a dog actually perceives it.

Extrapolating from these two concepts, he attempts to evolve the concept of perception and reality by adding the notion of will in the equation.

The will, as Schopenhauer understands it, is the expression of the desire of all nature to pursue and propagate life.

Without will there can be no life but it is also through will that most of mankind’s misery and suffering is manifested.

Based on this posit, he produced his Magnum opus “The world as will and representation” and, by drawing inspiration from this momentous work, I will attempt to explain Schopenhauer’s main theories.

The World as Will and Representation

We, as humans, are consumed by our drives. Drives such as sexual desires, pursuit of pleasure, need for interaction, will to power, the elucidation of aesthetics and much more.

They are all integral constituents of the way we operate and they all fall under the umbrella of what Schopenhauer refers to as the will to live.

Life isn’t just an abstract concept for us. It is an experience manifested through a plethora of wills that are intertwined in an attempt to form an ensemble that justifies the reasoning behind our existence.

But this conglomerate of individual wills isn’t limited solely to the human dimension. It can be found in the whole of nature in ways we cannot comprehend due to our limited perception – this is what Schopenhauer calls the Will (capital W). And this limited perception, according to Schopenhauer, is the source of our misery and suffering.

The supreme principle of the universe is apprehensible only through introspection and through the transcendence of egoism that each human is endowed with. Ego is the enemy, an enemy that can be confronted only through self-awareness, empathy, and compassion.

The curse that has befallen our species is that we cannot really free ourselves from the Will. The Will can be released or negated, but it can’t change.

Within this inauspicious landscape, we ought to attempt to operate in the most effective way possible.

It sounds like an arduous challenge, it feels like groping and fumbling in the dark, but Schopenhauer adumbrates that the denial of the will to live might be the only way to salvation from suffering.

This pessimistic outlook towards life is observed all over his narrative, and it was because of this tone that many refer to him as the Philosopher of Pessimism.

An Innate Pessimism that Leads to Moral Awareness

The absurdity of reality has always been the main area of interest for most western philosophers. Schopenhauer, in his attempt to create meaning out of this absurdity, illuminated a very pessimistic rhetoric. Take for example the following passage from “The World as Will and Representation”:

“And to this world, to this scene of tormented and agonised beings, who only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; and in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man, a degree which is the higher the more intelligent the man is; to this world it has been sought to apply the system of optimism, and demonstrate to us that it is the best of all possible worlds. The absurdity is glaring.”

It is self-evident that his inner world is tormented due to the absurdity that is prevalent all over our existence.

This nihilistic approach connotes an alignment with the idea of determinism due to our inability to influence the Will.

However, he doesn’t give up. He understands that there is an escape, even if this can be found on a metaphysical level.

“Not merely that the world exists, but still more that it is such a miserable and melancholy world, is the tormenting problem of metaphysics.”

Here, he is tapping into the world of metaphysics by realizing the there needs to be another dimension to our existence. One we will never experience if we keep recycling the same thinking modus ad infinitum.

“The life of every individual, viewed as a whole and in general, and when only its most significant features are emphasized, is really a tragedy; but gone through in detail it has the character of a comedy.”

Sarcasm is also a weapon he uses from time to time in order to alleviate the significance of the tragedy of the human condition. Through self-awareness, we came to understand that our creator has either a very sadistic taste or that he, she, it or they are testing us. When we realize how tragic that is, we end up thinking that it could all be a travesty of some sort. Having to deal with this level of absurdity makes you either get angry or you laugh at it.

“For if anything in the world is desirable, so desirable that even the dull and uneducated herd in its more reflective moments would value it more than silver and gold, it is that a ray of light should fall on the obscurity of our existence, and that we should obtain some information about this enigmatical life of ours, in which nothing is clear except its misery and vanity.”

Eventually, he ends up adopting a more pragmatic stance. Lamenting can only get one so far and, after we get over our anger, we need to face the truth and deal with it. Schopenhauer emphasizes that in the face of a world filled with endless strife, our only escape is a universal moral awareness that will allow us to achieve a more balanced frame of mind.

By merging Christian precepts and Indian wisdom, he attempts to lay out some major principles of moral awareness that can lead humanity to a more tranquil state. Principles such as the repudiation of violence altogether, the idea that one should treat others as one treats oneself, the transcendence of egoism, the fight against suffering in the world, and the perennial cultivation of compassion as an absolute humanitarian doctrine.

The Two Paths – Asceticism and Aesthetics

After tasting the truth of human nature from a moral standpoint, Schopenhauer realizes that there are only two paths that can help one deal with this conundrum – Aesthetics, and Asceticism.

Aesthetics is presented as the antidote to the ugliness of suffering. It is through aesthetic perception that the transcendence of ego can manifest itself, for with aesthetics (that is any object, person, or artform) we can evaluate an idea beyond our earthly interpretation of reality. This idea is analogous to the idea of sublimation that Freud put forth during his time. Orienting consciousness towards states of mind that are less individuated and more cosmic has always inspired great thinkers, hence their affinity towards eastern philosophies.

“Only through the pure contemplation . . . which becomes absorbed entirely in the object, are the Ideas comprehended; and the nature of genius consists precisely in the pre-eminent ability for such contemplation. . . . (T)his demands a complete forgetting of our own person.”

We can temporarily emancipate ourselves from what the Will dictates through and aesthetic experience.

“On the occurrence of an aesthetic appreciation, the will thereby vanishes entirely from consciousness.”

Asceticism, on the other hand, arises as the more secure attitude, since, according to Schopenhauer, aesthetic perception, due to its transient nature, is most of the time short-lived. Asceticism can result in the denial towards our will-to-live, thus allowing us to fight against the suffering that the Will attempts to impose upon us.

“By the expression asceticism, which I have already used so often, I understand in the narrower sense this deliberate breaking of the will by refusing the agreeable and looking for the disagreeable, the voluntarily chosen way of life of penance and self-chastisement for the constant mortification of the will.”

The issue, usually highlighted as a contradiction in this way of thinking, is that the suffering that asceticism tries to assuage, paradoxically leads to different types of suffering like isolation, anxiety, antisocial behavior, sexual oppression and so on.

Regardless of how asceticism is portrayed or exercised, Schopenhauer truly believes that the ascetic struggle is the ultimate struggle against the Will and this act in itself can give us a modicum of what self-transcendence might actually entail.

In Closing

Many prominent philosophical figures criticized Schopenhauer’s work and claimed that there are numerous contradictions in his philosophy.

This is inevitable when one possesses such a genius in the art of abstract reasoning.

The world in and of itself is full of contradictions and we should all just embrace the absurdity of that fact.

Schopenhauer, with his works, has rightfully earned a place in the pantheon of philosophers across space and time.

In my first introduction to him, he made me a pessimist. But then he helped me enjoy life.

His words can be mesmerizing and can alleviate the pain of existence for most of us insofar as we open our hearts and our minds to them.

I have thought about how to deal with the suffering of life a lot. Schopenhauer suggest Aesthetics and Asceticism. I applaud this two ideas, but suggest one more: To challenge yourself in order to provoke life. That’s why I created “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses“. I have collected the most interesting challenges, inspired by renowned individuals, that aim to help you reinvent the way you approach life and focus on adopting physical, spiritual and mental practices that are not only feasible but also enjoyable and meaningful. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. You discover the challenges here.

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References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World_as_Will_and_Representation

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Schopenhauer

[3] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schopenhauer

Featured Image © Nicolás Verdejo.

The post Schopenhauer Made Me a Pessimist. And Then He Helped Me Enjoy Life. appeared first on The Quintessential Mind.

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The End of Anxiety – How to Fight the Most Nebulous Disease of Our Times

First, there was the sweat.

Then the heart pumping furiously.

I thought it would penetrate my chest.

Then the uncontrollable breathing made me lose control over my body.

I started making circles inside the apartment expecting that the pace of my walking will allow me to calm down.

It didn’t work.

Every thought kept generating more anxiety and the lack of control kept making me feel weaker.

I tried to regulate my breath but it was pointless.

I needed help.

My phone was on the table and I tried to call my brother hoping that he could save me somehow.

It took him almost 20 minutes to reach my flat. That was the longest 20 minutes of my life.

I tried to lie on the bed and lift up my feet in a desperate hope that the change in the blood flow would make my body change state. Nothing changed.

My helplessness made my brother feel unease. I have never seen his face so frightened before.

He immediately called an ambulance that took another 20 minutes to arrive. These 20 minutes felt like eternity.

The presence of the paramedics helped me feel a bit safer.

When we reached the hospital, I was still feeling awful but I knew that the doctors would help me understand what was going on.

We did all the required tests and, on a neurological level, I was totally fine. However, my whole body was shaking and I thought that I could collapse at any time.

The doctor held my hand and started talking to me. Talking always helps because it distracts your mind.

She asked me what was going on and if I was in a lot of pressure lately.

I couldn’t really talk but I nodded.

She told me that I had an anxiety attack but also that everything will be fine.

Her hand was like a safety anchor for me. Letting it go would make my heartbeat skyrocket again.

Then a nurse came and handed her a pill. She asked me to take it.

At that point, I would do whatever she told me. After 30 minutes the pill started kicking in and I was in paradise.

This was my first ever anxiety attack. It took me 31 years to experience one and I hope that I will never have to go through a similar scenario again.

For 2 months I was struggling to recover completely and a plethora of factors contributed to my recovery. 1

My life was quite erratic and turbulent at the time. I had problems with my ex-girlfriend, my business wasn’t going well and I was in an environment quite hostile to my constitution.

An anxiety attack or any other byproduct of anxiety is not something born out of happenstance. It is a situation infringed upon most of us through a series of bad choices we make and by immersing ourselves in the wrong environments and lifestyles.

Each human must reckon with pressure to keep up with a perpetually changing landscape and the natural ebb and flow of evolution’s taste.

We weren’t ready for such an abrupt and dynamic change in the way we operate.

As a result, we get confused and we end up falling victims to what can be characterized as the most wicked disease of our times.

Anxiety manifests itself in different forms and disorders throughout a person’s life. From a generalized anxiety disorder, to social phobia and PTSD, the angst entailed in the human condition can make even the bravest of us crumble in despair.

Which begs the question. Can anxiety ever be cured completely?

That, I don’t know.

What I do know, is that our approach towards the mechanics of anxiety portends a tidal shift towards the way we deal with it.

Many would call that an ambitious endeavor, since our cerebral makeup has a threshold with regards to how much it can be molded and how fast it can adapt to novelty.

However, my anxiety attack constituted an inflection point in my pursuit for a remedy.

I realized that anxiety is nothing more than a reaction of our body to an event, environment or lifestyle that is antithetical to what our idiosyncratic perception demands.

This perception is an amalgam of various factors, both biological and environmental, and the proper evaluation of them can lead to an almost immediate decrease of anxiety in our lives.

In the next paragraphs, you will identify my attempt to lay out the most effective ways I dealt with anxiety and, hopefully, some of my suggestions may be of use.

How to Fight Anxiety 1. Exercising secular spirituality while making peace with religious aspects.

The notion of spirituality has, over the ages, usually been used in a strictly religious context, for it was religions that first endeavored to use spiritual practices as a way to connect with a higher form of self.

For me, religion is a tricky topic. I have always despised religious dogmas and the idea of religious people always alluded to a very conservative and regressive mindset.

As of late, however, due to the attempt by great thinkers, like Jordan Peterson, to identify depth in the way religions operate and to highlight the important truths hidden in religious stories, religions have become less alien to me.

I find myself enjoying the symbolisms entailed, for instance, in the biblical stories or in the way Mesopotamians represented their deities.

But my approach to these stories is strictly confined within the realm of symbolism.

I only view them as stories and I disengage myself from any attempt from those religions to impose meaning or obligations upon my worldview. Stories can be real or can be invented. What we make of them is up to what we want to make of them.

Once this truth has matured within our perception, then religion can really help us understand the power and allure of spirituality. For, in our current epoch, we experience a paradigm shift with regards to what spirituality is and how it can be exercised.

Trying to experience spirituality within a secular context still constitutes a conundrum since the rules of how this is supposed to work haven’t been properly defined.

Yoga, for instance, is strongly related to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, which makes every attempt from the West to modernize it, look unappealing and fake.

In that sense, the notion of spirituality needs to evolve.

The evolution of spirituality needs to be tantamount to the evolution of how we approach anxiety. The past, the present and the future of those terms need to coalesce in a multifarious ensemble that directs our bodies and minds towards what is good for our psyche.

Spirituality aims to lead the individual to a place where even a modicum of what the transcendence of human condition feels like can be experienced.

In this world, anxiety has no place.

2. You are full of energy. Energy that seeks to be released.

Anxiety is in many ways similar to depression. They are both byproducts of a lifestyle that is limited to a passive mode of operation and, in most cases, the individuals suffering from both disorders reject any attempt to live life to the fullest.

Freud pointed out, in “Civilization and its Discontents,” that civilization is the product of repressed sexual energy being redirected into productive activities.

There is energy, inside all of us. Mostly sexual energy, that seeks to be released.

If we decide to shy away from that truth, we will inevitably end up depressed and anxious.

Freud’s suggestion was sublimation. He strongly believed that the process of deflecting sexual instincts into acts of higher social valuation can orient the individual towards a higher mode of being.

The proposition here doesn’t deny the importance of sexual acts, but rather it attempts to connote that “erotic energy is allowed a limited amount of expression, owing to the constraints of human society and civilization itself. It therefore requires other outlets, especially if an individual is to remain psychologically balanced.” 2

The word balanced is key here, for balance is a notion quite central to our being.

Most of us fall victims to the twists and turns of life and end up lamenting and despairing due to the inadequacy we might feel.

A balanced lifestyle, predicated on activities that can ensure that the required amount of energy is being released on a daily basis, is key to inner peace.

There is so much suppressed tension and aggression in each person that seeks to be released. Here are some ways:
-Lifting
-Cold Showers
-Screaming
-Martial Arts
-Therapy
-Self-talk
-Reading
-Wrtiting
-Creating
-Travelling
-Changing environments
-Yoga
-Meditation

— Adrian Iliopoulos (@theQSLmind) October 6, 2018

If you have trouble identifying interesting practices that can make your day more meaningful and help you experience instances of powerful energy release, you should check out “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses.” With 30 challenges to choose from, every day, your daily schedule can never look more interesting.

3. Homeostasis = anxiety. A busy lifestyle is a remedy.

The reason anxiety exists as a mental state or response mechanism is multifarious.

From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety is considered the response you get in order to prepare for a fear triggering event [1].

The world is a very dangerous place and us humans have evolved quite a few mechanisms that can help us cope with adversity.

Anxiety is one of them and it was usually trumped by immersing in activities that allowed humans to feel in control of their environment. Hunting, inventions, tribal living, and different manifestations of power have paved the path to the cementing of our species as the dominant force in the planet. Anxiety always worked as a trigger to orient us towards what is dangerous for us so that we can attenuate its effect on our lives.

Modern civilizations have made things easier, but most of our instincts remain the same. We are adventure seeking creatures and we need to constantly come up with ways to satisfy our complicated constitution.

By drawing parallels between our primal past and our current state, we can forge a present that can be meaningful and fulfilling.

I have always promulgated the importance of a busy lifestyle as one of the catalysts for human flourishing, for it trains the mind to adapt easily to a myriad of scenarios that life throws at you.

The adherence to a mindset that dwells within the narrow confines of one’s comfort zone is a recipe for disaster. All the chaotic elements that will attempt to disorient one’s presence will eventually prevail and anxiety will just manifest itself as a natural consequence.

Busy doesn’t need to automatically be associated with work. Work is indeed a central mechanism in one’s life, but the way you structure your life can include countless more interesting practices. You just need to open your eyes, experiment a lot and listen to how your body reacts to different experiences.

4. You are a sovereign individual. You just don’t know your power.

The sovereign individual has many faces.

It is the well-calibrated individual that understands social patterns and acts dynamically, according to the circumstance.

It is the contrarian who rejects conventional wisdom and innovates constantly with regards to problem-solving.

It is the holistic thinker who manages to understand as many disciplines as possible and is characterized by an undaunted thirst for knowledge.

It is the recovered person who works hard on their issues and believes in change regardless of the calamities that they may encounter on the way.

All these are forms of identity one can adopt in the quest for achieving individual sovereignty. That is the state of mind where the individual understands their role in the cosmos and becomes unhinged from every toxic dependency that might occur throughout their lifetime.

The anxious person is unaware of this.

The anxious person will always seek saviors and remedies outside their scope of control.

They have probably been brainwashed, through upbringing and social conditioning, to believe that there is only an infinitesimal number of things they can achieve and this limitation has a strong effect on their psychology.

As such, the anxious person remains shackled in their condition and any attempt to escape becomes fruitless since the personal responsibility entailed in the process of liberation ends up lost in an endless sea of limiting beliefs.

This parochial attitude is something only the individual him or herself can confront through extreme self-awareness and extreme self-ownership.

Facile generalizations can’t be of use in this context. The battle needs to be specific and has to be approached with brutal honesty.

Excessive lamenting ought to be dispensed and replaced with the vivid realization that we are victims only if we choose to be.

5. Connecting the mental with the physical via CBD oil.

Over the past few months, I have been experimenting extensively with CBD oil.

For those unfamiliar with the topic, CBD oil is one of the 80 cannabinoids3 found in the marijuana plant. It is, alongside THC, the most well-known cannabinoid, but it has the exact opposite effect from it. THC produces a very distinct high, but CBD allows the brain to relax by preventing the hippocampus from producing more neurons, hence reducing the efficiency of the anxiety center in the brain [2].

When I first started taking CBD oil, I didn’t notice much, apart from a slight increase in my ability to focus.

As the days went by, and around day seven, I started experiencing an interesting change in the way my whole body operates.

While I usually feel a slight pressure in my chest or stomach during the day, due to stress, this feeling almost dissipated. I also found it way easier to stay present and not allow myself to feel overwhelmed by chaotic events that will most definitely occur during the day.

Since I always try to view things holistically, I couldn’t just rely on my experience to justify the effectiveness of CBD oil so I went online to do some research. What I discovered was that there are actual studies showcasing the efficacy of CBD oil when it comes to handling stress, fear, PTSD, pain and even epilepsy [3].

Although, I strongly believe that anxiety is more of a mental issue than it is a physical one, the combination of the above-suggested practices in tandem with some physical remedies like CBD oil can lead to an interesting shift in the way one deals with it.

My brand of choice when it comes to CBD oil is called Good Vibes. They are based in LA and use oil that was extracted from organically grown hemp plants at a farm in Colorado Springs. Their customer service is exceptional and their products extremely well researched. You can check out their CBD oil here.

In Closing

I am not a psychologist nor a physician.

I am a thinking person that attempts to make sense of the complex construct we call life. Every view in this article intended to shed more light on the combustible topic of anxiety.

I hope that I achieved that even to a small degree.

My strong belief is that daunting conundrums can and will eventually be solved when we perpetually confront them with an open, boisterous and tenacious mindset.

That might seem trivial to some, but I assure you, it’s not a small thing to achieve.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is awe-inspiring, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription:

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Resources:

[1] https://www.verywellmind.com/evolution-anxiety-1392983

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604171/

[3] http://haleighshope.co/blog/17-compelling-studies-cbd-2017/

Featured image © Ben Bauchau, Heavy Burden

The post The End of Anxiety – How to Fight the Most Nebulous Disease of Our Times appeared first on The Quintessential Mind.

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What It Truly Means to Be a Contrarian

One of the most important tweets I have ever read was composed by notorious entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant:

“A contrarian isn’t one who always objects — that’s a confirmist of a different sort. A contrarian reasons independently, from the ground up, and resists pressure to conform.”

Evidently, he attempts to define the nature of the word contrarian in a very interesting fashion.

This is a word that is being thrown around (a lot, lately) as a term one can identify with, myself included, and I thought that since it has become such a potent term in our epoch, I should invest some time in articulating my views on it.

The word contrarian derives from the word contra which means against. Hence, a contrarian is a person who goes against something. The term is used usually in the investment sphere when one wants to define an investor who buys shares of stock when most others are selling and sells when others are buying.

The contrarian investor is usually the successful investor who knows when to sell and when to buy since the most common trend one will identify in the stock market (or in any other platform of exchange) is that most people follow a herd mentality when it comes to selling and buying.

This is an excellent parallel to every other area of social interplay since contrarians reject to conform with social trends or instinctual responses to social triggers without thoroughly analyzing the factors that led to their ignition.

When most people eschew the responsibility of harmonizing with chaos and the unknown, contrarians will see opportunity in this unfamiliar space and pursue it at all costs.

And it is this pursuit that makes the title of a contrarian so alluring to so many people nowadays. We all want to give titles to ourselves so that others can identify what we stand for and what we represent. We all represent archetypes of some sort and our archetypal characteristics allow us to discover similar-minded people and form tribes that can empower our paradigms.

I cannot really say that the contrarians are a tribe but they are definitely the ones that can push the envelope of the idea of tribal living within all facets of our social echelons.

We are experiencing a powerful paradigm shift in the way our species operate and contrarians are in the forefront of that shift.

In the next paragraphs, you will find a condensed portrayal of the main axioms espoused by the people who usually identify as contrarians. It is an attempt from my side to offer a more holistic representation of the term so that more people can adopt it.

1. Political Labels – The Perpetual Balance Between the Right and the Left

After the last elections in the US, we came to realize that although the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives are still the same, the line that separates the two ideologies starts to become blurry.

Very few people can identify as completely liberal or completely conservative and that is because the more you gravitate towards the edges of the spectrum, the more totalitarian you tend to become. Even as a leftist, you can embrace most of the anthropocentric principles promulgated by the liberal forefathers, but in order to get the rest of the society to align with your views, you have to enforce them.

The current political system might be flawed, but if we remove the political establishment out of the equation, the way we have decided to operate within a democratic framework is quite efficient.

There is usually a balance between the left and the right and this allows the openness and creativity of the left to coexist with the conscientiousness and the discipline of the right. In a healthy modern society, this becomes paramount. Innovation and introspection on a social scale can only flourish within a balanced environment and only the balance between the left and the right can provide that environment.

A contrarian can see that idea clearly and realizes that although the progress we make within this plane is slow, it is still a progress much more accelerated than the progress witnessed by people in previous centuries.

The average mind is impatient and rigid. It can only see flaws in the system and operates on a perpetual mode of grievance and insecurity.

The contrarian mind is patient and plastic. It sees both flaws and opportunities in the system and operates on a perpetual mode of optimism and confidence.

2. Markets Are Essential and Capitalism Is a System That Can Lead Us to a More Evolved State

There has never been a better time in history for one to understand and, eventually, internalize the notion of economics and markets. The Internet has allowed us to distill complicated terms into explicit concepts and, as a result, improve the way we interact, transact, and cooperate.

A market (as very eloquently Wikipedia puts it) is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange.

Almost every relationship we form is predicated upon a marketplace and a framework of exchange. Amorous relationships, friendly relationships, business relationships, family relationships.

The romantic (characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality) aspect of a relationship will always be there because of the way the human constitution operates, but this should be perceived as an aspect quite central to the efficacy of the relationship.

When I form a business relationship with someone, for instance, I am investing social capital that will yield specific returns, but the whole system that we ensemble, throughout our relationship, will prosper only when romantic practices are applied.

The only systems that do not take this parameter into account are totalitarian systems that rely on the ignorance and lack of alternatives for its parts.

That’s why the notion of the market is so powerful.

Within a market, the players can only prosper when the market operates in a state of constant innovation and healthy competition. During that state, all the players continuously attempt to bash ignorance and position themselves as a great alternative. This knowledge allows the whole market (regardless of the number of players in the market) to function harmoniously.

A contrarian realizes the power of a market and sees that capitalism, although it is a system that requires a lot of updates, it can eventually lead us to a more evolved system that operates in accordance with what humans usually want and need.

The average mind will identify capitalism as good or bad. It will assume either that the rich are evil and are taking advantage of the poor or that the poor are lazy and that you either have to become rich or “die trying.”

The contrarian mind will identify capitalism as good and bad. It will assume that it is a nuanced system where different players try to establish better living conditions based on their own self-interest and strengths. It holds the belief that the uninterrupted betterment of the system can lead to a state where all players will be satisfied.

3. Ideological Possession Is a Malady of Our Times and Cult Leaders Are Exploiting the Human Condition

An ideology is a system of ideas and ideals. It usually emerges from the strong desire of a person or a group to offer sagacious interpretations of phenomena that occur in the world around us. Ideologies are omnipresent and absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of our societies. However, ideologies can also lead to friction within the social edifice.

It’s almost impossible for people to form views that totally align. The world and its constituents form a very combustible set of chaotic landscapes and this makes us humans feel exposed, vulnerable and, oftentimes, impotent.

Life is quite absurd, if you come to think about it, and various ideologies choose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to it via fate or divinity or existential importance.

It is a huge responsibility that also demands a lot of cognitive effort to accept that you are not omniscient and that you need to perpetually embrace erroneous practices while hoping that you will, at some point, discover the correct ones.

Ideologies that seem “good enough” to alleviate the burden of that responsibility, become quite attractive to most of us and render the possibility of us ending up as their most loyal supporters quite high.

It is crucial to distinguish, however, that an ideology is neither good nor bad. An ideology is just a set of ideas and its value is predicated upon two things:

  1. The ability of the ideology leaders to allure potential followers into following them.
  2. The willingness of random social agents to follow different ideologies.

As such, the ideology conundrum is a very specific one. Ideological frameworks are based on persuasion and statistics. Just like a product or a service, an ideology demands a niche and a well-articulated marketing plan that will entice that niche into embracing its main principles.

Nowadays, most ideology leaders have realized how this motif works and end up creating ideologies that do not necessarily serve any social purpose, but they definitely allow their architects to profit from them in different ways. Most typical examples are the ones we observe in sports, religions, and politics, but in smaller scales, one can also identify ideologies that are based on more extreme concepts.

For instance, the likes of Alex Jones, David Icke, Roger Stone, and Milo Yiannopoulos, have come to create cult-like ideologies that showcase how one nowadays, via the adaptation of a provocateur persona, can amass huge followings and regard oneself as a cult leader.

Most of these people are astutely aware of how their ideologies work and they just take advantage of the ignorance of their followers who identify them as their representatives and, in some extreme cases, even messiahs.

They use words and phrases that are usually a load of hot air and employ emotional triggers to capture the attention and disorient people from what could be truly valuable for their lives.

A contrarian ought to not succumb to ideologies in a cult-driven fashion and that’s because a contrarian realizes that the search for truth is more important than the adherence to a set of unrealistic and, oftentimes, quixotic belief systems just because the truth might be too painful to accept.

The inflection point in a contrarian’s life will occur when he or she is able to look behind the veil of ideological possession and view the world as a constantly evolving landscape where every idea should be evaluated and transformed in tandem with what each human era demands.

4. A Contrarian Evangelizes Reason over Emotion, Embraces Fear and Evolves Consciously

I have met many people in my life. People from all age groups and people from many cultural backgrounds. Traveling around the world and dwelling, for long periods of time, in major cities, especially in Europe, has allowed me to identify trends and patterns in human behavior that are usually not recognizable to untrained eyes.

The infinite versions of human personalities create an ostensibly bizarre symbiotic relationship between us. We love independence, but we also crave each other so much. This will always be one of the most interesting mysteries and one that will always dictate our lives in so many ways.

Despite the problematic circumstances that this conundrum entails, if one attempts to dive deep into it, one can discover some interesting cues about human behavior.

Firstly, that emotion, although it is a paramount constituent of a tantalizing life, it can also be the catalyst for self-distraction. Emotions, when not properly fathomed and expressed can lead a person astray in various ways and forms.

Secondly, that fear significantly limits human potential. The world is a dangerous place and our fragile make-up hinders us from navigating with assertiveness throughout the never-ending labyrinths that appear on our way. Fear is born usually out of a lack of responsibility. If one’s environment favors dependency instead of personal responsibility, one will always choose security to the unknown.

Thirdly, that the theory of evolution is prevalent in most facets of our experience. Everything changes and entropy increases. The change and the reason behind the change, when properly defined in a way that serves one’s purpose, can lead to tremendous results in the way one harmonizes with the world around us.

These might be mere observations and probably constitute only a fraction of what our humanity really hides, but they also reveal fundamental truths about our beings.

A contrarian embraces such practices and welcomes them as the advent of a new era in his or her own story. When reason prevails over emotion, when fear is bashed via responsibility and when evolution commences in a seamless fashion, the constant exacerbation of our experiences will seize and the flourishing of human potential can institute monumental changes in the way we coexist.

In Closing

Stereotypes assert that age leads to wisdom. That is far from true. Age doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom, experience and conscious living does.

We don’t need to add years to our experience. We just need to densify the time we have left in this reality by making sure that each moment is lived consciously –  and this can be accomplished via a maneuver that seems simple but is actually quite significant: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen.

A contrarian can notice what others just see.

The best way to live your life as a contrarian is by challenging yourself on daily basis. In “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” ebook, I have collected the most interesting challenges, inspired by renowned individuals, that aim to help you reinvent the way you approach life and focus on adopting physical, spiritual and mental practices that are not only feasible but also enjoyable and meaningful. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. You discover the challenges here.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is awe-inspiring, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription:

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Featured Image © Leonardo Ugalde.

The post What It Truly Means to Be a Contrarian appeared first on The Quintessential Mind.

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Carl Jung, Shadow, and Self – Navigating Through the Complex Mechanics of Your Dark Side

Have you ever looked yourself in the mirror so deeply that the sheer notion of what you like to call self, dissipated in a vertigo of angst and abstraction?

It is a strange feeling.

A feeling a bit arcane but also kind of familiar.

Something that seems wrong but also right.

Something we are almost incapable of describing, but we also, somehow, understand.

Something that we feel it can alter the structure of our paradigm in a very fundamental way.

You know, lately, I realized that after years of immersing myself in the core tenets of self-development and after identifying that major philosophical and psychological concepts have become central to my being, I have been coming closer to my ultimate personal goal that is self-transcendence.

Self-transcendence can mean a lot of things to all of us, but for me, the term has crystallized after I became enamored with how the duality between intellect and intuition can be manifested.

In my regard, intellect and intuition are not just two disparate terms. They are interconnected and intertwined. The one completes the other to the extent that the one becomes the evolution of the other.

Let me explain.

You know, when it comes to personal development and evolution, the major trait that characterizes exceptional individuals has always been their capacity to make strenuous acts seem effortless.

And this is something that has puzzled me a lot. I understand that the combination of intelligence and practice can lead to remarkable results, but I have also the feeling that we rarely ponder the nature of the state that leads to such results.

For instance, when you see that you reach a level of competence in a field and whatever you do occurs almost intuitively, you don’t feel the need to overanalyze how you reached that level. You are there and you enjoy the feeling of being there. Your past and incompetent self seems so distant and so foreign that you have no intention of bringing him or her back to the picture.

However, you know that he or she is still there. Lurking in some dark corners of your paradigm, acting like an anchor to states that were an essential part of your evolution as a person.

This past self has many forms. He or she becomes a shapeshifter in your personal journey that allows you to explore different forms of consciousness.

He or she gets inspired by various archetypes that are embedded in the human psyche throughout our history as the homo sapiens species and chooses to resonate with the ones that he or she considers more pertinent to your current mode of being.

It is through this integration of archetypes that you feel the first instances of intuition in your life. And it is through these instances of intuition that you can start acting in a more intelligent way.

Eventually, you start to explore all the different nuances of reality through acts of intelligence and you manage, through constant experimentation, to allow yourself to act intuitively via the periodical assimilation of the nuances.

This is the magic of the relationship between intellect and intuition.

A magic that can only be manifested when the past, present and future self decide to unite, repudiate the idea of collision and embrace the idea of synergy.

It is a very arduous endeavor, but also one that is very rewarding since it seems to be the only sure way to self-transcendence.

There can be no self-transcendence without the unity of all manifestations of your self. For self-transcendence is predicated upon your capacity to overcome the limits of the individual self in spiritual contemplation and realization.

In every story, there is a hero and a villain.

In your story, you are both.

All the bright aspects and all the dark aspects of your persona orchestrate the melody of your song.

A song that you need to hear first, before anyone else.

But in order to hear it, you have to learn to listen.

To listen not only to what you want but also to what you are afraid of.

Your fears and your darkness aren’t detached from you. Do not eschew them.

Face them, analyze them, internalize them.

The shadow is always there and it will always be.

But the shadow can look big or it can look small, depending on the angle from which the light caresses you.

What is the size of your shadow?

Jung and the Shadow

Carl Gustav Jung was one of the most important psychologists of the previous century. He is also one of my biggest influencers since he is one of the few that have attempted to bridge the notions of psychology and spirituality in an effort to discover ways to transcend the human condition.

Jung has traveled a lot to India and immersed himself in different spiritual practices. His work was constantly evolving and, for me, it was this evolution that produced comprehensive analyses on concepts like the ego, the shadow, the archetypes, and the anima and animus.

These terms constitute the main pillars of Jungian Psychology and I truly believe that one needs to at least familiarize him or herself with what Jung wanted to reveal through his research.

Although I can discuss Jung’s ideas ad infinitum, in this essay I want to pay homage to a concept I consider paramount to one’s personal development journey. This is the concept of the shadow.

With regards to the shadow, Jung has stated:

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” — Carl Jung, Aion (1951)

The use of the word shadow wasn’t chosen unintentionally. Jung was always good at portraying complex ideas in a digestible visual manner. He used mental imagery in order to create anchors with concepts already familiar to human cognition.

The shadow is dark and elusive. It is impossible to catch, its size can alter depending on your position in space and it is ubiquitous whenever light is present.

Ergo, one can form a somewhat basic understanding of the concept without the need to delve into arcane terms.

Another crucial thing to ponder is that the shadow itself, due to the darkness that it forms and due to the distance that it creates from the physical body of a person, becomes something not so many people are eager to connect with.

And this is one of the major ideas associated with the Jungian shadow. Although we usually see the shadow as an integral part of our existence, most of us are willfully blind to this existence.

Our dark side is concealed or camouflaged in a painful attempt to protect an image that fits the narrative we decide to espouse. Through social conditioning, we come to construct a façade that can keep the substrate of our constructed identity stable so that we can keep feeling safe.

Safety, however, is ill-defined in that space we inhabit. How can one feel safe when there is so much unknown territory out there that can at any given point in time convulse the foundations of our fragile constitution?

A person is as free as their mind allows and if the mind creates barriers between the reality of the person and the reality of the rest of the world, delusion and neurosis could take over.

For instance, when you see people operate in a state of enforced ignorance that attempts to preserve a certain status quo, then the shadow can only grow bigger. Enforced ignorance entitles the shadow to take over since the individual is incapable of controlling it because he or she is not even aware of its existence. We can’t control what we don’t understand.

The 20th century is full of examples where a conglomeration of strong individual shadows has influenced the collective unconscious. All the wars, regime changes and instabilities in the fabric of society are a result of different religions, dogmatisms, and ideologies attempting to impose their beliefs and desires upon the populace by taking advantage of the burgeoning shadow element.

We couldn’t really prepare ourselves for such a combustible chain of events. Our proclivity towards adaptability by an adoption of an experimentation-oriented philosophy can lead to unavoidable calamities that, somehow, orient us towards what is best for our nature.

Psychology was still in its infancy and the myriad of prejudices and biases we still encounter amongst our fellow humans were considered, more or less, a norm. Very few of us could explore the darkest aspects of our psyche in order to achieve inner balance and mental freedom.

Most were just trapped in an existential crisis where they would ignore everything outside the light of consciousness. According to Wikipedia, “Jung explains that the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, ‘The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.’ These projections insulate and harm individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.”

Every aspect of your unconscious identity that cannot metamorphose into conscious judgment will perpetually impede your progress as an individual, for it is creating a fantastic world that cannot synchronize with the frequencies of the real world. In such a landscape, the real world, or at least whatever we can understand of it, becomes an egotistical battleground that leads to collision and madness.

That is not how our perceptions should meet. The world should be a forum for dialogue and constant experimentation where we strive to refine the moral imperatives that could alleviate our suffering. Everything beyond that should be viewed with skepticism.

If that seems poignant to some people, that is clearly because the shadow element hasn’t been dealt with effectively. This includes animalistic needs, primitive instincts, sexual desires, traumatic experiences, and also positive aspects of one’s character that may also remain hidden in one’s shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem, anxieties, and false beliefs).

Regardless of the idiosyncratic nature of one’s shadow, the process of assimilation has always been universal and it is represented by the following sequence:

Encounter -> Merger -> Assimilation

As you can see, assimilation can’t occur if the stages of encounter and merger don’t take place first. That is certainly a heroic act, for the angst entailed in this process is immense. We are not talking about watching a scary movie here or trying a spicy food. We are talking about facing the deepest realms of our self. There is nothing scarier than that. But there is also nothing more rewarding than that.

The Remedy

Assimilation is a lengthy process that demands mainly psychotherapy, but also hours of introspection and constant reevaluation and recalibration of personal behaviors and beliefs.

Our cerebral makeup is quite plastic, but its plasticity is predicated upon our ability to showcase discipline and tenacity. We can’t just expect a divine force to rescue us from our suffering. We are our only chance for redemption and catharsis.

In an attempt to make the assimilation of the shadow a less onerous process, I came up with a narrative that I follow almost on a daily basis and allows me to be in a more aware mental space regarding my inner world.

This narrative is comprised of three significant questions I ask and whose answers can consequently lead to the state I seek. They are as follows:

How often do you question the nature of your reality?

I am sure that most of you have heard of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide. The infamous phrase is inspired by the book “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. In it, he describes the life of a man who transforms between two personae: Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde.

The story was so powerful and it resonated with so many people that it entered the vernacular and whenever we encounter characters with an unpredictably dual nature, we almost immediately recall the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide.

Most of us can cite events from our lives where our actions and our intent didn’t really align. We behaved as if we were different people. That’s a result of a plethora of factors that can affect our behavior and can result in lack of congruency in what we think, feel and do.

Social conditioning, latent desires, mental fatigue, and many more reasons can come to mind. The truth, however, is that our ability to fight them is within our control.

There are times in my life where I feel that I will go crazy due to over-analysis of certain happenstances in my paradigm. I am not sure how to deal with specific scenarios and, more often than not, I tend to question the reality of those scenarios. My perception might be prone to certain biases and prejudices that cloud my judgment, so I tend to question the basis of every claim that I make.

Despite how awkward this process might seem it is a process that can yield tremendous benefits in one’s journey to assimilate the shadow. Your shadow, due to its dark nature, is constantly forming a cloud over your judgment. This cloud can never disappear, but it can certainly abate through meticulous introspection and cultivation of wisdom.

You need to have your eyes open to a vast array of influences.

Don’t let the monotony of everyday drivel and shallowness define what you are and what you do. Push back against anything that attempts to hinder your personal-development and orient yourself towards what is morally good.

How do you orient yourself towards what is morally good?

Some people have attacked me for my stance on the topic of morality since I hold a very concrete position on the matter. I never believed in moral relativism and I never thought that our moral problems could not be solved. By some strange technological and philosophical osmosis, we can create a universal moral framework that can be accepted by every soul on this planet.

This might sound ambitious, but, trust me, it is not.

Humans have always found ways to co-exist and respect each other because the notion of co-existence is central to our survival. Our evolution has created countless iterations of our species, but our bedrock is, more or less, the same.

What does not allow us to behave constantly in a respectful and mutually beneficial way is the shadow. When the shadow takes over, any discussion for a universal moral framework cannot find fruitful ground.

We negotiate and debate and exchange verbal tantrums in an attempt to defend our point of view and our position in the dominance hierarchy of society.

Some people do that in a more ethical way and in order to defend goodness, and I am a huge admirer of these people, but most just keep perpetuating banal attitudes and approaches.

And it is the banality and triviality of existence that needs to be dealt with in order to identify what is morally good. Actually, it is the combination of that and the ability to showcase common sense in the face of trivial matters.

With common sense, the discovery of a solution to most of our problems could be accelerated dramatically. Life might be an amalgamation of complex instances but our cognitive apparatus is more than capable of making sense of them. All it takes is to offer clarity to our judgment and common sense is imperative in that respect.

Especially when it comes to orienting ourselves towards what is morally good.

How do you offer clarity to every facet of your existence?

Dr. Jordan Peterson likes to promulgate that life is suffering and that unless you don’t voluntarily accept this as a fact, suffering will keep manifesting itself in every facet of your existence. I like this idea a lot because it reminds me how important clarity is when it comes to the betterment of our living conditions.

In order to ameliorate something, you need to understand its mechanics. Maybe something isn’t working well because a part that comprises the whole of it is actually malfunctioning. When we break down the whole in parts and fastidiously examine these parts, we can discover details about systems that are usually obscure. Then we can go back to the system itself and look at how what we discovered can improve the performance of the system as a whole.

A bottom-up approach is always more effective and usually more meritocratic, thus empowering the parts to work synergistically for a common cause.

Clarity manifests itself in that way. When you allow the part to discover all its nuances and all its capabilities, you end up with a reinforced version of it that can offer more to the whole.

Humans operate like that and the dawn of the Internet made that idea more vivid.

We experience a collective awakening that can, perhaps, lead to a collective enlightenment. Information becomes widely accessible and we can improve our error correcting mechanisms just by asking and gathering as many views as possible.

That right there is the essence of clarity. And its only obstacle is the shadow.

A person who clings to outdated and ill-defined views will only reinforce the shadow and stagnate in a swamp of confusion.

Incessant knowledge seeking is the name of the game. A game we should all prepare to play.

In closing

I want to conclude this article with a passage from the Red Book:

“Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner? You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life…If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature…Be glad that you can recognize it, for you will thus avoid becoming its victim. Madness is a special form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life, since life itself is full of craziness and at bottom utterly illogical. Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules. That is its mystery and its unknown law. What you call knowledge is an attempt to impose something comprehensible on life.”

There is not much to say after you read those words.

Only that there is so much madness in life.

But there is also so much truth in madness.

The best way to assimilate the shadow is by challenging yourself on daily basis. In “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” ebook, I have collected the most interesting challenges, inspired by..

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List of Maxims | 32 Years of Experience. 32 Maxims to Live by.

Today is my birthday.

Every year, on my birthday, I endeavor to continue a tradition I started two years ago where I offer you a number of maxims that correlates to my physical age.

This year, the number turns 32.

It is a significant number in the aging sequence since it illustrates the beginning of my immersion in the fourth decade of my life.

The following maxims illuminate the feelings that grow inside me during that period.

Indulge.

List of Maxims

1

Age doesn’t lead to wisdom. Awareness does. Awareness of yourself, of your environment, of the world as a whole. All people age. Very few age wisely.

2

You are the conglomeration of your biggest influencers. Ergo, pick the people you admire with extreme scrutiny and diligence. They will shape your persona and mold your future self.

3

The complexity and abstraction of this world will inevitably frustrate you. It is your duty to ameliorate these two forces through a lifestyle devoted to perpetual self-exploration, self-scrutiny, and self-evolution.

4

The propensity of social agents to demonstrate ballsy attitude is deemed way more important by the rest of society than the ability of the same agents to showcase actual prowess in a specific skill. Emotionality plays a role in this, for it is through emotional influence that a person can tantalize interest and appeal to others.

5

Leaders usually take more credit than they actually deserve, for people seek a representation of themselves more in individuals and less in groups.

6

Diversity can be both impactful and destructive. Diversity can indeed offer fresh perspectives on stagnating worldviews, but if it surpasses the need for homogeneity it can easily convulse the substrate of our social edifice.

7

When it comes to knowledge and wisdom acquisition, compounding is the most pertinent term that comes to mind.

8

Anyone that believes that intelligence is just a manifestation of IQ does not understand intelligence. Intelligence is the ability of humans to push the envelope of conventional wisdom and push back against everything that impedes their progress. Any action that gravitates towards this mindset is an act of intelligence.

9

Writing is not just a skill. I dare to say that writing is a form of catharsis. For it is through writing that the mind empties and the psyche heals itself.

10

Nietzsche said that “we have art in order not to die from the truth.” The truth is, oftentimes, so painful that people will prefer to cling to a delusional reality than the truth itself. Art can present truth in a symbolic way and it is through this interplay between art and truth that we can stay alive in the sight of its magnitude.

11

Open-mindedness serves as a rapture in being through which the individual finds realization and reconciliation with truth.

12

The only way to enact control over the processes that we decide to internalize is to slow down and take our time, even if the whole world tells us otherwise.

13

Neuroticism is nothing more than manifested scream from your deep self that seeks to escape the confines of a limited mode of being.

14

A painful battle with the shadow can lead to a peaceful coexistence with the soul.

15

You are a marvel in the making. An anthropomorphic manifestation of the cosmos expressing itself in a poetic way. Do justice to your future self and embrace the miracle of your being.

16

Accept both the good and the bad with equanimity, for this symbiosis constitutes a significant parameter in the pursuit of unity with the cosmos.

17

The deleterious effects of stress on the body will become more apparent to you with age. You think you have time, but at some point, you will realize that you don’t have the luxury to allow stress to poison you more. Savor yourself. Savor your body. Harbor your psyche.

18

Reject clichés and mundane topics. Be innovative and daring. Allow style and panache ooze out of your every creation.

19

When you talk about yourself to others be there with them. Share your story for them. Detail them an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through your own mind.

20

Some people will make your highs higher but also your lows more frequent. Be grateful for that. For your highest highs will allow you to come closer to your dream for self-transcendence and your frequent lows will teach you the fundamentals of anti-fragility.

21

The expedient might be convenient but convenience will never teach you how to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of your inner world.

22

We all have a cross to bear. The cross will never disappear, same as Sisyphus will never stop rolling the boulder up the hill. It’s not the cross that counts. It’s our ability to make the bearing easier than it appears.

23

Spirituality is the yeast of the relationship, dialogue is the flour and indulgence is the sugar. Spirituality helps the relationship grow, dialogue helps it stick together, indulgence helps it become more tasteful.

24

The level of your likeability and influence is inversely proportional to the level of your involvement in trivial matters. Likable people are considered leadership archetypes. Leaders rarely deal with trivial matters.

25

There are a handful of catalytic moments in one’s life. One of these is without a doubt the moment the individual realizes the insignificance of external comparison with other social agents. Comparison can offer some cues with regards to the course one could chart but perennial comparison is to a person as destructive as water is to dust.

26

It is easier and more fruitful to aim for something specific than for something abstract. Your vision should act as a compass for that. When you focus on something, everything else blurs out. This isn’t by accident; it is by design.

27

A theory you adhere to will gain instant currency the moment you manage to build with it explanatory bridges from the subjective and phenomenal to the objective and measurable.

28

A theme central to the evolution of your persona is a theme that favors sagacious re-invention to ill-formed stagnation.

29

There are only two truths. The moral truth and the scientific truth. The moral truth is based on common sense. The scientific truth is constantly re-evaluated.

30

When you marginalize and pathologize ecstasy, you end up with a reality so dull that the motivation to embrace a more joyful attitude dissipates in a vertigo of enforced misery.

31

Criticism should serve a purpose. Abortive criticism that serves just the need of the critic to let off steam is just a form of noise in an already too noisy world.

32

Openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, extraversion. These are the five most significant personality traits. Understanding their significance is tantamount to solving the riddle of who you really are.

Closing Remarks

I will keep writing maxims because they constitute a convenient way for me to express ideas central to my being. Most of you embrace them with enormous excitement and anticipation, so I feel grateful for that.

Here is to many years to come.

If you enjoyed these maxims, you will definitely enjoy 30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses. This a book that aims to re-engineer your reality in an unprecedented way. It will help you internalize the majority of the ideas I just discussed and it will bring an extreme level of clarity to your life.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is awe-inspiring, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription

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I am off to celebrate. Have a good one.

The post 32 Years of Experience. 32 Maxims to Live by. appeared first on The Quintessential Mind.

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The Discreet Charm of Spiritual Growth

I recently decided to embark on a spiritual journey to Bali, Indonesia.

It was a decision I made after a lot of introspection and a lot of failed attempts to re-engage with my spiritual side within the frenzy-oriented ecosystems that we have constructed.

You see, the ability of the individual to create meaning within a secular context is often impeded by the plethora of stimuli that aim to draw the same individual into different “meaningful” states.

All the products, all the services, all the events that are created every day, serve this specific purpose. To fill the void that is constantly generated by a meaningless life.

In a way, that is one of the main reasons capitalism works so well and keeps perpetuating its dominance over most areas of our paradigm.

And it is this perpetuation that does not allow the core of capitalism to change and eventually evolve into something that can serve our need for self-transcendence instead of serving our need for validation and security.

The abiding agitation that people tend to exhibit day after day connotes an extreme lack of spiritual awareness and a total surrender to the twists and turns of life.

I knew that for a long time. I kept feeling it. I kept allowing it to inundate my spiritual system with the wrong habits and approaches and, as a result, I ended up severely disconnected from my true self.

Bali looked like the ideal escape. A place so idyllic, so picturesque and so far away from my base that seemed like the perfect destination for my mystical cause.

Streets of Ubud in Bali

The moment I stepped my foot on the island, I sensed its voice calling me. The new world was a strong stimulant for my senses. It felt like I was in a dream. A very beautiful dream that existed solely for the purpose of reminding me that there are also other worlds out there. Away from echo chambers, away from dogmatisms, away from dominance hierarchies, away from toxic and neurotic behaviors.

I was poised to empty my mind and embark on a journey beyond earthly interpretations of reality and challenge my cognitive capacity to such a degree that I could understand, even intuitively, what a real connection with the cosmos feels like.

I practiced meditation and yoga on a daily basis. And by yoga, I don’t mean mediocre gymnastics. I mean the spiritual practice that attempts through a process of stark immersion in specific movements and sounds to connect deeper within yourself and empty your mind completely.

Few understand how powerful this process can be and that is because most of us are prone to resistance.

Resistance was, is and will always be an omnipresent force. But at the end of the day, resistance is futile.

Resistance is nothing more than manifested scream from your deep self that seeks to escape the confines of a limited mode of being.

Resistance is fear cloaked as protection.

Resistance is lack of awareness.

Resistance is intellectual poverty.

We are the ones that feed resistance and its byproducts.

We are the ones that decide by omission to neglect all the riches that spiritual growth has to offer.

We are our own worst enemies.

But we are also our only chance for catharsis.

My recent journey has taught me a lot. Presenting this knowledge in a condensed way, constituted a real challenge for me but I am confident that the result will not disappoint you.

The secrets to spiritual growth 1. When we heal ourselves, we heal the world.

During my stay in Bali, I attended various yoga, movement and mindfulness workshops. In one of the movement workshops, we had to connect with our partner in a way that allowed us to resonate mentally and spatially. By exchanging roles between leading and following, we had to come up with ways to engage in a simple yet powerful dancing sequence that was predicated on intuition.

Temple in Ubud in Bali

The exercise itself was quite challenging for me and for most of the participants since very few of us were accustomed to such an intense interplay. Our ability to control our bodies and our movements while staying engaged with the other person, who is usually a stranger, is something arcane and intimidating.

Nonetheless, when the initial discomfort vanishes, the connection and the movement allows both parties to experience the magical feeling that is freedom of expression. It is a tribal feeling deeply embedded in the core of our psyche. A feeling that can offer one a small taste of what spiritual growth is like.

After finishing the workshop, I came face to face with a profound idea. The healing process of the individual, especially when this healing commences with the support of another person, can eventually orchestrate the healing of the world.

The world doesn’t need more saviors. It needs more healers.

It needs people who can realize the power of healing methods and constantly exercise these methods.

The homo sapiens race is nothing more than the conglomeration of atomic expressions coming together and attempting to construe the cosmos in a courageous way.

This results in a mental and spiritual exhaustion whose consequences we need to face in perpetuity. Unless we find a way alleviate the suffering of exhaustion.

Nietzsche used to say that “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” He couldn’t be more accurate.

Spiritual growth and healing is the only antidote to the deleterious effects of exhaustion.

When we heal ourselves, we heal the world.

2. What you resist, persists.

I briefly discussed resistance before, but more in a spiritual context. Resistance, when it comes to spirituality, is manifested in the denial of the individual to identify and eventually embrace different modes of being. It is the total acceptance of the conventional narrative that the world is just a rat race and a continuous struggle for survival. Anything beyond than that is frivolous and utopian.

It has been one of my principal beliefs, over the past couple of years, that the people who manage to escape this narrative and risk dealing with the unknown in an attempt to transcend the human condition are the ones who lead the most meaningful and balanced lives.

In Bali, I was lucky to interact with people who weren’t solely engaged in spiritual practices but also in secular ones. One of the persons I had the pleasure to meet was a leadership coach who insisted that what most top executives miss nowadays in the corporate world is a spiritual approach to leading. Vulnerability, honesty, presence, inner strength and gratitude are perceived as weaknesses and are rarely expressed. Regardless, the paradigm shift we experience on a cultural level will inevitably urge even the most resistant ones to reframe their approach.

Moreover, resistance is also manifested in the way one deals with the darkest aspects of our psyche. The shadow will persist no matter how hard one resists it or ignores it. It is such a potent force that the only sure remedy against it is diagnosis and collision. For its vitality is predicated upon the ignorance one keeps propagating whilst being afraid to recognize one’s darkest side.

When you resist, you become disenchanted and you fail to identify how contingent the shadow is to your spiritual growth. For it is only through spirituality that the balance between our capacity for good and our capacity for evil can be established.

3. You are the anthropomorphic manifestation of the cosmos expressing itself in a poetic way.

Whilst in Bali, I could more closely examine the melody of the cosmos, the sparkling allegories of nature, the big-ass truths of the human condition wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction – themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease. Outside of that environment, I was just deaf and lost in the ubiquitous noise of everyday drivel.

When you succeed in silencing the noise and allowing the signal to pass through, the cosmos can reveal all its secrets. All the nuances of every element that might seem insignificant throughout the conventional narrative ceases its insignificance and it metamorphoses into pure cosmic energy.

Me being.

You close your eyes and you just listen and feel. The darkness starts to take shape and weird patterns slowly emerge. What you experience doesn’t make sense. Your capacity to understand is based solely on intuition. Any acrimonious feelings dissipate and you jettison your past for a more alluring present.

This is the best attempt you can initiate to connect with the unknown. The chaotic nature of the cosmos seems so seductive and inviting that you can’t resist. It is this nature that you have been seeking for so long. Its essence sounds like poetry to your callow ears.

You lack erudition but your intuition seems enough.

You try to understand. Where are you? What’s your purpose? What is this?

To which the cosmos replies “it is you.”

It is a response so simple yet so profound that it has completely painted over the canvas of your mental imagery.

You are the anthropomorphic manifestation of the cosmos expressing itself in a poetic way.

4. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.

“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

This is a quote from fight club. A movie so prophetic that I get concerned every time I watch it. Concerned because I don’t know if a movie can predict future events, or if the movie itself is the catalyst for the emergence of those events.

Modern societies seem unable to offer the level of meaning demanded by our complicated nature. We seek and we find and we seek again and we find again. In the end, we rarely discover answers that can truly satisfy our curiosity. The next question is bigger than the last one and the lack of proper explanations creates an intellectual and spiritual void.

This void becomes an extension of our persona and manifests itself in behaviors that connote moral relativism and a deep anger towards our creator.

The more dissatisfaction we experience, the more the void grows bigger.

It grows bigger until it transforms into a merciless pit that will swallow us all.

The dawn of consciousness was either a mistake or a gift.

No one can really tell.

It was a gift because we are now able to be in absolute control of our world and keep extending our control to other areas of our solar system. It was a mistake because we have no idea why we do all that.

The aimless pursuit of goals, dreams, and visions can keep one alive, but it doesn’t necessarily make this life pleasurable.

At the end of the day, every mature person realizes that our war is spiritual and that our depression is our lives.

Rice fields in Bali

It is only through spiritual practices that we can reframe the context of the lives we decide to lead and eventually ameliorate our experience. All the maladies infringed upon us exist more in our heads than in reality. Erroneous thinking and erratic behaviors that are constantly showcased in mainstream media and are consequently adopted by social agents, act as nothing more than an impediment to our growth.

Apropos, becoming a contrarian and embracing oftentimes heterodox approaches to conventional wisdom, can act as a life jacket within a spiritually dry landscape.

5. There can be no true connection outside a spiritual context.

When I was younger, around the age of 27, I had a girlfriend.

She was ginger-blonde, with freckles and a magnetic smile. She was younger than me, almost 5 years younger.

Before I met her, I didn’t really believe in romantic relationships.

I had some but none of them could affect me deeply.

I met this girl by accident at a party.

Even though our interaction wasn’t something spectacular, the relationship we created later seduced me intensely.

It was one of those relationships where you decide to give yourself totally to another person and you become so vulnerable that you are literally at their mercy.

When you are together, the rest of the world is, in essence, non-existent.

You have created this fantastic ensemble in which you desperately try to protect the ideal nature of your relationship.

A utopia that blurs the limits between the magical and the unnatural.

When you decide to become so vulnerable for someone else, it is a big deal for you.

Inside the adversities and the ugliness of this world, you feel that you discovered a solace. A beautiful embrace that makes you feel secure just like your parents did when you were a child.

The beauty of our relationship lasted for only six months.

Exactly on the six-month mark, the first problems started.

Like it was pre-programmed by an external force or entity to wake me up from my dream and enforce reality upon me.

Everything happy, playful and carefree was replaced by something aggressive, divisive and negative.

As if we both decided that we had to be hostile to each other and to adopt a defensive stance in order to protect our own version of the truth.

We both had our reasons. We were both right. We were both really hurt.

This situation lasted for three years. Imagine how intense situations of ambivalence I have experienced through these years. And that’s not because I could not leave but because I did not want to.

I did not want to lose what I experienced in the first 6 months. I did not want to believe that something so beautiful can be lost. I did not want to give up.

After some point, however, I was tired of trying. I had lost all willingness to live and all desire to see the world as it really is outside the bubble of the illusion I had created.

When I finally left and returned to reality, I felt empty and numb.

This relationship wasn’t good for me, but, at the same time, it was the relationship that allowed me to witness, even for a brief moment in time, what a real connection with another human being looks and feels like.

The period of pain succeeding the period of ecstasy helped me realize that if a couple rejects the spiritual nature of the relationship and allows earthly issues to take over, there is no future whatsoever between them.

Through spirituality, you learn to control your impulses and restrict your ego to such a degree that any toxic behavior and happenstance can be avoided on demand.

We didn’t know that.

Our egos were so big and our constitutions so dissimilar that any attempt to unite under the umbrella of love was almost organically rebuffed.

Today, after sobering up, I understand something very fundamental about relationships. If you decide to stay loyal to a person and not allow your feral nature to take over, you only need spirituality to survive and thrive in the relationship.

Especially if you decide to embark on a spiritual journey together and show empathy and support, the ideal relationship isn’t just feasible, but I would dare to say the catalyst for your spiritual growth and freedom.

In closing

Today, my tone was a bit different than usual. Some of you might feel that I talk in abstract terms and I use a bit more conceptual terminology.

I did that on purpose.

Spirituality and the mystical are difficult to describe accurately because they are expressed in a language we can’t totally fathom.

It requires years of spiritual practice to master this language and most of us will need to settle for just a sneak peek in its quintessence.

But even this mere sneak peek can prove monumental for our health and sanity.

Sometimes, when you want to re-engage with your spiritual side, a simple daily action plan can create monumental changes in your life. In the “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” ebook, I have collected the most interesting daily habits, inspired by renowned individuals, that aim to help people reinvent the way you approach life and focus on adopting practices that are not only feasible but also enjoyable and meaningful. You can check it out here.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is awe-inspiring, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription:

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When People Ask Me “What to Do With My Life,” I Answer: Pick Your Battles Wisely and Embrace Slowness.

There is a mental model called inversion.

According to inversion, when we face a daunting conundrum, the most pertinent course of action is to think backwards. Namely, by going back to the fundamentals of the issue and trying to deconstruct its main constituents, we end up increasing the chances of solving it. Or at least decreasing the chances of allowing it to inflict misery upon us.

Inversion, despite its very useful nature, is an arcane term for most people.

Most people ignore inversion and they do so in a very irresponsible fashion.

They firmly believe that the best way to solve a problem is just by capitalizing on conventional wisdom and preconceived notions. They cling to safe patterns that they feel accustomed to and they repeat these patterns perpetually without questioning or without the willingness to test something more innovative.

The origins of this behavior are multifarious.

For starters, we have the path of least resistance. This specific dictum has its origins in physics where it is used as a heuristic that describes the approximation of the tendency to the least energy state. In colloquial language, we use it to allude to the proclivity of humans to avoid personal effort or confrontation.

Then we have the notions of ego and identity. When a person is faced with a situation that challenges the essence of their identity, that is the substrate of their belief system, the mere thought of changing this belief system convulses the core of their being. We notice that especially with older people who usually showcase extreme resistance towards novelty or towards the adoption of new trends and ideologies.

Finally, we need to deal with the unbearable struggle entailed in every aspect of the fabric of the societies we have created. Humans weren’t ready to face the ramifications of being primal beings in technologically evolved worlds. Despite the fact that living conditions keep improving and wellness indexes keep rising, psychologically, humans aren’t doing well. Many philosophers and psychologists have attempted to shed light on the ways to deal with predicament, with Jung being the one that has offered the most intriguing one: Every person has a shadow that is comprised of the darkest facets of one’s character, and the way to battle and eventually control the shadow is to encourage the emergence of the heroic element within our psyche.

This image is from “The Red Book.” The hero who slays the dragon.

Unfortunately, not all of us can embrace the heroic aspect of our personality and, thus, we end up in a perennial state of struggle and grievance.

As you can imagine, it takes a combination of courage, emotional resilience and tenacity to be ready to navigate within this complex construction that we have assembled.

And the interesting part is that due to entropy and due to our proclivity towards innovation, complexity increases exponentially.

There is no way to avoid that and, for better or for worse, the best idea is to make peace with complexity in order to alleviate the frustration that it causes.

Here, I want to pause for a second and devote some sentences to the proper analysis of the term complexity.

The word complexity originates from the word complex, which means “composed of interconnected parts.” The reason I use the etymology of the word complex is to allow awareness to grow through understanding. I have always been a huge proponent of the systems thinking philosophy and one of my strongest beliefs has always been that confusion is a result of lack of integration of parts within thinking systems.

We become confused because something is missing, or because something doesn’t feel right. The composition of interconnected parts that gives rise to complexity is not in tune with our awareness and, as a result, the melody of our world becomes distorted.

Humans don’t like distortion. Or at least we are not programmed to like it.

Our role is to become maestros of our part of the world and orchestrate the right composition through an elaborate process of wise selection of distinct elements.

We can’t really become maestros of the whole world because the whole world is beyond our scope of understanding and the composition becomes too vast.

When the composition becomes too vast, it feels like a mish-mash of chaotic elements and we end up floating in an ocean of far-fetched possibilities and opportunities.

Nobody likes to float aimlessly.

Nobody likes to feel lost.

What to do with my life?

 

This somewhat lengthy but necessary introduction served as a prelude to the notorious question: “what to do with my life.”

This is a question so common, but at the same time so potent that I don’t really know how to handle whenever I need to face it.

It is strongly related to complexity and one cannot go about answering it without showcasing a rather basic understanding of how complexity affects almost every decision we have to make.

The “what to do with my life” question arises usually when complexity has overwhelmed the individual to such a degree that decision making becomes quite arduous, even for the simplest events in life.

The amount of external stimuli that increases exponentially through technology and through social networks, increases our possibilities and also our desires.

When we are interconnected with so many agents around the world, we feel that we want everything, even if we don’t really possess the capacity to imagine what everything would feel like.

I guess that’s why everyone is so enamored with the idea of parallel universes. We want so many things that only multiple interconnected versions of ourselves can offer that luxury.

In this perilous landscape, most of us fail to recognize one paramount detail about human nature: We are quite fallible creatures and it is this fallibility that we need to reduce in order to make our experience more tolerable and eventually come up with sagacious decisions when it comes to what to do with our lives.

Pick your battles wisely and embrace slowness

In this current point in time, two seem to be the most pertinent solutions to our issue: To pick our battles wisely and to embrace slowness.

Pick your battles wisely

When it comes to struggle, you need to be ready to fight it. You need to be ready to actually fight every single actor that is imposing more struggle upon your world.

Because struggle in itself is a very abstract notion.

What exactly constitutes struggle?

Struggle doesn’t commence organically. It manifests itself via interaction and conflict with entities that don’t share the same interests, needs and belief systems.

Every goal you have, every process you try to put in place, every dream you want to materialize is susceptible to hurdles and unpredictable events  (or black swans as Nassim Taleb likes to call them).

The world feels like a huge battlefield and you need to be ready not to just fight, but to fight the right battles.

It is a fundamental principle of strategic warfare that each strategist needs to know their strengths and weaknesses in order to understand their capacity to win. But winning is not just related to fighting, but also knowing when to fight and whom to fight.

When people embark on endeavors nowadays, most of the time, they do so without properly evaluating their strategy.

They ask the question “what to do with my life” and they haven’t even taken baby steps towards cultivating more self-awareness and realizing what they are capable of.

I know people that want elusive things and keep fantasizing about them week after week, month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens. When you create fantasies about future events in your life that keep remaining fantasies, you start to lose touch with reality and you just bolster the delusional aspect of your world.

When I meet such people, I tentatively ask them: Have you prepared for the battles that you have to face?

The look on their face resembles an elegant mixture of confusion, unpreparedness, and embarrassment.

Then, I become more adamant and I tell them: Don’t ask me “what to do with my life.” Just pick your battles and pick them wisely.

Slowness

The French philosopher Alain Badiou introduced, back in 1988 in his Magnus opus “Being and Event,” the philosophical notion of the term event.

According to Badiou, an event is an unpredictable break in our everyday worlds that opens new possibilities.

What an event does is that it serves as a rapture in being through which the individual finds realization and reconciliation with truth. In order, however, for this rapture to manifest itself and have an impact on the constitution of the individual, being there is not enough. The individual needs to achieve oneness with the event itself.

This philosophy accounts for all sorts of events, but the way I interpret it is that it serves as an allusion to depth and slowness.

Notorious physicist and philosopher Richard Feynman used to say that “everything can become interesting if you go deep enough.”

That kind of thinking and way of life can’t emerge organically in the fast-paced world we have created.

It requires taking a step back and realizing that the only way to enact control over the processes that we decide to internalize is to slow down and take our time, even if the whole world tells us otherwise.

Through slowness and depth emerges a new way of being. One where the notion of time and experience is re-engineered through the prism of meticulous introspection and observation of our existence.

Not necessarily one that leads to over-analysis and results to further paralysis, but one where slow thought creates its own time and place and hedges the individual from most calamities that mindless living can beget.

With slowness and depth, one can be always ready and use whatever tools are in place at any given time.

Italians have a name for this: arrangiarsi – more than ‘making do’ or ‘getting by’, it is the art of improvisation, a way of using the resources at hand to forge solutions.

With such a mindset, you no longer need to ask “what to do with my life.” You are just ready to “do” whatever life throws at you.

Sometimes, when you face the “what to do with my life” question, a simple daily action plan can create monumental changes in your life. In “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” I have collected the most interesting daily habits, inspired by renowned individuals, that aim to help people reinvent the way you approach life and focus on battles that are not only feasible but also enjoyable and meaningful. You can check it out here.

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Our Idea of Intelligence Is Broken. This Is How We Can Fix It.

Intelligence is one of those terms that causes quite the turmoil within society but also within ourselves.

From a very young age, each person is raised to perceive intelligence as probably the most critical factor that will determine his or her well-being.

The truth, however, is that the way intelligence is portrayed and eventually interpreted leads to a myriad of issues that every generation needs to face.

Most of us tend to think of intelligence as this elusive skill that characterizes people who have achieved a great deal of success in their lifetime or managed to solve seemingly insoluble problems.

Moreover, the overwhelming majority of social agents believe strongly that intelligence is an innate trait that has no plasticity and that each individual needs to make peace with the idea that their intelligence will remain unchanged throughout their lives.

This controversial belief always bugged me in that once one accepts his or her own limitations, he or she agrees to a very limited and limiting version of reality. A version that not only reinforces the unquestionable struggle that encompasses the human condition but also, in some cases, imposes a layer of misery upon one’s life that makes the struggle almost impossible to bear.

Despite my adherence to pragmatism, as one of the main tenets that characterize my worldview, I couldn’t just charitably accept such a debatable truism.

Over the past five years, I have undergone a transformation with regards to the way I view and, most importantly, understand the essence and applicability of intelligence.

I achieved that through a process of immersion in skills that require a lot of cognitive effort, but also by being an astute observer of the underlying narratives within the social ecosystems that I inhabited.

This process allowed me to conduct careful inquiries into the actual functions of intelligence and, thereby, engineer an effective way to deal with the conundrums posed by its complicated nature.

My present article constitutes an attempt from my side to illustrate my belief that intelligence is a very malleable concept that, once properly construed, can change one’s life in monumental ways.

What intelligence is

In one of my favorite Waking Up podcasts, titled Complexity & Stupidity, Sam Harris invited biologist David Krakauer to discuss information, complex systems, and the future of humanity.

David Krakauer

At one point, Harris asks Krakauer to offer his own definition of intelligence. He does so in a lengthy way, but I assure you this is one of the most potent definitions you will ever encounter:

“Intelligence is, as I say to people, one of the topics about which we have been most stupid. All our definitions of intelligence are based on measurements that can only be applied to humans. An IQ test is not interesting if you’re trying to calculate the intelligence of an octopus—which I would like to know, because I believe in evolution. I think we need to understand where these things come from, and having a definition that applies just to one particular species doesn’t help us. We’ve talked about entropy and computation, and they’re going to be the keys to understanding intelligence.

Let’s go back to randomness. The example I like to give is Rubik’s cube, because it’s a beautiful little mental model, a metaphor. If I gave you a cube and asked you to solve it, and you just randomly manipulated it, since it has on the order of 10 quintillion solutions, which is a very large number, if you were immortal, you would eventually solve it. But it would take a lifetime of several universes to do so. That is random performance. Stupid performance is if you took just one face of the cube and manipulated that one face and rotated it forever. As everyone knows, if you did that, you would never solve the cube. It would be an infinite process that would never be resolved. That, in my definition, would be stupid. It is significantly worse than chance.

Now let’s take someone who has learned how to manipulate a cube and is familiar with various rules that allow you, from any initial configuration, to solve the cube in 20 minutes or less. That is intelligent behavior, significantly better than chance. This sounds a little counterintuitive, perhaps, until you realize that’s how we use the word in our daily lives. If I sat down with an extraordinary mathematician and I said, “I can’t solve that equation,” and he said, “Well, no, it’s easy. Here, this is what you do,” I’d look at it and I’d say, “Oh, yes, it is easy. You made that look easy.” That’s what we mean when we say someone is smart. They make things look easy.

If, on the other hand, I sat down with someone who was incapable, and he just kept dividing by two, for whatever reason, I would say, “What on earth are you doing? What a stupid thing to do. You’ll never solve the problem that way.”

So that is what we mean by intelligence. It’s the thing we do that ensures that the problem is efficiently solved and in a way that makes it appear effortless. And stupidity is a set of rules that we use to ensure that the problem will be solved in longer than chance or never and is nevertheless pursued with alacrity and enthusiasm.”

In essence, what Krakauer suggests is that intelligence is the ability of humans to innovate with regards to the way they approach problem solving.

Apropos, one of the most important cognitive tools humans have come up with in order to make problem solving more effectual is education and the transference of knowledge.

In a way, our intelligence is predicated upon our capacity to embrace novelty and knowledge.

That is something very crucial to ponder.

If you take into account that most of the people society portrays as intelligent, that is, usually, academics, scientists and entrepreneurs, you will notice that a certain pattern can be identified.

Most of these people are high in traits openness and conscientiousness, which is roughly translated as a proclivity towards new information and the methodical adoption of this information.

The substrate of our social edifice is formed in accordance with our capacity to deal with new information and evolve ourselves to the degree that we are capable of converting information into something valuable.

Evolution itself adheres to this fundamental principle and throughout our history we have used it as a means to the betterment of our living conditions.

Evidently, intelligence can be summarized as the ability of humans to push the envelope of conventional wisdom and push back against everything that impedes their progress.

Intelligent people are, in a sense, the pioneers of knowledge creation.

What about IQ?

IQ is one of those subjects that can lead to quite heated debates, especially due to the recent racial issues that emerged in modern America.

My view on the topic has always been open since I have not yet encountered an all-encompassing theory that can offer a canonical interpretation of how IQ is related to achievement, well-being, and social impact.

Yes, IQ is an important factor when determining the aptitude of an individual to process information fast and also engage in complex problems. But IQ, in and of itself, can by no means be used as a panacea whenever we try to have a fruitful dialogue about what constitutes intelligence and intelligent behavior.

In that nebulous landscape, many contemporary thinkers have attempted to offer their own interpretation with regards to how IQ is molding the fabric of society.

Charles Murray

Charles Murray for instance, after publishing the infamous “Bell Curve,” argued that IQ is substantially influenced by both inherited and environmental factors and that it is a better predictor of many personal dynamics, including financial income, job performance, birth out of wedlock, and involvement in crime than are an individual’s parental socioeconomic status.

This assertion has caused a hyperbolic backlash from many progressive and liberal groups since it creates an uneven dichotomy when it comes to evaluating the impact of IQ compared to that of the environment.

Although Murray was speaking in averages and his samples were taken in the 80s (and can’t under any circumstances be characterized as exhaustive), he raises some interesting points, such as:

  • IQ is heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.
  • IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person’s life.
  • There is such a difference as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ.

If you ever take an IQ test, you will realize that what it attempts to measure is, more or less, your ability to process information quickly and understand certain patterns within a system.

Below is an example:

Some IQ advocates suggest that IQ remains relatively stable over a person’s lifespan and some others argue that, based on studies, researchers have noticed major fluctuations in IQ points after tracking people for several years [1].

My personal experience has shown that, over the years, and after taking many tests, my average IQ has raised significantly and I can attribute that to many factors ranging from my ability to focus better to my being able to feel accustomed with the general principles of an IQ test and also my multidisciplinary approach to knowledge acquisition.

Whatever the case, I can’t say for sure how much of a critical factor IQ can be in determining the intelligence of an individual.

I know people with extremely high IQ who can feel intimidated by me during an interaction because I can showcase certain skills that can make their IQ seem irrelevant. I also know people with lower IQ than mine who have managed to excel in disciplines where I feel severely incompetent.

David Krakauer, in his interview with Sam Harris, asserts that IQ is measuring mainly working memory and that if you subject individuals to deliberate practice regimes, you can witness them acquiring skills that seem extraordinary.

So, evidence is gravitating towards the side of plasticity and not on that of innate aptitude.

Interesting fact, “The Flynn Effect”: In his study of IQ tests scores for different populations over the past sixty years, James R. Flynn discovered that IQ scores increased from one generation to the next for all of the countries for which data existed. This interesting phenomena has been called “the Flynn Effect.” Research shows that IQ gains have been mixed for different countries. In general, countries have seen generational increases between 5 and 25 points [2].

What about Memory?

Before I explain the relationship between memory and intelligence, let’s devote a couple of sentences to explaining how it actually works.

Back in the day 1 people used to think that memory is like a filing cabinet full of individual memory folders in which information is stored away [3].

Today, scientific consensus suggests that memory is a far more complicated apparatus in that it is located not in one particular place in the brain but is instead a brain-wide process.

The following image illustrates which areas in the brain are responsible for the storage of different memories:

As you can see, in order to recall a specific memory, your brain needs to processes information in a way that different systems will work synergistically to provide cohesive thought.

The closest we have come to connect the terms memory and intelligence is via the term crystallized intelligence, coined by psychologist Raymond Bernard Cattell in the 70s.

Raymond Cattell

Crystallized intelligence, refers to cognitive functions associated with previously acquired knowledge in long-term store. That is the ability to use learned knowledge and experience. Every form of education, formal or non-formal, capitalizes on crystallized intelligence in order to create a coherent body of learning and organize its operation as such.

Memory serves as a function of intelligence only if the individual’s brain structure is formed in a way that it can recall certain processes that are pertinent to the exhibition of specific skills.

However, this advantage has also been trumped.

Despite the fact that there are inborn variations in humans, when certain practices get applied, memory can be “hacked.”

Studies have shown that via learning techniques, like mnemonics, people can make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval.

During university, I used to employ a specific technique I called “the rule of three” to allow me to remember ways to solve different math problems. I used to write down the solution of a problem, after understanding its mechanics, on a piece of paper slowly and deliberately. This process, almost magically, helped me recall the solution effortlessly during an exam.

My main point here is under no circumstances to degrade the notion and importance of memory, but to question ubiquitous assumptions that memory is one of the holy grails of intelligence.

That is also a critique of the prevailing tactics of the current education system that focuses mainly on the promotion of rote memorization instead of creative thinking.

Interesting Fact via “About Memory“: The brain areas known to be important for fluid cognition are part of an interconnected system associated with emotion and stress response, and it is hypothesized that functions heretofore considered distinct from emotional arousal, such as reasoning and planning, are in fact very much part of a system in which emotional response is involved. We’re not saying here that emotions can disrupt your reasoning processes, we all know that. What is being suggested is more radical – that emotions are part and parcel of the reasoning process.

How to fix intelligence – Proposals

If you come to think about it, smart people are perceived as smart because of their ability to make difficult things look easy.

The universe is a very elaborate and complex system, and it is this complexity that requires us to be smarter. The smarter we become, the better we will be able to identify and eventually exploit regularities in a random and complex environment.

Our history as species is a prescient story of survival, adversity, and prosperity that hinges on how persistent we are in reinventing our strategy towards complexity.

Such a perennial struggle might seem intolerable for most of us, but the truth is that if we don’t embrace it and eventually internalize it, it will persist and intensify.

As I mentioned earlier, the current status quo doesn’t really favor innovative approaches to our current predicament. The modern education system is operating more like a worker factory than it is as a knowledge cultivation hub.

Contrarian approaches need to be nurtured both on a personal, but also on a family and, eventually, community level if we ever want to escape the maladies of modern education.

Persistent reliance on erroneous practices is a recipe for disaster that will only result in further stagnation.

It is imperative to create a pedagogical schema that helps people embrace uncertainty and provoke conventional thinking.

To move from a nascent state to a sustainable steady state, there are steps in between that will require both stimulus and guardrails. This interim period needs to manage two strong forces:

  • The resistance from actors supporting the current system.
  • The friction encountered during the initial adoption of innovative philosophies.

To the best of my knowledge, such ambitious endeavors can’t be expected to come to fruition overnight.

They require systematic adherence to a certain knowledge framework that is comprised of the following parameters:

  • Artistic appreciation – That is the realization that there is truth in art and that the capacity of the individual to explore and understand the underlying truth in art reinforces their capacity to think in an intelligent way.
  • Multidisciplinary thinking – That is the immersion in various disciplines in an attempt to formulate a more holistic interpretation of the world around us.
  • Innovative technologies – That is the ability to keep up with new trends in technology, the rejection of technology as a tool for solely entertainment purposes and the realization that technology will enact monumental changes in monolithic structures within society that previously seemed impossible.
  • Philosophical and psychological awareness – That is the comprehension and eventual internalization of major philosophical and psychological concepts that can aid the rise of self-awareness.
  • Mind and body connection – That is the realization that mind and body are interconnected systems that need to operate synergistically and that the negligence of the one will impede the growth of the other.
  • Proper understanding of history and national identity – That is the adoption of the belief that history is a place where multifarious lessons can be extracted and that these lessons can offer important guidance to the way the individual understands his or her roots.  

In closing, I am going to engage in a controversial comment:

Whenever you notice people exhibiting non-intelligent behavior, although IQ, memory, and upbringing may play their role, I strongly believe that the non-intelligent behavior is, primarily, a byproduct of the mental and physical space they decided to inhabit.

The disposition of humans to blend in order to avoid ostracism can generate a contradiction between what they actually believe and how they manifest what they believe into words and deeds, leading to what we perceive as non-intelligent behavior.

Such a space generates parochial attitudes antithetical to the mere nature of intelligence, thus recycling behaviors and mindsets toxic for the flourishing of an individual.

What keeps feeding my optimism, though, is that the Internet has helped voices that were..

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Understanding Bitcoin and the Future. How What You Know Will Be Redefined Forever.

Bitcoin.

A crypto-currency.

A decentralized application.

A bubble.

An investment.

A speculation.

The next big thing after the Internet.

These are only some of the epithets and descriptions people like to give to bitcoin. The reality, however, is that none of them really describes what bitcoin is and how this idea will, probably, redefine the future of humanity forever.

For me, the journey to the mystical landscape of bitcoin started almost 5 years ago. Back then, I wasn’t really involved in investing and businesses. I was just starting my baby steps in the entrepreneurship world and I was just following mainstream startup outlets to educate myself on the happenings of the community. The term bitcoin was still very nebulous, but most of the technology geeks in the startup world showed interest in it and that was enough to tantalize me a bit.

In the beginning, my interest was infinitesimal, since its valuation was insignificant and the technology seemed quite complicated and unsexy to invest the time required to understand its mechanics. As time went by, I kept following the trends and, although I was still a bit reluctant, I started to realize that this seemingly trivial speculation became a serious life investment for some people.

The year I decided to take bitcoin seriously was the year 2015 and it coincided with my reading of the book “Sapiens” by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari.

In this magnificent work, Harari explains how, throughout the history of mankind, humans created powerful stories in order to give our lives purpose and consequently ensure the stability of our social edifice. Without stories, we feel lost and desperate. Stories metamorphose our lives into adventures and act as moral compasses that allow us to recalibrate our existence during dark times.

I saw the power of stories everywhere around me. In religions, in politics, in social theory, in economics, in movies. And that’s when it dawned on me. I came to realize that bitcoin is nothing more than another story. A story created by some extremely intelligent people and gained steam by being adopted by more intelligent people. When smart people come together and unite around a powerful story, you can’t help but realize that there is serious potential in it.

So, I decided to invest a significant amount of money in this story and, today, view it as one of the most important investment decisions I have ever made.

As a serious bitcoin hodler (I explain below) and a person who has skin in the bitcoin game, I consider it a personal responsibility to educate people around the bitcoin story and also evangelize its use so that its promises can eventually be materialized.

Explaining hodling: Back in 2013, member GameKyuubi of the bitcoin forum bitcointalk.org, started a post titled “I AM HODLING.” This was a 200-word rant of him expressing how difficult it is to be a bitcoin trader with the constant ups and downs. Obviously, he didn’t realize that he misspelled the word hold, but the bitcoin community adopted the word and made it a word of reference for everyone who believes in bitcoin and is willing to hold no matter what.

In the following paragraphs, you will read not only my explanation of the bitcoin story so far but also an analysis of the underlying meaning of this story.

Enjoy.

Understanding Bitcoin: How it all started – The Satoshi Nakamoto storyline

October 31, 2008. In a cryptography mailing list called metzdowd, devoted to cryptographic technology and its political impact, a member with the name Satoshi Nakamoto published an email titled Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper. In this email Nakamoto introduced the members of the list to Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.

It was an exceptional piece of work predicated on a very revolutionary idea – how to send online payments directly from one party to another without the burdens of going through a financial institution.

In a nutshell, what Bitcoin does is it creates a robust decentralized network of exchange that is based on a technology called blockchain. Now let’s explain the fuzzy terms:

Decentralized: This means that there is no central authority that regulates the transactions. In our current state of affairs, if I want to send money to someone online I need to do so through an intermediary like a bank or an online payment processing system (paypal, stripe etc.). This kind of system creates a plethora of problems ranging from hidden fees to lack of anonymity and also a huge dependency on the system itself.

Blockchain: This is a technology proposed by Nakamoto that tries to solve the infamous double spending problem. Double spending occurs when the same single digital token can be spent more than once. This is possible because a digital token consists of a digital file that can be duplicated or falsified. Imagine the equivalent of counterfeit in digital form. He addresses the issue by creating blocks of transactions within the network called a blockchain that are cryptographically secured. The level of cryptography entailed in this process is quite sophisticated and ensures that the transactions are safe and that there is no ambiguity behind the operation of the network.

One can realize the depth of Nakamoto’s intellect by reading how elaborate the structure of his/her/their work is. This paper is not something a normal person could come up with. It is a very complex algorithmic process that requires a great deal of knowledge in computer science, mathematics, and cryptography.

My estimation is that Nakamoto, although in the paper he makes use of “we,” is one person and most probably a male with a high-level degree, possibly a PhD, in computer science or cryptography. People suggest that he is of British descent because in various posts he makes use of Britishisms, such as “bloody hard,” and that he dwells somewhere in the eastern parts of the Americas (because of the timestamps on his e-mails). His command of the English language is quite advanced and that suggests that he is a native English speaker. The name Satoshi Nakamoto is clearly a pseudonym and it could have been picked for various reasons. Satoshi is a very common Japanese name (one of its interpretations is philosophy or enlightenment) and Nakamoto means ‘central origin’ or ‘(one who lives) in the middle.’ One could make the assumption that the use of the words Satoshi and Nakamoto allude to the idea behind Bitcoin and its decentralization theme. Also one could presume that he spoke Japanese or that he admired the Japanese culture.

Regardless of how the persona of the bitcoin creator is interpreted, one thing remains certain. This person was extremely intelligent, he valued his anonymity and he wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t stay long in the spotlight.

After his initial email in the cryptographic community newsletter, he released the Version 0.1 of bitcoin software on Sourceforge on 9 January 2009. According to Wikipedia, “Nakamoto created a website with the domain name bitcoin.org and continued to collaborate with other developers on the bitcoin software until mid-2010. Around this time, he handed over control of the source code repository and network alert key to Gavin Andresen (lead developer in the Bitcoin project), transferred several related domains to various prominent members of the bitcoin community, and stopped his involvement in the project.”

His final email or personal message to the bitcoin community is dated April 2011. In it, he told to Mike Hern, one of the developers of the bitcoin code at the time, “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”

Satoshi Nakamoto is now a legendary figure. The public bitcoin transaction log shows that Nakamoto’s known addresses contain roughly one million bitcoins (they were all part of the first blocks mined). As of 17 December 2017, this is worth over 19 billion USD. This makes him the 44th richest person on earth.

The post-Nakamoto era

Since Nakamoto rejected the role of the new messiah (very smart move in my opinion), the bitcoin game became open to anyone willing to influence it. The first popular bitcoin transaction was documented in May 2010, when Laszlo Hanyecz, a programmer from Florida sent 10,000 Bitcoins to a volunteer in England who spent about 25$ to order him a pizza from Papa John’s.

Afterwards, the cryptocurrency started being covered by different media outlets, thus gaining steam. A huge number of tech-savvy investors saw enormous potential not only in bitcoin itself but also in its underlying technology, the blockchain, which can be used in a wide array of applications ranging from banking to file sharing and even government-related processes.

Apart from the first Bitcoin exchanges that allow people to buy and exchange bitcoin, many people start to accept this new currency as a form of payment and, not surprisingly, the most passionate early adopters are drug dealers. Silk road, an illicit drugs marketplace which used Bitcoin as an untraceable way to buy and sell drugs online, is established in January 2011, paving the way to the evolution of the dark web and the creation of a whole new online ecosystem.

Slowly but steadily Bitcoin becomes more reputable and, as a result, new cryptocurrencies that want to compete with it emerge. People believe that there is always a better version of a new system and want to be the first who will invent this “better version.” Etheruem, Litecoin, Monero, Ripple, Dash are some of the earliest alternative cryptocoins to appear in the scene and are still amongst the most dominant players in the landscape.

2013 marks the most important year for bitcoin since it was the year when the bitcoin price experiences its highest surge. On November 29, 2013, the price of a single coin hit an all-time high of $1,242.

Something important to note here is that, usually, surges and declines in prices occur due to statements by influential figures or critical events in the development of the currency.

For instance, in November 2013, Bitcoin received the blessing of Ben Bernanke 1, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. That is not a small thing. Ben Bernake is one of the most prolific individuals in the finance world. His opinion is taken very seriously and many people will experience the need to invest in Bitcoin when it is promoted by someone so reputable.

Ben Bernanke

But there is also the other side of the coin. In 2014, Mt. Gox, the most famous Bitcoin exchange at the time closed its website and exchange service and filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors. That, along with the shut down of Silk road in November of the same year, marked the plummeting of the Bitcoin price to around $300.

From 2015 until the end of 2016, Bitcoin slowly scaled up the charts to reach a value close to $960 by December 2016. The number of miners, developers, and investors associated with Bitcoin during that period grew exponentially.

And that brings us to 2017, the most prosperous year for Bitcoin, to date. I am not entirely sure what happened in 2017, but I guess that when you create a story so alluring and with so much future potential that will allow early investors to make money out of, literally, thin air, at some point this story will explode.

Bitcoin entered the mainstream, buying the currency became very easy, many prominent and respectable figures started endorsing it and, as a result, one of the most interesting creations in the history of mankind skyrocketed in value.

The real value of Bitcoin

Regardless of whether you have skin in the Bitcoin game or not, you need to understand something very fundamental about this idea:

Bitcoin isn’t something that emerged out of the sick or crazy mind of a random programmer. Bitcoin was something that was desperately needed by all of us.

The banks and the governments have been controlling the monetary system since the beginning of time and this creates all sorts of problems for the average person.

First and foremost, we are dependent on two entities that can decide about how money is circulated within the society without them being omniscient. Namely, their decisions are not predicated on a flawless system that will ensure the stability of the social edifice, but rather on economic assumptions that are usually influenced by the needs of certain individuals. Individuals that are high up in the dominance hierarchy of society and will do whatever it takes to maintain their power and wealth.

The evidence of how blemished the current system is, is indisputable. Our economic life isn’t a straight line that leads to sustainable growth but rather a playful interplay between moments of crisis and moments of prosperity.

This occurs due to faulty interpretations of the current system and the fact that we are delusional with regards to its limits. Whenever we hit a roadblock, we try to squeeze everything we can out of the monolithic structure we have created, thus creating debt and bubbles. These bubbles, in respect, lead to moments of crisis where we seek the intervention of “the invisible hand” which offers temporary and unsustainable solutions to our predicaments.

The funny part is that the inexorable propagation of this system can’t continue forever and it will evidently lead to anomalies. From my understanding, such an anomaly we experience at the moment with the dawn of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin suggests something very simple, yet something very revolutionary:

It’s the first time in history we can start discussing alternatives to the current Fiat standard. Back in the 1800s people used to rely on gold to estimate the value of the currencies in circulation. Every dollar was connected to a certain amount of gold and that helped the value of a dollar stay stable. This system was quite efficient, but not really that flawless.

Fiat explained: Fiat is a Latin word that means “let it be done” and it is used to signify an order or decree. That is, fiat money is money issued by the government and regulated by the government. It has an assigned value only because the government uses its power to enforce the value of a fiat currency. Every country in the world has a fiat currency that is issued by the respective government and is susceptible to economic fluctuations, such as inflation or deflation.

During the great depression in the 20s, the gold standard inhibited economic growth because it prevented the Federal Reserve from expanding the money supply to stimulate the economy, fund insolvent banks and fund government deficits that could “prime the pump” for an expansion.

Also gold, in and of itself, doesn’t have any tremendously significant usability. Yes, it can be used in jewelry, electronics, and some other industries, but that alone isn’t enough to make it an important asset. What triggered the idea of a gold standard was that gold was a very expensive metal with limited circulating supply.

Which is an argument tantamount to the Bitcoin argument. When Satoshi Nakamoto invented Bitcoin, he did so with the intention of creating a specific amount of Bitcoins that could be mined. Specifically, there are 21 million Bitcoins to be mined and, according to estimations, the last bitcoin will be mined in 2140.

Bitcoin Mining: The mining of bitcoin isn’t a simple process. When Satoshi introduced us to the concept of Bitcoin, he also created a mathematical algorithm that allowed programmers to mine it using powerful computers. The need for a powerful computer is essential because the way this algorithm works is that it makes computers compete with each other in order to decode specific cryptographic elements involved in the process of bitcoin creation. This video explains it in detail. Basically, each block that is added in a blockchain contains a specific amount of bitcoins that can be mined by solving a cryptographic riddle. Every four years the block size is halved and the number of bitcoins that can be mined in each block decreases. Satoshi did that to make the game of mining more interesting and probably lengthier.

If we take the limited circulation into account and add on top of that the incredible feasibility and usability prospects of bitcoin, that include decentralization, security, anonymity, and ease of use, bitcoin becomes one of the most important alternatives to fiat currencies the world has ever seen.

What the average person doesn’t get about bitcoin –  philosophical argument

On the surface, Bitcoin is a digital..

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