Through our constant search of philosophies and ways of thinking, we have all gradually become citizens of the world of words. We read and listen, write and speak with others. Words conceptualize the world for us.

In many ways, this approach has worked out amazingly well. Words have enabled the communication through which we have come to know so much about the world. Thanks to technological and scientific progress, we can now discuss what used to  be unspeakable.

Yet, albeit a net positive, words have downsides too. Indeed, in some subtle ways, words can serve not for the construction of greater understanding, but rather for that of mental prisons. Continue reading Words Are not Always our Friends

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At times, the best teacher is the roughest of them all, namely our mortality and the imminence of death. 

I wasn’t feeling great yesterday and so I took my usual remedy on such occasions and went out for a walk. I am not quite certain why, but there sure is something about nightly destination-free walks of solitude that brings out an immense sense of peace…

On some occasions, I walk in silence and observe the world around me. On others, I want a lively conversation in the background. Yesterday was the latter. I downloaded a podcast to listen to and walked out the door.

Going by the title alone, the podcast I chose did not promise to be cheerful. It was about thyroid cancer and a life within the boundaries defined by it. I cannot know why exactly I chose this episode among others, but I presume it was a delicate mix of many factors — my mood, my affinity for philosophies that do not ignore mortality,  the fact that around 40% of us will eventually develop some form of cancer!

Nonetheless, I can honestly say the podcast was amazing and potentially life-changing. Despite of (or maybe precisely because of?) the admittedly grim topic, I found so many precious idea-jewels embedded in a single one hour conversation that I decided to share the highlights here with you.

Continue reading Three Lessons from a Cancer Patient

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Sometimes great things don’t mix well together.

In my life, for example, a desire to do good and a preference for contrarianism have often run against each other. Because I believe neither of them is worth sacrificing, I therefore perceive of a need to clarify this conflict and provide some guiding thoughts on combining doing good with contrarianism.

Continue reading Reflections on Social Groups, Contrarianism and Doing Good

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If there is one thing adult life has too little of, it is definitely spontaneity.

Frankly, that’s hardly surprising — the unspoken image of success has long been defined by leisure-free days full of plans, meetings and hard work. Time is money, after all, so there is no place for slack.

To be fair, the result sure is an economically productive culture. However, nothing comes for free. Such endless pursuit of productivity has gradually eaten up much of our lives. The very same planning procedures that rule over our work lives have gradually spilled over into the way we approach everything else. 

Most painful for me is how friendships and all relationships in general have increasingly become subsumed by a frustrating wave of precise scheduling. It is becoming less and less possible to say to a friend “hey, let’s go out” and have your social wish met. Just like a premature “I love you”, such an appeal feels strange because it has divorced itself from the normal timing for such things. Indeed, with friends and acquaintances, these days you have to plan early. You just cannot be spontaneous. Moreover, you have to have a reason why. 

Personally speaking, inside of me the reason has always been clear. “I want to spend time with you”. But saying that rarely works. Spontaneously starting to miss somebody is simply not an acceptable reason. So, all of a sudden, I really want to see that new movie. Or I am dying to go ice-skating, but, oh well, I would feel too lonely on my own. In other words, I make up a reason and go with it. Otherwise, I risk staying alone.

Now, I hate the above dynamic so much. Why should there be a reason for a meeting in the first place? At the workplace, I get it. You don’t want to waste time because money is at stake. Moreover, having reasons for this and that provides accountability and allows for a rational post-game analysis. Business is rational and it’s all about efficiency.

Yet, few of us are too sad if our relationships aren’t efficient enough. We don’t lose sleep over suboptimal interactions. What’s more, sometimes all we want from relationships is to turn our brains off, to stop thinking and start feeling instead.  Continue reading In Praise of Spontaneity

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I wake up.
I open my eyes and get up.
Once again, I set out looking for a way to be better and freer today.

Day after day, in this search of self-improvement, I always find myself choosing between various approaches, strategies and mindsets. Sometimes guided by the fashions of the day, I open the latest trendy self-help book and read. At other times, I question whether that was, after all, the best I could have done. Such books usually sound too good and too easy. Their prescriptions are cheap and their descriptions of the good life devoid of any personal meaning. Indeed, most self-help books rarely sound like they apply to me with all the pain and suffering inside my soul.

So, at those latter times, I easily wave goodbye to motivational videos and speeches. Greatness does not move me anymore. Excellence becomes mere entertainment, not at all the way ahead. Watching freedom and success turns painful and highly unrelatable. A sense of being lost manifests itself whenever I dare face perfection in the eyes.

Nonetheless, the time is not ripe for despair. So I do not stop my search, but this time I decide to focus less on what is good and more on what is bad. After all, if hope and dreams of a distant and unknown heaven have proven disempowering., then maybe fear of the depths of hell will be a better guide. Ultimately, imperfection is the name of the human condition much more often than perfection.  Continue reading Staring into Hell is the Best Way to Reaching Heaven

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Ah, feelings, the color to our days, the rhythm to the beating of our hearts!

Feelings and emotions can be highly useful. Some feelings, e.g. love, kindness and gratitude, continuously bring joy and satisfaction to our lives. They help us bond with others and enter into meaningful and growing relationships with them. In a sense, such positive feelings constitute the very fabric of our wellbeing. Moreover, they are often our deepest source of spiritual inspiration and meaning.

Others feelings, e.g. anger and pain, can mobilize us to change ourselves and the world around us for the better. Were it not for those darker feelings, major political, social and personal injustices would not enrage us towards change. Historical civil rights movements all started with a feeling of rejection, anger, humiliation and confusion. In a way, these feelings have often served as an inner alarm against the evil in the world. But even more is true. Feelings such as the experience of suffering or grief may indeed be difficult to bear. Yet, they are probably the greatest tool we have for highlighting the blessings unknowingly enjoyed in the past. It won’t be unjustified to say that gratitude is the child of pain. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Nevertheless, despite all of their utility to many practical matters, feelings are still not an infallible guide to reality. Moreover, no feeling, positive or negative, can be spared this judgement. Continue reading You Don’t Have to Believe Your Feelings Every Time

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Abstract art - freedom through creativity

Years ago, when I first started thinking about life and its meaning, I came to realize that achieving personal freedom was one of the necessary prerequisites to a meaningful life. Indeed, without the ability to determine my own purpose guided by my innermost interests and passions, life seemed dull and colorless. No one from without could bring as much satisfaction as I could operating from within.

But there was more to freedom than that. Indeed, freedom was not only a prerequisite to a meaningful life. In a way, freedom itself was to have found meaning already. Exercising my artistic passions freely was and still is the freedom that allows me to transcend the pains inherent to life. Being healthy, i.e. free to use my body as I wish, allows me to find satisfaction in sports and exploration of the world. Freedom of speech allows me to have my ideas heard and acted upon.

Through a deeper analysis I gradually came to another important realization. The reason why freedom was important to me was because it allowed to me to create a world closer to the one my heart and mind desired. So perhaps not every exercise of freedom made sense after all. However, every creative one did. And so my search for meaning led me to explore creativity.

But what exactly is creativity? In a narrow sense, it’s what artists, musicians, painters, photographers and a few select others do. It is certainly connected with art, but little else. In other words, it’s a specific skill that is certainly far from universal. Indeed, how could creativity understood this way ever be relevant to an athlete? Continue reading To be Free is to Create

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