For weeks I’ve been entering, and losing, photography competitions and getting rejected by literary agents (for the book), which is always fun. If I need to submit a thousand, then I’ll submit a thousand. I’m reminded of something from 12 Rules for Life by very funny psychologist Jordan B Peterson: “if you are disciplined, forming strong habits, and privilege the future over the present, you can change the structure of your reality in your favour”. This echoes American-philosopher Will Durant, ‘we are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit’, aligning to 7 Habits . . . by Steve Covey, Marcus Aurelius Meditations, actually everyone ever. So basically, I’m in the habit of losing this year. Yay! Will keep you updated on my failure. The literary agents are going to be like a hydra: for every rejection, I shall write to two more. Talking of rejection, I’m going to sign up to online dating. Fu**’s sake. Might stick to taking photos of snails for Instagram.
I’ve just finished Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles which I covered last time (LINK); and James Smith’s Not a Diet Book, about exercise and, well, dieting, with some self-improvement thrown in. The excellent 12 Rules for Life would be my pick of the bunch, like receiving cathartic well-intentioned advice from an old man about bringing up children, handling relationships and prioritising life’s important aspects (summary link below). Talking of which, I gently picked up the Empty Out the Negative audiobook by Joel Olsteen, which may well be two hours of an American (eeshh!) yelling about God (gahh!) being our saviour. I am an atheist but at least I’m trying to broaden my church. In my head though, every other sentence is a mix between James Bond’s Sargent J.W. Pepper, What are you? Some kinda doomsday mowwsheen, boy? and Arsenio Hall’s Coming to America character Rev Brown, There’s a God, sumaa-where! There’s a God, sumaa-where!
My favourite libation of the last fortnight is rediscovering the excellence of Socrates, the oracle of Delphi attesting that there was no other wiser: Socrates knew that he knew nothing. Towards the end of his trial, he proclaimed that “an unexamined life is not worth living”. He believed the purpose of life was to grow spiritually, and philosophically; arguing that it was important to question and “examine” your values and beliefs in order to determine if they were the correct ones. So, I believe I’m going to fail, and I’m fine with that. Coming back to Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk from a few weeks ago, instead of asking around the dinner table ‘how was your day?’ ask, ‘what did you fail at today?’ It means you’re taking risks, pushing boundaries. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some women, photos and literary agents to be rejected by. There’s a God, sumaa-where!
An excellent 12 Rules for Life summary can be found here:
Apart from HIV and COVID, it’s great to be positive. In fact, it’ll probably change your life; you may even live longer. There are commonalities with the books I read, linking global threads through time. From the Japanese island of Okinawa boasting the world’s highest life-expectancy, to American Indian Tribes and monks in Asia, from Roman Emperors to United Nation’s global statistics and research in the UK and US. Lifetimes of knowledge. I’ll be knocking on the door of 120 years old for sure! Maybe.
Nurturing friendships and family, eating light, getting enough rest (ear plugs and an eye-mask help immensely) and doing regular, moderate exercise are all part of the good health equation. Eating vegetables and fruits, cutting down meat consumption, avoiding smoking and watching your weight (watching it increase counts, right?) are widely known. Not drinking too much is the common addendum, knowing that ‘don’t drink’ would incite riots. But there are two other points which I love: stress and reason.
To quote the calming Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to long-life and happiness, ‘people that live the longest . . . face challenges with a positive outlook and are able to manage their emotions . . .a stoic attitude – serenity in the face of a setback – can also help keep you young, as it lowers anxiety and stress levels’. I try meditating every morning, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but it does make me feel peaceful, before then stretching to gently waking up the body. The phone isn’t looked at for the first 45 minutes or so of the day. In fact, am trying to cut down ‘phone-time’ to about two hours a day. Not accessing social media platforms and starting sentences with, ‘and another fu**ing thing whilst I’m here . . .’ also helps.
Nietzsche said, ‘he who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how’. Sorry ladies and non-binaries, it’s all about he! But it’s the reason for being; the reason for your being. Viktor Frankl claimed the meaning for life was searching for your meaning for your life, with the kicker being that it doesn’t have to cover your entire life. Your meaning can change. Jay Shetty’s marvellous Think like a Monk had me constantly writing notes. They key points: meditate to calm, release the negativity and stress from your life; be grateful; treat everyone with honour, kindness and respect; serve. Regardless of outlook, these seem pretty good mantras to live by. Jay outlines finding your dharma, a concept across Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism: it is your reason for being, and a reason to serve. This can be found by answering three questions a) are you passionate about it? b) are you an expert in it? c) is it useful to others? Providing service is the direct path to a meaningful life. I’m in Frankl’s team here, still searching. Writing, travelling, reading, photography, technology and helping others seem part of it. Clearly my dharma being the ‘writing-travelling-photography-technology-helping’ niche business. WTPTH, a mantra to live by.
And in talking of honour, kindness, respect and service, this week crowns the last few days of Trump’s presidency, with vans collecting his shit as I type. It’s the only time where moving vans have moved everybody. Very emotional. Arf.
2021 will be great! Know why? Hot-cross buns in January. Sure, the COVID numbers are humungous, a rampant second strain because we needed an encore, storming of the Capitol by ANTIFA cleverly disguised as slack-jawed buck-toothed white rioters, Presidents banned from social media for being an arse-hat (four years that took, four years!) . . . but we’re one step closer to seeing hot-cross bad boys being released all year around to help my ever-more rotund belly. Swings and roundabouts, ladies and gentlemen, swings and roundabouts. Albeit reinforced swings.
With every bite of hot-cross goodness, happiness has been on my mind (you can thank Richard Layard’s Happiness). I write this brewing a pot of tea, following a run and imbibing a plant-based protein shake. I’ve earnt that hot-cross bun, goddamit! Viktor Frankl described happiness as having purpose, and that life was about finding your purpose. Bertrand Russell thought focus on self (problems, fears and failures) causes unhappiness, and that a generous outward spirit is what counted. Jeremy Bentham lectured of the predominance of pleasure over pain, and the greater good to make society happier. Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic, wrote it came from a calmness within, a mastery of self. Epicurus focused less on the external world, but trying to be happier than not: after all, only an idiot is happy all the time. More recently, William H. McRaven, the four-start US Navy Admiral believes it’s impacting your community for the better, however large that community stands. Disappointingly, bakeries and an intravenous drip to a bag of lollies seem to somewhat remiss in all these aspects. Incidentally, sugar and crack-cocaine trigger the same parts of the brain, fascinating, huh? Thanks Norman Doidge.
Happiness is tough. It’s an intangible, non-measurable, varying from person to person, as unquenchable as love. Giving yourself to something larger than yourself is probably the reason we have children, making other lives better, unless it’s a public place or a plane. But if you are surrounded by people improving other’s lives, you’ll form relationships focused on making everyone better. Quoting the Spirit Level, a rising tide lifts all boats. Or drowns Fiji, one of them.
I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions - if you feel that strongly on something, you’ll do it already. For me, it’s a continuation: drinking in literature, paradoxically knowing less the more I learn; treating my body with the respect it deserves <glumly puts down hot-cross bun, farrrkin hell!>; reducing meat intake to improve the environment; take more photos, especially of spiders as they scare me; help others if I am able; be less critical of myself and others, regardless of beliefs. Yup, Trumpians and Brexiteers, that means you too. Tottenham supporters can still fu** off though. Strong winds have bought us to this point, it’ll take courage to turn this boat around. Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul. Be compassionate, be tolerant, show love. Eat hot-cross buns, in moderation, apparently.
Writing and writing...