Keep thy mind in hell!
Two of my heroes impacted me with similar messages while spending their lives on very different paths. One walked a road of prayer and repentance, the other gave us tools that change the way we create and interact with the world. Both taught me a very simple lesson that I often fail, but do my best to follow: live each day as if it were your last.
Saint Silouan the Athonite was a Russian peasant who fled to the Greek peninsula of Mount Athos to find salvation after a life spent following his most base passions. It was here God broke him and Saint Silouan found salvation and humility. In the midst of this wilderness he came into the light of grace and was granted the saying, “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”
What!? Keep they mind in hell and despair not. That’s a little dark you might say. But is it?
Remember you are going to die!
And then there is Steve Jobs, the imperfect genius who was the force behind Apple Computer. At Stanford’s 2005 graduation ceremony, he said something very similar to Saint Silouan,”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something….Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
We are already naked!
Saint Silouan and Steve Jobs point us towards similar places. Against the eternity of time, our short lives are over almost as soon as they begin. Whether your last breath occurs at 25 or 85, in a sense, you are already dead. Most of the things we think are important, are not. We are already naked.
So what are the things you focus on to make sure that the day is satisfying enough to be your last? It comes down to purpose. You want a day filled with those things that are built on a foundation of purpose. Everything else is temporal and distracting at best, soul destroying at worst. This is hard, especially in a world that sells you everything that is meant to distract, meant to become obsolete and replaced, meant to suck you in and separate you from that which sustains.
Purpose is actionable, it guides us. It is something we wake up to and follow. It is a force that impacts others. A life without purpose is worse than death. Death is not avoidable. Living without purpose is. You don’t have to muddle.
Purpose can be found volunteering. It can be found pursuing a dream, or even better, in the simple things — a walk with a loved one (without technology), a book, a call to an old friend, or spending a few moments alone to ponder the question, “How should I be living?”
In the light of death, taking the steps to build a life of purpose is no risk at all. You truly have nothing to lose, you are already naked.
Seize the day my friend. It’s all that you know you have.
“The development of characteristic symptoms…”
This quote is from the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition) on PTSD. It applies to many things: depression, suicide, anxiety, despair, burn-out, you name it. They develop. Just like life develops.
Whenever you come to a moment in life where something has to change, hope is found by realizing that you are not trapped. Life is always changing and there is always an opportunity to find meaning in the change. One of my heroes, author, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel, had an equation for life that I ascribe to, Despair equals Suffering without Meaning. It is common sense. We will suffer a lot for something that has meaning to us — bootcamp, higher education, child birth, fitness, marriage, etc., — but lose the meaning, and the shortest obstacle can become insurmountable. Our day becomes one big unsolvable complaint.
If your life loses meaning, the darker and more isolated you will become. It is here in isolation that the demons taunt us. To begin to step out of the darkness and into the light of life, it is necessary to understand that you are not alone. We live in a world of loneliness. Take a minute to read this great article on the damage loneliness is inflicting on our society. Loneliness is a destroyer. Wherever you are, look around and you’ll see an ocean of loneliness. What a shame we do not better understand this and love one another. That stranger is not strange. What binds us is far greater than what separates us.
Whatever the diagnosis — depression, PTSD, life sucks, job sucks — you name it, the key is realizing that the only sure cure for life is finding meaning. It need not be some big huge goal. It can be as simple as a daily walk, a donation to a shelter, volunteering as a mentor to a child, starting that book, picking up a guitar, moving to the place you’ve always wanted to live, asking forgiveness, you name it.
To stop the “development” we must begin to move in another direction. You must “develop” something else. It is like building a habit, in this case, a habit for life. The steps can be small, but if each day you look for something meaningful, you can begin to escape your present darkness and find the kind of hope that lasts, the hope of meaning. So do me a favor, grab a piece of paper and write down something meaningful you are going to do in the next 24 hours — clean the house, call that old friend, go for a walk, clean the junk food out of the kitchen, whatever it may be, commit to it and do it. That is a start, it is the beginning of the development of life and that is far better than the continued development of all the bad stuff.
The meaning of life? Live.
Peer Support is an important, but often misunderstood and executed concept.
Regular, Mandatory, Accountable:
A poem for my child? I don’t do that enough. Thankfully, Georgia and I spent some time outside yesterday before I hit the road for a few days of speaking. It was more than I could have expected, she took flight. Over and over she ran down the driveway as fast as she could. She wanted to fly. Her hair in motion, her little legs pumping, I swear she flew. I know my heart did.
A moment like this of course makes your heart leap, and with that joy came the urge to write a poem for my child, Georgia. A poem, something that used to consume me for days on end. Unfortunately, it had been some time since the fire to create a poem had consumed me and my notebook was just another book on the shelf covered in dust.
So for Georgia, and myself, I wrote a short little poem. To help me remember this day, and the moment she took flight.
Flight, a poem for my child
Like a storm of joy
She took flight
A blur of gold locks and pattering feet
Her daddy smiles
Forgetting where he was
They were both flying