And perhaps these metaphors feel palpable to me because I write fiction and I code, but I’ve definitely come to think of myself as a mind hacker – a title I covet because I think it’s my gift: I can change how people see things.
And that’s really one of the jobs of the artist – as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly defined it: art is using your humanity to create change in other people.
And one thing I can confidently say for myself is that I am growing immensely in my humanity. In fact, I’ve never felt more humbled by life – and it’s all been the result of shifts in my perspective.
I’m not saying I can teach you something about life, but I can tell you about what it means to be human. And my whole life has been spent trying to make that duty [being human] easier – very often making it harder, but that’s life – that’s what it means to be human, to err.
I think human life is remarkable in the sense that it involves constant personal growth: you’re born one person, you die another. I used to think life was some series of stages, and I think this is because society views it this way: adolescence, youth, adulthood, old age. But life isn’t that simple, it’s not automatic: we age, yes – but whether we grow fully is up to us.
Jung’s Four Stages of Life Development, which follow, presents some interesting paradigms for growth, aging, and maturity, particularly in the youth and middle life stages:
Childhood: (birth to puberty)
Childhood has two substages. The archaic stage is characterized by sporadic consciousness, while the monarchic stage represents the beginning of logical and abstract thinking. The ego starts to develop.
Youth: (puberty until 35 – 40)
Maturing sexuality, growing consciousness, and a realization that the carefree days of childhood are gone forever. People strive to gain independence, find a mate, and raise a family.
Middle Life: (40-60) The realization that you will not live forever creates tension. If you desperately try to cling to youth, you will fail in the process of self-realization. Jung believed that in midlife, one confronts one’s shadow. Religiosity may increase during this period, according to Jung.
Old Age: (60 and over) Consciousness is reduced. Jung thought that death is the ultimate goal of life. By realizing this, people will not face death with fear, but with a hope for rebirth.
I feel that, in looking at these criterion, I’ve just now reached youth at 32, having spent so long operating more from the childhood, and, more recently, the middle life stages; however, regardless of where you might appraise yourself across this list, it’s doubtless something capable of provoking some valuable self-examination (Unfortunately, being human entails dealing with some absolutely shit base code).
Another great lens for self-examination are the Big Five Personality Factors (Traits):
Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. High openness can be perceived as unpredictability or lack of focus. Moreover, individuals with high openness are said to pursue self-actualization specifically by seeking out intense, euphoric experiences, such as skydiving, living abroad, gambling, et cetera. Conversely, those with low openness seek to gain fulfillment through perseverance, and are characterized as pragmatic and data-driven—sometimes even perceived to be dogmatic and closed-minded. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret and contextualize the openness factor.
Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as stubbornness and obsession. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.
Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness. High extraversion is often perceived as attention-seeking, and domineering. Low extraversion causes a reserved, reflective personality, which can be perceived as aloof or self-absorbed.
Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naive or submissive. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentative or untrustworthy.
Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”. A high need for stability manifests as a stable and calm personality, but can be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned. A low need for stability causes a reactive and excitable personality, often very dynamic individuals, but they can be perceived as unstable or insecure.
Here, I can identify that I need to work on my conscientiousness – being less careless and more dutiful / organized, productive – and I need to work on my neuroticism – increasing my emotional stability by zooming out and experiencing negative emotions with ease, rather than reeling in that sick, uneasy feeling I get – the one that led me to smoke four dabs of Yoda OG shatter before I wrote this: a virtuous, sacred act in comparison to my years of problematic drinking in a failed effort to quell the same feelings (Each to their own). That said, Cannabis is a psychedelic and I am a big proponent of the therapuetic and psycho-shamanic value of psychedelics.
Again, I’m a mind hacker. That’s the beauty of having a mind: you can change it.
A large part of my being is rooted in the futurist paradigm of consciousness as a computer. And this by no means speaks to the viability of the idea, but, rather, to the validity of it: consciousness as a computer is a valuable paradigm, one that today enables me to live with a greater degree of stoicism, mindfulness, and ultimately, inner peace.
I am beginning to understand who I am and grow into my potential as a result of having adopted a growth mindset, which, coupled with ideas from people more intelligent than I, have allowed me to change myself in really positive ways – and in doing this work, in facing life honestly, bravely, strongly, I’ve opened up to life in really beautiful, empowering, freeing ways. And I’ve discovered that I’m actually much more than I ever thought I was, and – at the same time – I’m everything I knew I was all along (Good person, writer, romantic), BUT: I’m also everything my ego feared I was (Petty, temperamental, self-destructive). And knowing that, knowing my blind spots and weaknesses, is just as essential.
Look, I must admit, I do not like large parts of who I was in my twenties. And that’s a good thing.
When I was proud of myself I was an asshole. Increased humility and self-knowledge have made me a kinder, more human person.
It’s also made life much easier for me. Things are probably better than they have ever been; I’m getting my shit together, so to speak.
Today, I woke up in a beautiful home in the mountains and wrote fiction, working on what will become my first published novel.
This writing shit is real, is happening.
I’m also in a stable, loving relationship with a beautiful, evolving woman, who is in every way committed to growing with me and doing life properly so that none of it is wasted in negative feeling; however, as we have learned together, negative feelings will make or break you: it is how you choose to deal with them; every emotional reaction to an outside event being a choice.
Will you react with grace, tolerance, fairness and equanimity, or will your lower, base animal consciousness rule you?
It is all your choice.
I am choosing to zoom out from the outside events, realizing that the inside events are far more worth my attention and energies, for it is the inner life – our spiritual needs – that must be met above all – lest we ignore them until our shadow is so overgrown that it takes over, as is the case for anyone that knows what it is to be their own worst enemy.
Two years ago, I turned thirty and thought I knew what it was to be a man – as if I could suddenly encapsulate and know my twenties with a sudden new wisdom; it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t done clinging to youth, fucking it up for myself.
Over the course of the next two years, from 30-32, I would:
- Meet Sarah and fell in love
- Move to the mountains
- Wake to news of my Dad’s death
- Start two failed businesses
- Get major wintertime cabin fever
- Punch my fist through a bedroom door
- Hit relationship bottom, nearly saying goodbye, before months later when we would become stronger than ever
- Face a lot more of my shadow, including my twenties, honestly
- Have that birthday where I woke up and suddenly felt old AF
- Switch from being a dysfunctional drinker to a very functional stoner
- Transform from insomniac to early morning happy bed head
- Release my childhood resentments toward my parents
- Outgrow my attachments to past girlfriends
- Accept my mortality, seeing that much of my young life is gone
- Commit to my dreams as a serious fucking writer (By writing fiction every damn beautiful morning)
- Go from unsure about my future to decided
And what’s as much, if not more than these things, is that I changed, I grew, I matured.
The events are not different, I am.
Because that’s what counts: who we are, how we see things. This is what makes all the difference between heaven and hell.
Its all in your fucking head. Only, you’re swallowed up, caught in a tidal wave called zeitgeist, so that you never live life deciding every day is going to be the best day of your life – because you’re just like, “Meh”.
And if you are there, I really hope you will open up to the richness of your inner life, which is nothing short of a wellspring for goodness.
My goals this year are centered around opening up to my inner life: the cohesion of soul, spirit, mind, and body; I’m not so much interested in new experiences as I am in experiencing the same things in brand new ways, because ultimately, consciousness is within us – we merely project it onto the outer world – but few people ever discern between inner truth and outer experience, the latter being illusory or what the Vedas refer to as Maya.
The term Maya has been translated as ‘illusion,’ but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.
The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already. They can only help to take away the veil that hides truth from our eyes. The cessation of ignorance can only come when I know that God and I are one; in other words, identify yourself with Atman, not with human limitations. The idea that we are bound is only an illusion [Maya]. Freedom is inseparable from the nature of the Atman. This is ever pure, ever perfect, ever unchangeable.
— Adi Shankara’s commentary on Fourth Vyasa Sutra, Swami Vivekananda
Liberating our emotional bodies from the outer world is the essence of the philosophy of detachment, which is “freedom from desire and consequently from suffering” – attachment being seen as a main cause of suffering in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Jainism. While I’m not much for isms, I’ll take spiritual paradigms built on philosophies of the mind over blind religious dogma any day of the week. I mean, who wants to learn more about how perfect Jesus was when the Hindus have Vairagya and Moksha?
Clearly I am on my journey and continuing to learn more about myself and the world, but I am deeply grateful to finally be able to understand that the gap between dreams and reality must either close or pass, for we only have so much time. This is no pressure, but is instead a truth I now understand, and one that drives me, pushes me to follow my heart, asking myself, what matters? What counts?
The answer, of course, always being: here, now.
I’m just now learning what that is; I used to think it was all just, “meh”, but then I realized it was just me.