To strive

July 2, 2011 - Leave a Response

‘…I walked on aimlessly. I had no motives, no incentives to exert myself, no duties. Life tasted horribly bitter.’


In his deepest of miseries Harry Haller doesn’t mourn the loss of love or money. He doesn’t talk about sadness or futility. Harry complains of losing his motivation and the misery of life with no purpose or duty.  If you never had to strive for anything, ever again, what would life be like?

Ask someone who has achieved their dream, it’s not likely they have put their feet up in contentedness. Ask an heir or a lotto winner, what it’s like to have instant gratification for every desire. Ask someone who got somewhere by default, how it feels to receive a status not earned. Religion and philosophy doesn’t guide you to a place not where you can achieve pure and constant happiness, but to a place where you can be your best you, so that you can keep on achieving.

Maslow’s Hierarchy talks about life in a set of stages describing the ultimate stage as a state of self-actualisation. Beyond that, it becomes about the self-actualised individual achieving their fullest potential. Maslow’s pyramid was not about achieving happiness. It was not about achievement as an end, or any end point. Rather it was about defining forward movement. Striving for things, power, relationships, experiences, status, enlightenment or knowledge is where happiness, satisfaction or even success lies.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said ‘Life is a journey, not a destination‘. You succeed or you fail, you try again, try something else. The point is you don’t stop trying. Pure and constant bliss is not what appears on the top of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. Happiness  is not the point at which at we stop, it’s the by-product of forward movement.

‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’


Collective consciousness.

February 18, 2011 - Leave a Response

Much of the time when we need to know something, instead of trying to recall it from our memory, we simply search for it online. As search engines improve, they become more and more perfect at locating exactly what we want to remember. The basis of these search engines’ usefulness is the large quantities of information we share with them about ourselves. What is unique about this type of memory is that we are no longer storing it in our brains, where it is inaccessible and irretrievable after we are gone. Instead we are collectively storing it in a public space. Where you once had to write a book or erect a building to leave your mark on the world, all you need now is an email address.

Zach Gage –

Zach Gage talks about Google becoming a ‘living’ memory, like a brain we all share. Online search programmes evolve with use and become more efficient at locating information. The more we use them, the more they learn about us, the better they become at interpreting our input. Perhaps the online world is transforming our external, collective consciousness into a physical reality, an almost tangible, quantifiable form. Twitter feels like a plug into this external consciousness. Millions of people all over the world talking randomly and surprisingly truthfully. It feels alive. Zach talks about us not having to use our own recall abilities anymore because we can use a search engine to think for us, to recall for us.

By freeing up our brains from having to retain the bombardment of data we are receiving each day, we can learn to overcome the over-stimulation of constant media exposure. We can find a way to evolve alongside our current state of information overload. Breathing life into the digital world could be the key to harnessing our mental evolution. To achieve a true globalisation. Not of the finances, not of society but of the mind.

Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Externalism on Wikipedia
The Global Consciousness Project

Carbon and Connectedness

November 3, 2010 - One Response

I’ll use the word God because we’re all familiar with the concept. But I’m not talking about a white beard and pearly gates, I’m talking about the concept of a unifying element. A connectedness. Some people understand this in terms of God, but it can be given any name or no name at all. I do think there is connectivity between us all, human, animal, vegetable, mineral.

Imagine if carbon is that one thing connects us all. On an elemental level, what if carbon is the one commonality between us all. The stars, the moon, the fish in the sea. Carbon is the essence of organic matter. It’s what we are all reduced to in the end. What if God, or the unifying element is carbon? What if it was all that simple and that complete?

Molecules of like attract each other, the way water droplets want to unify to form one big droplet, and the way metal molecules will fuse just by being near each other. Perhaps that what carbon is trying to do. Perhaps that’s why we are so hung up with our physical lives. And perhaps that’s why we never feel fully whole, forever disconnected. Because we just want to become one with each other and ourselves.

Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is present in all known lifeforms, and in the human body carbon is the second most abundant element by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen.[14] This abundance, together with the unique diversity of organic compounds and their unusual polymer-forming ability at the temperatures commonly encountered on Earth, make this element the chemical basis of all known life.

Death and Density

October 7, 2010 - One Response

Well, life is painful, yeah. The first sentence of this book is “People suffer.” There is a base level of pain: for example, knowing you’re going to die. So yes, life includes a big chunk of pain, and it includes a big chunk of living. But if you’re not willing to have the pain, you’re not going to get the living.
Steven Hayes – Getting Over Happiness at

If death wasn’t an inevitability we would live our lives in a very different way. Time would become meaningless and significant of nothing. Imagine death is the cork on a champagne bottle; remove it and the ‘life’ of the drink will escape and become flat. Nobody likes flat champagne. Death is the cork on our lives that creates pressure and pressure creates density and substance.

Without death our lives would seem weightless and our efforts insignificant. A time limit prevents our life from becoming an endless string of moments that meander, untethered towards uncertainty. To be aware of our corporeal limit and the certainty of death gives us impetus to achieve, experience, evolve and enlighten. No one wants to die. No one wants to die unsatisfied. Nobody likes flat champagne.

The Bluebird of Happiness

August 24, 2010 - 2 Responses

Wish for them excitement, inspiration, fulfillment or fascination. Wish for them a gravy life rich in satisfaction. But don’t wish for them only happiness. My father always says that people should learn to appreciate their pains as well and as much as their pleasures.

When you’re feeling angry, feel angry. Or sadness, frustration or discontent. Don’t deny it, don’t wish for it to end. For amongst the pains and discomforts, happiness will feel all the better.

Herman Melville wrote;

We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable, any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. Moby Dick

If we felt happy all of the time, we would forget the meaning of happiness. It’s value would be lost in sameness. Awareness and acceptance of each emotion not only enhances the pleasurable ones, but it prevents life from becoming a humdrum of blissful content. So elusive and nebulous, sometimes it feels as if happiness might not even exist. The older you get the harder it is to find, but beneath this blanket term lies a myriad of alternatives. Preferences. Satisfaction, pride, motivation, inspiration, wonder, anticipation, hope, intrigue, melancholy and even rage. To only wish happiness for your loved ones, falls short of the fulfilling, complex and meaningful life they deserve. Don’t only wish for them a blue bird, wish for them a whole flight.

A story about a man

August 10, 2010 - Leave a Response

He sank into the sofa and stared at the blank screen of the television. He tried to tune out but the baby cried. They struggled with the baby.

He didn’t read the paper, or watch the news anymore. He didn’t want to feel grief for the family who’d lost their child in a house fire. He didn’t want to face disappointment in his leaders. He didn’t need the guilt about climate change and driving his god damned car. He didn’t need those burdens.

It was hard enough.  The baby was always crying. His wife was always struggling. How could he shoulder the burden of the world when he could barely manage his own and the baby was always, always crying.

He had no real friends and nobody to talk to about the things he cared about. He told himself he had no time for friends but the truth was that he had no one he could really talk to. His opinions were not popular ones. He knew this because the newspapers used to tell him so.

‘OK, I get it. I am the odd man out.’

The doorbell rang. He hauled himself over to the door. It was the girl from next door. She was crying. She told him that her mum was upset and wouldn’t come out of the bathroom.  She said the new baby wouldn’t stop crying.

He looked at her blankly. ‘You too huh?’.

He ran into the kitchen where his wife was cutting onions. Her eyes watered.

He told her about the girl.

She placed the knife and the half onion on the board and wiped her hands. She stormed out from behind the bench. She didn’t like being interrupted at dinnertime.

He was mistaken as he watched her march up to the door. He realised she wasn’t annoyed. She was concerned.

His wife disappeared with the girl in tow. He watched as they half-ran out of the yard and into the open door of the neighbouring house.

He stood at the door, anxious.

A feeling washed over him and he sighed.

It was relief.

Relief that the burden of another’s pain was something they could affect. They could place a hand on it.

A familiar-faced journalist did not deliver it to them in a timed and heartless selection of images and text.

It was not a catalyst for impotence.

A street-walking, badge-selling, money-taking figurehead did not impose it upon them.

It was a simple act of charity. Not an exercise in egotism, but real charity.

The kind that costs more than dollars and cents.

The kind that comes from instinct, not vanity.

He sighed again and the baby slept.

For Chris

July 29, 2010 - One Response

I dedicate this passage to Chris Al-Aswad, mentor and courage giver to many.

Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.

Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.

Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.

Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being.

In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Chris was aspiring writer, read his graphic novel here The Comic of Life

His blog, The Blog of Innocence

And his greatest achievement, Escape into Life

We’ll miss you Chris. x

Hermann Hesse and The Art of Living

July 21, 2010 - Leave a Response

In Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse suggests that the bourgeoisie are trapped in a life of precarious moderation. He thinks they’ve lost the art of living because they try to live too well, they are too comfortable. Their static lives don’t allow for extremes or flights of fancy, don’t invite danger or sorrow.

While the term ‘bourgeoisie’ might be outdated, Hesse’s notion of modern, middle class life is not. In The Glass Bead Game, Hesse returns to the theme about living life intensely. He pits the Ivory Tower against the heaving masses to highlight the benefits of living close to the bone an breaking the shackles of  civilisation. Protagonist Knecht is torn between the calm, orderly sophistication of elite, utopian Castalia and the crude, raw and unpredictable outside world. While Knecht is very comfortable in his privileged Castalian life he constantly yearns for the insecurity and discomfort of the real world. Why does Knecht and why do we find ourselves looking for an escape from a good and comfortable life? Why do we feel the need to shake things up?

Hesse suggests that the further we remove ourselves from nature and natural fears, exhilaration and danger, the further we move away from a life worth living.

Fear loomed over the life of man. It could not be overcome. But it could be pacified, outwitted, masked, bought within bounds, placed within the orderly framework of life as a whole. Fear was the permanent pressure upon the lives of these people, and without this pressure their life would have lacked stress, of course, but also lacked intensity.’

Most of us do however, have sneaky, unconscious ways of inviting stress into our lives, from the simplicity of daily, emotional and familial dramas to the more extreme habits of bungee jumping or cliff diving. We’ve got roller coasters, scary movies, explorers, adventurers, rock climbers, smokers, sky divers and drug users. Perhaps the self destructive and thrill-seeking tendencies are a subconscious attempt to replace our loss of fear; fear of nature and fear of each other.

We have a much greater understanding of life and our environment today. We have highly developed laws and systems that protect the weak and punish the bad. The chaos has been reigned in, and for most of us, the animal within has been tamed. Not to suggest we abandon the defining achievements of our civilisation, after all it was our fears and pain that led us to these very achievements, but perhaps we could learn to embrace our more extreme tendencies and emotions. Perhaps we could learn to withstand and appreciate pain and uncertainty along with pleasure and comfort. Maybe we shouldn’t strive to be content and comfortable all the time. Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid to get a little rain on your face. After all it’s the bumps in the road that remind us we are alive.

It would be wrong to ask you why
Because I know what goes inside
Is only half of what comes out
Isn’t that what it’s about ?
To remind us we’re alive
To remind us we’re not blind
In that big, black hole

Faith No More, Digging the Grave

Of the World

July 16, 2010 - Leave a Response

One of my favourite passages from one of my favourite novels, Independent People by Halldor Laxness.

St John’s Eve; those who bathe in the dew may wish a wish.

Young and slender she walked down by the brook down to the marshes, and waded barefoot in the luke warm mud of the bogs. To-morrow she was to go to town and see the world for herself…..

The lukewarm mud spurted up between her bare toes and sucked noisily when she lifted her heel. To-night she was going to bathe in the dew, as if she had never had a body before….

It was after midnight, wearing slowly on for one o’clock. The spring night reigned over the valley like a young girl…..

A grassy hollow on the margin of the river, and leading up to it through the new and wandering trail left by two inexperienced feet. The birds were silent for a while. She sat on the bank and listened. Then she stripped herself of her torn, everyday rags under a sky that could wipe even the sunless winters of a whole lifetime from the memory, the sky of this Midsummer Eve.

Young Goddess of the sunlit night, perfect in her half-mature nakedness.

Nothing in life is so beautiful as the night before what is yet to be, the night and its dew. She wished her wish, slender and half grown in the half-grown grass and its dew.

Body and soul were one, and the unity was perfectly pure in the wish. Then she washed her hair in the river and combed it out carefully, sitting with her feet in the water and her toes buried in the sand at the bottom. Those strange waterfowl still swam round her in strange curves, turning about courteously when least expected and making her a bow for no reason at all. For was there anyone else in the whole of the world who could make so fine a bow.

The Truth is there is no Truth

May 31, 2010 - One Response

How can one word have so many meanings?

How can a concept such as truth be reduced to a single word?

It can’t, truth goes beyond words.

Truth exists outside of language and so while words can be used to describe a truth, it still remains only that individual’s version of the truth or better still, their description of the truth.

Everything I read and see lately seems to be questioning the nature of truth and how, in the end, it is relative.

I attended an interview with Dubravka Ugresic for ABC radio, as one of the events for NSW Writer’s Week. I listened to her talk about many different topics and yet the recurrent theme was always truth. In this instance she discussed the truth of the woman as she ages in our society. She spoke about the truth of history. Ugresic watched as her homeland was destroyed, emulsified and reassembled. History was literally re-written in what seemed an overnight transformation of her culture and her country’s identity.

I couldn’t imagine how that would feel. To see the history that was taught to you being disregarded and replaced with another.

It is no wonder her faith in the meaning of history has been obliterated and her faith in the meaning of truth has been dissected and diluted.

Does this mean that truth does not exist or is that truth simply means something else?

Perhaps the meaning doesn’t change, it just becomes more complicated and open to interpretation.

It means many things and it means nothing.

I am reading Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, and I came across this passage that sums up so perfectly the nature of truth.

‘Oh if only it were possible to find understanding’, Joseph exclaimed. ‘If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn’t there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?’

The Master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said; ‘There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught.’

The Master is saying that no one, singular force or order of human knowledge can prescribe the truth.

Life is not that simple or that easy.

Moral relativism is something that has been thought about as soon as humankind was given a moment to think.

The Greek philosophers wrote about it. Modern philosophy still struggles with it. Religion simply disagrees with it.

But the scope of moral relativism isn’t big enough. We all know that morals are subject to individual perceptions, but what about other kinds of truth?

What about physical truths?

How do you know that you see the same thing as the person standing next to you? It is known that visual perception differs from person to person.

What about emotional truths?

What might be horrid and revolting to one, might be humourous and delightful to another.

What about spiritual truth?

Who is right, the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Atheist?

When even the simplest, most benign concepts are subject to perception and interpretation, then how can we allow such complex and dangerous notions as morals and spirituality, taste and expression to be defined as truths?

Image taken from Escape into Life

Artist: Steven Kenny