For many, the start of the year marks the beginning of a new lifestyle, a new attitude and a new approach—well, that’s the intention anyway. Of course, i am talking about new years resolutions, of which, only less than a month into the new year, are rapidly crumbling in to the irrevocable past. The problem with them, is that as soon as the new year excitement fades, so does discipline and when discipline fades, habits never form and when habits never form, no lasting change is made. The result? They’re back where they were before they made the resolution. What’s more, their mental state is even worse, because they have just exercised their ever-strengthening ‘i can’t do it’ muscle; they have put it in the ‘too-hard pile’. Almost as if they have never made a change, they slip straight back in to their old ways. This, my dear reader, is what i am exactly against the malarky of new year resolutions. Why wait until the new year? Why not start where you are right now, with what you have right now? Why do it at a time of celebration? Some people even decide to begin their resolutions throughout the Christmas period! Could their be a harder time to do it? As soon as the celebration period wears off, so too do their resolutions. (So far i have used the pronoun they— what i should be saying, is you, and that is the theme of the rest of this letter.)
I do think though, the these questions can be answered by flipping the whole idea of new year resolutions on it’s head. It is not so much the timing of the resolution that is the issue, but the resolution itself. The most popular resolutions, quitting smoking, eating healthy, getting fit, appreciating more, loving thy neighbour (or being nice), finding oneself, stopping drinking, giving up chocolate, learning new skills and the like. What nonsense is say! What is the point of this? It is not the intention that is bad, it is the application of your resolutions which leave you looking like a man with no arms playing field in a cricket match. When i ask what the point is, i mean exactly that. Most of you do not know why you desire such changes. You do not apply enough thought. If you could just ask yourself why you are committing to such changes, the end result could be a lot more credible, heck, it may even last to the end of the year.
By appealing to interest and not just reason, as Benjamin Franklin says, you’re telling yourself why you want to and need to – and ultimately will change. It is well known that is emotion, not logic that causes us to act; logic makes us think; emotion makes us act. So, i advise you, if you want to create lasting change, you must go deep in to the reasons for your resolutions and feel them emotionally. They must touch your heart.
But let all of the above be secondary to the undertaking of the wise one, let such resolutions be attenuated to the only real resolution, let these weak intentions be subsidiaries to the seekers of truth, to the lovers of wisdom, to those curious about life. Let them be like rocks thrown in the ocean to the one who is on the path. I say to you, if you wish a life of happiness, appreciation and love; colour, adventure, and beauty; elegance, simplicity, wisdom and wonder — then you must lower the importance of these feeble goals and embark on the ultimate journey — the exploration of self.
What is the point of aiming so low when you can aim so high? A very wise man who you all know once said, “It is not failure that is the crime, but low aim”, that man was Bruce Lee. What is the need of striving for these seemingly endless, complicated, never-satisfying intentions, when they can all be made simple by one true quest? Why have such frail ambitions for the year (and in fact your life) when you could go on the most colourful and wonderful adventure known to humanity?
Death is the designation we all share. Our bodies are vulnerable to disease. Our minds open to vices, negative emotions and depression. Knowing how limited our days, how frail our bodies and how weak our minds are in this life, why is it that we chase after money, fame, power and the like, knowing full well that we will ever be satisfied with them? The more we have of them the more we want. When we die though, we do not take anything with us. Our house, possessions, bank accounts, friends, family, books, cars, businesses, appearance, clothes, power, fame or anything else. Except for one thing. I am not even sure about this, but if we do take one thing, it is this. Some of you believe in an afterlife, and if that be true, then let this also be true: if you take anything with you, it will be your mind. It will be your spirit; your soul; your beliefs. That being the case, why do you neglect your mind so much? You feed your bellies, bank account and journals with what you choose—All of which have limited capacities. But you fail to care for the one thing that has limited capacity, your mind. If you don’t feed it, it gets fed—by the people around you, the books you read, the work you do, the conversations you have and so on. So too to you exercise your bodies, bank accounts and studies, but you fail to exercise the one thing that really matters in the end—your spirit.
The questions i submit above need not be answered by me, or to me — or at all that matter. What matters is the questions you ask of yourself. By asking yourself such questions, you are on the beginning of the path you need to be on. The path to a good character, virtue and an unbreakable spirit. Which is, is it not, what we all want to have? Until you commit to the path though, you’ll never get close to where you want to be. A question i will answer though, is why should you resolve to explore yourself? The answer to this question is simple: by exploring yourself and committing to the practice of it, you’ll discover who you really are, by coming to terms with your desires, emotions and thoughts.
What does the practice of self-analysis look like? As all philosophy does, it starts with inquiry and in this instance the questioning of self, such as what am i desiring? Are they controlling me? Are my desires good or bad? What person am i? What person am i becoming? What qualities do i display? How do i treat my neighbour? What good am i doing? What habits have i ingrained in to my daily living? What is love? What is appreciation? What am i doing? What does happiness really mean? What life am i creating? What am i feeding my subconscious? These questions are a natural affair in the minds of ones who decided to go against the grain; those who go on the truest journey of them all—the journey to becoming wise. If you’re concerned with the amount of questions, don’t be. Questions and enquiry are what make the world turn; they are what get us up in the morning. Buckmister Fuller once said that “we exist to solve problems” and when you think about it, it totally makes sense. It’s the reason why we’re so advanced as a society, why we have reasoning abilities and why we create things. Whilst i do not agree with Bucky’s choice of words, i do agree with the intention of it. Problem and questions are inseparable.
I should apologise, my dear reader, for deviating away from the point of this letter. But i won’t. Why? Because what i am saying is part of the point. It should be obvious to you what my stance is on this overblown and often times, hilarious matter of resolutions. And so too should it be clear, the reasoning for this stance.
For the first part of this letter i have waffled on about why most resolutions and stupid and more so, about what the only true resolution is. That is all well and good, but what you really want is action steps; you want to know what you can actually do with this advice. So for the second and final part, i will tell you.
First of all, I wholeheartedly advise you to shun everything the crowd is doing and join the minority. In this instance, it means not setting such petty resolutions, praying for good luck or preaching about a fresh start. If you’re worried about your other resolutions, fear not, because as you may have seen in the previous paragraph, all of these futile resolutions fall under the umbrella of the one true resolution—the mastery of self; deep knowing of self. As you come to learn the control of your thoughts and emotions, you will make better life decisions as a result. Even if you were not to see these netter decision immediately (like you do with most of the ephemeral, lollapalooza new years commitments), you eventually will. And furthermore, they will last. Remember as my friend Seneca said, “the growth of good things is a tardy process; their undoing a rapid matter”.
In regards to starting this exploration of self, you’d make a very wise move to take up the study of philosophy. Of which time? I recommend both the old and the new age. It is the former however, that will provide the most wisdom. “Oh, but then why should i waste time swimming in the new, if it is the old that is going to help me? Why not just read the old?”, to those who ask this question, give yourselves a pat on the back— you’re displaying a mind of inquiry, which is the beginning of enlightenment. The reason for learning both ages of philosophy is that’s it’s a colossal blunder to only open your ears to the sound of beautiful music. You risk becoming like the Persian kings, whom refuse to be brought bad news by their messengers during their reign, anyone who died was beheaded. As you can imagine, the persian empire never lasted very long. If all you hear is what you want to hear, then you will only be half-wise, which is as good as not being wise.
Old texts are going to be your source of light because the concerns that philosophy deals, are age old concerns; they have existed as long as our species. They are not new problems, so reading new age texts is not the wisest move, especially as a first move. The very fact that old texts have survived to this day means they are valuable and must be worth something. That something, is your time. If you could look jump in your time machine and go 1000 years in to the future and see how many of today’s new age books are still circulating, you would not doubt be left disappointed; most of them would be non-existent. Why? There are many possible reasons, but the most common one will be that they were simply not good, or effective enough. Perhaps their wisdom was lacking, their delivery poor or the author’s spirit empty. The reason matter less than the fact they are not there.
Most of the philosophy books that are written today are not philosophy, they are pseudosophy. In your pursuit of knowledge and quest to become wise, there is a simple to rule to know when you should look to old wisdom or new wisdom: If the problem or matter you are dealing with is a recent one, i.e., in your lifetime or in the last century or two, then first find out whether that problem existed in ancient times, if not, then the answer to it is likely to be a recent one. Consider the subject of learning to code: this is a new age problem. Your ancestors didn’t have computers, iPads and machine learning, therefore no books were written about it back then. The same goes for flying aeroplanes, fixing cars and building skyscrapers. Now consider the subjects of learning skills, peace of mind and understadning nature. So too, the subjects of being a good person, poetry and health; writing, painting and raising a family. These are old problems, which the first humans to walk the lands had to deal with. If they have tackled these problems and somehow their solutions have survived to this day, then what more impetus do you need to appreciate the value of their wisdom? Old problems; old solutions. New problems; new solutions. It very rarely isn’t true.
The study of philosophy will pull the blinders of your eyes; it will give you vision. It will open your minds ear and give you understanding of yourself and the world. Philosophy is both the beginning and the end of all things, and as we know all to well, everything in the middle matter less. How so? Who do you remember from the race? The winner and the loser. Who do you remember from the classroom? The brainy one and the dumb one. What do we talk about in science and religion? The beginning and the end. I am not saying the middle is unimportant, i am saying it matter less to us.
Philosophy is everywhere, or i should say, that in every thing, she has a massive role. This very piece of writing, is in fact philosophy. The fact that you are reading it means you are thinking philosophically. If you are a beginner in philosophy, let this be your starting point. How should you carry on from here? With the study of the greats: Aristotle, Seneca, Plato & Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and Lao Tzu. As well as the Buddha, Jesus and Confucius. Yes, the latter are philosophers, for what else are their teachings if not philosophy? Then move to Aquinas, Augstus and Descartes. After that Montaigne, Voltaire and Goethe. Later Nietzsche, John Locke and Thoreau. Marvel in their wisdom and ideas. Let them teach you how to live. Take what applies to your life and drop what doesn’t. Forge you own ideas and beliefs without deviating away from what they teach. As Emerson say, “Compile your own bible, made up of quotes, excerpts and thoughts from all the greats whom you admire”. If Ralph Emerson is saying this, i think you should do it.
Studying philosophy is not an easy undertaking; neither is living it—in the first place that is. Once you get over the hump and make it part of your daily life, you will see how beautiful a decision you made. ‘The best things never come easy’, is very likely a phrase that philosophy herself coined at the very beginning. As for the beginning, i wish i knew when that truly was. We can marvel at the discovery of the age of our universe, of the stars, the sun and earth. But what about the that which the universe is contained— the cosmos? What was the cause of the cosmos? And what lies beyond that? There is so much more we do not know. Perhaps we will never know. I’m always reminded of what a wise man once said (although i forget his name), “It is not the business of a mortal man, to know things immortal”. Perhaps that means we should never know, or even try. But we will anyway.
If the study of philosophy sounds too much, do not be discouraged. Your reaction is a healthy and natural response, for we are programmed to dislike change, expend as little brain power as possible and to chase comfort. It is usually those who have this reaction, that turn out to be the best students of philosophy. Now, we must not forget the point of this letter, which was to highlight to you the flaws and fallacies of new years resolutions and ‘fresh starts’. You must focus on walking the path, as opposed to hoping to be teleported to your destination. Walking the path is worthy of a letter itself, and it will no doubt be subject of conversation between us in the future. I have gave you an alternative option to resolutions—the study of self. How? By recommending philosophy. I have also given you the place to start your studies. I have told you how it will help you and why you should not fear releasing your lifelong practice of writing new years resolutions,— because every decision in your daily life will become much easier. You will know what is right and wrong, what is natural and unnatural, and what is good for your spirit and bad for it. What could be more important than knowing these?
I’ll conclude by giving you three directives with which you can set yourself strongly on the way to becoming wise and understanding this weird, wacky and wonderful life. The first is INQUIRY: to have a mind of inuquiry; to question everything. The second is THOUGHT: to do your own thinking. The third is to let go of RESISTANCE: you’ll feel the urge to squash emotions, negative feelings and doubt that will arise, it is a response that has been drilled in to you from a young age, but it is not natural nor good for you. Resisting emotions, the removal of doubt and the tamping down of your thoughts, are all vicious opponents to growth. Consider it a repression of the steps you need to take to become wise, understand yourself and be happy. Instead, you must process every thought by acknowledging it and just letting go. Stop clinging. As long as you keep tip-toeing around and pushing down your deepest thoughts, emotions and feelings, you’ll never grow. Are you really going to risk living your whole life with these worries, anxieties and insecurities holding you back? Stop clinging. Let them go and your life flow. Life is ever-flowing by nature. All you are doing is battling against life, like trying to wade a dingy boat against the muscular current of the nile— a constant battle.
If you plateau, know that life does not. Life will leave you behind. You only have to let go, to be brought back to life. Imagine a stick floating down a fast flowing river that gets snagged on a hanging branch. Those of you who cling are like that stick — stuck. Sticks cannot let themselves go, but you can. Sometimes letting go will be hard, painful even. It is however, the only way.
“the thousand mile journey, starts with the first step”, says Lao Tzu. If you just make that first step, you’re in for a wonderful, enlighetning, colourful and potentially never-ending journey.