Monday, August 29, 2011

How I Survived

Life can be rough.  Most people get knocked around a fair bit by the time they reach middle age, and the fun doesn't necessarily end there.  In spite of this, many people also figure out a way to get through it and still  experience joy in life.

Thomas Jefferson, whose contributions I otherwise admire greatly, expressed a belief that the great goal of Life was the minimization of pain.  Well, Tom, you couldn't have been more wrong about something.  Because the only way to minimize pain is to end it all. Right now.  Everyone.  And that's not going to happen.

Numbat.  Now found only in the
shrinking southwest forests of
Western Australia.
Jefferson, at that point in his own journey, perhaps didn't realize this secret, that life is really a classroom, with pain one of many wise and valuable teachers.  Perhaps even the wisest and most valuable of all.  Because when we discover, as Mr. Spock said so many years ago in the future, that pain is merely an artifact of the Mind, and the Mind can be changed, then we might  discover that every evil in life can be transformed into a blessing.  We're not just looking for the tiny silver lining on a large dark cloud, we're hijacking the entire cloud and using it for a grander purpose.  Every nefarious scheme of the Devil is frustrated when we commandeer it for something good.

I often reflect on the story of Joseph.  His older brothers took his fine coat, beat him up, threw him into a nasty old pit, and sold him into slavery.  His life was officially over.  He now had nothing.   If that isn't pain, I don't want to know what is.

Years later, the tables were turned.  Joseph was the de facto ruler of Egypt, and his brothers' lives were entirely in his hands.  They grovelled and begged for forgiveness for what they done.  His answer?  I paraphrase:  "What's to forgive? Brothers, I should thank you, because that little holiday you sent me on was the greatest thing that ever happened to me!"

Stromatolites.  A primitive
microorganism now found only
in Australia, responsible for
all life on earth and by far the
most fun you can have
watching rocks grow.
When my former life came to an end while I was living overseas in Australia, I had to make a choice whether to stay, or buy a one-way ticket back to Arizona.  I chose to stay in Australia and remain as much as possible a part of my son's life.    I became an Australian citizen and started looking for ways to make the best of things.

That lasted for about three weeks.  I quickly gave up trying to make the best of things, and decided instead that if life was worth living, I would have to do more than that.  Clinging to survival is fine for things like Stromatolites and Numbats, but I think I have a bit more potential than that.  I am a reflection of the Divine, the Creator of the Universe.  Gods aren't the sort to "just get by."

"Hi, Wodan! How's things?"  "Well, Snorri, with a bit of luck, I might just make it through the rest of this week.  We'll see..."    No, that wouldn't happen.  You see, Gods have a much broader and grander vision that extends beyond 5 PM Friday.  And we have inherited that same capacity for vision as part of the divine birthright.

Wodan, Master of the Wild Hunt,
Wanderer, and famous god.
To move beyond "just getting by," there were a few things I needed to get a better handle on.  Fortunately, every self-help book, personal development manual or seminar, volume of sacred scripture, religious teaching, and all the recorded wisdom of the ages seemed to be saying the same simple things:  You are divine.  Life is growth.  Everything is now.  Things happen for a reason.  Enlightenment is the End of Suffering.  You create your life.  Pain is only in the meaning we assign to an event.  You have a choice.

The more ways I heard this, the more sense it began to make.  The pieces started to fit together. Like Joseph, I can see there could be a day when I will thank God for every "bad" thing that ever happened to me.  I have already begun to view a number of events in this way, which at the time were extremely painful.

Naturally, your journey of discovery will be different from mine.  You probably didn't stumble upon this blog for any higher purpose in your life.  Quite likely it will not plant a seed of inquisitiveness in you that leads to new horizons in your life.

I would, however, like to pay homage to just a few of the books that have helped change my life.  Of course, mere pages in a book were of no use to me until I started trying, at least, to put the ideas into practice.  And all these books can ever do is remind you of things you already know.  Just knowing obviously isn't enough.

Yet the act of reading and studying is an act nonetheless. Thoughts and actions turn into big things, like the Shed for instance.

The Power of Now.  Calm down, take things one day at a time, and don't allow your past to rule you.

Getting Things Done.  Calm down, take things one at a time, and don't allow your future to overwhelm you.

Getting Past No.   Calm down, never attack, never defend.  How to negotiate with difficult people in your life.

Learned Optimism.  Innoculate yourself today against that common cold of mental health: ordinary Depression.

Iron John.  Men: learn to understand on a deeper plane who and what you are.  Women: this book will probably not make any sense to you at all.  Don't.

Manhood.  Women:  this is your instruction manual. Steve Biddulph is one of my favorite Australians.

Raising Boys.  Parents: this is your instruction manual. Also by Steve Biddulph.

As a Man Thinketh.  The 19th century spiritual and personal development classic by James Allen, still relevant today.  Click to download your free pdf copy (314 kB).

The Richest Man in Babylon.  George Clason's classic allegory of financial self-reliance, annotated and expanded.  Click to download your free pdf copy (461 kB).

Think and Grow Rich.   The classic 20th century masterpiece by Napoleon Hill that virtually started the Self-Help movement. This is as much about spiritual riches as it is about money. This is your free pdf copy (834 kB).

Have you found teachings or writings that have helped you do more than survive?  I'd love to hear about them.


  1. Well along the lines of your book list, and shed exploits, I'd add Walden by Thoreau.

    He lived in a kind of shed. I loved his thoughts on self-reliance and nature.

  2. Too right, David. Thoreau said, "Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps."