If you had a time machine, could travel far into the past, and go talk with your younger self, say when you were twenty years old or so, what would you tell him or her?
I’m nearing forty years old, so I’m getting old enough, and possibly wise enough, to have something worthwhile to say. Thing is, I have my doubts as to whether my younger self would be interested in hearing a middle-aged man share his insights. I don’t think I would “get” it yet. The same is true for just about any twenty year old asking me for advice.
There are probably two things I would tell much younger self. The first and foremost thing would be that accomplishments, accolades, success, great wealth, even romantic relationships, are not all that important to one’s happiness. Developing a deep spiritual life is far more important if you really want to be happy. Find inner peace and contentment. The second would be that I should start eating right and taking care of my physical fitness as soon and as early as possible. Developing good eating habits, staying active, hitting the weights, etc, even when I’m young and don’t “need” to, is very important.
I don’t think my younger self would be all that impressed with what I had to say. My twenty year old self would be thinking, “You’ve lived all these years and that’s all you have to tell me? I already know all about that! Can’t you give me investment advice that would make me rich? What about romantic relationship advice? What about deep secrets of the universe. I’m pursuing finding out all I can now. Isn’t there something more… interesting you could tell me?” Then I’d reply, “I’ve just shared with you the deepest truths I’ve found. Business, money, romance, these things are relatively unimportant in the grander scheme of things. I’m trying to direct you to a place where your happiness and peace comes from within, not from without. I can’t tell you how much energy I’ve wasted chasing things that even when I finally attained them were ultimately underwhelming in the end. Most of my life story is accomplishing things and when I finally achieve the end goal, I felt cheated. I hope to save you a lot of time and energy. I’m trying to direct you to the only thing that’s real.”
Maybe the bigger problem is that this sort of advice isn’t exciting. Here I am, stepping out of the time machine, and my younger self is looking up to me in awe, and I tell him, “I have a great message for you, listen closely!” As he sits there dumbstruck, I proclaim, “I’ve traveled through time itself to tell you the deepest truths I’ve found! If one can quiet the mind, find peace, and deeply understand the deep spiritual teachings of say Jesus in the Gospel of John, or Buddah, or great Yogi masters like Paramhansa Yogananda, you can have peace right here, right now, that is not dependent on external circumstances. You don’t need all that you think you need to be happy with your life. Your mind will be your biggest obstacle. You must rid yourself of false conceptions of who and what you are, and what you believe you need to be happy. Find happiness right here, right now, that isn’t dependent on what the world around you is doing, what other people think of you, or what anyone or anything in this world can give you. It is possible to be happy and content in practically any job, or situation in life if you master and deeply understand these sorts of teachings and principles. The world doesn’t give you happiness. Happiness wells up within you, if you open yourself to the Holy Spirit. Peace dwells deep within you. You need to connect with that source. Study these deep spiritual texts, spend far more time on them than business, economics, or even science.”
Thing is, young people want adventure. They want exciting experiences that titillate the emotions. However, I’ve found that sort of thing to be a huge waste of energy, possibly even a form of slavery. The deeper I get into my own spiritual journey, the more simple my life becomes. I need less and less “experience” to feel happy and content. I don’t have to be looking into the eyes of a beautiful woman, enamored with me, to feel that emotion of, “There’s no place I’d rather be.” When you live in communion with the Holy Spirit, you can have that same emotional experience while eating a gas-station hotdog alone, in one of those little uncomfortable booths, watching other people pump gas into their cars. When the mind is silent, without all the “fake” narration, commenting and comparing everything to all the other experiences you’ve had, you’re just fine, wherever you are.
Then I can see my younger self toward me saying, “I don’t get it.” And I’d have to say, “I know you don’t. Right now, at this young age, you already have all you need. You are so blessed. You’re earning enough money to have your independence and freedom, but you’re not satisfied. You think you need more. More money, more excitement, more of everything. So you’re going to give up your current job, and you’re going to go off chasing an adventure. First you’re going to get involved in all these business plans, and work and work and work, twelve hours a day, all because you believe that great thing you’re working for is coming, it’s coming, any day now. The sad thing is, this universe reflects back to you whatever’s in your heart, and that greed in your heart right now is going to draw some nasty people in your life, so much so that you’ll become very cynical of humans and human nature. Those people will be reflections of yourself. It’ll be your own doing, and the pain you’re going to experience will be entirely your own fault. ”
“As for ‘success’, you’ll find some degree of success, but you’re going to wear yourself out, and the accomplishments won’t mean anything to you by the time you get there. You’ll feel you’re surrounded by filth, untrustworthy, disgusting people, who don’t care about you at all, and that pretty much will be true, though they’re not quite as bad as you’ll come to think. The second those people can screw you over, they will, and you’ll experience that several times. It’ll be for your own good though. I say this looking back from it all at a distance. God will be doing you a big favor.”
“You’re going to spend so much energy thinking about people you don’t need to be thinking about, whether it be some girl you wish you did things differently with, or some person who did you wrong, or daydreaming about things that don’t matter, and it will all be because of an erroneous belief that these people, these things, these outward circumstances hold various aspects of your happiness; they don’t hold anything. It’s all illusions. A big dream. A crazy firework display, bright, colorful and intense, all of which is here today and gone tomorrow.”
“Oh, but you have a big ‘plan’ for it all. You’re going to try to direct the firework show like you’re the Steven Spielberg of your own life or something. You’re wasting your time and energy. This universe couldn’t care less about your plans. You’ll set off this way, and this world will have you running in circles, this way and that, and before it’s over you’ll end up who knows where. You’ll worry about things you don’t need to worry about, and that anxiety will zap you of all your joy and peace. Then you’re going to get fed up with it all, and go chase something else, thinking that’s the answer. Once again, you’re wasting time and energy.”
“You’ll end up going to college, waste a ton of money there, and work your tail end off studying for exams, memorizing things you’ll quickly forget, and exhaust yourself. Why? Just like before, that great thing is coming, it’s coming, any day now! But is it? Nope. You’ll invest great sums of energy, then go to collect your reward and poof, nothing’s there. I’m telling you that you don’t need to suffer through all that, if you just find the peace and contentment I’m telling you about right now.”
“I’m not telling you to just sit on the couch and do nothing. I’m telling you that none of it matters, but even when I say that, I don’t think you get what I mean. You can go out and do things in this world, but even if things don’t go as planned, you can be happy regardless, if you understand the deep spiritual teachings and principles I’m hoping, HOPING, you’ll take time to look into and think about. Life is far simpler than you currently think it is. It’s your mind that’s currently draining you of life, making everything complicated, and this mind isn’t even your own. It too is another illusion. Illusions aren’t inherently bad though. It’s all no different than the fictions you experience in say a video game, with fictional characters, their fictional thoughts, and the fictional events that happen to them. ‘Jason’ is such a character, and you’re far too immersed in him. In actuality you’re a much greater being that you need to learn about! This place is a sort of matrix, a grand illusion, and much of it doesn’t seem well thought out in my opinion. Poorly designed and implemented. A lot of the people in here are crazy, and those who run this place are even crazier. Don’t let it control you. Disconnect from it and stand beyond it.”
By this point, I know my younger self would be totally lost. I was once having dinner with an old friend of mine, and we got to talking about how when you’ve gone down a road long enough, eventually you’ve traveled so far, there is no easy way to replace “you”. That journey itself has molded you into something that cannot be summarized, or even taught in lessons. Someone may tell you these same truths, but to me, they’re living truths that I experience and feel deep within. I’ve went down these crazy roads, have saw what they have to offer, tasted it and felt it for myself, and I can say, with certainty, “I don’t want this.” But to someone else, that may be a real temptation for them. For many of us, those illusions have to be shattered firsthand. It’s different for everyone, but eventually people grow tired of going back to their own vomit, tired of chasing things that aren’t real, tired of staying in situations that don’t work.
Of course it’s not like all I have to teach my younger self is ways to suffer or avoid this suffering. I’ve found amazing things in these spiritual teachings, things that transform my entire life, mind, and emotions, and I want to go around and scream it from the rooftops, but like many commentators on this blog have written to me, “Why are you obsessed with this spirituality stuff?” Then they leave and quit reading this blog. I find the greatest truths I’ve ever found, that totally transform me in ways I can’t even describe, but when I go to share it, I’m so far down the road that other people have no idea what I’m even excited about. They’re not interested.
Sometimes I don’t even know how to describe it. Everywhere I look, people are just caught up in useless things. Others are just caught up in chasing things, always busy. Busy, busy, busy. Just so busy, and not present at all to enjoy what’s there around them. The true joy is always, ALWAYS, somewhere off, someplace else, or in the future. The joy will come when they travel the world. The real experience worth having will happen when they finish their education, or land some new career, or will come from a new relationship, or a big new home, or whatever it may be. And off they go, chasing some alternate configuration of forms in their perception. This will save me!
And the thing is, in this crazy matrix we’re in, one must expend huge sums of energy to even chase this or that. Things have to, to some extent, be earned, but more realistically, there’s no rhyme or reason to who ends up getting what. There’s certainly little justice or sense to it all. It may take you years and years of hard work to change your career, or save up for that new home, or save up for those lavish vacations. In the end, it’ll all be for some fleeting experience, some alternative firework display of color and emotion that you won’t be able to hold onto. These forms will drift into view as opposed to some other forms that would’ve been there before.
It’s like watching a slideshow, and instead of just enjoying the slides that are going to pass by in your life, you have to jump up out of your seat, start digging in some big box, and dig and dig and dig, finding a new set of slides which match your desires; by jove, you’re going to reload the projector with an experience of your own design! Take control of your fate! But in this matrix we’re in, many of the slides in the big “free” box are boring, and all the “good” slides are locked away in special drawers, requiring a great deal of toil and sacrifice to earn the right to certain experiences in this illusory realm; if you slave away for the projection company, sometimes, though often not, you’ll earn the right to load a few slides of your own into the projector and have an experience you “want”. That payment is made in suffering. Hopefully it was worth the all the work you put in.
Maybe that’s too abstract. I’ll make it concrete. You want an amazing body. Well you can have that, but you’ll need to spend two hours a day, five days a week in the gym, doing repetitive, sometimes even painful, exercises, over and over and over. Then you’ll need to eat a diet of food that you don’t really want to eat, each and every meal. Chug down those protein shakes! Mmm mmm, chalky nastiness!
Then it’s like, crap, look at those guys in the movies. They’re so muscular and the girls are going crazy over them. But no matter how hard I train in the gym, I can never look like that. I’ve been lifting for years, hours everyday, and I still don’t look anything like these guy. Why is that? How do they get so big and muscular, over 200 lbs totally ripped? Well, now we get into steroids! Are you willing take it to the next level? You want another 40-50 lbs of muscle in six months? Well here’s the devil’s offer! You can sacrifice your health and life expectancy for a temporary experience of that body you’ve always dreamed of! So, do you take the deal? Just think of that body put into your imagination from photoshopped super-hunks on magazine covers and highly edited, fake, Hollywood movies! What if you had that! Think of the happiness you’d experience! The glorious attention you’d get! All kinds of women commenting on your shirtless pics on Instagram and Facebook. Think how jealous your ex-girlfriend would be, and how much she’d regret dumping you for that other guy! Yeah babeh, time for some juice!
Even if you make this sacrifice, your health is going to fail you. And who can forget, you’ll eventually get old. Getting old! Hunk today, a wrinkly grandpa tomorrow. And it all goes by so fast. So you can suffer and suffer and suffer, lifting those weights, juicing up, all for those handful of moments where you get the attention of the pretty girl, some respect from the meatheads, or whatever it is you’re after. Then ten years later you’ll start having heart trouble, you’ll be in and out of the hospital, the doctor will tell you to get off the juice, your testosterone levels are shot, can’t even produce it on your own anymore, so you shrivel down to a tiny, skinny nothing. So much for the muscles. Medical bills stacking up from the shoulder injuries, the knee surgeries from those heavy squats, the torn pecs from those crazy bench presses. Oh and those big deadlifts you were pulling? Yeah, your lower-back is shot. All kinds of pain everyday, too bad. But man, for five to ten years, you were really jacked man. The guys in the gym kinda noticed, and maybe a few girls. Hope it was worth it.
And the strangest thing? The peace, joy, and contentment they’re after is hiding right there in the present, right there with them, but their mind is so busy, constantly chattering away, judging everything and everyone, locked in some past misery, plotting how to get revenge on somebody, chasing things, being angry, bitter, fuming over this, thinking about nonsense, daydreaming, and they just can’t experience the things around them, right here, right now. Almost everyone I meet is busy in this way. You wake up, and you clearly see all this self-imposed misery everyone is putting on themselves.
It’s frustrating because people are not interested in spiritual truths. As one graduate student I was with the the other day told me, “That stuff is for the weak.” Meanwhile, when we went out to lunch together, he spent the entire time talking about how depressed he is, how unmotivated he is to do his research, and how angry he is about his girlfriend who left him two years ago. He just kept going on and on about his ex-girlfriend. He was so angry with her. Was jealous of the guy she’s now with. Was talking about how they’ll be at some campus event, and how he couldn’t stomach going, seeing them together. It’s so strange, watching this poor guy’s mind beat him to a pulp, and then watch him call those who have learned how to avoid this “weak”. These kinds of people act as if they’ve found some deep enlightenment or something, when clearly they haven’t. But in their minds, somehow it’s a virtue. Only those as strong and capable as them have the inner fortitude to look at reality as it is, not as you wish it to be! It’s like, what are you even going on about?
I saw a video of Oprah talking about this. Eventually she grew tired of salacious interviews, celebrity gossip, and relationship advice, and went further and further down her own spiritual journey. It totally transformed her own life, and then she wanted to share it with everyone. So she left her super popular talk-show and goes to start an entire TV network, hoping to focus it all on spirituality and how these great teachings can transform your life. What happens? The network bombs. A total failure. Nobody’s interested. Her audience is like, “No Oprah, go back to talking about celebrity gossip.”
You can’t take people there. I can’t take any of you there. I can’t take my family there. I can’t even take my younger self there. Whatever you choose to do with your life, that’ll take you down some road. And whatever you learn and gain from that experience, good or bad, you can’t give it to anyone else. You’ll reap what you sow, and the things you reap, they’re yours. You can try to talk about these things with others, but they’ll only understand to the degree that they’ve experienced it themselves. But if they haven’t experienced what you’re talking about, they’ll never get it.
There’s no greater reward than mastering the principles and teachings of the greatest masters, like Jesus. Not that I’ve ever found. When I reflect on my life, if I’d only learned all this sooner, I can’t help but think how my life could’ve been different. It’s what I would love to share with my younger self, and save myself so much headache. But if I could do that, maybe I’d never have learned these great mysteries? I don’t know. I’ve even come to a place where I see that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, the pain and suffering we go through can awaken us to great truths.