You know when you’re sick and you’re thinking “ damnit, I feel like I’m going to DIE. Time to live a healthier when I’m recovered.” But when you recover, you return to your old unhealthy habits? Or when it’s the “end” of something, whether it’s college graduation, the last time you’ll see a friend for awhile, you feel like you need to make the most of the limited time left with that person/place?
For some reason, these moments of clarity decide to sprout up at specific moments and then I start thinking “ why can’t I feel like this ALL the time?” It’s weird, because when the finish line is foggy, I take life for granted. And then, when the end nears, I start to wish that I made the most of that time.
It’s kinda crazy to think about because we all have our finish line: dying. I feel like I understand the concept of dying, but it’s impossible to truly know it if I haven’t experienced it.
It’s interesting because people that teeter on the brink of death, often gain an enlightened clarity of their life. The most important things in life crystallize. They starting wishing they’d spent more time re-connecting with their friends, worked less, had the courage to live their life aligned with their values.
So I guess the solution should be to just shoot myself in the leg, that way I won’t die. But I’ll get the benefits of almost dying! End of article.
Ow fuck! Wanna touch my blood guts? Wanna see my bones? Mmm, scrumptious.
Sorry, I’m being weird.
Anyways, I guess the real question is: how do I gain that deathbed clarity, before I actually die? How can I see the truth of my life, so I can live the rest of my life as happy and fulfilled as I can be? To quote essayist Michel De Montaigne says:
“ If I were a writer of books, I would compile a register, with a comment, of the various deaths of men: he who should teach men to die would at the same time teach them to live.“
So I decided to venture into the Oregon wilderness, to live like a monk for 10 days. I wanted answers.
10 hours of meditation per day. 100 total hours. All vegetarian food. No dinner. No phone. No reading. No writing. I came in looking for death, but left with more life.
So strap on your seatbelts, grab your popcorn. We’re gonna go on an amazing space adventure through the universe inside your brain.
Planet 1: Consciousness
So for the first stop in our journey, we’re gonna be stopping by planet I call “consciousness.” Planet consciousness is gonna act as a backdrop for everything we’re about to discuss and see.
Planet consciousness is a weird planet. It’s a gas planet that doesn’t have a single, set size. It could be the size of Jupiter or it could be the size of a peanut. It’s size changes depending on the who’s looking at it, like a planet-sized Rorschach test.
As I write this post, I’m sitting at a Starbucks. I can see an ant crawling up the leg of my table. I would’ve accidentally killed this ant if I didn’t notice it crawling up towards my hands. This ant, has no clue that I can squash his guts, ending his epic journey to the sugar packet across the table. This ant, could probably find sugar somewhere else, away from this giant human being, but he can’t comprehend that this bigger guy can destroy his guts. If I tried to tell him to run out of danger, my voice would whiz through his head. He just wants sugar.
This ant, would see planet consciousness as a small peanut speck. The idea of a human being is wayyyyy over his head.
But let’s take a trained pet dog. If I told a dog to sit, he’ll sit with the understanding that I might reward him with food. He’s capable of growing some attachments towards me as an owner, so when we get separated, he’ll start crying. If I try to crush him like an ant, he/she will run away. But if I tried to explain chemically, how chocolate can poison him, he’s not gonna have any clue what I’m talking about. For a dog, planet consciousness is a bit bigger. Maybe the size of a car. Much bigger than the ant, but much smaller than a human.
And now, let’s look at the consciousness of a human being. We’ve got the amazing capability to create a bomb that can destroy earth. We invent devices that allow us to communicate with people on the other side of the world. We can built space satellites that travel to Saturn. Pretty amazing stuff. So let’s say the size of planet consciousness for us, is the size of California. Pretty huge.
As humans, we’ve got a natural tendency to think we know everything. We thought the earth was flat and the universe revolved around earth. In 1900, famous mathematician & physicist, Lord Kelvin stated:
“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."
He was obviously wrong, as Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity & Max Planck developing his theory of Quantum Mechanics. There are a ton of other examples of certain ideas proven false. My point is that at every point in history, it’s easy to think we already know everything, when in fact, most of what we know now is probably wrong.
So if humans see planet consciousness as the size of California, what “thing” would see planet consciousness as the size of the earth? I don’t know. We’re like the ant. It’s outside our comprehension.
Keep in mind, the sizes of planet consciousness aren’t 100% proportionally accurate. I just want to show you that there is a large difference amongst different creatures.
To generalize this idea, every creature and thing has some size of planet consciousness. Some less so and some more evolved.
As for humans, we’re all kinda in the same range of consciousness. The stupidest human is probably smarter than the smartest ape. And the smartest ape is probably smarter than the dumbest fruit fly.
As for humans, let’s fly into the human range to get a snapshot. To get a clear picture, let’s go visit the people on the three moons surrounding planet consciousness.
Moon 1: Reactiveness, Fear-Driven, Insecure
Moon 1 is a bit of a wasteland. If you’ve seen Wall-E, it’s kinda like the wasteland earth turns into, except there are human beings living in it. Most people on Moon 1 are trapped in their own little world, not giving much thought to the good of others. Their world is pretty shitty, and they attribute this shitty world to bad luck. They feel like their a victim of their circumstances and hold a lot of anger towards the people of the other moons, because their’s is the shittiest. Most of the people on this planet are reactive to all the unfortunate things happening on their planet: constant space rain thunderstorms, dangerous comets hitting their planet.
Rather than take responsibility for their lives, the people on Moon 1 delegate their responsibility elsewhere. They hold quite a bit of negativity. They constantly gossip and overindulge themselves in sensual pleasures. They only think about their own needs, which can only explain why their world is such a shitshow, since nobody makes an effort to help their civilization.
For those on Moon 1, they see planet consciousness comparatively smaller than those on Moon 2 and Moon 3. Definitely much larger than a dog, but much less than the members on the other moons.
The people on Moon 2, used to actually be Moon 1 people. A group of them, finally realized that the reason why Moon 1was so shitty, was their fault. So in an effort to take responsibility for their own lives, they decided to migrate over to Moon 2, where they could start fresh, develop a new mindset, so they could live happier, peaceful lives. There’s still some Moon 1 behavior ingrained in them, but Moon 2 people are actively looking to make changes to their lives. Moon 2 people are beginning to engage with life much more, meet new people and actively try to break out of their own little bubble. Think of Moon 2 like a modern day NYC or Los Angeles. Still kinda grungy, but constantly looking for ways to improve.
Someone living on Moon 2, is likely living with a “planet consciousness” that’s a much larger than Moon 1.
Moon 3: Love, Compassion
Moon 3 people are the most evolved out of the three moons. Moon 3 people don’t actually put themselves on a pedestal over Moon 1 people. Moon 3 people see Moon 1 people as equals, just with a lot of pain and internal problems they have yet to solve. Moon 3 people build things for the good of all their people. They push the boundaries of what can and cannot be done, constantly push their evolutionary progress. They do things without expecting anything in return. Think of Moon 3 people like the Gandhi’s, Malcolm X’s, MLK’s, Elon Musk’s, but most importantly, these people are happy, living a life according to their own values. Those who go out and do things for the benefit of others, not just themselves.
And the reality is, everybody actually experiences what it’s like to be on Moon 3 when they’re about to die. They see the truth of their lives. And I suspect, that those amazing, high-level thinkers, or people just living a life according to their values, saw the truth of their lives before actually experiencing death. The size of planet consciousness to them is much, much larger than Moon 1 and Moon 2.
Looking at the three moons, it’s not as categorized as I make it sound. We all oscillate between the three moons. For me, spending time with the toxic, negative people, eating junk food, lack of energy brings me down to that irritable, reactive Moon 1 behavior. Sometimes, when I’m in the wilderness and stare up at the stars, meditating on the vast depth of the universe, it brings me up to Moon 3. It’s never constant. We’re always going through the ups and downs of life.
But what gets in the way of operating on Moon 3, the highest version of ourselves? I introduce the evil alien spaceships, space rain and dangerous comets.
Evil Alien Spaceships: Emotional Pains
A lot of what’s causing problems on Moon 1 is the evil alien spaceships. These evil alien spaceships invaded Moon 1 a looonnngggg time ago, like Cortes overpowering the Aztecs, and took control of the people on Moon 1. The problem is that a lot of the people on Moon 1 think they’re acting out of free-will, when it’s actually the evil alien spaceships controlling them.
For example, if 100 years ago, a father started abusing his child. The image of the father beating him gets stored into the child’s brain as “this is how fathers should treat children.” If the child doesn’t do the work to kill this evil alien spaceship, the avoidance of this pain is gonna guide the child’s behavior into adulthood.
Or it may not be as extreme, maybe a kid was verbally bullied as a child and as a result, entered into adulthood with low self-esteem and confidence.
My point, is not to tell you about yourself. I’m not a psycho-therapist. But my point, is to show you that a lot of what happens to you during childhood has an affect on your behavior when you’re an adult. And for a lot of painful memories, we bury these pains inside of us and we avoid dealing with them through compulsive behavior, like alcohol, drugs, sex, workaholism, excessive shopping etc. All forms of us avoiding confronting the pain in our lives.
We all think we behave out of our own volition, but in reality, we’re all like machines, inputs go in, specific outputs come out. You’re not exempt. And this emotional pain is what gets in the way of the truth.
To return briefly to my meditation, these emotional painful memories would surface and as I sat there. I’d sit there and start crying. Sometimes, my mind lost the memory, but the pain was still there, so I’d start crying for no reason. But the interesting thing is that once I became aware of the pain, I just let it go. It’s like you’re holding a hot coal in your hand all your life. Once you’re aware that you’re hand is burning, you just drop it. I’d walk out of the meditation hall a bit lighter, staring off into the Oregon wilderness, as if it was the first time I’d ever seen something so beautiful.
Space Rain: The Thinking Mind
Space Rain is like normal rain. Just like how rain is good for watering plants, too much rain will cause floods, disasters and drowning. The thinking mind is the same way. We need to think to solve problems, but 90% of the thinking we do is useless.
Since Moon 1 people are constantly thinking about themselves, there’s always a ton of space rain, flooding their society and making everyone miserable. They have no idea that their own thinking is causing all this unhappiness, so they just react to the unhappiness around them.
The problem with thinking too much, is that it detaches you from reality, the truth. You start filtering your reality through the concepts in your head, rather than seeing reality as it is. Let’s use an extreme example, let’s say you’re a racist white supremacist. Naturally, you’re going to think that black people are terrible people. One day, you’re walking on the street, and you see a black person hop into a nice, Mercedes-Benz. Since you’re concept of black people is negative, you’ll filter this image through your mind, inferring that the black person probably stole the car, which is likely not the correct assumption.
Notice that the thinking you do always takes place in the past or the future. Notice, that you can’t think about now, because by default, you wouldn’t be thinking. For example, let’s say you wanted to think about a picture of a TV. Well, to create that picture, you’re mind will use your previous memories of a TV to create that picture of a TV. By doing this, you’re thinking from the past to create this image. Or if you have a big presentation at work next week, and you’re mind keeps jumping out to presentation day, you’re thinking about the future.
It’s important to reflect on the past to learn and to set goals, but after a certain point, a thought can become compulsive, where more thinking creates more unhappiness. There are so many times in my life where I messed up on a project, screwed up with a girl, made a mistake, but my mind kept creating this mile-long chains of thoughts, keeping me up all night.
The Green Goo Virus: Cravings & Attachments
One of the things that the aliens brought with them to Moon 1, is the Green Goo virus. The Green Goo virus causes the people of Moon 1 to feel like they never have enough in their lives. They always need more money, more food, more sex etc. They’re overly attached to the emotional high they get from that activity: relationship, money, food, drugs, sex etc.
But if you notice every “high” you get, there’s always a low that balances it out. The initial passionate, high you get from a relationship can result in you getting emotionally attached to that high. You don’t want to let it go, so your behavior becomes needy, jealous, possessive, which turns off the other person in the relationship(I can say from personal experience) which then leads to unhappiness. Or that emotional high you get from some experience or drug, causes you to get attached to that feeling, only to be sad when you can’t replicate it ever again. Or you can replicate it which starts an addiction.
And even Moon 3 people can get infected by the Green Goo virus. Say, you wanted to build a business so you can help the world become better public speakers. But after awhile, you lose sight of your mission, and start trying to grow the business as huge as possible, while diluting the quality of your product.
As we travel across this universe, you’re probably wondering, what’s the solution? How does someone on Moon 1 evolve to Moon 3? What should I do? And to be honest, I don’t know, but here’s what I suspect.
The Sun: Awareness
For those who haven’t studied meditation, people think the goal of meditation is to “not think.” But in reality, what meditation really is, is to become aware of your thoughts and not making a “self” out of them.
Throughout your entire life, you build this identity of who you are. You internalize certain likes, dislikes, experiences and it creates this image you have of yourself. Imagine a blank painting palette, and with each life experience, belief, learning, you add a brush stroke to that image of yourself.
For Moon 1 people, they walk through the world seeing reality through the lens of their own painting. If they love a certain EDM song by Porter Robinson, “good music” to them is actually “how much does this song resemble Porter Robinson?” If you ask them if they like Bluegrass music, they probably wouldn’t like it because it’s too different. But if you asked a country boy in the Midwest, he’d probably love Bluegrass. If two different people have two different opinions of the same thing, who’s right? Nobody. Their preference is just a reflection of themselves.
What’s interesting about meditation, is that when you detach from your thoughts, you no longer operate as the painting, you become a third party watching that painting. Because once you detach from your thoughts, that’s when you loosen up your identity. The thought isn’t reality, it’s merely an image popping up in your head.
To explain this further, let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine every thought as a LEGO piece. As you go through life, you gradually build this LEGO sculpture of yourself. But through life, many of the pieces you add to that sculpture may be toxic, negative thoughts, cravings, addictions, painful experiences etc. The benefit of meditation or any type of awareness training, is that it helps you become aware of what pieces are in that sculpture. And just like the sunlight evaporating water, shining sunlight on those pieces disintegrates those pieces.
Where this metaphor fails, is that you always want to keep this sculpture flexible and dynamic. When it becomes too rigid, that is, you becoming too attached to your identity, that’s when you resist change. Or if you lose your identity, that’s when you become depressed. It’s like a guy who over-invests his identity into his relationship. He drops his hobbies, spends all his time with his significant other. The problem is, when you over-invest your identity in anything, when you lose it, you’ll feel like you’ve died inside. This can explain why lots of professional athletes fall into depression after they retire, since they’ve invested their entire lives into this one thing.
And I’m not saying you shouldn’t be invested in relationships, your business or anything. You should care. But it should be balanced with perspective and healthy detachment from the outcome. For example, Steph Curry, after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavs in the 2016 NBA Finals, had this to say:
"We had a great night as a family, everybody that came to the game with me, we went back to the house. It wasn't as lively as a celebration get-together would have been, but it was still a moment to appreciate all the good things that have happened along the way, on and off the court, and keeping that perspective. This game means a lot to us as players and to the fans and anybody that has a vested interested in the game, but at the end of the day, there's still life and you can still win at life knowing we didn't get a championship this year.”
Going back to the sculpture metaphor, how do we identify the toxic pieces?
This is where we see the sun, because the sun is where light reveals the darkness. In the universe of our mind, the hidden, dark corners, end up being the blind spots in our lives. The things we’re most resistant to seeing are the things we need most. The pieces we’re most afraid to let go of are the ones we need to relinquish. Awareness is like the flashlight shining light on the dark corners of your mind.
As we land back at the space station, the universe didn't give me the answer, it gave me the peak. And the only plausible answer to anything was simple: awareness. Being aware of your own thoughts, the identity you create for yourself, the world around you, your own body, you’re feelings. It’s about getting out of your head, and actually looking at the world. Not some sort of delusional fantasy you project onto it. To strive to be Moon 3-like, but accepting the fact that sometimes, we may fall to Moon 2. To quiet the space rain thunderstorms.
Because the truth is actually right in front of us, like a constant humming noise, choked, drowned away in the frenetic pace of our everyday reality. It's just too loud to hear it.