Twenty-five Aphorisms for a Crossroads in Life
Life presents an infinite set of options to make decisions about our lives and ourselves. At times, we find ourselves at a literal crossroads — a well-defined moment with a concrete decision to make. But in some ways, the crossroads is ever-present, in every moment. We wrestle with our options constantly. We struggle every day to navigate our contexts, trying to somehow feel whole at the end of the day.
I do not know if there are any answers to life, but I have encountered certain concepts that help me to suffer less and function more cohesively in this complex internal and external landscape. I cannot say if these are universal, or if they will apply outside of myself. But these are things I felt compelled to share, because I don’t find them often echoed in the world around me. This is some of what I have found:
1. You are not perfect; your life is not perfect; and it never will be. By searching for perfection, or measuring our lives against the expectation of perfection, we will always be dissatisfied. As we are, in a sense, always incomplete, yet gaining, growing, and improving, so too is the life and world around us.
2. Nostalgia is the gateway to delusions. History grows rosier as it slips from our fingers. When we look back at the past, a world of simple personal memories, we may grow sentimental or idealistic. We may dream of the days as they used to be. But we are not truly longing for the time and place that existed — we are longing for a world of memories, a world that exists only in our head. We are growing sentimental over a blurred and distorted creation. This moment that our life exists — the now — will always be, to some degree, messy, unfamiliar, and cumbersome.
3. When evaluating our purpose, seek first the reservoirs of unused kerosene. When investigating our purpose, we sometimes assume a semi-passive condition, trying to find the vantage point where romantic and happy ideals begin to fuse with reality. However, our true strength far exceeds any romantic ideal. We have so much time, energy, and resource that spills away as days go by, like unused fuel dumping down a drain. To get life in motion, find the fuel, and use it.
4. Our hard work is jeopardized when we label it ‘drudgery’. Some of our most important endeavors are difficult and impersonal, taking us away from our more familiar energies and environments. When we toil in an unfamiliar location, it is possible to label it ‘drudgery’ — a mindless work with no attachment to who we really are. But this work can be essential and foundational for the future, like hard early days at the gym, or breaking in a new career and developing expertise. Not all important work feels familiar.
5. Life is an oscillation between light and dark. Without the dark, our worst qualities would flourish. It is the pain and humiliation of powerlessness that teaches us to be just when we are in power. We become victims, over time, in order to learn not to make victims of others. Without suffering, there would be no growth of prudence or judgment.
6. Indulgence never dented eternity. Stories of self-accommodation and resignation are endless in number, but the shockwave of one person opposing the pressure to give in can be felt throughout history.
7. From horizon to horizon, you will only ever answer to yourself. The world is broad; life is endless; you sow the grapes; you drink the wine.
8. Fantasies of another life are painted in broad strokes; if they included details of ambiguity, we would no longer wish to fantasize about them. The lives we dream of are clean; the lives we live are messy; this is the way it is.
9. There is greatness in the meager, and meagerness in the great. Sometimes the largest task requires us to appear small, or go completely unnoticed. And sometimes the one who appears biggest, in fact, does the least.
10. The point which is infinitely small, is infinitely precise. We strive sometimes for all things at once, or fear some loss by temporarily letting go of a trait or idea. But it is the straight, simple drill which penetrates the board. How can we explore the universe if we always cling, unable to adapt to the new forms and shapes we encounter?
11. Emotions thrive in a crowd, but keen thought does not bifurcate. When ideas ricochet and crescendo, each one stepping on the heels of the last, hurtling toward a foregone conclusion under a shield of cacophony, beware the concepts brought forth, for it is born of an unruly mob. The mind that builds for the future is simple, direct, and transparent.
12. When you speak of your life, remember that you built it from time and sweat and bone. Looking back on the path we have walked, we see a simple trail through the woods and the weeds. What we do not see is the effort we exerted to forge that trail. Remember your past hard work, for you benefit of its results every day.
13. Our lives require many models. A model with talons is not a friend. We function by understanding life through concepts, diagrams, and ideas that are abstractions of the boundless reality around us. To handle all that life gives us, we have to use many of these models. When a model clings — sticks to our mind, blocking new ideas — it is more likely to hold us back than to propel us forward.
14. An easy life would not cohere with the evil in our world. At times we yearn for simplicity, relaxation, and bliss. Yet the world we know is not a home for these things. If we respect that there is suffering in our world, we must recognize it; by recognizing the suffering, we take a part of it on.
15. Strike at the heart of this short, short life. Like a song that lights up the room, life arrives briefly and beautifully. Now is the time to take it on and imbue it with the deepest meaning we know, for each bar of melody carries us closer to the end.
16. We have infinite time for the infinite. This moment is for the one thing. Do not fear specificity, as it deepens our appreciation for the whole. Every day requires us to be someone new, suited to that situation, letting go of old constructions of who we think we are.
17. The deepest rest concludes a life that wisely exhausted all resources. Although life can cut deep and drain us, our efforts today ripen the fruit that we will enjoy when the work is done.
18. Evolution means practicing virtue in all permutations of power and authority. Every station in life is a test of judgment and character. A compassionate soul always walks the tightrope— treating all people justly, regardless of who holds the coin, the scepter, the sword, or the mob.
19. What bludgeons, is neither wise nor just. A relentless litany, emotional manipulation, sheer force or intimidation — coercive influences such as these do not take our best interests to heart. In these moments, it is better to resist, deferring to decide until we reach a space of clarity and authenticity.
20. A good life is a good day at the gym. A step, an increment, an executed goal. Sometimes a simple outcome is perfect.
21. To honor one’s word is the birthplace of greatness. We are measured not by the ideas we have, but by the ideas that we realize. Our commitment to a stated objective is the cord that we climb through the torrent of creation.
22. We are our personality during the day; our character at night. When things are bright and clear, we express ourselves freely with joy and color. When things are dark and difficult, we make choices of a harder nature — smaller, humbler, more personal, in direct struggle with our environment.
23. Without limitations, life would have no meaning. What is strength without the feeling and dynamic of resistance? What is creation, without the need to balance and accomplish? What is willpower, in a world where no willpower is needed?
24. Although there are impostors, we are the true sovereign of our lives. People, conditions, even concepts and ideas — these have the power to influence us, but the determination and decision of how we choose to live is absolutely our own.
25. When we believe we are deficient, it is the belief, and not the self, that is truly lacking. Like a meddling bureaucracy, our ideas come between ourselves and our work. How often do we let the ideas control and regulate us, blocking our strong flow of will? We can let the ideas go and have a direct experience of reality, immersed in what we are doing. In this case, we find that we are stronger, more resilient, and more adaptable than we had previously thought possible.
These twenty-five aphorisms and commentary are not perfect — not a distilled mathematical formula to guarantee a result. They are more like a sprout, reaching out into the air, or the action of a muscle. They are closer to the sweat and heat generated by an awkwardly specific organism, locked in a context of many variables; trying, like each of us, to claw his way to freedom.