I’ve been following the work of Jordan Peterson for a few years now. For me, Jordan Peterson has a few core messages:
- “Make your bed.” — take individual responsibility.
- “Who the hell wants to be King of the Lost Boys?” — stop being a manchild.
- “Life is suffering.” — so find a heavy load and bear it.
He often takes on the role of the stern father, wields his intellect and “what the clinical data shows” as weapons against the “radical left,” and has developed a commercial empire that includes a NY Times best-selling self-help book, merchandise, and a 130+ stop speaking tour. I attended his talk at the packed Balboa Theater here in San Diego a few months ago, which ended up being a two-plus hour stream of consciousness lecture about his next book and his writing process, sprinkled with some content from his various academic lectures.
He treats his writing process as a way to explore questions, ideas, and creative thinking, and this, in fact, is partially what has inspired me to write here on Medium.
Peterson is a clinical psychologist focused on abnormal, social, and personality psychology. He is a deep student of Jung, Nietzche, Solzhenitsyn, the 20th century World Wars, as well as a psychological and archetypal analysis of Christianity in the Bible which is available on Youtube as a seventeen-part series of mostly two and a half hour videos. JBP has dedicated a significant part of his life to the topic of religious and ideological psychology.
Lately, I’ve been noticing a strain in his voice. To me, he often sounds like he is on the brink of breaking down in tears, particularly during his speech at the conservative PragerU Summit. With a cracking voice, he states,
“I talk a lot about to my audiences about what I believe to be incontrovertible facts and I think that the fundamental incontrovertible fact is that Life is Suffering and I think that’s why that’s a primary axiom of religious belief.”
When people ask Jordan Peterson if he believes in God, he tends to answer in cryptic statements such as “I behave as though God exists.” Or, “I think the proper response to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist.” Because that depends on what you mean by ‘God’, and what you mean by ‘believe.’
Life is (not) Suffering
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and grew up in the United States. I’ve been exposed to various belief systems, religions, ideologies. I “believe” in God and Christ Consciousness, which to me are ineffable archetypal realities that cannot be explained in words. Perhaps I’ll take a shot in another article in the future.
Lately, I’ve been exploring the ancient Eastern traditions to cognitively and spiritually unpack the issues that I have had on my journey of exploring the teachings of Jordan Peterson.
A couple of weeks ago, I was back in Taipei, visiting my parents. On my final weekend there, my parents decided to take me to 指南宮 (Zhinan Temple) in Maokong. It was undergoing some restoration and I spent the afternoon wandering the grounds with mom and dad.
Inside the temple, it was maze-like, with golden statues of Immortals lining the walls.
A few days later, I flew back to the United States and arrived at the Dao House in Estes Park, Colorado for a SpiritQuest alumni reunion. It was a group of spiritual warriors that shared the common bond of having participated in sacred Ayahuasca and Huachuma in the Amazonian jungle in Peru.
I arrived and was greeted at the door by a rugged, spiritual looking man with a man bun, an Ayahuasca necklace, and bright eyes. I asked him if he was here for the reunion, and he introduces himself as Sam, then gives me a bear hug. He excitedly says, “There’s a Tao Master that lives here, named Master Chen. I’m going to get a reading done!”
I check-in, Sam helps me get my luggage to my room, and we go for a walk. The next few days are filled with wonderful conversation, vulnerable sharing circles, and celebration. I approached Master Chen to arrange an appointment. He says, “Saturday morning. I have to make breakfast for you guys first, so how about 10 am?”
On Saturday morning, Dave, a fellow SpiritQuester and I have breakfast with Master Chen. He shares wisdom and deeply insightful views of the world, then, before the rest of the crew arrives, he stands up, “I need to go make more pancakes,” and disappears into the kitchen.
It is exactly one week after my trip to Zhinan Temple with my parents in Taiwan, and Master Chen does my 易經 (I Ching or Yi Jing) reading. He writes a bunch of numbers and symbols on an 8"x11" piece of printer paper, looks a bit surprised and tells me, “Hmmm… You have a very challenging life.” Master Chen proceeds to explain my chart to me, describing my life. It was unbelievably accurate. Spooky.
Later that evening, I also had a QHHT (Quantum Healing Hypnosis Technique) session facilitated by one of the other SpiritQuesters and explored my deep subconscious. The fundamental message was the word Simple.
Taoism and Ancient Eastern Philosophy
I’ve felt the calling to study Taoism for a while now. I’ve had a copy of The Complete I Ching on my shelf for a few years now. At Burning Man, I discovered Hoshindo Bee Shamanism, a practice with Taoist roots. It has been calling me.
I bought a copy of Master Chen’s book and had him autograph it for me.
He signed it:
fǎn pú guī zhēn
dào qì cháng cún
Return to Simplicity.
Live your True Nature.
I’m halfway through the book so far, and I love it.
“Life is, absolutely, not about suffering. It may look like that, but when you turn it around, you see that every life event is an opportunity. It is nourishment for the spirit. Spirit can only grow through life events. True enlightenment is not about fearing God, or the Devil.” -Master Chen
Asian cultures have been studying this for thousands of years.
There is the Buddhist concept, popularized by the Haruki Murakami quote from走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること(What I Talk About When I Talk About Running):
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
Or one of my favorite quotes by Bruce Lee:
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”
And… from the Existentialism of Rick and Morty:
“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”
One of my favorite Jordan Peterson quotes is,
“The purpose of life is to find something so meaningful that the fact that Life is Suffering becomes irrelevant.”
This is close, but I would propose that it depends on what you mean by ‘Life’ and what you mean by ‘Suffering.’ Yes, we will all experience pain. Yes, we will lose everything and everyone in this reality.
Life is a journey. Life can be fun... Life can be meaningful… Life can be beautiful… Life can be suffering… if we choose it to be... or not.
“Life is Simple.”
Love over Fear.
Tao (God) is Ineffable.
It’s about finding the spaces between the words.
The Life Journey is a series of articles about philosophy, self, and life.
- Part 1: On the Nature of Suffering
- Part 2: Trust Your Struggle
- Part 3: Beyond the Striving Journey
- Part 4: Escaping the Victim Control Drama
- Part 5: Grief is the Flower that Blooms at the End of Love