When I was a boy of about 8 or 9 years old, I remember that I could spend an afternoon in complete joy using little more than sunshine, a bright blue plastic sword, and my imagination. I’m not sure that I always appreciated the majesty of my imagination, but whenever I got into it, I managed to have a good time. There were times, however, that didn’t feel like rainbows, kittens, and sunshine.
I grew up in a household without TV, and I can still remember the palpable disdain I would feel when I would express my undying boredom to my mom, only to be met with the horrific idea that I should “go outside” or worse “read a book.” Sorry, Mom, I know kids in your day had to walk 3 hours to school and everything, but this is 1995, and books are for old people.
See imagination was my toy at home. My family had migrated to America when I was 4 so that my dad could pursue his career as an astrophysicist. We moved to the suburbs of upstate New York, and I befriended a boy who lived around the block, his name was Julien.
Julien was more fortunate than me, Julien’s family had many alternatives to using my stupid imagination. His house was littered with TVs, one in every room, almost one for every person, as there were 7 of them in total and the house was quite large. They also had this magic box called a Super Nintendo, and when I sat in front of that gray and purple piece of wonderment, the little controller in my tiny hands, all the troubles an 8-year-old boy could have just vanished. Suddenly leveling up, searching for my princess and jumping over Koopas became my primary directives, most of which holds constant as I write this as a child of almost 31.
As alluring as the magic box was, Julien and I still managed to find time to enjoy our imagination. From Lego wars that lasted all summer, with tiny pieces strewn across the lawn and occasionally falling prey to the lawnmower, weedwhacker or leafblower, to the giant hole we dug in the woods for absolutely no reason beyond the joy of a good afternoon’s shoveling, imagination was alive and well, and we accessed it when we felt like it.
It was a much different experience for me than when I was at home, where imagination felt thrust upon me for lack of a better option. I was always dreaming and playing in spite of myself, mentally mapping out my quest for lack of a 32-bit cartridge with a functional save feature.
Eventually, my parents caved and provided my sister and I with the television who would quickly become my hiding place from my own potential. Why go outside and explore my own consciousness when Judge Judy is on? How exciting can the front lawn be when Oprah is giving away BRAND NEW CARS?
My blue sword could never match the intrigue of Maury Povich’s TV special “5 men one woman, who may baby daddy?”
Sorry buddy, but entertainment has shown up, and entertainment is more stimulation with less effort, or at least that’s sales pitch when you’re 8 years old and don’t understand why it feels so bad to be by yourself.
Fast forward 20 years and it’s hard to take a shit without social media. Anyone who has pulled the phone out knowing full well the battery is dead and clicked the button while silently praying it would come to life knows that the illusion of connection and the promise of an input are a comfort we’ve become disturbingly reliant on.
Modern business is trying to promote “unplugging” and people are taking “device breaks” and “technology holidays.” That’s great, but this isn’t a technology problem.
All technology has done is make the symptomatic response to a lack of self-love, a face perpetually glued to an electronic screen with an aura of desperation, all the more recognizable and unsettling.
Input addiction is a self-love issue, it’s about being unable to sit quietly with yourself and tap into your imagination.
Knowledge of self and purpose are the life blood of the soul, and the questions “Who am I” and “Why am I here” are older than the apps on our iPhones. So what to do?
It’s wonderful to see movements toward unplugging, public figures like Arianna Huffington starting companies like Thrive Global, aimed at getting people put their devices down to start and end the day, and most importantly when they sit down to speak, eat or just interact with their loved ones.
In my consulting practice, I’ve written articles about managing inputs and devised programs for breaking patterns with technology and forming new, healthier and more beneficial relationships with the fantastic opportunities technology provides us. All of this is great, but how did we get this way? Are we just bad at technology? Monkey brain too predictable and exploitable?
Well yes, but. Yes, we do have somewhat unevolved monkey brains at times, and yes we can unwittingly acquiesce to technology in disadvantageous ways, but the root cause of our tech obsession is our compulsion for avoiding the truth of the present moment.
Anything but a deep breath, just me, myself and I.
Humans need love and connection to survive, and to be alone is to devalue, disembody or otherwise mitigate the experience of our life!
If a person eats lunch in a forest and no likes a photo of the meal on Instagram, is he still hungry?
It’s become this absurd reflexive property where we are dependent on others to validate and confirm our existence. Am I even alive? Does anyone notice? Hi!! I’m over here being awesome, someone please notice!!
So what is the solution? Well, it’s simple and obvious.
Love yourself. Validate yourself. Confirm your own existence. Recognize the good in yourself. Acknowledge the presence of the divine and infinite universe inside of your very soul.
Enjoy the aesthetics of your own fucking lunch, not to mention the taste, texture, and experience.
Ok I know, sounds easy on paper, but how actually? It’s one thing to say “I love myself.” It’s another to believe it, and a distant concept to even imagine to FEEL it. We’ve all FELT love, but how many among us have genuinely felt the sensation, the warm embrace, the transcendent moment where you could die with a smile, while just experiencing life as you are and without the reflection of yourself in the mirror, the newsfeed, or the eyes of a lover?
Well you could certainly do worse than to start with Kamal Ravikant‘s blunt and purposeful book “Love Yourself like your Life Depends on It,” you could even do worse than to listen carefully to the words of a particular Justin Bieber song of similar namesake, but all the desire, intention, and willingness to love yourself in the world is for naught without any true concept of self. Who are you when you’re not pretending for the world? Who are you before you learned your cast assignment on the day of your naming?
That is for you to discover, but you’re going to need to first turn off that television, but down that phone, and go up into the attic and dig out that big dusty padlocked box where you stored away your imagination for safe keeping long ago.
While you’re at it, feel free to dig out any blue swords and Lego figures you find. In all this time spent worrying about what kind of house our ego needs for safe keeping of a lawnmower, weedwhacker and leafblower, we’ve lost sight of the majesty that lawn was build for.
We’re so busy keeping up appearances that we have missed out on the little Lego men meeting their demise, caught between forgotten twigs and blades of grass as the seasons of our life drudge on.
Buy yourself a coloring book, find yourself a park and a pack of crayons. Leave your phone at home, sit your ass down, stop trying to be cool and just let life flow through you.
Your first project might remind you why art is best left for creative alcoholics, but hang your colorful shit on the proverbial fridge in your mind like a good loving parent anyway. This is you, and you would like to be loved.
“You’re like twice my age” she giggled without breaking eye contact, a playfully standoffish smile creeping across her face.
I wanted so badly to disagree with her. First of all, she most certainly was not 15, secondly, she was the embodiment of a gift to the senses, carefully wrapped in the trappings of a 22-year-old beauty.
The universe had well designed this one, a smile that instantly brought the mind to the present moment and a halter top which instantly took the mind anywhere but.
Regarding her comment, I felt that the reason for my mental objection was not grounded in my knowledge of basic mathematics, but rather somewhere much deeper in my soul.
As we danced together over the course of an evening, it felt as if there were magnets behind her eyes; I felt pulled toward her like tractor beam, my full attention being abducted into the depth of her being. My curiosity was firmly rooted in the present moment, at least when I managed to keep my eyes above her neckline.
I wanted to know her, to see where this magic smile came from, but not in the textbook sense of understanding a person, rather I wanted to know her through experience, I wanted to learn how that smile comes to be simply by watching it happen over and over again with unrelenting marvel, like a child looking into a sunset for the first time.
Her harmless comment about our separation snapped me back to a decidedly less magical interpretation of reality.
I asked myself if my disappointment was connected to my ego, is the concept of James going to lose some footing over this charmer, who now is failing to offer herself as a reflecting pool to bolster my own narcissism? No, upon further review it wasn’t quite that.
There may have been a time when that would have been the case, but at some point in these 30 years I’d learned to love myself, the person behind the image, and I no longer reduced the eternity of another to a simple mirror. My disappointment wasn’t self-interested.
I wasn’t sad due to the minor ping of a semi-rejective statement, but more feeling the sting of a perception so strongly tied to what the world tells us people are, and therefore instructive to the misdiagnosis of how we come to understand ourselves.
I tend to feel drawn to young people because they haven’t learned themselves so far away from who they are like the rest of society. The journey of self-expression is much shorter and more enjoyable when not saddled with a multi-year commitment to self-repression.
This girl epitomized the pure truth that “life is beautiful” but it was like she didn’t even know it. She was so free in action, genuine in presence, and only confined by perspective. Perhaps it’s my optimism that she was also experiencing the same attraction that I was, as her words betrayed a captivation with the labels of the world and our collectively agreed upon adherence to them.
At one point in the evening’s banter, she poked that I should “find the woman of my life.” I can only assume that this kind-hearted recommendation was born out of some recognition of the good in me, coupled with some compassionate sentiment that I not die alone.
What a misunderstanding of this life it is to hide under the rocky comfort of a relationship in the belief it helps us escape the experience of our last moments. Companionship is beautiful, but not if wrought out of a desire to avoid coming to terms with our place in the universe and just what we are or aren’t.
The final realization of our existence isn’t to be feared at all! It’s to be recognized and celebrated so long as this form allows. When a person knows their inherent beauty, love, and value as an integral burst of energy it the vortex that is life, then companionship becomes all the more beautiful. To be together is to feel the pull, to observe the smile, and to smirk lovingly at your wondering eyes and thoughts.
The idea of how many times the earth has rotated the sun since our umbilical chord was cut determining our personality, goals, and values is incredibly simplistic. There is certainly a correlation between age and wisdom, but it is hardly a causation. The sentiment of Benjamin Franklin that “most men die at 25 but aren’t buried until they are 75” illustrates this well, as the frightful conditioning of the soul is a better barometer for loss of life-force than birthday candles blown out.
As I learned on my first trip to the personal trainer, there is a metric known as metabolic age. This term is a way of measuring the wear and tear on our body based on relevant data such as body composition, range of motion, bone density, and other health-related factors. Attaching significance to the wrong metrics leads us to inferior action.
This phenomenon is evidenced by just how hard it has been to shift cultural perception of a woman’s weight being particularly relevant to her health or attractiveness. There are still girls fighting the number on the scale, even though gravitational force is not a particularly seductive attribute. Science says muscle weighs more than fat; history, statistics, and anthropology show us that a certain curvature to the female form is evolutionarily preferred, but the myth of the scale being important lives on.
Much of this is because we tend to think both as we have always thought, and as the people around us appear to think. Culture imprints on our mind what it means to be 20 or 30 or 40, what your life should look like, what your activities and priorities should be, what you are allowed to find fun. We are rabid with judgement for the lifestyles and choices of others without being aware that the only person we are eroding and conforming with our judgment is ourselves. There is no such thing as “growing up.”
As John Mayer so eloquently put it, “I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.”
Wisdom comes when it comes, often provoked in spurts of necessity by the varying events of our lives. This only changes when we set an intention to always be learning and growing, but again, the place from where we make that promise requires us to connect to our own curiosity and creativity, something it’s easy to learn not to do when faced with the square-peg-round-hole dilemma that is the modern school system.
Consider for a moment the assertions by many people on the forefront of technology that those of us still alive in the next 30 years will likely live 100 more years on top of that.
Ray Kurzweil, the head futurist at Google, is widely known for his savagely accurate predictions for humanity’s technological future, and he feels strongly that living to 180 is not only realistic but probable.
Renowned bio-hacker and entrepreneur Dave Asprey echoes these sentiments, both men citing access to the best nutrients from across the globe coupled with new medical technologies such as nano-particles and an ever-evolving understanding of the human body and it’s ailments as the foundations for such a belief.
The ever-accelerating pace of technological advancement, commonly referred to as the “singularity” is carrying us toward a future where age as a cause of death will be obsolete. We have already identified a jellyfish that lives forever, and it’s not too big of a stretch to imagine we can extract some information from this to hack our own way to further longevity. We know that cells only need 3 things to live: oxygen, nutrients, and the ability to recycle their own waste. There is nothing inherent to our existence that is impermanent, in fact quite the opposite.
So if the hardware will be available to sustain us indefinitely, who lives and who dies will come down software. Who among us has the foresight to plan to be alive? Who loves themselves enough to minimize their stress load, actively maintain themselves, and more than anything, choose to run good software in the form of the thoughts they allow themselves to believe in. This is why mental health and mindset are so important, and I’ve devoted my life to furthering the conversation on these issues. Your future comes down to two simple things, mindset and variance. Everything is under your control, except getting hit by a bus, leave that one up to God.
Following the timeless prayer as a guide, it is imperative for us to have the serenity to accept that which we cannot change, the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Accept the number of candles on your cake, unleash the person hiding under the communal pressure of expectation, and never try to experience a smile with your mind. 100 more years is a long time to act out the role you were assigned, but it’s only an instant to be yourself. Break from the mold and inspire the energy around you.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. It’s as true in life as it is for lovers. Like a cosmic dance, our moments are both fleeting and forever, it’s just a matter of waking up to the experience.
Everybody sleeps, but not everybody remembers their dreams.