Photograph Source: Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons – CC BY 3.0
Oliver Sacks, the “neurological philosopher”, did a “different sort of medicine on behalf of chronic often warehoused and largely abandoned patients.” It combined art and science. Lawrence Weschler, in How Are You, Dr. Sacks?, says Sacks was from “the period before the science and the humanities split apart”.
But they didn’t just “split apart”. They were torn apart. Weschler doesn’t name the ideology responsible.
It didn’t convince everyone. Some saw through it, especially in the global South. Like Sacks, they wanted to know persons. Sacks had the “audacity to imagine that there might in fact be ongoing life persisting deep within those long-extinguished cores.” A nun at Little Sisters in the Bronx said: “Everyone who reads his [clinical] notes sees the patients differently …. Most consultants’ notes are cut and dried, aimed at the problem with no sense of the person …. With him the whole person becomes visible.”
European philosophers separated science and the humanities. They invented the “fact/value” distinction, between what is and what ought to be. They said knowledge of the latter doesn’t exist, or might not exist. Cuban scholar Armando Hart says anyone who cares about global justice in the 21st century should notice the damage done to the world by European philosophy. He meant liberalism. It denied truth – or at least put it in doubt – about humanness.
It made sense for those who defined humanness.
Sacks called himself a “clinical ontologist”. His science was about being, but not in the abstract. He meant the being of people, the “living statues” who were the subject of his masterpiece, Awakenings, later a film and a one-act play. He saw their stillness as active. Being as doing. Sacks responded to “philosophical emergencies”. It was part of his science.
There is an expectation in the North that Philosophy is useless, that it is at best a luxury for elite academics who live in universities and speak in complicated ways, only to each other. But Gramsci said that if you don’t understand the ideas explaining ideas, making them plausible, new ideas are ineffective because they are understood in terms of the old, mitigating their effect.
Weschler presents Sacks (affectionately) as odd without naming the ideology that makes him odd. Yet Sacks’ view was not odd.
Tolstoy knew it. Lenin commented that Tolstoy’s ideas were bourgeois but his writing revolutionary. It’s because artists, unlike philosophers, articulate the human condition. And human emancipation is impossible without knowing the human condition.
Tolstoy’s Pierre Bezukhov (War and Peace) reverses the popular myth of instrumental rationality. Pierre “did not wait, as before, for personal reasons, which he called people’s merits, in order to love them, but love overflowed his heart, and, loving people without reason, he discovered the unquestionable reasons for which it was worth loving them”.
Tolstoy calls it “insanity”. Pierre feels love, and as a result, has reasons. He doesn’t have purpose and from that get reasons. Indeed, he has no purpose. He has feeling, which Tolstoy describes as love. Pierre’s feelings explain what matters to him; it is not what matters to him – purpose – that explains his feelings: of energy, for instance, or importance.
In theory, Pierre’s approach is suspect. The 20th century philosopher, Che Guevara, said, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love”. The risk is real because love is not rational. Feelings are not rational. Love cannot guide because it is a feeling.
But this is ideology. And Guevara rejected it. He argued against the splitting of mind and body, feeling and intellect, art and science, faith and proof. Moreover, he followed a whole tradition of thinkers, not all revolutionaries, who also so argued. They wanted human, not just political, liberation, and they needed to know what “human” meant. They rejected liberalism because it didn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense, and this is known. But it persists because liberal intellectuals like Weschler don’t bother with philosophy. He admires Sacks, and names repeatedly the philosophers Sacks cared about. But he doesn’t do the work Gramsci said is essential to criticism: explaining the ideas that make other ideas plausible, even when they’re not, and it’s known.
It is significant that Pierre comes to his “insanity” after confronting death. He is a prisoner of Napoleon and is lined up to be executed. He watches the young man before him as he is shot dead. He notices how he crosses his leg as he stands, waiting to die. It is an ordinary gesture, but striking in the face of death, precisely for being ordinary.
Pierre expects to die. There’s no storytelling, no generating of meaning “from within” aimed at some abstraction called “self” or “purpose”. Herein lie what Tolstoy calls “unshakeable foundations”.
It’s mental silence: experience of the here and now, without expectations. A quiet mind is the exercise of one’s faculties – to see, hear, touch, smell, remember – without jarring, uncontrollable, mostly illogical mental conversation. Quietness fascinated Sacks.
He didn’t like Sartre’s “uncalmness”, his “chargedness”. Weschler mentions this but doesn’t explain. But we know Sacks didn’t like his own 1960s theory of behaviour because it didn’t account for “peacefulness, enoughness, satiety, repletion.” Sacks wouldn’t have liked Sartre because Sartre’s existentialism can’t handle stillness.
Liberal philosophy generally can’t handle it. It doesn’t fit with the liberal, capitalist “man of action”, the unrealistic individual with “power to seize their destiny”. Philosophers invented the “fact/value” distinction, suggesting knowledge about existence – what is – but not about what it means to be human.
It doesn’t respect science because it doesn’t respect cause and effect. But this is known, intellectually. It’s been argued for more than half a century in analytic philosophy of science. In practise, though, philosophy of science has no effect beyond its narrow specialization.
Sacks did have effect. His effect could be made more useful, though, if its real target were named and fully denounced.
Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a ferryman who worked along a stretch of the Yangtze river. There were several villages and towns on both sides of the river, so he had steady business taking passengers from one side to the other. Over the years, this brought him into contact with people from all walks of life.
One day, a villager approached the ferryman as he was waiting for potential passengers by his boat. The villager said: “Sir, perhaps you can help me with a question. I’m thinking about moving to the other side of the river. You are probably quite familiar with the people over there. Can you tell me about them?”
The ferryman was curious: “Why are you thinking about moving? Is there something wrong with your village?”
“My village is horrible,” the villager said. “I am surrounded by the worst people you can imagine, so I do not want to live there any longer than necessary. My neighbors make noise when I need quiet. They do not care about the streets being dirty. They have no respect for me. Therefore, I also have no respect for them.”
“That does sound horrible,” the ferryman sympathized. “Have you ever let them know how you feel?”
“Oh, absolutely!” The villager said, with much anger: “I give them unmistakable signs! They disturb me during the day, so I make noise to disturb them at night. They never clean the streets, so I push my trash out the door to teach them a lesson. Whenever they are rude to me, I am rude to them twice as much. Of course they know how I feel!”
“I see,” the ferryman nodded. “Well, I have bad news for you. The people on the other side of the river are not so different from the ones in your village. You will find all the things you dislike about your neighbors quite prevalent there too. If you decide to move, you’ll expend a lot of time and effort, only to end up in the same situation.”
“I knew it!” the villager exclaimed in frustration, and started walking away. “There must be a better place somewhere. I’ll find it!”
Moments later, another man, much younger than the first, approached the ferryman. “Excuse me,” he said, “I am thinking about moving to the other side of the river. You are probably quite familiar with the people over there. Can you tell me about them?”
Again the ferryman expressed curiosity: “Why are you thinking about moving?”
The young man said: “I would like to study spiritual teachings with a Tao sage who lives on the other side. If I move closer to him, I can save a lot of time crossing back and forth. However, I am a little reluctant to leave my home over here.”
“Why the reluctance?”
“My village is a wonderful place to live,” the young man beamed. “I have the best neighbors you can imagine. Everyone is kind and considerate, and we are always looking out for one another. Everyone works to keep the neighborhood clean and make it a pleasant environment. There is much mutual assistance and respect, and that is why I am reluctant to leave. I am just not sure I can find such great neighbors when I’m on the other side of the river.”
“I see,” the ferryman nodded. “Well, I have good news for you. The people on the other side are not much different from the ones in your village. You will find all the qualities you like about your neighbors just as prevalent over there. If you do decide to move, it won’t take you long to become part of a community in the new place that you will enjoy.”
The young man was happy to hear this. He thanked the ferryman profusely before heading back home, to start planning his move.
A nearby street vendor, who had been watching quietly all this time, came over as the young man left. He said to the ferryman: “I could not help but overhear the conversations you just had. It’s especially interesting to me, since I know those two fellows. They come from the same village, and both of them asked the same question. Why did you give them such different answers?”
“The difference came from them, not from me or the place,” the ferryman said. “The first villager is unaware that all the things he hates originate from within himself: the noisy disturbance, the dirty environment, the lack of respect, and so on. His environment reflects what is already in his heart. Unless he changes himself internally, he will continue to recreate the same negative setting no matter where he goes.
“It was similar with the young man,” the ferryman continued. “He may not realize it, but all the things he enjoys about his neighborhood also originate from his heart: the kindness, the consideration, the mutual assistance and respect, and everyone pitching in for the greater good. As long as his positive nature does not change, he will always create the same positive setting no matter where he goes.”
“Ah, I see,” the street vendor smiled in comprehension. “So… things are not necessarily better on the other side?”
“No,” said the ferryman, “but things definitely get better on every side… when they get better on the inside.”
I’d had enough. It was October 2017, and I’d been wondering what the point of my job was for far too long, and while I’m sure there was something meaningful somewhere and to someone in what I was doing day-to-day, it had certainly lost meaning for me. For all the good that writing another academic research paper would do, I thought I might as well be cycling to Bhutan.
The idea of cycling to this small country nestled in the Himalayan foothills is one I’d had for many years. Bhutan is famous for deciding to value its population’s happiness and well-being over economic growth. As an academic researcher focused on understanding happiness and well-being, the journey looked to me to be something of a pilgrimage.
Before I quit, I’d spent more than ten years at different universities, trying to understand what the most important contributors were to well-being. But what I found was that I was burnt out. Given the nature of my research, the irony of this was not lost on me. I needed to do something different. I wanted to travel; to explore and understand happiness through a non-academic lens. But I wanted to connect the research I’d been doing over the years with what was happening, or indeed not happening, in the world.
Purpose and meaning
When I began my research, I was motivated by the importance of the subject. Most people I knew wanted to be happy and so, I thought, my research might help people to do that. I did what academics are incentivized to do: publish in the best peer-reviewed journals (indexed by academic readership and citation counts), as well as bring in research funds. I also did things such as engage with people outside of academia that might not ordinarily read my research – the public, the media, governments, policymakers – things I wasn’t always incentivized to do, but nevertheless did because they contributed to a personal sense of purpose and meaning.
When it comes to living happy and fulfilled lives, we humans need meaning, we need purpose. People who feel there is a deeper purpose and meaning in what they are doing in their day-to-day lives tend to be happier, healthier, and more satisfied. Research shows, for example, that a life orientated towards meaning brings greater satisfaction than a life oriented toward hedonic pleasure. Those that have a strong sense of purpose in life live longer, and having a strong sense of purpose may be just as good for your health as engaging in regular exercise. Some would even conceive that purpose is, by definition, a key aspect of happiness itself.
Work is an important source of purpose and meaning for many people. When people get made redundant or become unemployed, much of the loss in well-being they experience is often due to the loss of purpose and meaning, rather than the loss of income. Even if there is no deeper personal purpose and meaning in the actual work itself then there is much to value in our daily social interactions and the structure that work provides us, although they are easily overlooked.
It is purpose and meaning that helps people get up each day and it doesn’t necessarily have to be specifically about work. Purpose and meaning can take many different forms and is deeply personal. It might be looking after family, following a hobby, passion, or faith. Purpose and meaning is also an important source of resilience, helping people get through the difficulty and challenges that are an inevitable part of life.
The importance of purpose and meaning is well recognised. In the UK, for example, one of the four questions that the government’s Office for National Statistics asks in its Well-Being Survey is: “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” To which people are asked to respond on a scale from zero “not at all” to ten, “completely”. In the UK the mean score to this question is about 7.8, suggesting people feel their lives are relatively worthwhile. However, there is variation around this mean. Around 15% of the population answer a score of six or less on this question and this level has been relatively stable.
Walking the talk, being authentic
It has always felt important to me to apply my research findings to my own life. My research consistently showed that once basic needs are met, having more money is only weakly related to happiness and well-being, relative to other things such as relationships, health (mental and physical), and our personality characteristics. Taking this on board, I have decided not to take better paying jobs or strive for promotion (one of my first ever published papers demonstrated that promotion can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health) for the sake of it. Instead, I tried to create a life where I had more space to focus on those aspects of life I knew to be the most important for well-being.
Another important contributor to our well-being is something psychologists term authenticity. Authenticity reflects our tendency to live in line with our beliefs and values rather the demands of others, of society. So in following what I believed to be true from the research I and others were doing I was doubly rewarded; I was happier.
I felt despondent. What was the point in writing another academic paper? Perhaps, I thought, I ought to be doing something a bit different. Not only to rediscover meaning and purpose, but to continue striving for an authentic existence and, through that, perhaps a little more happiness too. It was then that I finally decided that it was time to leave my full-time job at the university and to start my cycling odyssey to Bhutan.
A kingdom of happiness
We might not hear about them very often, but there are actually many places in the world where economic growth is not so overtly favoured above other things. It might be just a few people who have decided to live together and put their well-being above economic gain; there are small communities, towns and cities already doing this. But in the case of an entire country – Bhutan – the stated central aim of government is to increase happiness and well-being.
In 1972, the fourth king of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, first expressed the idea in an interview. He said: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” Initially, Gross National Happiness was a concept rooted in the country’s spiritual traditions, and government policies would be evaluated based on their supposed influence on well-being rather than its economic effect.
Back in 1972, however, there was little in the way of reliable metrics to compute the influence of a policy on well-being. So the idea of increasing happiness remained more of a philosophical concept. Nevertheless, the happiness concept became embedded in the policy-making process. Some of the decisions that arose from this approach included a ban on television (up until 1999), making tobacco illegal, and restricting tourism to preserve the country’s culture.
The Bhutanese have since developed a Gross National Happiness Index to measure the country’s collective level of well-being – this has been the government’s goal since its constitution was enacted in 2008. The index has direct links to policy making and it is meant to provide incentives for the government, non-governmental organisations, and businesses to operate in ways that increase the happiness index. For example, environmental protection is enshrined in its constitution, which puts a limit on profitable industries such as logging.
Nevertheless, the case of Bhutan continues to inspire conversations as to what should be the purpose of society and how countries can measure success. Bhutan also illustrates what might just be possible if there were the political will.
The journey, not the destination
Against this backdrop, I set off from the UK in October 2017 with the barest of essentials packed onto a bicycle and my route, you might say, has been circuitous. As I write I am in Canada, and it was important for me to travel across South and North America, as I wanted to pass through other places that, much like Bhutan, are exploring new ways of living and where the economy does not necessarily dominate political and social life.
I also wanted to visit Canada, which has an exemplary national index of well-being that was developed in conjunction with citizens. It was developed as a bottom-up process with clear and direct links to policy. From a research perspective we know that autonomy and having a voice is important for well-being and I have learnt from personal experience how important it is to feel heard.
I’ve flown some of the way (across oceans) but cycled most of it in a bid to make the journey authentic and purposeful. Not only did I think cycling would be good for my own well-being (physical and mental) but because it is a form of travel that has minimal ecological impact and therefore would not harm the well-being of those around me. Plus, my experiences traveling on a bicycle before I began this journey showed me that it is a fantastic way to meet people. It is a fairly unusual form of travel in some parts of the world and it draws interest and builds connections.
People can often make a place. I knew that the people I met would form an important part of my trip and I wanted to create long lasting connections, which are of course an important component of a happy life. These connections have come through sharing experiences of what it means to be happy – sharing my own research and personal experiences of happiness and also being willing to hear about the experiences of others, from the people I have met in the street and the plazas to the people making policy decisions.
There are many people who are interested in implementing programmes and happiness policies into their own lives and the lives of others as a means to genuinely promote happiness and well-being in the area where they live.
When I spoke with people involved in policy decisions in Costa Rica, for example, we discussed the country’s involvement in the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. This is an organisation that resembles the G7 group of countries, but rather than a focus on the size of the economy, these countries – including Costa Rica, Scotland, New Zealand and Slovenia, among others – aim to promote well-being.
My journey has been undeniably amazing on a personal level. Each day can bring something different, unexpected, challenging, and that demands a lot psychologically. Suddenly I might find myself in the home of a person I met in a plaza sharing food with their family. The next day I could find myself sitting in my tent alone but in the company of a beautiful night sky. There have been some truly special moments and, through these, I have often felt happy and learnt many interesting things about myself. For example, that I am much more than just an academic, and that sometimes what we perceive ourselves to be can limit what we can be.
Yet it has not been easy, and has definitely not been a holiday. My journey has involved a substantial amount of physical effort and at times deep challenge. About two months into my trip I got bitten by a street dog in a tiny village in Peru. The need to deal with the physical effects aside (treating the wound, getting to a hospital, getting vaccinations), the experience reallyaffected me psychologically.
I wanted to come home. I was struggling to find the emotional strength I needed to get through. I felt alone. But I persevered and I put my ability to do so down to eventually finding the support I needed (both locally and from back home), as well as having that clear sense of purpose.
I’m glad I persevered with the journey as all the other experiences I’ve since that incident and the people I have met have been enormously enriching and given me a greater feeling of wholeness. Plus, an important part of happiness is dealing with adversity and building resilience for when difficult things happen, as they inevitably do.
Now, I’m in Canada and, in truth, I’m surprised I’ve made it this far. I often wonder whether I’ll ever actually make it to Bhutan; there are many more mountains to climb and seas to cross. Lately, I’ve been having a difficult time on the road – it’s been a year and I deeply miss the surroundings of home, friends and family.
Maybe I don’t actually need to go all the way to Bhutan. Maybe what I’ve done is enough. Either way, I can rest assured that happiness is found in the journey – not the destination.
While the Tao Te Ching is not one of the world’s most discussed religious texts, at least relative to the amount of attention the Bible, Quran, and Buddhist and Hindu doctrines receive, Laozi’s slim volume of instructions has massively influenced how we think about Eastern philosophy. The basis of Taoism is embedded in his series of short and punchy ideas that are rooted in, at times, paradoxical thinking.
Consider one of his most famous aphorisms: “The Tao does nothing, and yet nothing is left undone.” The ‘nothing’ is wu-wei, often translated as ‘non-action.’ One translation of Taoist ideas, Tao: The Watercourse Way, written by British philosopher Alan Watts and Chinese philosopher Chungliang Al Huang in 1975, state that the concept should not “be considered inertia, laziness, laissez-faire, or mere passivity.”
The Fine Art of Non-Doing
As with those who believe meditation is ‘doing nothing,’ wu-wei is not an easily graspable concept when approached from a mindset of constant action, i.e. the perpetual distraction our brains (and by extension, technology) afford us. Rather, the idea is to not battle yourself to, at times, let the course of life have its way with us. As the authors put it:
Wu-wei as ‘not forcing’ is what we mean by going with the grain, rolling with the punch, swimming with the current, trimming sails to the wind, taking the tide at its flood, and stooping to conquer.
They compare the practice to judo and aikido, two martial arts that teach seasoned practitioners to use their opponent’s force against themselves. By waiting for the challenger to overextend himself, you exploit their exertion and use his body weight to overthrow him. To accomplish this, you need to maintain calm and composure in the midst of potential violence and chaos.
Obsession with Overthinking
Which is why Nick Hobson, a research psychologist and lecturer at the University of Toronto, recently suggested implementing wu-wei as an antidote to our rising rates of anxiety and depression. Instead of pinpointing a singular cause for our growing dissatisfaction with our lives, he points out the reasons are myriad: smartphones, sleep deprivation, a lack of meaningful social connection, and not enough movement. He doesn’t mention diet, though plenty of research implicates bad eating habits as well.
While the causes are many, Hobson points to our penchant for overanalyzing every situation as the elephant in the mind. Instead of holism, a cognitive trait he associates with Eastern psychology, we choose the trees over the forest, leading to an obsession with overthinking.
This stark cultural difference has been confirmed by thinkers like social psychologist Richard Nisbett, who devoted an entire book to the topic. One of the most revealing instances involves the ways in which Easterners and Westerners—these terms are generic and broad, but serve to supply a bit of yin to our yang, at least as a metaphor–view art. Americans seek out a subject, an overarching detail that exemplifies the ‘purpose’ of the painting. Asians, by contrast, seek to understand the relationship between everything in the scene. Their focus is more on interdependence than independence.
Hobson uses the ‘triad test’ to make this point:
Suppose you’re presented with a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot, and then asked which two belong together. The analytic thinker chooses the dog and rabbit because both satisfy the internally held rule of ‘animal category.’ The holistic thinker, on the other hand, chooses the rabbit and carrot because of the interconnected and functional relationship between the two: A rabbit eats carrots.
Western ‘rule-based reasoning’ leads us to believe every problem has a solution. Research in cognition and narrative has shown that when we aren’t offered a resolution to a story, we’ll invent one, often to our detriment—your partner is cheating on you if they haven’t texted, while the reality is anything but. When we’re not provided an answer, we tend to overanalyze the situation, heaping anxiety upon anxiety.
Two Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos
Which is why Hobson suggests two Laozi-era practices to calm our overactive imaginations. Wu-wei is the first, which he says means “we shouldn’t hurry to action.” While he prescribes “to not do anything at all,” which is slightly different from Watts’s and Al Huang’s translation, Hobson recommends an “intuitive style of thinking” to chill our over-analyzing minds. Meditation and visualization exercises are two ways of rerouting our mental habits.
The second involves dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an evidence-based therapy created by Dr. Marsha Linehan. Among its many applications, it is designed to promote skills for cultivating “mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.”
To make this connection, Hobson points to Taoism’s great export, the yin-yang symbol, which denotes mutual dependence exists in everything. Hobson continues:
Two things can be mutually opposed, and at the same time, mutually connected. You can be, for example, in an anxious state and still have perfect control of your situation and your life. Thinking in this way allows a person to tolerate contradictions and to accept the uncertainties that inevitably present themselves.
Hobson writes that DBT has proven more effective than cognitive behavioral therapy (Linehan considers DBT a form of CBT) and pharmacological interventions. The goal is to make incremental changes by admitting that:
a) not everything is going to be exactly how you want it, and that’s okay, b) certain changes will have to be implemented, so practice those changes, and c) recognize that life is worth living. In the balance between states that afflict those suffering from psychological disorders—complete control and lack of control—an emotionally salient mindset can be achieved.
Not that any of this is easy, but as Hobson mentions, neuroplasticity is a real phenomenon. Seeing the landscape instead of the singular figure walking through it is essential for breaking free of isolationism and the overwhelming burden of anxiety. As Watts and Al Huang phrased it:
Is a long life such a good thing if it is lived in daily dread or in constant search for satisfaction in a tomorrow which never comes?
We all intuitively know the answer. Putting that intuition into action, ironically through a bit of non-action, might just be an important key to healing our anxious minds.
“All your problems are on the inside, in your heart. The problems aren’t from the outside, from other people, so you need to study who you are. Who’s 100 percent you? If you understand your inside, then you’re not afraid anymore.” ~Jet Li
For far too many people, life is a daily struggle. Working a job they don’t like, overloaded with bills, stuck in sour relationships, managing health issues, the fear of living in a messed up world, and so on. We’re never really taught to study life and how to find happiness, but when we do, the struggle fades and life is recognized as a gift and lived accordingly. This is the path to self-mastery; learning to live in a way that honors your personal power and cultivates happiness, inner peace and graceful strength.
Self mastery should be our primary internal goal in life, for as Leonardo DaVinci is quoted as saying, “one can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”
For nearly his entire life, martial artist and actor Jet Li has trained in wushu kung fu, and as practicing Buddhist he is also known for his devout daily meditation practice. Cultivation of his talents in these arts has led him to inspire many martial artists and ordinary people around the world.
Speaking from personal experience as a martial artist, the path of kung fu leads to respect for the self and for others, abundant health, confidence, spiritual clarity, and ultimately toward self mastery. These are the treasures of dedication to practice.
I recently came across a comment of Li’s regarding what he refers to as the three levels of martial arts, outlining the process of personal growth as it relates to combative sports, yet the wisdom contained herein is easily applicable to life in general, for it speaks to our innate need to first seek the power we need to survive, then to advance even further in the quest to thrive.
Speaking with Men’s Health magazine in 2010, Li’s notes:
Level one: Learn the forms-and repeat them endlessly. “Use your body as a weapon,” Li says. “And you need to use the weapons very well, [so you] concentrate on skill.”
Level two: Physical technique is now innate, so psychological tools come to bear. “I don’t need to fight if I can scare you, or use my heart to convince you,” says Li.
Level three: You gain a mastery of inner peace, so that you no longer need to raise a hand. “We sit here, everybody feels safe, and I’m not scared of aggression. It’s close to religion, like Jesus. They beat me up, fine. But slowly they understand, and they drop their weapons. They don’t want to fight anymore.” ~Jet Li
The first level refers to the development of physical capabilities, which represent the fundamentals of defending and protecting oneself. When this level is reached, we become untouchable in a physical sense, yet we still feel the psychological burden of being fearful in a hostile world. We’re still influenced by fear, and we expect that the world will demand that we enter into confrontation and struggle.
The second level is that of overcoming the psychological conditions which lead us to react from fear. When we achieve this level, we no longer feel compelled to react violently to this violent world, but instead are free to choose love over fear, drastically altering our relationship to others and the world at large. At this level, we are more powerful than most, and can avoid confrontation simply by remaining calm with the confidence of knowing just how strong and powerful we really are.
The third level refers to the inner peace and calm that comes with the realization that we are eternal beings and that whatever happens to us in the physical realm is of little consequence to the survival of our infinite, spiritual nature. At this level, there is no fear, and with this fearlessness we are able to bend the world to our will, influencing people and circumstances in a way that creates harmony and balance in relationships, and favorable outcomes.
As Bruce Lee calls it, this is the art of fighting without fighting, the ultimate achievement for the martial artist and the seeker of self-mastery.
Dylan Charles is the editor of Waking Times and co-host of Redesigning Reality, both dedicated to ideas of personal transformation, societal awakening, and planetary renewal. His personal journey is deeply inspired by shamanic plant medicines and the arts of Kung Fu, Qi Gong and Yoga. After seven years of living in Costa Rica, he now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and enjoys spending time with family. He has written hundreds of articles, reaching and inspiring millions of people around the world.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone