This has been a wild ride.
Writing has always been a therapeutic thing for me. However, I never really thought what I wrote would be seen by other people.
When I first started sending articles to Elephant Journal, I really just wanted to share some of the ideas I had been playing with for quite some time. I never would’ve guessed I would become a regular contributor, or that this would lead to a much deeper inquiry into my own life.
I have been reading my old articles recently, which is not something I generally do, and it’s been really insightful to look at my own process and remember the things I’ve found useful in my life.
I’ve been trying to boil down the key points that I have made over the course of nearly 150 articles—the lessons that I have learned through all of this—and I’d like to share some of the things I’ve discovered.
1. Love is everything. The best choices we make will be made out of love, and the worst choices we make will be made out of an absence of love. There is no escaping the fundamental care and affection that we needed as children, whether it was given to us or not. Life is a journey to fulfill that deep sense of need in our hearts, and how we fulfill that need will basically define our character.
Are we going to take drugs and seek pleasure, or are we going to meditate and establish meaningful relationships in our lives? How we focus this need to love and to be loved will determine what kind of person we become. So, love is behind all of the big decisions we will make in our lives—and that has been a big theme in my work and an important thing for me to understand in my personal life.
2. Balance is important. The beliefs of Daoism have been of great value to me, and these ideas have found their way into many of my articles. The whole world is made up of opposites: life and death, good and bad, love and suffering, change and sameness. If we can understand this, then we can avoid getting stuck. We don’t want to be just one thing and not the other thing, because it would contradict the nature of existence—and ultimately, it wouldn’t be healthy for us.
To embody the good, we must acknowledge our bad side. To embrace joy, we must understand the potential for suffering. To express love to another, we must also know profound loneliness. When we understand all of this, we aren’t so let down when things don’t go our way. We can have a better grasp on the up-and-down flow of our lives and how things are always changing, which is true wisdom in my eyes.
3. Say “yes” to life. I have been dealing with a debilitating chronic illness for the better part of nearly six years now, and a major theme that I have written about is never resisting life because of our limitations. There are always plenty of reasons to say “no” to life, because life is hard no matter who we are. When we plant the seed of bitterness and resentment into our psyche, then it becomes progressively harder to enjoy our lives and meet our potential.
The more we resist life because of our own emotional baggage, the closer we are to becoming a walking tragedy. We have to accept our situation and do the best with what we have, because it is the only way to avoid becoming a pathological asshole. We can only grow and thrive when we say “yes.”
4. See past the ego. We all have an ego, which basically makes up our self-image and personality. It is a survival mechanism we’ve adopted in order to help interpret the world—to acknowledge ourselves in relation to everything else. The problem with ego is that it pretends to be our soul, but it is not. There is a difference between personality and essence—or, in other words, there is a difference between what we are like and who we are in the depths of our being.
This has been a powerful thing for me, because my personality has been deeply limited by my chronic illness, so I’ve had to dig much deeper to find a reason to live and be happy. Through meditation and self-inquiry, I have learned to see past my ego and connect with my essence, the quality of pure consciousness that dwells beneath the movements of time, space, and ego. I have found that when I can see beyond my ego, I feel love and gratitude for all things.
5. We overcome suffering by making life meaningful. Every religion starts with the assumption that life is full of suffering, because it obviously is. The answer to the problem of human suffering is living a meaningful life, because we need a good reason to endure the suffering and keep moving forward. If we try to accept that life is meaningless, then we are going to inevitably descend into chaos.
I have to find some kind of meaning if I am going to deal with the suffering that comes along with my illness—and that meaning is to be a good person, in spite of my limitations, while attempting to recover from my condition. When I recover, I am going to do all that I can do show people how to live. Other than that, I want to learn to love to the best of my ability and do everything in my power to master my own physiology.
Who knows what the meaning of our lives will be? But, we should all find ways to illuminate the better parts of human nature in whatever way we can. Suffering is a certainty, and we make this suffering worthwhile by doing things that feel important to us. The extent to which we feel our lives as meaningful corresponds directly to the amount of responsibility that we take for ourselves and those around us.
I didn’t come up with this stuff myself. Most of the wisdom that we could ever attain has been professed by someone much greater than ourselves. These are just the things that have had the most impact on me, so I have done my best to try to put them in my own words throughout my journey. And, I will continue to do so.
Ultimately, writing these articles has helped me solidify my world view and live my life to the fullest. I’m damn grateful for that.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: @elephantjournal on Instagram
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton