By Brian Pennie
“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what they think they already know” — Epictetus
I used to think I knew a lot. I didn’t.
I was close-minded, self-absorbed, and terrified to branch outside of my own little existence.
Combined with chronic anxiety and an overactive mind, this narrow view of the world steered me towards a life of addiction.
Blinded by my warped view of reality, this is where I stayed for 15 years.
I genuinely thought I had it all figured out. “Clever me” I used to think, defending my addiction with every trick in the book.
I thought I was fooling everyone, but I was only fooling myself.
I believed my own lies, weaving an imaginary world full of delusion, denial, and deceit.
In reality I knew nothing, nothing important anyway, and certainly nothing about the fundamental truths of life.
Sitting in detox in October 2013, this hit me hard. “You know nothing ye clown” echoed a voice from within. I’m not sure why, maybe the pain of my last dance with addiction; it was not pretty, but for the first time in my life I listened.
Pounded into submission by years of abuse, there was finally a crack in the ego. Like a delicate piece of china falling from a height, the story that I told myself, the one that protected my addiction, smashed into pieces.
I unlearned all I knew.
In what seemed like an instant, my mind went quiet. The comparison to my previously tortured self was astounding.
I knew nothing, but it felt exhilarating.
Curious, passionate, and completely open-minded, I set out to learn all I could. Fascinated by concepts such as awareness, meditation, and self, I devoured every book I could find. I became a student of life, and went back to college to study psychology and philosophy.
I’ve read far and wide over the last five years. Yet my quest for truth has only just begun.
I’ve barely scratched the surface; and when I look back in a few years’ time, I’ll likely be pondering how little I knew today.
With that being said, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years, and what I presently know to be true about the world.
1. Gratitude is a superpower. It should be harnessed daily.
2. We are all deeply connected. Take a moment and look at your phone. Go on, look. Who tempered the glass? Who wrote the code? Who dug the metallic elements from the ground? Who assembled the pieces? It’s the same for your clothes, your car, and your home. Look around you. Go deep. We are all connected in so many ways.
3. The only limits in your life are the ones you put on yourself, so dream big, and be bold.
4. Don’t compare. Stay in your own lane. Joy comes from advancement, not comparison.
5. Everything passes, good and bad. Remember this mantra: “This too shall pass.” It might feel like a kick in the ****, but it will pass.
6. Having Fun is medicine for your soul. So laugh often, even if there’s nothing to laugh at.
7. Life is rarely either/or. It is often paradoxical, and frequently complex. To be ‘wrong’ and ‘not know’ is OK.
8. Trust your instincts. If the mind and gut are conflicted, the mind is telling lies.
9. If you live and love, you will suffer, but this is how we grow. “Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path” — Zen Proverb.
10. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” — Victor Frankl. Increasing this space describes the fruits of meditation, which is no longer an option in today’s busy world; it is a must.
11. There is no true learning without an open mind; only a skewed representation of what you thought you already knew.
12. Society’s rules don’t always apply. When everyone zigs, it’s often best to zag.
13. Most people are fighting for the same things. “The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most competitive.” — Tim Ferriss. So think big. It’s far easier to jump out of the box than to live in it.
14. Most people don’t act. If you act, you’ll shine. Anything is possible.
15. You have no control over outside events, but you always have a choice over how you respond to them. If someone hurts you, you don’t have to suffer twice by getting angry or jealous. I once witnessed my brother getting angry at a bottle of Corona because the lemon squirted in his eye. Honestly, he actually raised his fist to the bottle. Joking aside, it’s not easy, but you always have a choice. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” — Haruki Murakami.
16. Options are endless in our frantic modern world. Recognising “the essential few from the trivial many”, or “the signal from the noise”, has never been more important — Greg McKeown.
18. Be guarded with your attention. It is your greatest ally, now more than ever.
19. Life is always now. You can’t smell the future or touch the past. It is always the present moment, so make it count.
20. Thinking is a powerful tool, but also a burden.
21. Life can be hard, but never as serious as your mind makes it out to be.
22. Be true to your wonderfully weird self. You will attract what you need, and repel what you don’t.
23. Science is a powerful tool. But like most things in life, it is political, ego-driven, and guided by the whims of what’s fashionable.
24. Life is full of games. They are difficult to change, but you can always opt out.
25. Consistency trumps intensity. Small consistent steps lead to big changes, always. And relentless consistency leads to big changes quick.
26. Playing the long game is not a lack of action, but the timing of it.
27. Admitting you don’t know is a strength, and a sign of true intelligence.
28. Speak in ways so others want to listen. Listen in ways so others want to speak.
29. Do not underestimate the power of reading. It can open doors that seemingly don’t exist.
30. Knowing your values is imperative. They will guide you towards your true North.
31. Be wary of words. You must abandon language to speak to reality. In the words (yes, I know) of Eckhart Tolle: “Stillness Speaks”
32. A structured life is a happy life. “Discipline equals freedom” — Jocko Willink
33. True happiness is not excitement; nor does it have an opposite. It is a state of contentment. It is the middle way.
34. Change is possible. That’s me on the left in 2011, two years before I hit rock bottom. The one on the right was taken last year, four years after I got clean.
35. Self-awareness, above all else, should be your Holy Grail.
I’ll end with a quote by Socrates, one of the greatest minds to have ever lived:
“All I know is that I know nothing.”
Socrates certainly knew a lot more than me, and I’ll probably disagree with much of the above in a few years’ time.
So maybe it’s best to ignore everything I said…
But I’ll leave that up to you!
Originally posted on Medium.