Insights on the path of turning forty


[Photo Copyright by Tony Hall via Flicker under Creative Commons Licence]

This year I turned forty and so far I’m not freaking out.
I wondered, however, what advice I would give myself at age twenty, if I had a chance. German as I am, I came up with some structured guidelines. All steps are based on everything I did horribly wrong over the last twenty years.

00 Step zero: Take a break.

Whenever you panic because you need to do something immediately, just stop. I know you think it is important, but it really isn’t. Yes, I know,… but no, it’s not.
Go have a tea. Meditate on the toilet. Breathe until your heart starts to beat again. Take a step back and observe. Especially observe yourself observing. Learn to just wait.

Now, you can start with step one…

01 Find compassion.

Don’t be cruel to yourself. The world will be cruel to you. People will be cruel to you. You have to work with that, however you are not required to help them.
You have to find empathy and you have to use it on yourself, too. You have to feel the pain of others, but you also have to acknowledge yourself as a friend at some point. This is the hardest thing you will ever do. You might as well start early.

02 Don’t let fear make your decisions.

You will end up doing that anyway. At least stay conscious of it. At every time of the day you are procrastinating something out of fear. You don’t have to be afraid all the time.
Everything in life can happen. Especially nothing.
You will die a thousand deaths every week and miraculously live to tell about it.

03 All you need is less.

Gain content in life by minimalizing it. Stop the illusion of needing. Needing is something that is purely in your head.
You absolutely do not need all that crap around you. It blocks the view on your life. Find the place of needing and observe it intensely until it goes away out of pure embarrassment.
Try to reduce your needing until it goes away. Trust me, you don’t really need it.

04 The key to success is showing up.

You have to put in the hours. Stop complaining, nobody cares.
You have to keep pushing. Shut up and do your work. And I said pushing, not killing. There is a difference. To be able to train tomorrow, you have to let yourself survive.
And no, there is no way to bypass the training.
You have to put in the ten thousand hours. Stop arguing, you could have locked in another hour in the meantime.

05 Stay in clear sight of an emergency exit.

Never commit to one plan or one person or one dream or one career full and only. You will change so fast you will be surprised by yourself – if you notice, that is. Never go all in. Always come prepared with a plan B. Prepare for things to fall apart. Because they will. They always do. It’s what they do. It’s in their nature.

06 It’s about the result. Not how you get there.

Define a goal and go for that goal. If you don’t have a goal, don’t go. What you do has to have a desired result. Otherwise don’t do it. If you plan to be active as soon as >xyz< happens, you already lost. Don’t spent time on planning to structure the thinking about the actual doing. Do it.

07 Train to be brave.

Being brave needs practice. Your are not born brave.
Seek out places in your life that make you uncomfortable.
If there’s something scary waiting for you, start running towards it. If something scary lurks behind you, turn around and attack. Move in straight lines towards your fear. Once you arrive, there will be nothing there. I promise.

08 Other people can’t live your life.

Nobody can live your life for you. You have to do it yourself.
You are the only person that can make you happy, nobody else can do that. It is your own opinion that counts for that. If you don’t have one, get one. You have to know who you are, where you are, what you stand for. Wearing other peoples opinions secondhand is useless.

09 Rely on your own power

There is no need to find a greater power outside of yourself.
You can try, but you are wasting precious time.
You are the creator. You create the universe you live in.
Inventing beliefs just to outsource your responsibility is cowardly. So do respect other peoples gods, but don’t rely on them.

10 Go and find yourself

Spend your life searching for you. There is not enough time, so move slowly. Don’t trust the obvious, you’ll change. If it is very easy to catch yourself, you are holding the wrong person. Find happiness and peace and the end of suffering.

Be truly free.

Holding back from suffering

(Photo copyright via Wikipedia Commons, the free media repository)

“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is somthing you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”

[Franz Kafka, “Betrachtungen über Sünde, Leid, Hoffnung und den wahren Weg” Excerpt from “Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer” (written 1917/18, published 1931)]


Litany against fear

[Art copyright by Robert Ball via Flickr under creative commons licence]

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the littledeath that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.“

[Frank Herbert – Dune (Littainy against Fear by the Bene Gesserit)]

I go among trees and sit still

[Photo copyright by Pranav Seth via Flickr under creative commons licence]
“I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.”

[Wendell Berry]



[Photo copyright by SiD-ii via Flickr under creative commons licence ]


Siddhartha: “Everyone gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the merchant gives merchandise, the teacher teachings, the farmer rice, the fisher fish.”

Kamaswami: “Yes indeed. And what is it now what you’ve got to give? What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”

Siddhartha: “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

Kamaswami: “That’s everything?”

Siddhartha: “I believe, that’s everything!”


[Siddhartha talking to Kamaswami the merchant. Siddhartha is a novel by Hermann Hesse that deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha during the time of the Gautama Buddha. The book, Hesse’s ninth novel (1922), was written in German, in a simple, lyrical style. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s. (Source: Wikipedia)]

Duck Meditation

[Photo copyright by onebigfish via Flickr under creative commons licence]

Duck Meditation

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special
It is a duck
Riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf
As he cuddles in the swells.
There’s a big heaving in the Atlantic
And he is part of it.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves
Because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is
And neither do you
But he realizes it somewhere and what does he do, I ask you?
He sits down in it.
Duck Meditation.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity
Which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.
How about you?


[The photo shows a 5 storeys tall Rubber Duck,
which was designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman,
against the smoky air of Hong Kong and tightly packed crowds.
The duck visited Hong Kong in June 2013 as an art project.  
Internet searches for >rubber duck< had been banned in China
after Tiananmen square protestors mocked up images of the infamous 1989 event,

substituting the tanks for the duck. No kidding.]

Poem from the cold Mountain


These frozen berries for my breakfast this morning made me think of master Hanshan and his poems from the cold mountain.

“Men ask the way to Cold Mountain,
There’s no through trail,
In summer, ice doesn’t melt,
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog,
How did I make it?
My heart’s not the same as yours,
If your heart was like mine You’d get it and be right here.”

[>The cold mountain poems<, translated by Gary Snyder (1958)]
[Follow this link for more poems from the cold mountain on wikiquote]

Jérôme Boulbès – Le Puits [1999]

Le Puits (The Well) is a short film by Jerome Boulbes from 1999. Jerome Boulbes was born in Casablanca, Morocco, on November 2nd, 1967. Boulbes studied illustration at the Parisian school “Arts Decoratifs”. He worked a few years in video games and as a freelance technician, and then decided to focus on a more personal work. His first film, “Le Puits” (The Well, 1999), produced by Lardux Films, has been selected in many festivals and received several awards.

I know this short film for more then a decade now, but I still find it very moving. For me it clearly depicts a spiritual journey and even though I have seen it dozens of times I could still watch it every day.