I just came home from a vow of silence at a meditation center in northern California. It’s a strange feeling coming back to city life after five days of silent meditation.
Looking around at puffing joggers, Christmas wreaths, eager couples waiting outside restaurants, the stop and start of traffic — it’s almost too much for my senses.
The last time I took a vow of silence was 5 years ago. It lasted ten days. I had just walked away from my career as a poker player then. I was lost, confused. I was angry at myself. Entering the veil of silence, I expected to come out the other side with answers.
It was probably the hardest ten days of my life. But when I got to the other side, I emerged with only more questions.
This time feels different. Despite the dark of the winter solstice, I return from my vow of silence with unexpected clarity.
I decided that after I got home, I would write a letter to myself. This is that letter.
These last two years have been a cyclone of change. I’ve pledged myself to earning-to-give, I’ve picked up my life and migrated to San Francisco, I’veshouldered my way into the tech industry. Now I am a full-time software engineer.
I’ve been moving so fast, so much has obviously shifted. Yet internally, I still have this old image of myself. I’ve forgotten to even ask myself—what do I value now? How has it changed?
I wanted to create a document that I can look back on, to remind myself of my principles. If times are ever tough or I’m feeling stranded, that this letter can be a lodestone to guide me.
Call it a personal manifesto.
Usually when I write blog posts, I write them for other people. This post will be an exception — I am writing this first and foremost for myself. Nevertheless, I hope that this posts inspires your reflection, and that you might consider how these principles might be useful to you too.
1. Live simply.
You already have everything you need.
Simplify. Give things away. Turn down offers for more. Know that you are complete and you don’t need more things to live a good life.
What a pleasure it is to pack up your life into a few bags and embark on a new life! Allow yourself to do that, again, and again, and again.
Of course, there’s no shame in having things. But whatever you have, consider it all borrowed — and when it must be returned, do it with joy.
2. You will always have haters.
If you are passionate, if you are strange, if you defy what most people assume are the rules, you will court haters.
That’s fine. Let them hate if that’s what they need. Their hate will make you more resilient.
But most of all, you should be thankful that they showed up. Because if they didn’t, it would be a sure sign what you were doing was not important.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
— Winston Churchill
3. Fight quietly for the things that matter.
Whether it be the people you love, or the causes that matter to you — do good work. Be humble. Fight hard, and fight with everything you’ve got.
Attention or fame can be pleasurable, sometimes even useful. But more often than not, it’s a distraction from the real work.
4. Give yourself up.
It’s not about you. It’s about something bigger than you.
Give. Contribute. Not just money, or time, but your identity. Make your life about more than just you.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
— Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
5. Seek mastery.
Practice, study, fumble.
Do this all your life.
Call it passion.
6. Be forever a student.
There will always be people who are better, stronger, wiser than you.
When you don’t know something, proclaim it out loud. Feverishly seek the answers. Wear out your knees with humbleness. Never let ignorance or shame deter you, because the desire to learn is always noble.
Go searching for your teachers, and don’t give up until you find them.
7. Cultivate virtue — by force, if you have to.
You are a coward. You are fearful, you are lazy, you are selfish. Only once you know this can you begin the work of cultivating virtue.
You are principally what you do. So pledge. Show up. Keep coming back. And when you are too afraid to stay, sometimes you must lock yourself in the room and throw away the key.
8. You will find your own way.
Your life, your path, your failures and successes will not look like other people’s. Though you will read many books and hear many stories, for better or for worse, their blueprints will not apply to you.
That’s fine. You’ll do great things, and in your own way. You will forge a path that no will expect — not even you.
That’s okay. Trust that your path, strange though it will seem, is right for you.
9. Build your wings on the way down.
Be smart, be calculated, be careful. But when opportunity arises, steel your nerves and take the leap. if you don’t see any risks worth taking, you’re not paying attention.
It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing — trust that you’ll learn before you hit the floor. And if you crash: brush yourself off, forgive your errors, and try again. This is the only way progress has ever happened.
10. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
You are a little bit crazy. The world needs people like you — reckless, steaming, hapless dreamers.
So don’t give it up. Keep asking for too much. Hunger for the world and everything in it, and don’t slow down, no matter what people say.
Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
— Rumi, “Bewilderment”