Dear Seeker of the Truth,
If you have not wrestled with the meaning of life, you are susceptible to finding that meaning through whoever is a better marketer. How do you treat the environment? How do you learn and grow your skills and your community’s skills? What are the value and purpose of your relationships and how can they be better? What is the meaning of life? When I recently checked Amazon, people had published thirty-two books under the philosophy section on the “meaning of life” in a ninety-day period. For thousands of years people were influenced to work the field, hunt, trade — or die! New priorities outside of survival are a blessing, but society is not equipped to handle the marketing it is receiving. This is the nature of the world.
To counter marketing, you need to be careful with where you spend your money, give your attention, invest your emotions, and build your legacy. Marketers who are promising simple solutions for daily living — get rich quick, lose weight in seven days, find the perfect mate, or pray this prayer, tithe, and receive cheap grace need to be countered with discipline, focus, and purposeful living. High-carbohydrate foods, weight-loss pills, pharmaceutical cures, Match.com, and mega-churches are popular billion-dollar industries because humankind is new to this way of living having been thrown into an age of overabundance. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to fall for the gimmick or fad; it is going to happen. Be aware; be hesitant about things that make life too easy. Ask how this “thing” fulfills your purpose in life, how it builds discipline, and creates space to focus on real development of the body, heart, mind, and spirit. Automobiles make travel easier, and they increase your ability to find more challenging work, get home more quickly to be with family, or get outside the comfort zones of your local community to experience a larger world. A more luxurious vehicle could allow you to arrive at your destination more refreshed and engaged, but do not get caught in diminishing returns either. Whatever the thing is, it should bring you more meaning, not less.
In a time where messages get delivered in powerfully visual, audible, and dynamic ways, skepticism is increasingly helpful. Another aspect of healthy skepticism is the fact that marketers can increasingly design messages of influence in ways that are more and more specific to smaller and smaller groups of individuals. Social media custom tailors’ ads by leveraging powerful artificially intelligent algorithms at the individual. You are literally competing with robots for your own conscious attention (and regularly losing). Supermarkets can identify customers who are pregnant, often before family knows, and market items directly to the expecting mother. In the future, 3D printing and digital design will mean that you subconsciously will design your own products for yourself! One day soon, designer drugs for your specific DNA traits could hit the market. These things are not bad — they are impressive. The ability to abuse and sell things to people in various physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states that are meaningless is just as impressive. Keep your life simple, be skeptical, and keep your focus on what is meaningful.
A sound mind is one of the most valuable assets you can have. Age will take the edge off your body; it is nature. Your mind, however, is more resilient, particularly as it regards crystallized intelligence. Evidence is mounting that you can slow aging and live longer, even maintaining fluid intelligence into later life! Early evidence shows that by exercising your mind, you can reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The mind should get as much focus as the body. Exercise the mind every day. Guess what? If you followed the action plan in week one and two you are already beginning to grow your mind in news. For adults (older then 25), this is much harder because our executive brain function has fully activated. We have increased executive control but it is more challenging to embed new information. For the last, twenty years I have been focused on increasing my ability to learn and think. The limits are fun to push.
There are many ways to exercise the mind. You should experiment with mental exercise, because we all have unique skills — different strengths and weaknesses. However, mental exercise should focus on the following three key components:
- Meditation or prayer
- Listening, reading, or studying
- Creating or writing
Developing skills around these three areas takes carving out a few extra minutes a day to practice thinking. Force the phone off, quiet the mind; then read, listen, or study. This is something like what you have been doing with the devotional practice from week one. What you want to add (this week’s action step) is taking a minute or two after your devotional time to write down your thoughts on the subject you have been studying and your thoughts on your attempts to improve your relationships. Writing is important because it engages multiple senses at once helping to embed the knowledge better.
The proper pursuit of knowledge should be to challenge yourself, but not all study will be suffering. Just as a runner becomes accustomed to a certain pace or distance, the mind does the same. You cannot go from reading one book to a complete and whole understanding of Chaucer, Kant, or a breeze through The Silmarillion. As runners cannot run marathons every day, your mind cannot operate at full learning capacity for hours on end. A runner should consistently implement some easier runs and some harder runs to stay in shape and prepare for the marathon; it is consistency that is important. If you really want to speed up the meaningfulness you can experience in life I would challenge you to go further. The Huberman Lab podcasts featured on The Assent Podcast channel really dive into the science and protocols for increasing your learning capacity. Additionally Epictetus’ Discourses are very approachable and excellent for the development of correct thinking. Assent to Truth is a simplification of Epictetus’ quote, “It is better by assenting to truth to conquer opinion, than by assenting to opinion to be conquered by truth.”
Assent to Truth,