Why are you alive?
Do you expect your life to get any better?
Einstein did his most groundbreaking work in his late twenties. People in the most intellectual disciplines such as physics and mathematics “peak” at a similar age.
(I have circulating in my mind a statistic that some 80% of Novel Prizes in those disciplines are for work substantially done by age 28. But don’t quote me on that. I’m probably misremembering something.)
Top athletes also used to peak in their late twenties. With better medicine, drugs and the accumulation of practical knowledge driven by massive commercial interest, this threshold has been extended some. For “whole-body” sports such as basketball and tennis, it remains in the same ballpark – early to middle thirties.
And let’s not overlook that we are talking about top athletes. They have the genetics and the massive support systems that make it possible to push the boundary that far. Most achievers don’t get to play the game with the cheat codes on.
Women also begin to worry about “peaking” in their attractiveness around the time they turn 30.
You get the idea.
What do you do when you realize that your life has peaked?
I am convinced of nothing with certainty, in my bones and in my mind, except for three things.
Don’t believe me. I am not trying to convince you of anything or make you relate to any of those three things. They are individual to me.
I want you to get the big picture of peaking, of getting the ultimate experience and the final conclusion – or failing to get it. Whatever that might mean to you.
Personally, I have no further questions about three things in this life.
The first is that there is no personal god.
The second is that I will never enjoy a live performance – or any performance – more than David Gilmour’s concert at Madison Square Garden during his final tour.
(I’m not some rabid Pink Floyd/Gilmour fan, but I love music, so this is a BIG deal in my world.)
The third is that I will never experience anything better than the Cessation I had some years ago.
No achievement, no drug, no secks, no walk on Mars, nothing at all that I could possibly or impossibly do will ever make me feel anywhere close to that again.
Cessation is experienced in the instant when not-self is realized for the first time. It’s the cognitive gateway to what Buddhists called nirvana.
Nirvana simply means extinguishment – the extinguishment of illusion.
One of the illusions that are supposed to be extinguished is that of self, of some separate entity that exists distnctly from everything else. Self-narrative, even the very idea of self, is ceased. Hence the term Cessation.
Many people react out of fear that such an experience would throw you into some sort of apathy or degeneracy, when the reality is the exact opposite. What you do with that freedom is entirely up to your Character.
The illusion of self is itself an illusion. If you drop your linguistic programming and look honestly – without fear or prejudice – for the self as a separate entity, you will not find it. You won’t find it within yourself and you won’t find it in others. And the more you look, the less you will find it.
But there is an ever-so-slight bit of difference between figuring this out over and over on a logical or empirical level and actually getting it, experiencing it directly, in every breath and every movement.
Paying lip service to something is one thing, LIVING it is another.
That’s the difference between words and “logos”.
You don’t need a narrative and you don’t have one. You Know and you See what’s up. You are too busy Seeing and Being in the midst of everything to be asking stupid questions or talking to yourself about it.
Or you are too busy laughing.
The feeling in that first moment of experiencing not-self as a realized reality is probably similar to what some people get from psychedelic drugs, but I don’t think psychedelics are a good substitute.
I certainly don’t get that vibe from people who talk about their psychedelic trips. They usually sound just as wrapped in their egos as everybody else. Worse, they cling to the experience and put others off.
In the moments after Cessation, it was like my head exploded.
It was like seeing the world for the first time – because that’s exactly what was happening.
I couldn’t rest and couldn’t sleep from the sheer tsunami of energy that had been unleashed in that one moment.
For the following week, I was like walking in a daze, in a dream without dreaming, where everything is lucid and clear, a flow of ultimate fulfilment and contentment and connection. There was no worry, none of the manic agitation of cult spiritualists. Every action and experience arose with unsurpassable crispness and determination.
I can go “there” any time I want, but I will never again experience it for the first time. A supernova may shine brightly for aeons, but it goes supernova only once.
It happened many years ago now.
It took me a while and a bit of serendipity to figure out that what had happened was Cessation. I didn’t know much about Buddhism beyond the superficial, and I’ve never been involved in its practices on a deep level.
But the one thing I knew within weeks after Cessation was that I would never experience anything at that level of intensity ever again.
My life improved MASSIVELY in the following years. I had many sublime experiences. I could afford to have them and I was mastering the process of creating them. But they were all like vacations on the Maldives next to a trip to Mars.
I don’t expect you to relate to any of that. No matter what I say, no matter what you understand from it, it will be off – by a lot. You have to experience it yourself to get it.
The point is this.
After Cessation, I was “done” and I knew it.
I could accomplish other things but I could not do MORE. I could never do BETTER.
When you realize you are past the peak, even at the very moment of standing on top of that mountain, ultimate experience can become ultimate despair.
That didn’t happen to me because of the unique qualities of Cessation. Self cannot be ceased if you are still clinging.
But it happens all the time when we peak in commonly essential endeavors such as fitness, intimate relationships, family and career.
I have had middle-aged men get aggravated at me that they can’t aim high because they are too old, or have kids and families to care after, or mortgage to pay, or whatever.
It’s an excuse, but I can relate. I’ve been there more than I’d like to admit. Cessation itself meant that I had to redo my entire life from scratch. I was as if dealing with a midlife crisis – in my twenties.
Clients and business owners routinely struggle with that ominous sense of being on the clock and life slipping away. Many disastrous mistakes in our lives, business and personal, arise directly from that ominous relation to the arms of the clock. We desperately cling to tired ways of doing things. Or we try to change too much without any sense of direction.
I have the answer and I have had it ever since. It was obvious to me those many years ago. It only shines brighter and starker as I gain experience.
What do you do when you know you are past the peak?
You get vicious.
You get vicious on the next thing you want to do.
The lesser your givens, the scarcer the resources you have to work with – the more vicious.
What other choice do you have?
You can trundle along on the fumes of your successes – or failures – into ever deeper misery and mediocrity. You can become a tired old man or woman. You can cling to things that do not work for you because of what the community thinks or for a false sense of duty. You can wallow over “the good old times” or your unrealized dreams. You can retreat into the degeneracy of wishful thinking and flaccid reminiscence. You can romanticize failure.
You can suck out whatever life is still left in your life, and out of the lives of everyone around you.
Or you can face the world with viciousness and love, and make it come alive once more.
I will be opening up a new round of client applications soon.
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As always, feel free to share this missive and send me your questions and suggestions.