“Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.”
The journey of man is that from weakness and inadequacy to strength and power. Power can be achieved in the external world, but this power is brittle. To achieve the ultimate power – one must learn to walk the valley of pain.
A rise to power
The journey starts as an infant and a boy. As a young-ling, he thrives in comfort, pleasure and joy and expresses this through unlimited potential for creativity and imagination. The boy darts away from pain and suffering by happily cradling himself in the warm embrace of his mother. His journey starts with weakness and inadequacy. Without his caregivers, he is nothing and will have no possibility to survive. (In fact, it has been shown that even ‘just’ a lack of love will kill a newborn.)
As the boy ages into manhood, his will for power will start manifesting. Reliance on others will turn into annoyance, and he will start to exercise strength in order to gain power in the world. Failure to do so will result in frustration, aggression and depression. Ultimately, the inner soul goal of any man is to become powerful.
Through exercising his strength he will gain external power – in the form of material wealth, prestige, reputation, honor, physical prowess and love. He will experience a sense of satisfaction whenever his power grows, and will experience suffering when his power diminishes.
Yet this external power is brittle – and can be taken away at a moment’s notice;
- Those more powerful can take his power and leave him powerless (Such as a tyrant taking a king’s land.)
- Fate can roll its dice and remove his power. (A natural occurrence or change in economy destroying all he has build.)
- Death can enter the arena and swipe away all physical manifestations of power with illness or disease.
Suffering – through the loss of this external power – will occur in your life whether you will it or not.
It is inevitable.
The tracks to suffering
The most harrowing example of such a theft of power is what many unfortunate souls experienced in World War II when the Nazi’s took those they viewed as inferior into their extermination camps.
Imagine you live a regular, successful life. You are a rich CEO at a national bank and spend your days driving gold trimmed cars, wearing the most expensive custom-tailored suits and come home at night to a loving family of a wife and three kids. People respect you, your reputation is soaring and the love in your life is thriving.
Then one day – you are brutally abducted from your home and violently thrown on a dirty, mud-covered train by a group of men in uniform. Like pigs ripe for the slaughter, you stand for hours and hours in a urine soaked cabin together with dozens of other unfortunates with barely enough room to even squat.
On arrival, your group is herded like cattle by guards constantly smashing those not fast enough with the butts of their rifle whilst constantly shouting orders at the top of their lungs. You are separated from your wife and kids. You are forced to completely strip all your clothes and belongings, and a number is tattooed on your arm. Upon selection, you are extremely lucky and you are not exterminated right away, right there.
You have the debatable honor of working all year in a remote winter camp – where you spend your days shoveling frozen dirt away from train tracks as you are beaten to a pulp on a daily basis. Your daily ration is water and a piece of bread, nothing else. Extreme hunger attacks you every minute of the day. If you look the wrong way – you are executed. If you talk when you are not allowed, you are beaten until you bleed all across the frostbite-inducing winter snow.
At this point – anyone in this situation will have lost all sense of external power. You are quite literally stripped to the core of your being and treated as nothing else than a number on a list.
Man’s search for meaning
Yet still, even in these unspeakable horrors there are those that survive, and those that wither. An experience well detailed in Viktor Frankl’s famous book “Man’s search for meaning”.
There, he describes essentially two ways man deals with this nightmarish loss of individual power:
- There are those that turn away from the suffering and sink into full apathy. Although well-understandable, these people quickly lose all sense of value in their life and swiftly make the turn to depression and suicide. They essentially accept their full relinquishment of external power and translate this into their life being worthless and without a point in enduring the suffering.
- Then, there are those that despite all odds find the inner power to find joy in the suffering – to revel in the embrace of the sun after almost freezing to death on the winter tracks, to completely love a colorful flower blooming next to a corpse or to contemplate better times while people around you are fighting for scraps. It is the strength to care for others even though you are dying, the bravery to stand up for what is right – even if it means losing your own life.
Skipping through the valley of pain
It is this inner strength that is the ultimate pinnacle of power. It should be the end goal of any man. Nirvana. It is the final destination reached by any great hero. Entire religions are based on this very principle – Buddha mastered this power, and so did Jesus. Anyone who has ever achieved anything worthwhile has exercised this power to overcome seemingly endless odds and setbacks.
It is to be able to endure any amount of pain and suffering (small and large!) and still find meaning, purpose, joy, compassion, bravery and love inside your soul. It is the ability to stroll through the valley of pain, and consciously choose to stop and smell the flowers along the way. To hold your head high with honor no matter what happens in the external world. It is the power to suffer without suffering.
This inner power is something that is indestructible, invulnerable and nothing can take it away from you. It is completely and always under your own control. It cannot be influenced by others. It is infinite and omnipresent.
It is this inner power that separates the weak (boys) from the strong (men). All the physical power in the world will be meaningless if the person wielding it runs and cowers at the first sign of trouble. I imagine this as a young prince clad in the most ornate and shiny armor and weaponry, but with nothing but fear and cowardice in his heart. Where a man with nothing can conquer the world if he wields his inner power. I imagine this as a strong, bearded and muscular barbarian that requires nothing – not even armor – but his bravery to shield him from harm. A story many books and movies tell.
This ability, this inner power, is gathered from a journey into your soul. It cannot be found in books, youtube videos, inspirational movies or teachings by a master. This power is not gained from the external world.
It is there, within. Always slumbering. Dormant. Ready to be awakened.
All it needs is nourishment and focus.
Nourishment, as it needs constant conditioning, exercise and training. The more the power is used, the more it grows. The less it is used, the weaker it becomes.
Focus, as the journey needs to be away from power in the external world – the very thing it attempts to defeat. The focus needs to be on the inner self – which is where the power resides.
So practically, what is the way to cultivate this inner power? There needs to be suffering, there needs to be a focus inward and you must your inner power to find joy – no matter the external world.
For those in the western, modern world – the amount of suffering is relatively low, so I recommend purposefully creating moments of suffering in your life to be able to train this inner muscle. If you’d go the gym and just lift 1kg barbells all day you will never become strong. The same concept applies here. Some example proposals to try:
- Take a cold shower on a daily basis. Instead of whining, cradling your mother, calling for help, shouting profanities and throwing yourself on the floor – stay calm, hold your head high and learn to love it.
- Push yourself beyond your physical limits. Your inner power applies to your limits as well. Your limits are almost always designed by your mind. Pushing beyond what your mind perceives as possible will train your inner self to become the king – not your ‘external’ physical body. Stand in the middle of your living room with your knees bend in a squat position – and hold out for as many hours as you can whilst looking like a bad-ass Shaolin monk. Your mind will be the first to give up, not your body. Make sure you do not listen to your mind. Your inner power reigns supreme now, not your mind.
- Another technique is what I call the ‘Fine dining’ technique. Use it in a situation of suffering or create a situation of suffering yourself to exercise it. (My favorite is to stand with my bare feet on flaming hot pavement as long as I can.) Now – in your head – describe the sensations you are feeling in as much detail as you possible can. Describe them not just rationally, but as how a wealthy, gentlemanly connoisseur would describe a fine wine. As you go beyond the default – first reaction-type – feelings, you will find almost all suffering has beauty in it. You will feel energy coursing through your veins, warmth and strength.
These are just some techniques I use to cultivate my inner power. There are countless methods to do so.
And as a bonus, this ability will get you everything you want in the external world.