I had a shower thought this morning, something that seemed to come from nowhere:

The world does not define you.

It’s not an entirely groundbreaking thought but its something that I couldn’t let go of as I was washing my hair. The world, all this stuff does not define you, it exists purely as contrast to you. Hate or love is pure contrast and the impression is leaves on us is not a thing at all just our own perception of what is and what isn’t. As human beings we make this world what it is, we define it. We define it in both our own enlightenment and ignorance. The world owes us nothing in the same sense the weather does not owe us to shine brightly when we want it to. Even the actions of other living beings, other fish in this ocean, do not define who we really are. Their actions, like all the other corporeal stuff, is simply contrast to our own being. It’s what makes us individuals, that contrast that keeps us a unique shade amongst it all.

Sure, we pick up bits of characteristics from here or there but only as far as we all allow. We are not defined by those things, are we? Are you defined by your mother’s eyes or your best friend’s temperament? No, of course not. The world has become good at making monsters, sure but the truth is more so that the world is very good at empowering darkness and drawing it to the surface. It’s like colour theory: the brightest colours makes the darkest ones pop.

We as humans shape the landscape as our collective action and attitude shapes society. Subsequently, it could be said then that has an impression on us. For example, no one is born with racial bias but it is a taught behavior and what is that but an impression that the world imprints? I say, it’s not an impression that’s forced on an individual but one accepted through adoration of the holder of the belief. A son will adopt the philosophies of the father through adoration alone, whether it be what the best football team is to the finer points of race hate.

You are not defined by anything other than yourself and what you allow yourself to be defined by, whether that be philosophy or title.

You either accept a thing such as a name or colour of your hair as defined by genetics, or you do not and you reject and take action to correct the course as best suited to your own definition of self, your own nature and highest good.

Such as bad weather does not define your day, other people do not either. There is such great freedom in knowing how free you really are from the definitions of others and the wider world if you just find the comfort in your own soul to accept that.

“Failure to read what is happening in another’s soul is not easily seen as a cause of unhappiness: but those who fail to attend to the motions of their own soul are necessarily unhappy.” – Meditations 2.8

Even when you say that you don’t want to be like someone or something – or that you do – it is not an impression that leaves you with this assertion but the contrast between you and the existence of the other thing. And, in this contrast, there is a balance of what is you and what is not you. What separates you from others, in the grand scheme, is a razor thin line of difference as we are all beings of the same biology, history, atoms and so on. What you actively embrace in those similarities and differences define you, by choice in your actions, right down to the unconscious thought.

Your past does not define you, your future does not define you. All you are and all you will ever be is what you accept yourself to be in this moment, right now as you read these words until the next moment comes.

The only opinion on definition of your own self that matters is yours. In the end, it’s the only thing we can ever truly say we own. As we exhale our last, the only thing we take is our selves. And who that is, is entirely up to you.



Kintsugi and Dorodango

I was talking to a friend and she asked me how and why I started my journey. By journey I mean the Path or finding The Way or whatever works that has led to my current position on the doorstep of Taoism with my now worn copy of Meditations in hand. My actual journey, of course, started nearly a quarter of a century ago when two people who now (and probably then) despise each other decided to bonk one night.

I talked about my depression and how found myself in a spiritually and emotionally dark place about half way through my university experience. From there, there was no where but upwards and it was a very perilous climb without a harness. Since finding philosophy and accepting virtue as my only directive, it’s less of a climb, more of a gentle ascent in a modest lift. In this conversation, she said something interesting that has stuck with me. She said that the story reminded her of the Japanese art of kintsugi.

Kintsugi, meaning “golden repair” is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold infused lacquer. What a perfect metaphor for finding philosophy. Gold: an earth metal revered by the kings of Persia, the Saxon feudal lords, the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, the emperors of the Huey Tlatoani, and the monarchs of Pataliputra. In nearly all cultures, gold is the ultimate material commodity. Philosophy is gold. We find unique ideas in cultures that all lead us to a balanced and virtuous existence from optimistic nihilism in a San Francisco think-tank to monastic Taoism in the deep country of China – I’m speaking here about philosophy and not religion intentionally. Even within the art of kintsugi is the philosophy of wabi-sabi: embracing the imperfect. It’s beautiful and like a mind thrown to chaos and a soul wanting, the pottery is made all the more uniquely brilliant.

The artistry of Japan has always amazed me. From the architecture and cuisine to one of my favourite films Paprika and of course the fantastic anime – or rather visual poem – about mental health: Welcome to the NHK. As well as kintsugi, there’s also dorodango: “mud dumpling”. It is the art of taking a clump of mud or dirt and water to carefully create a perfect sphere and polish until it’s shiny like a snooker ball. In recent times the childhood hobby has been refined to hikaru dorodango meaning “shining mud dumpling”.

I can’t decide whether or not my journey is the reparation of a delicate china plate or polishing of a turd. Aren’t we all earth and water in our essence? Air in our lungs and fire in our hearts. Philosophy is the gold that mends broken things and the polish that shines the shit.

“The rotting of the base material of everything. Water, dust, bones, stench. Again: marble is a mere deposit in the earth, gold and silver mere sediments; your clothing is animal hair, your purple is fish blood; and so on will all else. And the vital spirit is just the same, changing from this to that.”Meditations 9.36

It’s like spiritual absurdism made manifest. Both kintsugi and dorodango are delicate processes requiring patience, skill, precision, and time. The mind requires all of these things, as does the soul. Enjoy it: polish your shit.


PS. Here are some links to dorodanga and kintsugi videos on Youtube for more information and a relaxing time. If you enjoy these videos, please make sure to give likes, subs and shares to these creators to show your support.