We are living through the largest shift in communication that the earth has seen in the last 500 years.
Think about this; in the last two decades or so things like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Medium, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, and smartphones weren’t around.
Every industry is being disrupted.
This has an impact on our personal and professional lives.
The signs of over-stimulation from this communication shift are clear: Research shows that we are distracted, anxious, and wisdom famished.
Let us not be one-sided, however. The technology we have at our disposal carries enormous potential and provides opportunity like never before.
This is where inner strength comes into play.
It’s our responsibility to manage the relationship between our devices and modern technologies so that they are tools we use and not weapons formed against us.
To be strong — that is, competent, flexible, and sturdy enough to face difficulties — is nourishing. To be weak — that is, scattered, unfocused and fragile in the face of the unknown — is debilitating.
But who or what, teaches us to be strong in these modern times where disruption, speed, and hyper-connectivity dominate?
Here we must turn to ancient wisdom to help us live better modern day lives. Consider each piece of old advice as a compass rather than a map.
Rather than telling you what to do, each kernel of wisdom influences you how to think. Then, as you take steps in that direction, “you make your own path as you walk,” as Machado put it.
JFK on Poetry
“When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
Poetry carries language that reveals timeless wisdom just beneath the decibel of all the noise in our modern day society. What the life sciences are now discovering with research are things that the poets and mystics wrote about long ago.
In a time where linear data is drowning us, poetry offers liquid contemplation.
Meng Tzu on Resilience
“When heaven is about to give someone a great responsibility, it will train his mind first with suffering, subject his nerves and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, make him poor, place obstacles on the way of his understandings, to stimulate his mind, strengthen his nature, and improve him in areas where he is not yet competent.”
Perhaps the greatest strength during our modern time of rapid change and fluidity is the ability to not only come back but return stronger than we were before.
To adopt this mindset is difficult when the tempering is taking place. However, recalling past times when we were put to this test and did not yield to the weight of difficulty reminds us that we have what it takes to take adversity and turn it into opportunity.
Tough times tests our character. Afterwards, once we have climbed through the fire, we realize that the difficulties birth faculties in ourselves that otherwise would have stayed asleep.
St. Paul on Contentment
“I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.” Philippians 4:12
In the United States, there is an average of 300,000 things in a home. Clearly, the accessibility of stuff is getting the best of us.
Essentialism is a way of life that promotes what you value most while removing anything that distracts you from these values.
At some point, you need to come to terms with what “enough” looks like in your life in order to experience a level of contentment that is stronger than the pull of consumerism.
Buddha on Body Health
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
The communication shift we’re living through right now heavily depends on knowledge work, emotional intelligence and creativity. In order to practice what Cal Newport calls Deep Work for a long period of time, it is wisdom to practice daily physical movement.
Physical movement increases our focus, concentration and mental endurance.
Physical movement makes us smarter since it increases BDNF expression — a protein that acts like miracle grow for the brain.
Physical movement makes us anti-fragile. Research shows that those who undertake physical challenges tend to perform better in hard yet unrelated tasks throughout life. This theory is known as the “Cross-Stressor Adaptation Hypothesis”
Chief Joseph on Brevity
“It does not require many words to speak the truth.”
Love’s blade is always sharp and ready to be used. It’s our job to replace the hidden knives in our words and replace it with open ears and receiving hearts.
Since controversy has been put on a pedestal (regardless of how substantive it is), everyone wants to say something but few want to sit and listen.
Less talking, more listening. This is the way to truth.
Dogen on Being Here
“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
Dogen’s philosophy highlighted that the process and the goal are inseparable. To lean into either aspect of our life’s journey causes an imbalance. At each step, we are engaging in the process and achieving the goal at the same time. Life, according to Dogen, is a continuous practice — and an endless invitation to the present moment.
With this perspective, we can be where we are, right now.
Seneca on Learning
“As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”
To remain a student is a difficult act since we have access to so much information. We “think” we know it all.
But the Stoics didn’t believe in perfection. Instead, they viewed life as a constant learning journey where the subjects — humans — are perpetual works-in-progress.
This is a practical anti-dote to our perfection driven culture. By striving for excellence with a beginners mind, we leverage ambition in a way that compels us to learn instead of being pulverized by fear-based motivation in an attempt to be flawless.
Aldous Huxley on Kindness
“People often ask me what is the most effective technique for transforming their life. It is a little embarrassing that after years and years of research and experimentation, I have to say that the best answer is — just be a little kinder.”
The communication shift has allowed us to be more isolated without compromising essential items for survival. We can work remotely and meet our vital needs — food, water, housing — and forget to cultivate relationships with other people.
This global cooling turns us hard and we forget that kindness is the connective tissue that holds up humanity.
Kindness, even in the smallest way, might be the most courageous act of these modern times.