Reflections on Prometheus Rising

“What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves.”


People think themselves into their relative neurological realities. In these “realities,” there are underlying assumptions about what is true and false, right and wrong, essential and not essential, real and fake.

They think about the universe through the neuro-filter of a Marxist, Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, feminist, Democrat, Republican, protestor, doctor, Caucasian male, African female, cynic, optimist, lover, fighter, bad son, good daughter, and on, and on.

People make constant assumptions about their identities and the identities of others. While it is easier to see the prejudices and biases in others, it is far more difficult to see those same inclinations within.

Most people not only don’t know but they don’t know what they don’t know. Their “reality” appears to be the true one, while other people’s realities, the further they diverge, seem increasingly bizarre and nonsensical.

When the Thinker is convinced of a given reality, then the Thinker will unconsciously work to organize all “evidence” in favor of it being true. Signals that are consistent with a favored reality are absorbed into their overall model of reality while other signals are forgotten, ignored, rejected, rationalized, and resisted.


Brains are made of matter in spacetime. They weigh close to three pounds, are composed of a gel-like form, transmit “ideas” with electro-chemical signals, varying in innumerable neuronal sequences, while suspended in cerebrospinal fluid.

Brains generate many ideas — influenced by everything that impacted them, from texts written a thousand years ago to a drama on TV to a fight with a sibling. Ideas are not equal to reality, but ideas can make up the models of a given reality.

While brains resemble the hardware of a computer, ideas resemble the software. Anything, from psychedelic drugs to an idea about political revolution to eating only a vegetarian diet, can change the consciousness of a person.

Certain programs can be written onto the hardware of the brain: genetic imperatives and imprinting, conditioning and learning. The mind is bound to what it imprints at vulnerable stages of its development. Its software turns into hardware overtime, which sets the structure for conscious thought.

Out of an infinite number of signals in the universe, when a person’s growing brain is imprinted at different stages of life, that person develops a sense of self. Further learning and conditioning adds to the structural foundation, thus creating a more intricate model of what reality is.


In the oral bio-survival circuit, people are hardwired in the most primitive parts of their nervous systems to seek security, nourishment, and a womb-like sense of safety, while avoiding what is harmful, dangerous, and threatening.

Domesticated primates (humans) are genetically hardwired to seek security within their family, immediate group, and tribe. They can be further conditioned to seek security in symbolic groups that they identify with such as a country, a political party, the religion they were raised in, and so on. They can even transfer this security-need onto symbols such as money, which in itself is of no value (you cannot eat money) except in the agreed upon value determined by other members of that particular group.

“In traditional society, belonging to the tribe was bio-security; exile was terror, and real threat of death. In modern society, having the tickets (money) is bio-security; having the tickets withdrawn is terror.”

Humans who do not belong to the same group are often categorized as outsiders and are perceived as hostile, aggressive, or challenging to that group’s interests and purpose. Any element, from a dissident person to an idea, which threatens the security of the group, is resisted and rejected.


The emotional-territorial circuit is involved with power. People are unconsciously in a struggle for status in a social group. In a tribe, members fit into various roles with different responsibilities and functions. Some members assume top dog roles while others fall into bottom dog roles.

These roles can be divided into the four quadrants of “I’m ok/you’re ok, I’m ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re ok,” to use the terminology of Transactional Analysis.

This model, among other similar models. that represent the earliest imprinting, and subsequent conditioning, of one’s ego role in society, will vary based on how strong the imprinting is, how the dynamics of the group are in relation to the individual and societal structure, how well one can be conditioned out of robotically accepting an imprinted role, and so on.

Furthermore, each of the quadrants, while convenient as a tool for practical use, can be divided into subtler categories (with no end in sight). Nobody exists in one of the quadrants absolutely, but rather, will fall on a spectrum between extremes, which shifts overtime, as one’s nervous system changes.


Humans (domesticated primates) use symbols and are used by symbols. These symbols include, but are not limited to, art, music, mathematics, maps, and words.

Many symbols rule people’s lives without their conscious awareness of them such as with the wheel, the Roman road systems, the alphabet, agriculture, the State, and so on.

Some symbols, such as words, already have assumptions about reality buried in them, suggesting certain psychological states, emotional tones, explanations of the physical universe, and references to innumerable aspects of what makes up existence and meaning and purpose.

The semantic circuit makes distinctions out of raw experiences. It puts labels on life, dividing and sub-dividing, routine with categorization.

Every generation adds information to the previous ones, re-classifying the outdated information of the past. New connections arise between what has existed before, leading to insights in knowledge.

While entropy is the increasing disorder overtime in a closed system, information is negative entropy, coherence and order, where understandings birth out of chaos. As information increases more rapidly, so does a recognition of patterns from a randomness of events.

Over ever shorter spans of time, information is exponentially increasing, marking advancements in science, technology, music, art, and so on.

People are still using their more primitive circuits, despite this so-called progress. They have evolved with the reptilian and mammalian brains of earlier epochs in time.

Their rational, semantic, or time-binding circuits can be manipulated easily by fear of outsiders, threats to their status and safety, criticisms of the authorities that they trust in, appeals to tribal loyalty at the expense of those who are seen as inferior, dangerous, alien to them, etc.

While the first two circuits establish homeostasis in a civilization, the third circuit seeks higher states. The third circuit has always been controlled, partially or totally, by rules, taboos, prohibitions, laws, traditions, rituals, cultural games — most of which are unconscious, unstated, or seen as “common sense.”

Those who are in power want to control third-circuit insights, and establish order, because what is unknown and new and radical challenges the power structures already in place. There has always been fluctuations between progressive ideas and tradition, but as time increases, so does informational content.

That informational content may support. life such as with the LGBT, environmental, black, and feminist movements, recent medicines that treat diseases, scientific revolutions, and so on. At the same time, informational content could threaten to destroy all of life, such as with bombs, pollution, assault rifles, child labor, war between certain groups of domesticated primates over a sliver of territory, etc.

Everything that has manifested in civilization — from planes and trains, skyscrapers and roads and houses, nuclear weapons and clothes and microwaves — birthed from ideas, connecting symbolically in various people’s imaginations, developing, changing, self-correcting, evolving.

From the manifestation of imaginations, people live with a potential for unknown amounts of growth and destruction. In a world of limited resources, overpopulation, and institutions that seek to maintain their primate order with bombs, a manipulation of the third-circuit, and ink excretions on paper to establish their power over land and water and air, there is another force that is accelerating: information. From information there is a potential for high knowledge, liberation, and awareness.


The socio-sexual circuit first awakens during adolescence — at the onset of puberty. At this most vulnerable stage in human development, sexual preferences, taboos, dysfunctions, and fetishes have the highest chance of being imprinted.

These imprints can be due to chance, trauma, genetics, and environmental influences. People often mimic what’s deemed as acceptable by their local culture and hide what is not, keeping certain parts of their sexual profiles secret.

Every tribe has their own rules as to what is considered sexually moral and immoral. There are often, in every society, controls over a person’s sexual self-identification and subsequent behaviors. Whether the rules are ignorant, biased, misinformed, enlightened, liberated, and so on, is one matter. The innate purpose behind these rules, however, is to control the survival and variability and evolution of the gene pool. It is also to have power over what people can do and cannot do, socially controlling their choices and values.

Despite this attempt at control, there will always be unknown variables in sexual attraction, reproduction, mating, and future evolution.

Robert Anton Wilson said, “Taboo and morality are tribal attempts to govern the random element — to select the desired future.”

Those who act as guides and leaders in the local group, such as priests and shamans, philosophers and politicians, define what symbols are considered to be acceptable and what symbols are not.

From categorizing certain symbols as acceptable, moral, and right, those in power control the limits of information. Ideas seen as immoral, unacceptable, eccentric, and so on, are repressed, blocked, and forbidden.

The socio-sexual circuit keeps a check on the time-binding, rational third-circuit, to prevent the unrestrained rise of innovation and to keep order.

Children are often taught to follow the rules of society. They are not commonly taught to question, to criticize authority, and to become independent in thought.

Tribal guides, from parents and teachers to priests and police, desire for children to think and act semi-robotically, mimicking group values, following the traditions of the past, so they can be accepted into preferred roles in their group.

Most people are programmed to be just smart enough to do their roles properly, but not smart enough to question the roles they are placed under. They are trained to follow certain unspoken rules within their groups (of gender, class, race, age, and so on) and not to question them much.

They will vote for leaders who appeal to their primitive circuits, such as politicians claiming to be patriots, denouncing all outsiders that threaten their traditional values.

To stir up fear in the masses based on outside threats, to speak eloquently of change and hope, is a way to manipulate the human need for security and fear of losing it to the unknown.


Groups often use tactics to re-imprint individual nervous systems. Many cults, governments, militaries, religions, and terrorist groups, who’ve effectively re-imprinted (brainwashed) those initially outside their groups, used methods of isolation from conflicting reality-tunnels, punishments for unacceptable behavior with rewards for acceptable behavior, reinforcement of group superiority over individual inferiority, mind-altering drugs on occasion, initiations into status in the group with fear of the unknown (outside perspectives) along with comfort in the group (protective mother/father figure), and so on.

“The easiest way to get brainwashed is to be born. All of the above principles then immediately go into action, a process which social psychologists euphemistically call socialization. The bio-survival circuit automatically hooks onto or bonds to the most appropriate mother or mothering object; the emotional-territorial circuit looks for a ‘role’ or ego-identification in the family or tribe; the semantic circuit learns to imitate and then use the local reality-grids (symbol systems); the socio-sexual circuit is imprinted by whatever mating experiences are initially available at puberty.”

Domesticated primates (humans) have nervous systems that can adapt to wildly different reality-tunnels. Whereas in the past, groups could exist separately from other groups and maintain their sense of stable reality, in modern times, in an ever-connected world, groups bump into each other constantly, clashing with each other over what reality (symbol system) is. The symbol system that they hold to be true and logical, to other groups, is false and nonsensical. Furthermore, they confuse the symbol system (map of reality) with reality itself.

To dogmatic believers inside the group, their reality is the only true reality and everyone else who opposes them is deluded, immoral, or heretical.

In present times, to come into contact with so many different reality-tunnels is to be challenged with threats to group identity. The more dogmatic the group, the more dangerous the outsiders are or can be.


Beyond the first four circuits of the nervous system is the neurosomatic circuit.

Pranayama breathing, meditation, visualization of white light, prolonged sexual play without orgasm, psychedelic and cannabis consumption, among other techniques, trigger highly pleasant or unpleasant sensory states, depending on whether those who do these practices are experienced or unprepared amateurs.

Many yogis, gurus, mystics, and heretics have described this circuit as orgasmic experience, union with all/God/the infinite/the divine, crossing the abyss, and so on. Some enter this state through terrible internal struggle while others seem to naturally flow there without suffering.

The fifth circuit is intuitive and non-linear. Whereas the third-circuit hyper-thinking rationalist builds linear maps of reality, and the second circuit alpha male acts based on who is dominant in the social hierarchy, the fifth circuit mystic senses the gestalt, the organic whole, between data points in infinity.


The neurogenetic circuit goes beyond all previous circuits. It is the circuit of genetic memory, of the collective unconscious, of the Tao, of non-duality. Coincidences are significant and paradoxes are solved with wordless understanding. There is no true distinction between what exists out there and what exists within.

In this circuit, all of infinity fits into a flicker of sunlight. All of the cosmos, from quarks to planets, from the Big Bang to a sigh in the present moment, is interconnected, mutually rising and falling, becoming and not becoming. Life and death intertwine like the root systems of expanding trees.


The mind becomes what it focuses on. A mind that thinks about thinking is meta-thinking. To think about thinking about thinking, ad Infinitum, to reflect life like a mirror without clinging onto the changing experience, to be totally absorbed in an idea, a feeling, a moment, without any mental separation, is to use the meta-programming circuit.

This seventh circuit can program all lower circuits and switch between them like the channels of a TV. Similar to non action in Taoism, the meta-programmer adapts to what it engages but does not hold on.

The human brain may be psychically small compared to the universe, but within the brain, all of the universe hums. As the mind encounters certain reality-tunnels, the mind can be those reality-tunnels, while knowing of ever more.


The neurological system takes in a limited number of “existential” information, or a limited number of data points, out of the infinity of the universe.

The nervous system creates models of reality from changing data, editing, re-combining, classifying, removing, and adding information, mostly without conscious awareness.

So many thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations are experienced every millisecond. Most of people’s lives are forgotten, rejected from their belief systems, re-classified to fit into their relative models of reality from what happened, ignored totally, and so on.

Usually only fragments of experiences are selected before they are analyzed, edited, classified, judged, and rationalized.

Humans then narrow their perceptions further through filtering themselves in different symbol systems of race, class, gender, politics, religion, height, fitness, personal hobbies, sexuality, ad Infinitum, creating reality-tunnels for themselves.

Domesticated primates are a lot more creative than they realize. They are the artists of their own existence, capable of, but not always aware of, neurologically programming their relationship with the universe.


All human systems have degrees of order and chaos within them. As this balance shifts, so does the system and those who are embedded in it. The more complex the system becomes informationally, the more unstable it will become as well. Moreover, with information increasing exponentially, there will be major transformations in the system, radically changing the realities of future people — sometimes intentionally, most often not.

Look at the difference in perception between a hunter-gatherer and an industrialist, an astrologer in ancient Egypt and a quantum physicist in the twentieth century, a factory worker in 1890 and a computer software engineer.

The breakdown of an old system could be the sign of a breakthrough into another model of reality, another visionary step, another way of seeing.

From death comes life again. In all of life, however, there is still an element of death. Like a caterpillar bursting through the rigid hold of its cocoon, and then flapping out its bright wings, for only a moment, for only a brief span of time, before it too returns back to the earth.

Systems are not isolated information organisms, destined to evolve or self-destruct alone. They are interconnected with the energies of other systems and gleam with promise like the beads of Indra’s Net.

As entropy is a measure of the increasing disorder in a closed system, there is still a quantum probability of energy underlying the fabric of every event non-locally. As information increases in an uncertain but probabilistic state of coherence to chaos, order to disorder, systems change and neurological realities will adapt within, until there is another transformation in future consciousness.

Stoic Philosophy: Fame and Popularity

Stoic Philosophy: Fame and Popularity

Which master do you serve: the fleeting approval of the multitude or your own integrity?


You may strive to be honored after your death. When you are dead, however, you will no longer be with the living and all that they say will not be heard by you.

Furthermore, you will not have any control over what the living speak about, even if they decide to speak about you.

If people do talk about you, how soon will their conversations shift from praise and blame to indifference?

Those who do remember you will also die. Their memories will fade with them. Their stories forever lost in time.

Your name may not even be as significant as the greatest humans from generations past who are now less than the whispers on lips.

Every sage and poet, king and slave, every lover and child and warrior and scientist, everyone who was born and breathed in the cool air, everyone from hundreds to thousands of years before, had perished into bones and dirt and shadows. Their lives were so fleeting, here, then gone.

Forgotten in unknown pasts.


Just because someone appears happier by being famous doesn’t mean that they are happy. Appearances of happiness are not happiness.

It is common for people to have a first impression of an event or a person. While the unwise take that impression to be true and make value judgements about it, the wise will use their reason to investigate why they felt a given way and whether their feeling was justified. After they’ve patiently evaluated their initial impression, they will let go of it, and then move on. Those who are unwise will cling to their impressions. They will desire what is external and uncontrollable, such as reputation and fame and power and money.

The wise will be present and focus on who they are and what they can change while the unwise will worry about the past and the future.


Fame is not worthwhile if it causes you to lose your dignity, self-respect, kindness, turning you into a hypocrite, coward, or tyrant.


Praise is a fickle pleasure. Applause is empty of meaning beyond a moment in infinity. Nothing lasts and everything is soon forgotten. Desiring fame is only a tiresome burden.


Don’t fall under the spell of vanity, believing that you are more important than others. If you are convinced of how special you are, then you are seduced away from your reason.

Seek to be a good person rather than seeking to be known as a good person. Everyone is connected as citizens of the world.


When you want to attain a higher social status, people will have power over you. You’ll be enslaved to their approval and disapproval.

Always be indifferent to praise and blame.

When praised, laugh internally at their silly words. When blamed or sneered at, don’t concern yourself with what you cannot control.


Before you talk about being a good person, be a good person. Do not let crowds seduce you away from your discipline, your virtue, your actions. You are responsible for the type of person you are. Master yourself rather than manipulating other people.

Stoic Philosophy: Epictetus on Control

Stoic Philosophy: Epictetus on Control

Epictetus was born as a slave in Ancient Greece. He became a prominent Stoic philosopher during the Roman Imperial Period, later influencing such people as Marcus Aurelius. Although he never wrote his teachings down, his pupil, Arrian, did.

His main works are the Enchiridion and the Discourses.


Some things are in our control while other things are not. We should focus on what is in our control.

Our desires and aversions, how we choose to think and act, our pursuits and goals and preferences, are in our control (to a degree).

What is not in our control are the bodies that we are born with, our reputation, old age, illness, and death.


When we try to control the things that are not in our control, we will suffer. We must look directly at what we can control and not burden ourselves with what is not in our control.


Our expectations are not life. We must mentally prepare for adversities while being content with what we have, not wishing for what we cannot control.


Other people’s opinions are their own. Instead of manipulating what they think about us, we should work on mastering our own virtue.

Let’s look at what is within our power and act wisely rather than looking at another person for our worth.


We are all born with different abilities, privileges, struggles. Instead of judging ourselves, let’s act out our roles with dignity.

While we didn’t choose to be born or to be placed under certain circumstances, we can choose our own attitudes and ideas and actions.


We should demonstrate our philosophy through how we live. Our true master is within us first.


We should never sacrifice our humanity for the fleeting approval of others.

It is easy to be seduced by what is external and uncontrollable, but in doing so, we may risk our own integrity.

If we compromise who we are for long enough, we may lose who we are forever.


Every difficulty is a question.

We must answer with how we live.


Spend time with those who help us to grow and avoid those who diminish us. Endure those who insult us with humor, humility, and kindness.

We don’t need to explain who we are to those who refuse to understand us. We only need to focus on what’s in our power, letting go of opinions and speculation and gossip.

We don’t need to talk about ourselves like we are important. There is no need for us to boast or blame. We can remain quiet, but when speaking, speak objectively.


Review what has happened at the end of each day. Investigate what we have done well and poorly. We can cultivate habits that are virtuous while remaining compassionate toward our mistakes.

Stoic Practice During the Coronavirus

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.”

― Epictetus, Enchiridion and Selections from the Discourses

Our expectations for life is not life itself. We often want for things to be as we wish and avoid things that are not as we wish. Then when things happen against what we desire, we suffer, instead of looking directly at what is.

We must look directly at life.

Then we can act wisely with what we can control.


People will grow old, become sick, die, and lose their material possessions eventually.

Nothing is entirely our own, not even our lives. We are temporary travelers in this universe and will return to the universe after enough time has passed.

Meditate on this everyday.

We shouldn’t hide from facts that are uncomfortable, uncertain, and painful.

We shouldn’t speculate about what we don’t know, anxiously hoping for what exists only in our imaginations, dwelling with regrets about the past.

Let’s be present and learn what we can do.


We shouldn’t reduce ourselves to our judgements. While others gossip, we can remain silent. While opinions are let loose, we can stick to factual information. While people are angry and blame, we can stay patient and look within. While groups hate and form divisions, our hearts can open to the world.

Our attitudes are in our control, even when dealing with the tragedies that befall us.


We become what we regularly consume. If we surround ourselves with fearful people and sensationalized news reports, these sources will impress upon our minds and emotionally weigh us down.

While it’s crucial to be informed, we must care for our wellbeing, and should, when possible, avoid what causes suffering to ourselves and others.

When we must endure negative things, let us do so with dignity and honor, not falling into laziness, hatred, jealousy, anger, and greed.

We must look at what is within our control.

Parable of the Chinese Farmer

Parable of the Chinese Farmer

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

Alan Watts telling the parable


What is good arises with the bad. What is bad arises with the good. There is no in without an out or an up without a down.

Each depends upon the other, follows the other, is within the other, changing from extreme to extreme, and from nuance to nuance, in an intricate web.

Life is a changing process with no definite end. Things happen to people and then people judge those events as right or wrong, good or bad. They make divisions in the world of symbols and act as if those divisions are true. Separating the whole into an innumerable number of parts and clinging to specific parts, while denying the rest of life.

It is easy to make judgements about life. When something unpleasant happens, a person claims that it is terrible, clinging to an idea of terribleness. When something appears to be good, then someone will claim it as good and cling to an idea of good, but will suffer when it goes away.

Those who are wise are not attached to ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, ugliness and beauty. They patiently watch without judgement, aware of change, and open to what may come. They are not as fixed on conclusions about the answer in life, but rather, live in the mystery. They listen in stillness, not overflowing with opinions about how something appears, or should be, or what they believe about it. Mindfully, they accept what is arising and passing. They do not hide from their fear or anxiety or uncertainty. They flow with what comes, not stuck to their thoughts, open to unfolding nuances.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

The human brain is a three pound galaxy of complex, evolutionarily developed, neural connections, which when working together or apart, underlies the many processes, forming all of consciousness.

A typical neuron has around 10,000 connections to other neurons. These neurons fire in patterned sequences in many parts of the brain, all before a person is even conscious of thinking about acting.

What is a thought if it cannot be touched or felt or smelled or tasted? This strange organ inside each of our skulls controls our thoughts, but most of our brain’s activity is unconscious. Any change to the brain changes our thoughts, from the food we eat to the drugs we take to the amount of sleep we have to who we’re sexually attracted to from the time of puberty.

Our brains don’t see any absolute reality. We receive neural inputs from our organs, which are limited and biased. Our brains interpret these signals, while rejecting or ignoring what’s considered inessential. Most of what’s out there in reality is not registered. What is registered is highly interpretive.

What is perceived is an unconsciously put together illusion of a reality. Subjectively, however, reality feels more stable than it really is. People often don’t know what they don’t know.

From treating patients with brain injuries to testing cognitive biases with sensory illusion tests, it is often shown that the brain constructs a type of reality, mostly unconsciously, from a narrow selection of neural patterns, which subjectively, are given conscious meaning only afterward. Based on these neural patterns, the brain makes predictive assumptions when encountering perceptual blind spots.

Our brains are hardwired with a sense of Newtonian physics. We often learn a new physical ability consciously and then it becomes an unconscious process. If we encounter a variable that isn’t predicted, we become conscious again to process that variable and its relationship to our sensory-motor system, until it becomes automatic as well.

Our perception of time lags behind time. We need to process the moment we’re in before becoming aware that we are in that moment. At the same time, our feeling of time passing slowly or quickly alters and can be manipulated by external events.

We often have gut feelings based on prior experiences where we unconsciously formed associations between two or more things. Our associations between things influences our decision making and can easily be manipulated, making us act in irrational ways based on our hunches, even if we consciously know otherwise.

The brain is made of systems and sub-systems, responsible for different tasks, such as memory, speech, movement, and so on. Some of these systems overlap, like with the right and left hemispheres. Other systems compete with each other. Many of these areas are deeply embedded in the brain, unconsciously working, while conscious attention acts as a general.

Brains work to conserve as much energy as possible, using the most resources at the start of learning a new skill, and then eventually reducing that energy level after finding ways to be more efficient. When a person damages part of their brain, other areas often compensate for that deficiency. If the damage becomes too great, then conflicting messages will occur. Brains compensate for a lack of function in one area because they are highly adaptive and can rewire. Furthermore, brains are always active, working to create patterns of meaning, even when there are none externally.

When the conditions of a person’s brain changes, they fundamentally change as people. Someone’s inclination to commit a crime, to feel depressed, to gamble without restraint, to be smart, to have sexual desire for a certain sex, and so on, is determined by the type of brain they have, whether that brain is healthy or unhealthy, how that brain functions with chemicals, environments, hormones, etc.

Genetics hardwires brains while environments slant the hardwiring. People are born with complex neural systems in changing environments. Each brain has genetic predispositions and a high adaptability to variables overtime. People’s brains are mostly unconscious while people feel freedom in their thoughts and actions.

The brain is made up of many smaller “brains,” each with its own purposes for the benefit of the collective brain, sometimes competing, sometimes in harmony, rebuilding connections while ignoring what seems irrelevant, weaving together meanings through a processing of old patterns, ignorant of their biases when perceiving, all while maintaining an illusion of stability.

Dharma Bums

Jack Kerouac idealized Gary Snyder in “Dharma Bums,” similar to his idealization of Neal Cassady in “On The Road.” Both figures, although so different from each other, were made into glorious saints of the beat movement through Kerouac’s vision.

Snyder was a humble poet living in a shack lit with wax candles. He bought working class clothes only from thrift stores, meditated, drank wine in the Chinese restaurants of San Francisco, read, studied, and translated many ancient Buddhist texts, and hiked up mountain peaks with a high, echoing yodel.

Kerouac carried a lot of assumptions about what Buddhism is or could be — looking for a kind of “absolute truth” by climbing to the top of a mountain. Awake briefly in awe only to forget again.

At his most lyrically beautiful, he reminded me of a mystic filled with insight about the infinite grace of the cosmos.

Then at other times, he made Buddhism into a chore of daily understanding, a ritualized act of acquiring more and more knowledge just to show off, a literary dabbling into primary sources.

Sometimes he wrote with boyish fantasy, with naive hope, that after years of seeking, he had finally found an ultimate experience, one that would give him full understanding and end all his suffering.

Then there were moments when he was too arrogant with what he had learned about Buddhism (that others didn’t or couldn’t ever know). At those times, he basked in a false spiritual wisdom — like the main narrator in Fight Club — perceiving his role in the universe as a Chosen Bodhisattva, which seemed more like he was putting on a mask of spiritual vanity to compensate for insecurity.

Throughout “The Dharma Bums,” there was a confusion between his ideas about non-duality and what he was really like as a person, as a man who desired to fuck and eat and love and do drugs and shit and travel and be understood, as a lost bum poet who cared too much and felt too strongly and wandered through all of America with a great self-consciousness.

He always seemed to almost get the point of zen, before losing himself in a tangle of symbols. His Catholic background might have conditioned him to seek some fixed idea of Buddhism. Some odd merging of God and Jesus and Nirvana and Heaven and Hell and Buddha and so on. There was so much struggle in his search, in thinking over and again that he had finally got what It was about, that he often missed what was in front of him all along. Being a Buddha is to be nothing special, just here, now. Awake in the moment, not grasping. Not stuck.

As Lin-Chi once said, “Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you’re tired go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand.”

There is no out there to get to, no special place, no person to give all the answers. But ironically enough, even in Kerouac’s search, whether it’s judged as right or wrong, it is still as much zen as anything else, in the same way that right implies wrong, outside an inside, and in form, there is emptiness.

Only minds make distinctions and get lost in those distinctions without looking at the passing moment. To walk round with a head full of ideas about anything, even Buddhism, is to hold an overflowing cup.

As Dogen Zenji wrote, “Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

Kerouac, in his need for truth (more in finding his own subjective truth even when filtered through a particular person or philosophy) still came across as beautiful because of his talent, because of his earnestness, because he wanted harmony and peace and spontaneous joy, folding evermore inward on himself.

He romanticized a bohemian lifestyle, one in which artists move round the country, hitching in cars and on freight trains, meeting up briefly, smoking joints together under a roof as rain falls, pitter-patter, reading haiku to each other in coffee houses, having orgies with each other, loose and free and open to what comes.

By having an authentic lifestyle in such conflict with the conformist notions of his time, there were drawbacks. There was the uncertainty of where to eat and sleep, poverty, judgement, a threat of prison, relationships that came in moments of ecstasy only to go. There were those abused by life on the road, rootless to anyone and everything, who became victims to fear, alcoholism, paranoia, loneliness, and starvation.

Kerouac, in a sense, became a victim of his own life — dying under the pressures of fame and alcoholism and unsatisfied yearning.

The sensitivity that made his writing great brought him intense joys and sorrows. He had such perceptiveness into others but also could rationalize his own delusions, such as with “Ray’s” unfeeling talk with a paranoid Rosie before her suicide, where he never truly cared about her well-being. He spouted Buddhist philosophy only for his own ego, not out of compassion or love. Such compartmentalization shows, as the Tao Te Ching said, “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

Despite Kerouac sometimes being possessed with delusions of grandeur, and his inability to get his family to understand his disconnected insights, he was not hard to like. His affinity for all of life and reveling in its ecstasies, made him a wanderer, a loner, a rebel, spiritual in his longing and despairing in his fall. He inspired countless generations of hippies and hipsters and seekers and artists and found himself a guide for those who want meaning outside of a conventional world.

Man’s Search For Himself

People often don’t know what they truly feel or want. They sense something missing inside themselves, an existential emptiness, an anxiety that gnaws deeply at their insides.

They do what everyone expects from them to do—from their teachers, employers, parents, religions, and communities — or at least, what they imagine these groups expect. As one ordinary person said, “I’m just a collection of mirrors, reflecting what everyone else expects of me.”

People want to be liked. They crave after attention and respect, believing rather compulsively that these things will be sufficient for happiness and meaning.

“Every human being gets much of his sense of his own reality out of what others say to him and think about him. But many modern people have gone so far in their dependence on others for their feeling of reality that they are afraid that without it they would lose the sense of their own existence.”

Social acceptance seems like a cure to existential angst, but it only temporarily relieves loneliness, fear, and anxiety. People seek approval from others while symbolically returning to the warmth of the womb, and in turn, sacrificing freedom for dependency.

What arises from such emptiness is the need for authority, for someone or something to take control of, and then make better, what is neglected within.

“When a nation, rather, is prey to insupportable economic want and is psychologically and spiritually empty, totalitarianism comes in to fill the vacuum; and the people sell their freedom as a necessity for getting rid of the anxiety which is too great for them to bear any longer.”

Those who live with existential anxiety lose themselves. Overwhelmed, confused by what is out there. They cannot clearly identify what they want out of life. They succumb to what is external instead of tending to what is sacredly internal.

They feel the threat of being cast off.

They seek social approval while avoiding isolation, alienation from the group.

Those who hide from their anxieties during the crucial stages of their development will only stagnate or get worse. Anxiety, for everyone, is a normal aspect of growth. People should be honest and confront their own anxieties, exposing themselves gradually to what they need that helps them mature.

While anxiety confuses reality, people can still choose to constructively engage with these negative feelings. “Just as anxiety destroys our self-awareness, so awareness of ourselves can destroy anxiety.”

People often, however, compartmentalize much of their lives. They use their reason to study, save themselves for fun on the weekends, distract themselves from feeling pain and fear by watching television and posting on social media. They put on shows for other people, for an invisible audience in their minds. They become performers rather than humans, caring about their actions, based on the reactions of others to their actions.

“But the artists, and the rest of us too, remain spiritually isolated and at sea, and so we cover up our loneliness by chattering with other people about the things we do have language for — the world series, business affairs, the latest news reports. Our deeper emotional experiences are pushed further away, and we tend, thus, to become emptier and lonelier.”

To find those deeper experiences, people need to live fully, vulnerably, alive in each moment. Human beings are capable not only of being nature, and being in nature, but in thinking of nature and their place within it.

People are able to be self-aware, keep time, to learn from the past, plan for the future, use symbolic systems to make distinctions and communicate. They can empathize with people from hundreds of years ago, on different continents, with other types of animals and plants, and imagine themselves as them.

These gifts of humanity come with anxieties and fears, with inner-crises. People still struggle with not only their current states of development, but with all those influences which had come from before.

People have the ability to be created by their engagement with others and what had conditioned them in their past. At the same time, they can create themselves.

“The self is always born and grows in interpersonal relationships. But no ‘ego’ moves on into responsible selfhood if it remains chiefly the reflection of the social context around it. In our particular world in which conformity is the great destroyer of selfhood — in our society in which fitting the ‘pattern’ tends to be accepted as the norm, and being ‘well liked’ is the alleged ticket to salvation — what needs to be emphasized is not only the admitted fact that we are to some extent created by each other but also our capacity to experience, and create, ourselves.”

People can create themselves by being aware of themselves as thinking-feeling-intuiting creatures deeply connected to nature. Their “selves” are not merely a sum of “roles” that they should perform to be accepted by the group. Each human can rather be fully integrated within themselves, fulfilling their potentialities.

“But the human being’s task in fulfilling his nature is much more difficult, for he must do it in self-consciousness. That is, his development is never automatic but must be to some extent chosen and affirmed by himself.”

People are unique in their consciousness of themselves. No one entirely knows the full extent of what another person feels and thinks. Each person is alone in their minds and must find their inner-strength ultimately without anyone else to do it for them.

People must affirm their own dignity and self-worth. It is far easier to blame others or oneself than it is to take responsibility for life.

To blame or praise is often to mask an arrogance of being overly concerned with one’s own importance, despite whether one feels superior or inferior. To engage in such thinking is a deception that people use to avoid a constructive attitude toward life, in seeing things as they are.

One should love oneself.

To love oneself is to love others and to love others is to love oneself. There is no selfishness in genuine caring, compassion, empathy, and kindness. When one is aware, one can let go. By letting go, spontaneous joy comes into living for each moment. One feels an expansion rather than a constriction, actively alive rather than passively existing.

To love, one must be sensitive to feelings and thoughts, to the connection of body and mind, to nature and community, to all sense and intuition, passing from dawn to dusk, over and again.

“The originality and uniqueness which is always part of a spontaneous feeling can be understood in this light. For just as there never was exactly that situation before and never will be again, so the feeling one has at that time is new and never to be exactly repeated. It is only neurotic behavior which is rigidly repetitive.”

It is easy to block awareness with routines and repetitions and busying oneself every day. Rather than idleness, contemplation and meditation, people often do without any thought as to why.

Individuals will constantly struggle to discover what they want, how they feel, and what they can do to live fully, because there are many external pressures that will prevent them from being aware.

“Strictly speaking, the process of being born from the womb, cutting free from the mass, replacing dependency with choice, is involved in every decision of one’s life, and even is the issue facing one on his deathbed. For what is the capacity to die courageously except the ultimate step in the continuum of learning to be on one’s own, to leave the whole? Thus every person’s life could be portrayed by a graph of differentiation — how far has he freed himself from automatic dependencies, become an individual, able then to relate to his fellows on the new level of self-chosen love, responsibility and creative work?”

It is normal for those who desire to grow to experience great moments of anxiety, fear, and terror.

“Moving out from a protected, familiar place into new independence, from support to temporary isolation, while at the same time one feels one’s own anxiety and powerlessness.”

People must work with feelings of anxiety, alongside an environment that pressures them to conform or rebel, while moving toward inner freedom.

To create oneself is to transcend the fit of old masks, to move beyond those dependencies of childhood, to seek unfamiliar places that haven’t yet been explored.

Unhealthy environmental influences will never support a person’s quest for inner freedom. They will rather, in the form of family, religion, government, and so on, redirect a person’s fear toward others, eventually turning that fear into hatred.

“Hatred and resentment are destructive emotions, and the mark of maturity is to transform them into constructive emotions. But the fact that the human being will destroy something — generally in the long run himself — rather than surrender his freedom proves how important freedom is to him.”

Those who suppress their hatred often feel a deep resentment. They don’t resent others or themselves nearly as much as they reject having their freedom taken away, feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Those who don’t conform usually rebel. Their rebellion is a mistaken attempt at individuality, a failure of responsibility in reaction to what is external.

“But rebellion is often confused with freedom itself. It becomes a false port in the storm because it gives the rebel a delusive sense of being really independent. The rebel forgets that rebellion always presupposes an outside structure — of rules, laws, expectations — against which one is rebelling; and one’s security, sense of freedom and strength are dependent actually on this external structure. They are ‘borrowed,’ and can be taken away like a bank loan which can be called in at any moment. Psychologically many persons stop at this stage of rebellion. Their sense of inner moral strength comes only from knowing what moral conventions they do not live up to; they get an oblique sense of conviction by proclaiming their atheism and disbelief.”

To live in reaction is not to be free. To be dependent is also not to be free. People claim freedom to do whatever they want as well. But they neglect responsibility by chaining themselves to addiction, security, comfort, and gratification, avoiding what is uncertain and mysterious, fearful and painful.

“Freedom means openness, a readiness to grow; it means being flexible, ready to change for the sake of greater human values. To identify freedom with a given system is to deny freedom — it crystallizes freedom and turns it into dogma. To cling to a tradition, with the defensive plea that if we lose something that worked well in the past we will have lost all, neither shows the spirit of freedom nor makes for the future growth of freedom.”

Freedom comes when people mold themselves and take care of others. Freedom comes first through self-awareness, expanding forever out.

“Through his power to survey his life, man can transcend the immediate events which determine him. Whether he has tuberculosis or is a slave like the Roman philosopher Epictetus or a prisoner condemned to death, he can still in his freedom choose how he will relate to these facts.”

Freedom is not given. It is developed every day. People can choose to kill themselves psychologically, unaware and ignorant, in restless craving. They can conform to the conditioning of their youth and follow a linear path made up for them to adhere to until eventually dying. Or they can gain a false sense of power through rebellion, in reacting, resisting, combating an enemy, until they wither away in hatred and fear.

To be free, however, is to have discipline. With self-discipline, one seeks to learn about life and consistently follows one’s values, discovering freedom through inner work.

“Man’s anxiety, bewilderment and emptiness — the chronic psychic diseases of modern man — occur mainly because his values are confused and contradictory, and he has no psychic core. We can now add that the degree of an individual’s inner strength and integrity will depend on how much he himself believes in the values he lives.”

To live with integrity is terrifying and uncertain at times. People often retreat from what’s not known, becoming rigid and dogmatic, protecting themselves with certainty.

“Within the creative person himself there is fear of moving ahead. In these myths there speaks not only the courageous side of man, but the servile side which would prefer comfort to freedom, security to one’s own growth.”

There is a battle within each person: for comfort and security, and for creativity and freedom. To fully conform to security is to undermine one’s inner strength. To be conditioned to the whims of others is to give up choice and awareness.

People who are ethically sensitive will struggle daily, but they will be creators of themselves. They will live consistently, aware of who they are and what they want.

When one is courageous, one can accept being alone. One is not living merely for the acceptance of others, but rather, is living fully. There then is no authority greater than oneself.

The mature person has “the capacity to love something for its own sake, not for the sake of being taken care of or gaining a bootlegged feeling of prestige and power. Certainly loneliness and anxiety can be constructively met. Though this cannot be done through the deus ex machina of a ‘cosmic papa,’ it can be achieved through the individual’s confronting directly the various crises of his development, moving from dependence to greater freedom and higher integration by developing and utilizing his capacities, and relating to his fellows through creative work and love.”

One doesn’t have to leave society to be mature or free. To be in the crowd but still maintain the “sweetness of solitude,” as Emerson said, to have integrity while still learning from tradition and culture, is to possess inner strength.

One is not bored, but interested in everything, in everyone, alive in the moment.

“Wonder is the opposite to cynicism and boredom; it indicates that a person has a heightened aliveness, is interested, expectant, responsive. It is essentially an ‘opening’ attitude — an awareness that there is more to life than one has as yet fathomed, an experience of new vistas in life to be explored as well as new profundities to be plumbed.”

With curiosity, people can explore all of life. They begin from themselves, and not from others, as a foundation for love, open to what is possible, affirming who they are through their choices, not only in action but in attitude. A person will find what is valuable for him or herself. These values will be intimately known rather than passively given.

In every choice, there is always a risk. To choose from self-awareness, however, is to take responsibility and affirm oneself though a creative decision.

Whether each choice springs from conscious or unconscious motives, whether the person will make a mistake or not, doesn’t take away from the integrity of choosing what feels right in the moment, based on current knowledge.

What matters is to be honest with oneself. Knowledge of one’s unique perceptions, impressions, and experiences, leads to clarity and a higher purpose. In order to have this self-knowledge, however, one must have tremendous courage.

“Courage is the capacity to meet the anxiety which arises as one achieves freedom. It is the willingness to differentiate, to move from the protecting realms of parental dependence to new levels of freedom and integration. The need for courage arises not only at those stages when breaks with parental protection are most obvious — such as at the birth of self-awareness, at going off to school, at adolescence, in crises of love, marriage and the facing of ultimate death — but at every step in between as one moves from the familiar surroundings over frontiers into the unfamiliar.”

People are often afraid to be themselves because they don’t want to be laughed at, ridiculed, mocked, and shunned. They hide in the crowds, avoiding taking a risk, complacent with the shaky comfort of fitting in.

One can be courageous in living and still be connected to a community. One can discover an inner power without being socially isolated. “It takes courage not only to assert oneself but to give of oneself.”

To be courageous is to let go of what is familiar. Steadily, patiently growing from awareness of one’s inner world, seeking out what is mysterious and exploring, highly creative and mature.

One is blocked from being courageous when one doesn’t stand up for his or her values, when one automatically falls into roles that others have desired, rather than living from a genuine purpose.

People need to be accepted as who they are, not for as others wish them to be. But all too often, people want to be liked, not for who they are, but for who they appear to be.

To strive to be normal and seek acceptance from outside is to give up on courage. By living after others, one feels worthless whenever the group doesn’t approve, but feels valuable whenever they do.

“Courage arises from one’s sense of dignity and self-esteem; and one is uncourageous because he thinks too poorly of himself… Vanity and narcissism — the compulsive needs to be admired and praised — undermine one’s courage, for one then fights on someone else’s conviction rather than one’s own.”

A courageous person can stand by their own convictions without the need to justify those convictions to others. Rather than trying to explain who they are and what they value to an authority, such as to a symbolic parent, they only need to convince themselves. To try to convince those who made up the rules, who want one to conform anyway, is to implicitly legitimize those rules and then react against them.

One must hold with conviction one’s own standards — no matter how imperfect they may be.

“It is the courage to be and trust one’s self despite the fact that one is finite; it means acting, loving, thinking, creating, even though one knows he does not have the final answers, and he may well be wrong. But it is only from a courageous acceptance of ‘finitude,’ and a responsible acting thereon, that one develops the powers that one does possess — far from absolute though they be.”

When people can honor their own dignity, they can see the dignity in others, even in those who are different from them. They can see the human and not the object to feel superior or inferior against.

They can feel the joys and sorrows of another, empathize, being fully present.

To love is not to exploit someone for an advantage. It is not to depend on another to reduce fear and loneliness. Love arises through mutual dignity, developed from self-awareness.

People are so used to competing, to treating each other as objects, raised on the philosophy of buying and selling, that they’re conditioned to love with undeveloped authenticity.

All too often, “love” is provided only when one gets what one wants.

Genuine love means to give, but only when one is mature enough to give, when one is internally strong enough to live through themselves.

“It is a giving of one’s self and a finding of one’s self at once. Such ecstasy represents the fullest interdependence in human relations; and the same paradox applies as in creative consciousness — one can merge one’s self in ecstasy only as one has gained the prior capacity to stand alone, to be a person in one’s own right.”

To live with the ideal of love, freedom and responsibility, completely in the present moment, with awareness and spontaneity and patience, to intimately explore one’s potentialities and face the uncertainty of life, is to be mature, to be humble about what one doesn’t know while being open to what could be. It is ultimately to be alive.

Man’s Search For Meaning

“THIS BOOK DOES NOT CLAIM TO BE an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again. It is the inside story of a concentration camp, told by one of its survivors. This tale is not concerned with the great horrors, which have already been described often enough (though less often believed), but with the multitude of small torments. In other words, it will try to answer this question: How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?”
 
 The life of an average concentration camp prisoner, of one who had no special status or distinguishing marks on their sleeves, was one of daily struggle for existence.
 
 Tattooed on flesh, stolen of possession and identification, reduced to number among other numbers. To live, if only barely, if only briefly, was to know of another’s death.
 
 “Every man was controlled by one thought only: to keep himself alive for the family waiting for him at home, and to save his friends. With no hesitation, therefore, he would arrange for another prisoner, another ‘number,’ to take his place in the transport.”
 
 Viktor Frankl was Number 119, 104. His job inside camp was digging and laying tracks for railway lines before eventually tending to the sick, injured, and dying.
 
 For the Capos with their regular rations, they earned cigarettes as well as other perks. For ordinary prisoners, cigarettes were luxury items, traded for soup to prevent starvation. Then there were cigarettes for those who had lost themselves in despair.
 
 “The only exceptions to this were those who had lost the will to live and wanted to ‘enjoy’ their last days. Thus, when we saw a comrade smoking his own cigarettes, we knew he had given up faith in his strength to carry on, and, once lost, the will to live seldom returned.”
 
 When a prisoner first entered the camp, they were shocked. Unable to grasp the brutal reality of their situation. Barbed wire and spotlights. Shrill commands in German. Ragged humans slumped in a gray dawn. As the days passed from the train to the camp, prisoners dulled into a nightmarish world.
 
 “In psychiatry there is a certain condition known as ‘delusion of reprieve.’ The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad.”
 
 Prisoners who first arrived to camp were starved and cooped together in the cold. Guards would walk to each person and inspect them, deciding on whether they would work or be sent to die. With one finger pointing to the right or left, there was existence or non-existence, life or execution.
 
 “‘Was he sent to the left side?’
 
 ‘Yes,’ I replied.
 
 ‘Then you can see him there,’ I was told.
 
 ‘Where?’
 
 A hand pointed to the chimney a few hundred yards off, which was sending a column of flame up into the grey sky of Poland. It dissolved into a sinister cloud of smoke.
 
 ‘That’s where your friend is, floating up to Heaven,’ was the answer. But I still did not understand until the truth was explained to me in plain words.”
 
 Prisoners were removed of all their items, including wedding rings, writings, jewels, photographs, anything resembling their former lives. They were stripped into a trembling nudity, whipped and beaten, washed of lice, shaven until completely hairless.
 
 “Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly, most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our so ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays! Apart from that strange kind of humor, another sensation seized us: curiosity. I have experienced this kind of curiosity before, as a fundamental reaction toward certain strange circumstances. When my life was once endangered by a climbing accident, I felt only one sensation at the critical moment: curiosity, curiosity as to whether I should come out of it alive or with a fractured skull or some other injuries. Cold curiosity predominated even in Auschwitz, somehow detaching the mind from its surroundings, which came to be regarded with a kind of objectivity. At that time one cultivated this state of mind as a means of protection. We were anxious to know what would happen next; and what would be the consequence, for example, of our standing in the open air, in the chill of late autumn, stark naked, and still wet from the showers. In the next few days our curiosity evolved into surprise; surprise that we did not catch cold.”
 
 In Auschwitz, a prisoner adapted to the worst conditions imaginable. Cold and unclean, sleeping huddled for a couple hours after hard labor, shirt weathered, feet cracked in mud.
 
 Suicide loomed in every prisoner’s mind — from the ever present danger that took those around them, threatening at every moment, to the utter hopelessness of the future. While some did kill themselves, most popularly by electrocution when touching a barbed wire fence, others, despite their small chance of living on, bared grueling days of survival, aware that they would still be sent to the gas chamber.
 
 As time went on under harsh conditions, prisoners were desensitized to emotions such as disgust and pity and compassion. From being around so much trauma, they had become apathetic, blunted of caring, in the instinct to survive. From day to day, physical punishment didn’t matter as much as the agony of injustice, of the helplessness to do anything about the terrible conditions that spread through camp.
 
 Guards regularly punished prisoners for the smallest of infractions. If somebody stepped out of line, talked back, helped another person who was struggling, or couldn’t do their work, they would be murdered, if not beaten. They were treated with the same respect as livestock.
 
 Prisoners, who had once identified as husbands and wives and students and doctors and professors and musicians and teachers and shopkeepers, were barely afforded the dignity of being human.
 
 After being reduced to such a blunted state, prisoners became primitive in their need to live each day for one more day. Just a little longer. They often dreamed more than they lived. Imagining that they had simple desires fulfilled from cake to cookies, from warm baths to deep sleep, they craved the illusion of peace while living a terrible reality.
 
 “When the last layers of subcutaneous fat had vanished, and we looked like skeletons disguised with skin and rags, we could watch our bodies beginning to devour themselves. The organism digested its own protein, and the muscles disappeared. Then the body had no powers of resistance left. One after another the members of the little community in our hut died. Each of us could calculate with fair accuracy whose turn would be next, and when his own would come. After many observations we knew the symptoms well, which made the correctness of our prognoses quite certain. ‘He won’t last long,’ or, ‘This is the next one,’ we whispered to each other, and when, during our daily search for lice, we saw our own naked bodies in the evening, we thought alike: This body here, my body, is really a corpse already. What has become of me? I am but a small portion of a great mass of human flesh … of a mass behind barbed wire, crowded into a few earthen huts; a mass of which daily a certain portion begins to rot because it has become lifeless.”
 
 Once woken from their longing in dreams, prisoners huddled together to work from a shrill whine of sirens. They barely fit their swollen feet into wet shoes before a day of labor began. If their feet could not fit inside those shoes, they would have to trudge through the snow, barefoot and frostbitten. While undernourished and starving, prisoners generally lost the ability to care about sex or anything except for a fulfillment of basic needs. Even feelings of sentiment, of caring, numbed from repeated daily trauma.
 
 “There were fifty of us in the prison car, which had two small, barred peepholes. There was only enough room for one group to squat on the floor, while the others, who had to stand up for hours, crowded round the peepholes. Standing on tiptoe and looking past the others’ heads through the bars of the window, I caught an eerie glimpse of my native town. We all felt more dead than alive, since we thought that our transport was heading for the camp at Mauthausen and that we had only one or two weeks to live. I had a distinct feeling that I saw the streets, the squares and the houses of my childhood with the eyes of a dead man who had come back from another world and was looking down on a ghostly city. After hours of delay the train left the station. And there was the street — my street! The young lads who had a number of years of camp life behind them and for whom such a journey was a great event stared attentively through the peephole. I began to beg them, to entreat them, to let me stand in front for one moment only. I tried to explain how much a look through that window meant to me just then. My request was refused with rudeness and cynicism: ‘You lived here all those years? Well, then you have seen quite enough already!’”
 
 As prisoners endured the nightly struggle of a concentration camp, sometimes only salvation could come through thought, in the rituals of religion, prayer and debate, in the rumination of a loved one. Frankl imagined his wife while marching with sore feet, touching her with memories, with his imagination of where she was, how she was, and how deeply he loved her.
 
 “This intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past.”
 
 By creating such a rich inner life for themselves, prisoners developed an intense appreciation for nature and art. In contrast with their suffering, they found glory in the small miracles of existence.
 
 “Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, ‘How beautiful the world could be!’”
 
 “Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. ‘Et lux in tenebris lucet’ — and the light shineth in the darkness. For hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was very strong: she was there. Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me.”
 
 Most of camp life, however, wore on the very existence of the prisoner. One lived with mental turmoil, pain which constantly threatened one’s values, beliefs, and high purpose, “throwing them into doubt.” This brutal world ground the prisoner’s human dignity down to nothing, where the end of all struggle was death. People were used up until they their bodies failed, until their will to go on faded, like the flickering light of a candle, falling to enfolding darkness.
 
 Camp inmates often were tormented with making decisions and taking an initiative, believing that their lives were subject to fate. Small decisions could lead to life or death, whether in the moment or future.
 
 As Frankl wrote on his last days at camp before being rescued, when he thought about escaping, “We found out just how uncertain human decisions are, especially in matters of life and death. I was confronted with photographs which had been taken in a small camp not far from ours. Our friends who had thought they were traveling to freedom that night had been taken in the trucks to this camp, and there they were locked in the huts and burned to death. Their partially charred bodies were recognizable on the photograph.”
 
 Trusting in fate, at times of certain death, was acceptance of what was to come. In other ways, it was a defense mechanism against the evil of the camp. Apathy was another way of survival, of psychological defense. In conditions of starvation and death, of malnutrition and poor hygiene, of regular slaughter and grueling work, of being treated as livestock instead of as humans, prisoners had to find ways to endure.
 
 Despite the apathy, exhaustion, and irritability of the prisoners, they were never completely lost, forsaken to the hells of their psychological conditions. They still had a choice, a chance within every moment, to act humanely. There were many who, under extreme duress, acted heroically.
 
 “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
 
 We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
 
 Everything could be taken from an inmate but their inner freedom. Some prisoners, despite the most terrible conditions, still maintained their human dignity. Amidst great suffering and death, they had to choose and not choose.
 
 Surrounded by the most extreme external restrictions, prisoners had the choice to reflect upon what had meaning for them, holding onto their purpose. Their attitude of spiritual freedom was a crucial element in an ongoing struggle for their existence.
 
 “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”
 
 While many prisoners slumped into despair or conformity under a brutal injustice, there were some who remained compassionate, courageous and loving, giving of themselves when they had no obligation to, accepting their fate while selflessly helping others, up until their extermination. They died with no names, no families and friends, but still had the integrity to not lose their humanity.
 
 To maintain dignity while trampled on by the jackboot, to give a last piece of bread away to a sickly child, to offer a kind word before walking before the gas chamber, despite not being known or praised for their sacrifices, was to act with freedom.
 
 “This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. ‘I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,’ she told me. ‘In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.’ Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, ‘This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.’ Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. ‘I often talk to this tree,’ she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. ‘Yes.’ What did it say to her? She answered, ‘It said to me, ‘I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.’”
 
 Inside the camp, there was no time, no sense of a future. Outside of the barbed wire fence, prisoners felt an unreality, an alien world to their own. Prisoners had to struggle to grasp the meaning of life and not lose themselves in the past, in apathy, in giving up to future possibilities. Some strengthened their inner lives, maturing under the horrors of their experiences, while others resigned themselves to a previous way of life that was no more.
 
 “Naturally only a few people were capable of reaching great spiritual heights. But a few were given the chance to attain human greatness even through their apparent worldly failure and death, an accomplishment which in ordinary circumstances they would never have achieved. To the others of us, the mediocre and the half-hearted, the words of Bismarck could be applied: ‘Life is like being at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.’ Varying this, we could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”
 
 A prisoner who could imagine a reason to survive, a “why” for their existence, in the moment or future, could endure the most unbearable circumstances.
 
 “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
 
 These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand. When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”
 
 Inside the camp, there were those who could endure daily atrocities and those who could not. Even among those who could, they survived not only from hope, from genuine purpose in a world against them, but from chance.
 
 For the guards themselves, there were those who took a sadistic pleasure in making the prisoners suffer. Then there were those who were sympathetic but remained silent to the abuse, to the tortures, hardening themselves after years. Finally, there were those who secretly helped and cared, despite negative consequences from their superior officers.
 
 Some prisoners, who had been promoted to marginal powers, became as sadistic as the worst guards. Other guards, moved by compassion, could bring a prisoner to tears from the smallest act of kindness. No one in either group was entirely good or entirely bad. Life asked the question, in every circumstance, what type of person would they be?
 
 “From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’ — and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
 
 Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”
 
 When the prisoner was finally released from camp after so many years of hard suffering, returning to the world was an ordeal. A prisoner drifted as if lost in a dream, unable to feel, unable to become human. It was so difficult for prisoners, after being routinely abused, to recover from the endlessness of a camp, where starvation and death were companions.
 Prisoners often ate an enormous amount once liberated, compensating for years of watery soup and stale bread.
 
 There was a pressure that had built inside every inmate, a repression of their yearly suffering into the unconscious, which had to eventually erupt though talk, through a discussion of what had been taboo to speak about in camp, through screams and nightmares and long cries to those murdered, a readjustment back to the unfamiliar world of the living.
 
 “One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country past flowering meadows, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the larks’ jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky — and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world — I had but one sentence in mind — always the same: ‘I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.’ How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.”
 
 Some of those freed returned and found no homes, no families anymore. Others traveled to their hometowns, where their community could not truly empathize with them or know the magnitude of their past. Yet those who survived still held onto hope for a wife, husband and child, for a future, for a meaning that lingered beyond those barbed wire fences and spotlighted towers. They found purpose in their suffering, but not through what the Nazis desired. They endured in utter depravity, for years and years, only to seek that which could transcend them.