Good News, You Are Not Your Brain, And 12 Other Essays That Will Change Your Life


This was a pleasure to compile. A life hack for you: ask everybody you know what essay, article, story or poem has most profoundly affected them, and you get an inbox full of fantastic content to sort through. Some of these pieces are the ones that struck me the most of those suggestions, and others are some of my own favorites (of which I’ve quoted and referenced too many times to count at this point.) Each has a very distinct way of opening your perspective to something you may have not considered before. Many of them err on the side of being ‘spiritual’ in genre, but they do not have to be read that way. Spirituality in concept is universal, and such is the case with these pieces. Some are striking, some are comforting, some are perplexing, some are simple, some are easy, some are dense, but they all show you something you may have known though you weren’t able to put words to it consciously, until now.

1. Thank God At Least Half Of My Life Is Over, Good Riddance by James Altucher.

“We’re just a tiny spark of light between two darknesses,” I said. “And my spark can now start to flicker. I feel a sense of relief at this.” Sometimes our bodies are sick. Often our minds are sick. Sometimes we are angry or insecure or sad. Sometimes the people around us are sick. Sometimes it’s hard to look at a sun rising and say, “that’s beautiful.” We are so busy thinking and planning and calculating and anxietating and placating and aching. We think we want goals. Get a goal, get happy. Chase the horizon so you can get there and then chase the next one.

2. When I Look At A Strawberry, I Think Of A Tongue by Édouard Levé.

When I was young, I thought “Life: A User’s Manual” would teach me how to live and “Suicide: A User’s Manual” how to die. I don’t really listen to what people tell me. I forget things I don’t like. I look down dead-end streets. The end of a trip leaves me with a sad aftertaste the same as the end of a novel. I am not afraid of what comes at the end of life. I am slow to realize when someone mistreats me, it is always so surprising: evil is somehow unreal.

3. Good News: You Are Not Your Brain by Deepak Chopra.

The flaws in current reasoning can be summarized with devastating force:

  • Brain activity isn’t the same as thinking, feeling, or seeing.
  • No one has remotely shown how molecules acquire the qualities of the mind.
  • It is impossible to construct a theory of the mind based on material objects that somehow became conscious.
  • When the brain lights up, its activity is like a radio lighting up when music is played.

It is an obvious fallacy to say that the radio composed the music. What is being viewed is only a physical correlation, not a cause.

4. The Love Of My Life by Cheryl Strayed.

Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do. It’s what I did then and there. I stood up and got into my truck and drove away from a part of my mother. The part of her that had been my lover, my wife, my first love, my true love, the love of my life.

5. This Moment Is Not Your Life by Ryan Holiday.

Extrapolation is when we project our known experience into the unknown and conjure up some vision for the future. It’s when we look at one little thing and extend it out into some global judgement about the universe. In psychology they even have a name for it: fundamental attribution error. It’s a cognitive bias. This moment is not your life. This is just a moment in your life. That’s it. That sentence will help you endure much. It will help you let so much go.

6. This Is Water by David Foster Wallace [Originally the 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College — then transcribed into a small book.]

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

7. Tiny Beautiful Things by “Sugar” from “Dear Sugar” (Cheryl Strayed).

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else. Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

8. Andrew Breitbart’s “So” — A Great Question And Now A Worthy Charity by Craig Biddle.

The question “So?” directs a given discussion to the underlying and relevant facts of the matter, the facts by reference to which any important issue should be evaluated. It makes people check their premises.

9. Spiritual Laws by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Our young people are diseased with the theological problems of original sin, origin of evil, predestination, and the like. These never presented a practical difficulty to any man, — never darkened across any man’s road, who did not go out of his way to seek them. These are the soul’s mumps, and measles, and whooping-coughs, and those who have not caught them cannot describe their health or prescribe the cure. A simple mind will not know these enemies. It is quite another thing that he should be able to give account of his faith, and expound to another the theory of his self-union and freedom. This requires rare gifts. Yet, without this self-knowledge, there may be a sylvan strength and integrity in that which he is. “A few strong instincts and a few plain rules” suffice us.

10. When You’re At The Crossroads Of ‘Should’ And ‘Must’ by Elle Luna.

There are two paths in life: Should and Must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And each time, we get to choose.

Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different. 

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.

Must is why Van Gogh painted his entire life without ever receiving public recognition. Must is why Mozart performed Don Giovani and Coltrane played his new sound, even as the critics called it ugly. Must is why that lawyer in his thirties spent three years writing his first novel only to be rejected by three dozen publishers. He honored his calling, eventually received a “yes,” and that is why John Grisham is a household name today. Must isn’t exclusively for writers and painters and composers, though. Must is why, in the early days, Airbnb sold boxes of cereal to make ends meet because no one would give them money and every conceivable metric said they should quit.

11. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939 by Carl Jung.

So God has never been made. He has always been. Then slowly, with the increase of consciousness, when people discovered that they could make different ideas about the deity, they came to the conclusion that it was nothing but an idea, and they quite forgot the real phenomenon that is behind all the ideas. You see, they became so identical with the products of their own consciousness that they thought they had created him. But such abuse brings about its own revenge. The more people created ideas about God, the more they depleted and devitalized nature. And then it looked as if that primordial fact of the world had only taken place in imagination. Of course, be that process we created consciousness, but we have built up a thick wall between ourselves and primordial facts, between ourselves and the divine presence. We are so far away that nobody knows what one is talking about when one speaks of that divine presence, and if anybody discovers it suddenly, he thinks it is most amazing; yet it is the most simple fact. But we are no longer simple enough on account of that thick wall of ideas; we have so many preconceived ideas about what the divine presence ought to be, that we have deprived ourselves of the faculty of seeing it. Yet the primordial facts are still in the world; they happen all the time, only we have given them so many names that we don’t see the wood any longer on account of the trees.

12. The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster.

“I want to see you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”

“Oh, hush!” said his mother, vaguely shocked. “You mustn’t say anything against the Machine.”

“Why not?”

“One mustn’t.”

“You talk as if a god had made the Machine,” cried the other.

“I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind.”

13. The Perimeter of Ignorance by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But a careful reading of older texts, particularly those concerned with the universe itself, shows that the authors invoke divinity only when they reach the boundaries of their understanding. They appeal to a higher power only when staring into the ocean of their own ignorance. They call on God only from the lonely and precarious edge of incomprehension. Where they feel certain about their explanations, however, God gets hardly a mention.