Get Living or Die Trying

A Guide to Life Before Death for Teens and Other Crazy People

by Dead Zen

A To-Do List Before The World Ends (or what some people call Chapters)

  1. Start Here: The Hard Truth
  2. In Fact, You Already Don’t Exist
  3. And, By The Way, You Will Be Forgotten
  4. Cheer Up, Death is your Buddy
  5. Why Give a Sh*t? Part One: Suicide
  6. Kill Your Life, Not Your Self
  7. Why Give a Sh*t? Part Two: Drugs and Crap
  8. Too Much of Anything Ruins Everything
  9. What Is Give Up and Die Living
  10. Give Up and Die…You’ll Be Happy You Did
  11. Bad Sh*t is Sometimes Good
  12. Sit Down and Shut Up
  13. One Question to Rule Them All
  14. Suicide, Murder, and Already Dead
  15. Be Alive For Life
  16. How to Deal with Idiots (Like Yourself)
  17. Sex, True Love, and Infatuation
  18. Don’t Pick Up Other People’s Poop
  19. Ambition Versus Resolve
  20. Rich, Famous, Stupid, & Miserable
  21. A Warning Sign You Might Be Dead
  22. The Three Rules to Instant Enlightenment
  23. So What Really Matters?
  24. Be Wrong Half the Time
  25. Hard Work
  26. Feed Yourself: Water Garden, Not Weeds
  27. Give Up and Die Finale

The Hard Truth

First of all, ask yourself…

Are you alive?

Really alive?

Take a moment and check your pulse. Think about how you’ve spent your last week. What have you been doing with yourself?

Was that time spent really living? Or acting like you’re already dead?

Many people, young and old, think they are alive, but they are not.

They are zombies.

Walking dead.

They’ve quit caring, trying, doing.

Give Up and Die, but never Quit.

WHAT? GIVE UP AND DIE! Sure. Here’s how it works: when you GIVE UP everything that does not matter AND remember you will DIE (in the next minute, decade, or century), then you can start to really live.  It’s what all the great philosophers have been telling us. Imagine yourself as a ninety-year-old man sitting in a rocking chair. What advice would you give yourself!

Let’s get this over with, in case you haven’t figured it out yet. All the doomsday prophets and street corner preachers are right. The world, your world, is ending. You are going to die. In fact, here are some possibilities:The Hard Truth

  • A very painful decaying disease, like leprosy, will consume your flesh (though, it’s unlikely).
  • You will fall into a frozen lake, get trapped under the ice, and suffocate in frigid water.
  • There’s an electrical shortage in your house, which starts a fire and turns you into a charred piece of meat while sleeping.
  • If you’re young, you’re most likely to die from an accident, probably from doing something stupid, like playing highway chicken with a friend while texting and putting on makeup (so don’t try it).
  • You could also kill yourself, but don’t do that. If you really feel that bad, talk to someone right now. Otherwise, read on and we’ll get to that.
  • If you’re older, an adult, your main options for dying still involve stupid things you do to yourself, mostly related to food, booze, and cigarettes. Your own heart will get sick of being treated like crap, and therefore quit, killing you.

Bottom line: 150,000 people die a day. Your turn is coming in the next minute, decade, or century.

Take a moment and imagine yourself lying in a casket. Watch as the top comes down over you, locking you inside the dark, airless chamber, while your family and friends stand around and resist the urge to check their phones. Within hours, you are lowered into the ground. Dirt is dumped on top of you. A headstone is dropped down to mark the place where you will be forgotten. Your body stiffens and begins to rot. Bugs and worms appear as if out of nowhere and commence their feast. Your pretty eyes quickly get chowed like grapes at a picnic. Your distinguished nose falls off. Your flesh melts away from your bones. Quicker than you can say, “pass the ketchup,” there is nothing left. You’re gone.

It’s going to happen, almost certainly, in roughly the next ten minutes or ten decades.

Once you’re in the casket, all your friends and family are going to stand around in a funeral parlor drinking punch, crying, and telling lies. They’ll say a bunch of nice things, like, he was the coolest guy, she loved life, he always made people laugh, she had a pretty smile. For now they will be nice enough not to mention that you were sometimes annoying, you chewed too loud, you never shared, your breath occasionally stunk, and your dog was ugly, etc.

Most people are nice enough to just think that stuff while staring at your body and trying not to check their phones.

For now, congratulations. If you’re reading this, you’re not dead. Yet. So what? Now is your chance. You’ve got at least a few seconds, hours, or decades until a terrorist blows up your plane, or, more likely, you text while driving, crash, and die; or, less likely, a vending machine falls on top of you while you angrily try to get that bag of chips (13 people a year die this way!). Here’s a little activity for you to think about. Draw a big letter T on piece of paper. On one side, write all the things you want people to say at your funeral (not out loud, cause that’s mostly crap; but silently in their hearts). On the other side, write all the stuff you will have accomplished by that day. That’s a good start.

By The Way, You Already Don’t Exist

Here’s a little surprise. Not only are you, for sure, about to die, any second, any minute, any decade, but you, the you think you are, already barely exists.

Let’s take a moment to think about who you are. Really, what makes you, you?

The body? Are you your physical body, your chiseled muscles, well-groomed hair, and magnum-sized parietal lobe (that’s in your brain, not your pants)? Sure, you are those things right now. But every single cell inside you will be replaced in seven years. You’ll be brand new! In not so many years, your body will be much different: old and beaten up and falling apart. Physicists actually say our body is mostly space. Doctors say our body is all water, which flows in and out of us. And what if you lost your arms, or legs (or both)?  What if you lost your ability to walk or talk or see or hear? If you became a blind and deaf paraplegic, would you still be you? Of course (only shorter and quieter). You can go from fat to skinny to broken to whole to legless to butt-less and still be you. So you are not your body. The body changes. You remain.

What about our Brain? Our Mind? Our ideas? Our beliefs?  People with very rigid beliefs often think they are their ideas. I’m Christian. I’m conservative. I’m a democrat. I’m purple. I’m smart and think certain specific things that will never change. But they do!  They always do! People change their minds about a million times over the years. People change religions, political parties, and philosophies all the time. A scientist might devote his whole life to the idea that the earth is flat, only to find out, on his deathbed, it’s round. So you can’t be your ideas and beliefs.  Those change, too.  Every day, we change our mind.

Are we our memories and our experiences then? No, we can’t be our memories, because we forget those. If we lose a memory, or forget a few years of our life (as some adults have forgotten most of their college years), do we become a different person? No. We are not our memories. We also are not our plans, our hopes, our dreams, because these all change, too. Yet we remain.

So we must be our roles! Sister, father, lawyer, nurse, tights-wearing sidekick. But we’re not. We all quit or get fired or dumped or grow up and move away. Then what? In fact, if you think you are your job, you better quit now.

So what makes me me and you you, if we are not our bodies, our roles, our ideas, our relationships, our minds, and our beliefs? Are we a set of basic characteristics? Let’s go back to the funeral. Are we all that crap people say in eulogies: loving, friendly, full of life, a “great” guy or girl, a good dad or mother, a kind friend, a guy with nice hair, and so on. Is that who we are? No. That changes too. And not only do people lie at funerals, they fail to mention all our bad stuff: he was mean-spirited; she was jealous and obsessive; his feet smelled like dead skunks. All these traits contradict each other, and they change. We can be the kindest person in the world one minute, and then suddenly a dick.

So what’s left? You are something, aren’t you? A soul? A hole?

It’s scary and liberating. Maybe you can be whatever you want. Maybe you should take yourself a little less serious. There is something very unique, priceless, and eternal about you. But what is it? On a piece of paper, draw a stick figure of yourself. Make a list of all the things you think you are: what defines, describes, explains you?

When you’re done, cross out all the stuff that will or could change in a lifetime. What’s left?  Hmmm?

Oh Yeah, and You Will Be Forgotten

Wealthy and powerful people often talk about leaving behind a great legacy. The truth is, you don’t leave behind much but fertilizer in the ground.

There’s the famous Rockefeller Center in New York, named after John D. Rockefeller. That guy got his name attached to a bunch of stuff. He was mega rich. There’s Michael Jordan, who is known around the world as a great pair of shoes (I think he used to be a good basketball player, too, but that’s mostly forgotten). There’s Einstein and Ronald McDonald and great writers like Mark Twain (wait, that wasn’t his real name; so what’s his legacy?). Anyway, we know all sorts of famous names. But do you really know these people? They left lots of stuff with their names and faces attached, but we don’t really know who they are. You and I have no idea what it would be like to sit down to dinner with John D. Rockefeller. I heard he was a hard ass. Either way, the actual guy is forgotten. Every now and then someone reads a book about him or mentions him in a speech, but they don’t know him.

You will be forgotten too. Your friends and family will remember you for a while; and the cool part is, once you’re dead, they’ll only remember the good stuff. Your name might even stick to something, a building, a wall, a baby you made. But you will be dead and forgotten.

It could be worse. Your name might get destroyed. Look at poor Conrad Hilton who spent his life building a respected hotel chain. Now his name reminds us of a spoiled rich girl who made some very inappropriate videos. I’m sure there were a lot of nice Hitlers and Dahmers before Adolf and Jeffrey rolled around.

The point is, don’t worry about legacy, about posterity, about getting your name stuck to a bunch of kids and buildings. None of it will matter when you die. Why? Because you’ll be dead and forgotten. Even the most famous people of all time, like Jesus, only get talked about occasionally (about once a week), and often out of context, and very often in an unfriendly way (“Jesus Christ, Tom, keep your hands on the wheel!”). So don’t worry. Think about right now. Right now really matters. What is your current legacy? That’s what matters. What does your name mean right now to your friends, family, school, job, and most importantly, to yourself? That’s your legacy.  You can stick your name to a kid you made, but if you’re not a good parent, it won’t matter.

Try this: Make a list of the most famous people you know. Which ones do you really, really know? What’s their favorite color? Who is their best friend? What do they like to do in their free time? You probably don’t know them at all. They’re just a name, a character in Hollywood or in a textbook; in the end, they’ll be dead and forgotten.

Cheer Up, Death Is Your Buddy

Okay, so we’ve figured out you are going to die soon, and once you die, you will be forgotten, and before you die, you barely even exist (at least the you you think you are).

Are you ready to give up? Good, because it is time. Give Up! Yes, give up all that garbage that’s keeping you from being who you are supposed to be. Give up all that attitude, fear, drama, posturing, worry, blame, and anger that gets in the way of who you are. Give up all those time suckers and negative habits and wasted moments that are taking up the energy you should be spending on your passion, your mission, your purpose, your path.

Give Up and Die! Or to quote the great philosopher Keirkegaard, “Death will find you. But seek the road that makes death a fulfillment.”

When you GIVE UP all the crap that doesn’t matter AND remember you will DIE, then you can start to really live. That’s what Get Living or Die Trying is all about.  (The original title of the book was Give Up and Die, but some people got the wrong idea.)

So what doesn’t matter? Anything that gets in the way of you pursuing your mission, your passion, your purpose in life.  Yes, there are some things that matter, that really matter. And sometimes our greatest life’s work is trying to figure out what those things are. Don’t quit or give up until you find your passion, your mission, and do it.

What matters to you? Make a list. Who or what would you risk your life for? What things in your home would you rescue from a fire? What ideas and values do you most believe in? What things do you most enjoy doing? What things do you do that you find the most meaningful?

Why Give a Sh*t? Part One: Suicide

Before we move on to more positive stuff, we should deal with the obvious question. Why give a sh*t?

There are several ways to look at the certainty of death. You can decide that since it’s coming for sure, why not speed up the process. Yes, you can kill yourself. People do it all the time. It’s not that hard (though, quite a few people screw it up). You can take pills or blow your brains out or jump off a bridge. But that’s kind of like deciding not to play a game because you think you’ll lose. What if you are destined to be the biggest winner of all time and you just happen to be in a slump? You lose all the games you don’t play. Give up and die, but don’t ever quit. There are other options.

Here are three perspectives on suicide, none of which are very pretty: Many religious people equate suicide with murder, and you get damned to hell for doing it. So you’re basically killing yourself to escape an awful life by sending yourself to a worse one. That’s really bad planning, like the New York guy who decided to protest motorcycle helmet laws by riding without a helmet. He died in the middle of his protest after flipping off his bike and hitting his head.

Another viewpoint says that after death we are born into new lives based on previous lives, so by killing yourself, you’re basically just asking to be turned into a turd or a skunk in your next life.

People who don’t believe in an afterlife argue that this life is the only chance we have to live, because once it is over, it’s over for good. Poof, black hole, gone, nothing. Now, with this in mind, suicide seems even crazier, because, well, why give up on your one chance? Why quit when you only have one shot?

There is a better idea than jumping out of a window and painting the sidewalk red: Kill Your Life, Not Your Self. Killing your life, not your self, is a chance to turn a really, really bad moment into a huge change. But first, a side note:

Suicide is not always a rational feeling. It’s hard to use logic to talk someone down from a ledge. One of the smartest friends I have ever known killed himself. He had a beautiful kid he loved. He had a wife. He had a decent job. Things were not perfect. Never are. But he was not thinking logically. He parked his car in a garage, shut the door, and sat inside it until his brain stopped working. It sucked. It still sucks. It sucks for his kid, his wife, his students, and even for me, because he was one of my best friends.  Now this guy was very unhappy when he killed himself, and he was not thinking clearly. And many people have had times when they are very unhappy and feel this tiny inkling or desire to end it all. Long walk off short pier. See ya later! So if you really feel like this, get help now. Don’t be ashamed or afraid. You’re not alone. Call 1-800-SUICIDE this minute.  Don’t wait. Talk to a counselor at school.  That’s what they’re paid for.  Or tell a friend.  And if you’re that friend, tell an adult. Now. I wish my friend had told me how he was feeling.  I would have done something, and right now he’d still be here.  Instead, he’s gone, and I miss and I want to kill him!

But suicidal thoughts, as mild or major as they may be, are also a great opportunity for transformation. And that, in the end, is what this book is about. Transformation.

Many great people have found that their worst moment of total despair was a turning point, a transformation. Modern spiritual master and bestselling author Ekhart Tolle had that kind of moment. He hated himself and his life so much, he decided he had no choice but to kill himself. And in that moment, he was transformed. Because if you are desperate enough to kill yourself, or are even desperate enough to consider it, then what can be so bad about trying out a few other things first? Maybe before tying that noose around the old rafters, you want to try something a little less extreme, something like, hmmm: Killing Your Life, Not Your Self!

In other words, you want to kill yourself because your life is hell and you feel trapped. Well fine, kill it, the life, before yourself. Take a stake to your vampire, blood-sucking life and stab it through the heart. Then start again. You can start it all over. At twelve, eighteen, and eighty. That’s what life is all about, after all, changing, growing, and sometimes, starting over. Countless examples exist of men and women who hit total failure, total despair, and found this to be their turning point, their chance to start all over.

Here are some ways to kill your life, not yourself:

Move! You can move somewhere warmer or colder or wetter or crowded-er or open-er or happier. People say it’s not good to live thinking that the grass is always greener somewhere else, and yes, I know people who are always trying to change things, move, find new jobs, get new cars, cut their hair in a new way, and it does not make them happy. Dead Zen says you should be happy at any moment anywhere all the time. But this takes practice, and it does not mean that Dead Zen will sit on the deck of a sinking ship. Sometimes movement is good, even necessary. Perhaps constantly changing, moving, trying new things doesn’t always make people happier. But I know one thing for sure: those people who keep moving are happier than most dead people.

So if your life sucks, and you can’t bear the thought of living it, then move your life, change your life, find a new life, move out, move in. Don’t you owe it to yourself to try all possibilities before taking that bottle of pills? Yes, do something crazy and drastic and insane and silly, but do it alive.

If you could, what would you change about your life? Where would you move to? What other kind of “life” would you like to try?  Are those just dreams? Or real possibilities?  I bet they could really happen.

Kill Your Life, Not Your Self!

Turns out there are two types of suicide. The kind where you die, and then who knows what. Or the kind where you simply start a new life.  Starting a new life, doing something crazy or impossible or different is a much better option than ending a life. You can do it, if you’re old or young.  Both have advantages.  If you’re old, you have freedom and nothing to lose. If you’re young, you have time to try many things.

If you are over eighteen and you want to kill your life and start a new one, do it. Get up, buy a bus ticket, and move to New York or Paris or Cairo or a swamp. It’s not that crazy. People do it all the time. Get a job waiting tables if you have to. Find a roommate. Start fresh. Why not? Killing your old life is better than killing yourself. Worst-case scenario, you die trying something new.

If you are not yet eighteen, and you don’t have the freedom or power to just haul your butt across the country, you still have options. Shave your head, make new friends, join a new team, club or youth group.  Change schools if you have to. People do it all the time!  Take the bus across town and start over. Sign up for an online school. Why not? It’s more fun than dying. You’ll be the new girl with a shaved head. Ask to move into a relative’s house for a while. Start applying for a college far away. Try wearing a unitard or a space suit. Honestly, think of all the crazy, fun stuff that could happen to you if you suddenly started wearing a spacesuit. Will people laugh at you? Of course they will. Will everything get better instantly? Probably not. But you’ll be in a space suit and not dead.

Killing your life and starting again will be much more interesting than killing yourself. Think of it as a dare, a chance to be free, a great risk that could benefit you forever. Remember, with any adventure or mission, the worst thing that could happen is you die. And that’s going to happen anyway. Why speed things up yourself, when you could find out what it’s like to wear a spacesuit to prom!

So You’re Still Alive? Why Give a Sh*t? Part Two

Now that you’ve really thought about dying a lot, we can get to the first main point of Give Up and Die Living. By now, Dead Zen hopes you’re thinking something like this: Okay, I’m going to croak, sometime soon (in the next hundred years or so), and until that happens, I’ve got this one chance, this one life, so I should make the best of it.

Give Up and Die really means: I need to GIVE UP all the crap that is not worth my energy and focus on the really important stuff before I die. I need to focus on my life to make sure I’m really living.

The scariest secret about life: There are a lot of people who are already dead. Sure, they’re still breathing and eating and walking up and down the sidewalk with pets and pants, but something about them has died. They’re working a job they hate or find pointless. They’re watching other people live life every night on TV (ever notice that nobody on TV watches TV). They’re using pills and drugs and booze to numb their brains. They’re living miserably, waiting for that one-week vacation in June when they get to go to a place like Disney World, where fun is manufactured like a fast food restaurant.

First, let’s talk about TV. Dead Zen already said that nobody on TV watches TV. Instead, people on TV hang out with friends, go to coffee shops, play sports, do projects, invent stuff, get in trouble, ask good-looking people out on dates, work jobs they find exciting, and, in general, enjoy life, or, if not enjoy, at least they have a mission, a purpose. Is that why we like watching people on TV, because they’re doing real stuff in a fake world? Why don’t we do real stuff in the real world? Dead Zen loves to watch kids play because, well, they are playing, living, laughing, dancing, enjoying life the way they should. Sadly, most kids are not out playing. Most of them are watching TV, for around 54 hours a week, almost 8 hours a day, watching other kids have fun. Meanwhile, they’re dead.

Adults are even worse about TV. Many adults work a job they don’t like, and then they go home and watch TV all night. But they don’t watch kids playing on TV, or other adults being happy and having fun, like kids do. No! Adults mostly watch people kill each other on TV. Adults love shows about murders and wars and battles and blood. Why? Dead Zen is not sure. He thinks it might be adults’ secret way of thinking about their own death. Of course Dead Zen thinks about death a lot, too, and for some reason, this makes him not want to watch TV about people getting killed. He knows enough about death, so now he wants to go out and live.

Part Two of Why Give a Sh*t Part Two

But what’s the living part that matters? This is where we can get in trouble, and perhaps end up taking a wrong turn into the badlands of life which Dead Zen likes to refer to as HSIGTDAIMAWJSIMMBASPAD.  It’s an acronym, which you can pronounce Hsigtdie-mashimaspad. It stands for, Hey, Since I’m Going To Die Anyway, I Might As Well Just Sit In My Mom’s Basement And Smoke Pot All Day. Dead Zen meets a lot of young people with this attitude. Many young people hear Dead Zen talk and think: hell, I’m going to die, and I’ll be forgotten. And I don’t even exist, and therefore it all doesn’t matter, So, I might as well just sit in my mom’s basement and smoke pot all day.

 Well, what are the pros and cons of living a drug-induced life?

Too Much of Anything Ruins Everything

Drugs can be tricky to talk about. Of course, the big hitters like Meth and Crack are easy. Dead Zen has met a lot of people who have used hard drugs, and not many of them (none, actually) look back on their life and say, “Wow, everything got better once I started doing Meth.” You can insert heroin, cocaine, and turpentine into this sentence and it still works. If you are hooked on Meth, you need help because if you don’t stop, your life is going to suck. That’s just a fact.

But Dead Zen hears a lot of arguing about pot. They say it’s natural, not addictive, does not hurt your brain, or harm your health. They say our president did it. They say that many states are legalizing it. So why can’t I sit in my mom’s basement and smoke it all day?

Okay, okay. I don’t want to waste too much time fighting a war on drugs. We’ve done enough of that. Dead Zen has one thing to say about EVERYTHING that is like pot, including Cheetos, sex, and skateboarding: too much of anything is bad. It’s the truth. Too much Thanksgiving Turkey and you fall asleep and miss the football game. Too much junk food and you get fat. Too much sugar and your teeth fall out. Too much beer and you get fat and land in rehab. Too much sun and you burn. Too much music and your ears blow up. Too much sex and you end up with diseases and babies you can’t afford and getting kicked in the balls by an ex.

Too much of anything is bad. I’m sure there is an exception. Maybe there’s a guy somewhere who is able to do heroin, drink tons of Mountain Dew, eat only potato chips, have unprotected sex, and still pass a physical and raise a family and keep a job and not die by the age of twenty-nine. But most of us normal people have to exercise a little something called self-control. So remember this foundational truth of life: too much of anything will ruin everything.

The Buddha was a smart guy. He saw this clearly. He tried both ways: he partied all the time for a while, and then he lived with absolutely nothing for a while. His genius idea was the middle path: a little bit of fun and a little bit of self-control. This simple formula, which you can tweak for yourself, was the Buddha’s basic formula for enlightenment. D*mn! It’s that simple?  Nirvana is a matter steering yourself down a road between pleasure and pain?

Yes. Life, it turns out, is much simpler than we thought.

The route of total party-all-the-time, officially called Hedonism, or Hsigtdie-mashimaspad, will not result in happiness. It might feel like it for a little while, but it always ends in disaster and misery. You cannot fill your life with constant, drug-induced, party-filled pleasures. You will get sick and die, much quicker than you want. Over and over again, Dead Zen has been told stories of people who have tried to live 100%, 24/7/365 for pleasure, and have ended up miserable and dead.  Sure, pot, Cheetos, and juggling may not be addictive, but if that’s all you do, you’ll end up miserable.

Real pleasure is much better, and it comes from finding your passion, your mission, your meaning, and doing it well. Your passion, your mission, your meaning might be dancing, writing, building, serving, street-performing. When you find it, you’ll know, but you have to take the time to find it. In fact, you might have many passions and missions and meanings. And doing something meaningful is much better than 24/7/365 partying.

Fake pleasure is when you try to get all the good without any of the hard work. But life does not work like this. Life equalizes. There will always be work, and setbacks, and disasters. People win the lottery and get their legs chopped off in a freak accident on the same day. It happens all the time. Somebody gets rich, buys a yacht, and then drowns in the bathtub in the yacht. No matter how much pleasure you try to surround yourself with, it will never be perfect. This is the trap of the addict, the shopaholic, and the thrill-seeker. Buy a toy, have a thrill, then get let down, and then buy some more. Get a girl, dump a girl, try again. Drink a beer, try a little pot, huff some paint, shoot heroine, build a meth lab in a trailer park, land in jail, then rehab, then dead.

Too much of anything ruins everything. Constantly seeking pleasure ends in pain.

What are some examples, from friends or family (or you), where too much of something good ended badly?  What is something you like to do that perhaps you spend too much time on? How can you introduce some self-control?

So What is Give Up and Die Living?

Give Up and Die Living is simple. Find a passion, a mission, a meaningful thing that you enjoy doing. Maybe it’s raising a family. Maybe it’s wearing a spacesuit. Maybe it is traveling or engineering or writing or protecting your country or building skyscrapers or serving the poor or painting or teaching. The point is to find it. That’s what matters. Then find a way to do your passion as much as possible and get paid decently for it. Work hard at it until you get good, maybe even the best. Then Repeat.

Don’t try to save the world unless you’re doing something you enjoy that saves the world. Dead Zen feels bad for people who work jobs they hate only because they “want to make a difference.” If you hate what you do, then you won’t make a difference. Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. That’s key. If you enjoy knitting socks, good. Everybody needs socks. You’re no less important than a firefighter. If you enjoy acting, then act. If you enjoy jello-wrestling, then wrestle in jello. Hopefully, the firefighter enjoys putting out fires. If he doesn’t, then he’s got the wrong job.

If you’re lucky, you get paid to do what you enjoy. In some cases, you may have to do something else to get money while you do what you enjoy. In some cases, you may have five or fifty things you enjoy doing. Then you can switch things up and do them all. Dead Zen knows people who were happy making tacos, who later became happy starting their own taco shop, who later became happy starting their own clothing business, who later stayed happy working for a major design company. Start happy, end happy.

These are the essential questions: What am I good at? What do I like to do? What am I passionate about? What would I do for free?

These are the wrong questions: what will get me the most fame, the most recognition, and the most money? Famous people are often miserable. Recognition often comes too late (your dead). And as far as money, that’s a dead end. Dead Zen meets many young men who want to make it rich as street hustlers, but the truth is hustlers earn less than McDonald’s employees and frequently land in jail or get killed.  Many people who get rich lose their money just as quickly. Just look at famous athletes, the most over paid people in the world. 78% of NFL players file for bankruptcy or face money trouble within two years of tossing their last football, and %60 NBA players are broke five years after their last slam-dunk.

The best place to find your purpose is to start here:

I’m Good At I like to: I’m passionate about:

At the intersection of these three things is your life’s purpose.  If you don’t have anything you are passionate about, anything you know you are good at (besides channel surfing and playing Xbox), and anything you like to do (besides smoking weed on your mom’s couch in the basement), then you may be already dead. Check your pulse. Quick. You need to start figuring it out NOW. Get off the couch. Go out, try out, do, experiment, explore. NOW! Before you’re dead for too much longer.  If you’re afraid to fail, that’s good.  That means you might still be alive.

Give Up and Die…You’ll Be Happy You Did

It is that simple. In fact, many people do it without even thinking about it. There are millions of people who find a job they like, get paid enough to eat, own a house, hang out with people they think are cool, marry someone nice, enjoy pleasures, like donuts and beer and sex (in moderation and with self-control), enjoy the difficult moments, like diets and exercise, help those who need help, and end up living well.

It can be that easy.  Give up and Die. Give up all the stuff that does not matter (worrying, failure, over-thinking your mistakes, obsessing about others) all the stuff that gets in the way, and remember you will die, so start living.

So are you alive or not?

Bad Sh*t is Sometimes Good

Once there was a wise man who won the lottery. His buddy Todd said, “Dude, you are so lucky.” But the wise man just shrugged. With the money from the lottery, the wise man bought his first car (he used to walk everywhere). On the way to the library in his new car, he was hit by a reckless driver and broke both his legs (and his car was totaled). His buddy Todd came to visit him in the hospital. He said, “Dude, you had some bad luck.  You’re going to be in the hospital for a long time.” The wise man shrugged again. That night there was an electrical fire in his house. It burnt down. His buddy Todd came to tell him, saying, “Dude, you sure were lucky to be in the hospital when that happened.” The wise man told Todd to shut up.

It really is the truth that very often we mere mortals cannot tell good sh*t from bad sh*t. Life is full of examples of bad stuff that turns out to be good:  mistakes and failures that change the world and miracles that ruin us. Cars are great. Electricity is great. But if overusing them leads to global warming and the end of the world, then that’s not so great. As Shakespeare says, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

This does not mean you have to hope for bad stuff to happen and not enjoy the good stuff. But you have to remember that in life, the good and the bad are really essential parts of the same life.

Take a break from naming things good or bad for a while and just live the experience. One way to react to things without labeling them is to say, “oh, that’s interesting.” Hmm, my boyfriend dumped me, that’s interesting. Wow, I got an A on the test, that’s interesting. Holy Cow, my eyeball fell out, that’s interesting.

Think of one bad thing that happened to you in the past which turned into a good thing. That’s interesting.

Sit Down and Shut Up!

Dead Zen has spent many years perfecting the art of doing nothing. Hundreds of hours he could have spent making money, eating tacos, playing with his toy ponies, or fixing the toilet, he’s instead spent sitting on a floor trying not to think. Most the time he fails, and starts thinking about tacos or people in their underwear. But he does not give up.

And Dead Zen thinks you should try it. Why? Because meditation is the practice, universally used in most faiths and religions. Heck, even atheists meditate. The Buddha made meditation the centerpiece of his religion (which is not a religion). Jesus was always running off to the desert for a forty-day meditation break. It’s in The Old Testament, The Gospel, the Tao Te Ching, The Bhagavada Gita, central to practices of monks, gurus, yogis, and cats. If there’s one thing all religions agree on, it’s that meditation can change you.

Meditation does not mean thinking about all the crap going on in your life. It is the opposite. The most common form of meditation is to sit, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing, letting all other thoughts fall away. Try it. It’s hard. Very quickly your mind takes over and you start thinking about ice cream flavors, appointments, people in their underwear, or how you want your hair cut. So what’s wrong with that?

Let’s be honest and admit that most of what we think about is either pretty lame or total crap, or, even worse, totally lame crap. Reruns. The same old fantasies or grudges or regrets or hopes. Worry about the future: What should I do? What should I wear? Or worse, rehashing the past: I can’t believe I wore that; I can’t believe she said that. I’m pissed. I’m scared. I wish I could eat a hamburger and dance around in my socks. I wish I didn’t, I wish I could. It would be one thing if our thoughts were original or interesting (and on some rare occasions they are), but mostly they’re reruns. Literally, reruns. The same thought, again, and again, and again. Watch your brain for a day, and notice how many of your thoughts are repeats. This is the monkey-mind.

Turns out, it’s not the not thinking that has been a waste of time, it’s the thinking.

So take a break. Every now and then, sit down and shut up and following your breathing. Do it for five minutes for thirty days in a row, and you’ll be stronger, calmer, wiser, and happier. You’ll be more in control.

One Question to Rule Them All

If you can live by this one question, then you will have no worries.  The question is:  Can I Fix It?

Yes, that’s the question. When you make a mistake, or something goes wrong, or something does not feel right in your life, then you ask yourself this question. If the answer is yes, then stop worrying and go fix it. Duh. Find the most direct route for solving this problem. If you plan on fixing it later, fine, do that. But don’t waste time with worrying. Fix it.

If the answer is no and it can’t be fixed, changed, or altered, then your work is done. Why spend your time getting worked up about it? You can’t fix it.

You failed a test. Can you fix it? No. Move on. Study harder for the next one. But if you have a test coming up, can you do something about that? Yes. Don’t sit around worrying. Go and study. You smashed up your mom’s car. Can you take that back? No, so there’s no use rehashing it over and over in your head. You cannot undo the car crash. But can you make up for it in other ways. Apologize? Drive better? Yes.  That’s where your energy should be.

Those are the only two types of situations that exist. There are only things you can change and things you can’t. Focus on what you can change or do better, not on the past that cannot be undone.

Scientists say stress is something left over from the days when we literally fought for our survival. We had to run from tigers and hunt bears, and stress and adrenaline came in very handy. We still have stress, but it is activated by really basic situations, like algebra tests and pretty girls. But in these cases, freaking out and running away is not going to help.

Either fix it or let it go. But there is no need to feel distressed over a situation you know you can fix, nor over a situation you cannot fix.

Try it right now. Think of a problem you have. Can you fix it? Yes, then do it! Put down this book and fix it. If No, then give it up. Let go.

Just asking the question can change everything.

Suicide, Murder, or Already Dead?

Dead Zen meets dead people all the time who are afraid of dying. Young men and women who smoke pot and play videogames all day and then talk about how they want to live forever. Dead Zen wonders why, when they’re already dead.

Then he hears about famous people like Ernest Hemingway, who wrote some of the best literature of the last century. And then he killed himself. Worse, people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, people who were making a huge impact on the world, and they got killed. Those people were living their passion, their mission, unafraid of the consequences, unafraid of death, and they were killed for it. That Sucks!

Then there’s Bob, this guy I know, who is afraid of everything, so he sits on the couch in his mom’s basement and smokes weed all day.

He’s actually already dead.

If you’re already dead, going through the motions, living a life without a passion, a purpose, a meaning, a nothing life, then it is time to come back to life.

Don’t be afraid. Ask for help if you must. Find a friend, a counselor, a monk, a nice fish, anybody, and ask them to help you kill your life and start over. That’s the best part of life. You can always, always start over. Dead Zen read a great book about a very successful man who decided to become a woman because it was his (now her) destiny. Yes, it caused a lot of problems and people thought she, or he, was nuts. But she (at first he, then she) did it. She was miserable as a man, and now she’s happy. She killed her life, started again, and is better because of it.

It’s okay to change everything, move, leave, wear a spacesuit, become something new.

If it helps, start by throwing all your crap away. Even your clothes if you must. Go around naked for a little bit. Find better clothes, new friends, try out things until something feels good. Make life the adventure that it is supposed to be.

Here’s an activity: Watch yourself for a few days. How much of what you do is dead stuff? Smoking pot, staring at a TV, sitting in the basement on the couch doing nothing. Calculate how many hours a week you spend dead.

Is that how you want to live? As a dead person?

Be Alive for Life

Being alive for life takes practice. Sometimes you have to go off on your own, into the woods, or to a beach or a park, and sit and practice just being alive. Look at a tree or a rock. In fact, be a tree for a few hours. Take it in. Feel what’s going on in your body. Listen to your head. Let your thoughts pour out until all thinking (those damn reruns of the monkey mind) dries up and you are in the quiet of life.

Practice just being alive.

If you don’t practice, you won’t be alive for life. You’ll be busy, endlessly wired, constantly moving, always in the past or the future, in a TV show, never in the moment, never here, never alive. Things will still happen to you, but you might not live through them. You’ll be too anxious, wired, or burnt up to enjoy your birthday party or your first kiss or the birth of your child.

The Boat is Empty, or How to Deal with Idiots

But what about idiots, stupid people, and morons?  How can I be happy, you ask, when the world is full of stupid people like me?

Yes, a lot goes wrong when you live, work, and play with other people because people are idiots. They do stupid, mean, ugly, and annoying things. Just yesterday, Dead Zen was yelled at, spit on, pushed, and hit, and he still gave his two-year-old daughter a treat after dinner.

A lot of happiness depends on how we react to things that go wrong around us. And our reactions are often controlled by how we see things. Imagine you’re out jogging, and you come upon a large group of obnoxious middle school kids who are blocking the entire sidewalk, walking like turtles, acting like they’re so cool, using dumb slang words that hurt your ears, being rude, staring at their phones, not leaving room for others on the sidewalk. You might feel annoyed, think they’re self-centered, and imagine beating them with a stick. Dead Zen probably would feel the same. Now imagine it was a group of three-year-olds toddling around, drawing on the sidewalk in chalk, laughing. You’d probably smile, go around, and go on your way.

It’s a simple difference of perception changing your reaction. How can this help us with mean, ugly, spiteful, bitter humans? Here’s a trick. Remember, “The Boat is Empty.”

Dead Zen loves this old Zen story about an empty boat. A ferryboat driver is crossing the river. Coming at him is another boat driven by man in a great hurry. The ferry driver curses him out for blocking his path. He’s the ferryboat driver, after all. This is his route. Get out of the f*cking way. For the rest of the day he is angry, cursing under his breath about how thoughtless and self-centered people have become.

The next day, the ferryboat driver is crossing the river, and an empty boat is coming toward him, floating in the river’s current. It must have come loose from the shore. The ferryboat driver expertly maneuvers around the boat and continues on his way without comment.

What was the difference? The second boat was empty! So it did not ruin his day. The boat ruined his day when there was an idiot in it.

The truth is all our boats are empty sometimes. Yes we are often empty boats, especially when we are under stress, angry, hurt, or in a rush. When we get keyed up or rattled, we change. But if you are aware enough in a situation where someone else might be caught up in their emotions, you can imagine their boat, for the moment, is empty. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “They know not what they do.”

When people are hurting or angry, they often don’t know what they do. Accept that. Then you can maneuver around the unpleasantness and move on. Don’t take it with you. Don’t let it ruin your day. The man who cut you off in traffic just might be rushing to a hospital to give birth (yes, he’s a pregnant man).

The boat is empty. The boat is empty. Steer around and move on.

Sex, True Love, and Infatuation

Many people believe in true love. That’s cool. But Dead Zen does not. Dead Zen is happily married and has, like, fifty kids, but he does not believe in true love. He believes in loving it through. True love is the name people give to a state that should be called evolution-induced, baby-making, I-like-your- tits-and-ass-and-six-pack love. Much of what we call love is biological. We’ve evolved, as animals, to get turned on by others in order to make babies. And that’s okay.

So, the truth is, most people start to fall in love with someone they are physically attracted to. Then, after the physical attraction kicks in, most people continue to fall in love with people they have an emotional and intellectual connection with. Then they get married. Often, they make babies.

If they fell in love with someone only because they were attracted to them, it’s a problem. Because people get old, wrinkled, and hairy. It really helps if you are attracted to them, and like them as a person, and enjoy their company, and have stuff in common. Then things go even better.

Still half of those people get divorced.

Why? Because people get sick of each other, of course. Who wouldn’t? You’re stuck with that person forever, which sounds really cool in a romantic movie, but after ten years, it can start to sound like a horror film, because the person you fell in love with for their body and funny personality and good looks and great intellect also has all sorts of bad traits. They pick their nose and fart and yell and act selfish and forget to pick up milk on the way home. And so you get sick of them.

And that’s normal.

Dead Zen’s mom, Mrs. Dead Zen, always said that half of your happiness (or unhappiness) will be due to the partner you chose. So choose well. But Dead Zen thinks the other half of your happiness is because of what you do with that partner. Yes, you’ll meet someone, fall in love, and get married. That’s awesome. But a few weeks or years later, you’ll get really, really sick of them. And it will be really, really easy to want to meet someone new, fall in love again, and get married again. And that’s what a lot of people do. Out with the old and in with the new.

And if you want to do that, fine. As I’ve said before, it’s better to kill your life then kill yourself. Especially, if the person you married turns out to be a total prick.

But remember this. There are some really, really happy couples, man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, who have been together for hundreds of weeks, and months, and sometimes years, and they will always tell you the same thing: they had moments when they wanted to run off, fall in love again with another person, and start over. But they did not. Instead, they loved through it.

Yes, love it though. Stick with it. In fact, love is not always a feeling, but an action. In other words, like anything, you don’t get good at something unless you practice beyond the point of wanting to practice. The people who are the best at anything, practiced more than everyone else; they practiced during those times when it was no longer fun. Then they were successful. Love is the same.

Try hard. Work hard. Stick with it. You’ll be much happier than if you quit. This is true for life, for relationships, for jobs, for everything.  “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” -Ross Perot

Give Up and Die, but NEVER, EVER QUIT!

 

Don’t Pick up Other People’s Poop 

Anger! We all get angry. Hell Yeah! But being endlessly angry at people is like throwing sticks of fire (or poop) at another person. You may or may not hit your target, but one thing is certain: you will get burned (or covered with poop). The anger hurts you more than the other person.

Resentment is even worse. Resentment is like holding sticks of fire and never throwing them. The only one who gets burned is you. The other person does not even know most the time.

“Being offended” takes it one step further.  This is like grabbing someone else’s hot sticks of fire and shoving them down your own pants. You’re just burning yourself with someone else’s fire. It’s plain stupid. But it happens all the time: We run into someone who is rude or mean and they say something awful to us because they can’t control it. They want to spread their crap around. We should just ignore it, but often we pick their crap up and hold it for the rest of the day. We are, sometimes, plain stupid.

It works both ways: someone compliments us and we feel good, even if it’s just about our shoes or our haircut. Then someone complains about us or makes fun of our haircut, and we get angry.

How do we hop off this roller coaster of praise and insult?

First, you recognize the stupidity behind being offended (even if you cannot stop the feeling). Dead Zen is talking about personal offense, when someone insults you, your family, your way of life, how you do things, who you are, what you think, etc. The simplest example is clothing. Someone does not like what you are wearing and tells you. Dead Zen’s mom used to hate the clothes he wore. She told him, and he felt bad. But then his girlfriend said she liked his clothes and he felt good. Either way, it was like being a puppet on a string. Up and down.

Sometimes we get offended when people tell us the truth. That’s really crazy. Dead Zen has, like, fifty kids. Sometimes, they are loud and annoying. His friends tease him about this. But when a stranger makes a comment, he gets angry. But that’s dumb. How can Dead Zen be offended by the truth?

Sadly, in our world, it is not polite to tell the truth. That dress makes you look fat. Your speech was a little long. Your baby is ugly. Your kids are really loud.

It’s too bad. We should be okay with taking instruction.

When you are always getting offended by people, you are making the choice to pick up someone else’s sh*t, their bad mood and poor attitude, and carry it with you.

This is a dangerous and smelly way to live.

If you are going to get offended by every rude sales clerk or telemarketer, you are going to have a very long and bothered life. It’s a true art to look rudeness in the eye and smile. Most rushed and rude people are rushed and rude for a good reason. And even if they are not, it can be a good practice to imagine they are. Whenever Dead Zen is cut off in traffic, he imagines the poor guy is off to rescue a small child from a burning building. This can be tricky when the poor guy is in a Hummer with the music blaring, but it is worth a try.

Rude people, mean people, people who like to make sure you get put in your place, are hurting people. When you get offended and join in the rudeness, you don’t change that person, you become that person. Don’t take on other people’s sh*t.

 

Ambition versus Resolve

Your true work will come from a place of total certainty, not from a place of wanting.

Dead Zen meets many ambitious young people. People who smoke weed in their mom’s basement all day while talking about how they will soon be the most celebrated doctor in the world, the best rapper in the industry, or the star of their college football team (even though they’re not on their high school football team). There is no shortage of great ambitions in the world. When Dead Zen mentions they must leave their couch and put down the hash pipe in order to go and do these great things, they still sit there, unmoving. Sometimes, after a while, they say, “Oh well, I knew it wasn’t going to work anyway.”

Ambitions are like great bubbles that are easily popped. Often ambitions float around in the air recklessly, until they are burst by a single drop of rain or a loud fart.

Don’t waste time with great ambitions. Instead, nurture resolve. Resolve is like a train on a track that cannot be stopped. Resolve says, this is how my life is going to go, no matter what, because I am going to work hard and keep at it until it happens. Resolve pushes through storms and knocks down walls. Ambition bursts at the first sign of a cloud.

I want to be a famous singer and a millionaire. Oh, damn, I can’t sing. Okay, I’m gonna be a Lamborghini salesman. Shoot, too hard. Okay, I’ll try my hand at acting or dancing or drug dealing, whatever pays big cash. Crap. Forget it. I’m going back to my mom’s couch to smoke weed. That’s ambition for you.

Resolve says, I’m going to make music the central focus of my life because it is my passion, my mission, and the thing I most enjoy doing. I feel most alive when I’m doing music. In high school, I’m joining the band, getting into the musicals, getting involved in all the music clubs I can. I love music, and this is going to be my life no matter what anyone else says. Next, I’m studying music in college, perfecting my voice, my instrument, my producing skills. I’m doing an internship at a local studio. I’ll do music for free if I have to. I’m working days at the gas station, but working on my music passion at night. Suddenly, I’m getting asked to do voiceover work and small performances at a community theater. I’ve been rejected a thousand times, but I get back up and keep going. My resume is two pages long before I even get my degree. From there, I’m moving to New York or LA, no matter what my mom says. I’m not dreaming about some big future, I’m doing what I have to do right now. My life is not about making it famous or being a millionaire, it’s about doing what I love to do, right now.

Suddenly, I’m a famous millionaire. Oops, when did that happen?

A great man we all admire started and failed at business twice; then his first love died; after that, he went into politics; he lost seven elections out of the first nine was in. He lost again and again and again. But the work was his passion, his mission, so he kept going. Eventually, he got better, started winning, and became one of the greatest presidents of all time. Abraham Lincoln was a master of failure. And, even as president, he was hated, and eventually killed. He made many hard, unpopular decisions. Only now, years later, with our country still intact, do we realize how great he was.

Of course, he does not know this. He’s dead. But when he was alive he was working, with resolve, at what he loved to do.

He did not have ambitions, but resolve. He mastered failure. Successful people are masters of failure.

Sometimes it makes Dead Zen feel better to think of all the many “great” men and women who were nobodies, or worse, hated during their lifetime. Van Gogh the painter died poor and unknown. Kafka, the famous writer, died without seeing a single one of his writings published. Galileo, the father of modern physics, died while under house arrest.

Dead Zen is not going to tell you what to do. Your purpose is something to be discovered. That’s the fun of life. Maybe your purpose is to wear a spacesuit. To sew. To be a hand model. To preach at a church. To do math. You could have more than one purpose. You can try a purpose, fail at it, and try another, or, like Abraham Lincoln, you can live with resolve and never give up. Emily Dickenson wrote poems her whole life. She kept the poems in a drawer and died totally unknown. Now she’s considered by many to be one of America’s greatest poets.

Of course, she does not know this. She’s dead. But she lived her life with passion and resolve, doing what she believed she was meant to do.

The happiest people make their own purpose.

Dead Zen knows seven or fifteen purposes he would enjoy doing, but life right now put him in his current position for the purpose he has and he does it with resolve.

Resolve + Passion + Hard Work = Success.

By the way, success is enjoying yourself. It has nothing to do with having a lot of cash or babes (or dudes) or vacation homes or big parties. Dead Zen likes parties, but most of your life will be spent working. So you need to, must, have to, really, really should enjoy what you do during the working hours.

 

Rich, Famous, Stupid, Miserable

Dead Zen is not a famous nor a rich person, so he cannot speak too much on this. But he has noticed a few things. Sure, everybody would love to be rich and famous. But most truly rich and famous (and happy) people did not set out at the start of their life to become rich and famous. Most were caught doing what they loved to do, and because they loved it, and had a passion for it, they did it really well. If your goal is to be rich and famous, then you’re heading in a very wrong direction. If your goal is to do what you love to do very well, then it should not matter what anybody thinks.

We live in a tricky world, where fame is easy and everywhere. People get famous for sex tapes and internet videos. But is this really fame, or is it infamy? What does it mean when everybody knows your name and face for a few minutes. Not much. Some famous people handle it well and really enjoy it. But many look just as miserable as the guy on the street corner with the cardboard sign.

Perhaps it’s the money. Yes, money is better than fame, right? Wouldn’t it be great to have a bazillion dollars and not have to worry about cooking and cleaning and wiping your butt? Doesn’t money make us happy? Dead Zen is not going to lie to you and say it doesn’t. In fact, money can make you very happy. Experts at Harvard University actually studied this. What they found out was kind of funny. It turns out that a little money can make you very happy. For example, going from earning minimum wage at McDonalds to earning the salary of a lawyer or a plumber can really boost your happiness. Dead Zen has experienced this. After years of working his way through college, he got a real job, bought a car, a house, went on vacation, had a bunch of kids, and felt happy.

What happens next is interesting. What the experts say is that from there, more money only adds a little bit to your happiness. So a million dollars a year won’t make you much happier than a hundred thousand. You probably run out of stuff to buy.

Think about this: the average teenager today has way more cool stuff than the richest person in the world did one hundred years ago. TV. Internet. iPods. Video Games. Water parks. Shopping Malls. A Flushing Toilet and a hot shower! Two hundred years ago, rich people were still pooping in holes in the ground! So if you ever feel poor, remember you’re richer than an Egyptian king.

And why are there people who have everything and still want to kill themselves? And why are there people who have nothing and are very happy?

The point is, the amount of money you need to make yourself as happy as possible is much less than you think. Even public school teachers, people who are notoriously underpaid, earn enough to own houses, hot tubs, cabins, and nice cars.  Many of them are even happy.

 

A Warning Sign That You Might Be Dead or Dying

Remember that Too Much of Anything Can Ruin Everything. In fact a report done by the National Academy of Sciences found that young people who work too much become depressed and begin to hate work. It turns out, if you work a bit, it gives you confidence and teaches you skills. If you work a lot, it makes you hate life. Duh! Thanks Mr. Scientist for proving that too much of anything can ruin everything.

Here’s a sign you could be dead or dying: When you work to pay for something that you only need because you work. A car for example or nice clothes you need only for work. Dead Zen has met many people in his life who work an extra job to pay for a car in order to drive to their extra job. They never use the car to go out or hang out or do fun stuff because they are working to pay for the car.

Here’s a rule to live by: Never trade more work for more sh*t. In fact, give sh*t up so you can work less. Most happy people work less and have less sh*t. The opposite is always more unhappiness. Of course, if you love your work, just keep doing it, whether it’s for free or for a million dollars.

This does not mean that hard work is not necessary. But when you work hard doing what you love, what you’re passionate about, then it is not hard work, it’s enjoyable work.

 

The Three Rules to Instant Enlightenment

If you repeat these three rules to yourself every day until you perfect them fully, you’ll be enlightened, totally happy, and even perfect.

Be Simple, Be Nice, Love Everything.

Be Simple! Life should not be too hard. Complexity makes things stressful and overwhelming. It might sound fun to date five different girls, work two jobs, own a vacation home and six cars and have fifteen hobbies, but it will lead to stress. When you become overwhelmed or scattered or foggy, breathe, repeat the word Simple, and think about what you can do to stop, say no, turn off, give up, get rid of, and just sit. Remember, you are about to die, and you will be forgotten, so if you are not enjoying the moment you are in, right now, you’re wasting time. There are many great ways to keep things simple. Simplifying possessions can help. Yes, cutting back on clothes, shoes, and gadgets actually makes people happy. It means less crap to worry about, put away, and organize. You can also simplify routines and habits in order to give yourself more time to enjoy life (that’s why Einstein wore the same outfit every day). Simplifying obligations is important as well. You can’t say yes to everyone and everything. Only do those things that really matter.

Be Nice! The more Dead Zen tries to figure out who God is or what God is or if God is, he has come to understand Her as a kind of Web of Compassion that works through us all. Yes, we are all little sparks of God when we treat each other kindly, without judgment and disgust and persecution and anger. We bring God into the moment when we ignore our animal instincts and let compassion shine through us. We bring God into the world when we show compassion and kindness. Is being right so important? No. Kindness is. You can practice compassion in small ways by being kind to the person who is rude to you, understanding that somewhere, deep down, they have a wound that needs healing. Being kind to those who are not makes you a spark of the Divine!

Love Everything! Dead Zen’s main mantra is “Love Everything.” Of course, it is easy to love your wonderful mom and your hot boyfriend and your new Ferrari. But the secret to a happy life is to love everything. Love getting rejected because it teaches you to work harder. Love being yelled at because it gives you inner strength. Love the flat tire because it shows you of how important it is to be kind to strangers. Love the flu, because it reminds you to treasure your body. Love the ice patch that knocks you down because it teaches you to always get up again. When you love everything, even the worst moments, for the rich lessons they bring you, you will be forever happy. Loving everything also means being grateful all the time. Loving everything means enjoying every moment, even the worst. And that is one of the most important needs of life: to enjoy (to have joy)! You simplify so you can enjoy what really matters. You act nice toward others so you can enjoy a better, fuller world. You love everything (even the flu’s and ice patches) to remind yourself that everything matters, the worst moments might be your best (remember, bad sh*t is often good). And through it all you have to Enjoy!

Enjoy this moment. Enjoy this meal. Enjoy this little space of time. Enjoy it all. Love Everything. That’s enlightened living.

 

So What Really Matters?

This is a tough, fun question worth spending your life on. Dead Zen believes being alive for life is what really matters. If you are always worried about the future, thinking about the past, wishing for something better, hoping for something bad to go away, numbing yourself with drugs, staring at a TV screen, you are not alive for life. In fact, you’re kind of dead.

What matters? Relationships matter. Being with people who you enjoy, whether it is your family or friends or coworkers.

What matters? Doing something you feel passionate about, something you enjoy, something you would do for free (though you hopefully get paid enough to eat). That matters.

When you are young, it is worth it to spend as much time as you can exploring the world and the different paths of life to find something you feel passionate about, something you are good at, something you could do forever. If you wait until you are old and have fifty kids, it might be harder, though not impossible, to find your purpose, your mission.

Most people work. It’s part of life. You work a job typically for about 40 hours a week, roughly 2000 hours a year, about 70,000 hours in your life. So it’s worth a few hours when you are young to try different things out and think hard about your mission.  That way if you get it wrong you can try again. Some people know from a young age what they want to do, and then they do it. That’s great. Some people bounce around, trying many different things, and that’s okay too.

What you don’t want to do is get stuck doing something you hate for 70,000 hours. That’s not being alive for life.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong

Someone once studied the best business leaders of our world, the ones who made all the tough decisions and all the money.  What they found out was that about 50% of the decisions these master business leaders made were wrong. 50% of their crucial decisions caused errors, had to be taken back, fixed, and tried again. And these were the most successful business leaders in the world!

When Dead Zen heard this, he jumped for joy, because he is often wrong himself.

Do you know what the secret to success was of all these business people, despite all their mistakes?

They made decisions!

They put their foot down and moved forward, tried something, and half the time they failed. But the other half of the time they were successful.  That was enough.

Sadly, Dead Zen knows many, many people who avoid failure by never making any decisions. If you can remember that even the greatest decision makers are wrong half the time, maybe you’ll be a little less afraid of making important decisions. Yes, there is no Ctrl+Z (undo) in life, so be careful.  But there are always new chances. Love every mistake you make, because it just shows you more clearly the correct path. Thomas Edison supposedly failed constantly and repeatedly while trying to make the light bulb. What did he say about this: ““I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

You have to fail. Successful people become masters of failure. The worst thing you can do is avoid decisions.

 

Hard Work

As long as Dead Zen is quoting Edison, he’ll throw out one more. “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

That’s the truth. Life is hard work. There’s no way around it. Great things happen, though, when you put in the time to learn the skill that meets with your passion, your mission. But you have to work hard. That’s why loving everything, enjoying everything, is the secret behind the hard work. If you are working hard to buy a car to get to work, then you’re working hard for the wrong reasons. But if you are working hard because you are passionate about what you do, in fact, you would do it for free, you feel like it’s your mission, then you find success.

Dead Zen is a writer. He wrote for ten years, something like a half a million words, before a single word was finally published. Edison failed 10,000 times and counted those as successes. According to one researcher, the great masters in any field or career have to do something for 10,000 hours before they reach their peak performance. That’s 10,000 hours of doing something poorly, then a little better, then a little better, before finally mastering it. That’s like working for three and a half years, full-time, in order to be the best at something. That’s a lot of work, but it’s not that long.

Remember: forget ambition. Don’t dream big dreams of fast cars and big houses. That’s the fake life sold on TV. Dream of doing something you love and doing it well, even if hardly anyone notices. Find out what it is you love. Resolve that you will do that. Keep doing it. With resolve, you will never give up, because you are already certain of success.

So once you’ve set your resolve, then you add hard work, and success will come. In the meantime, you enjoy every moment of that hard work. And prepare yourself to be the next Van Gogh, Kafka, or Emily Dickinson, all of whom are now considered to be great masters; and unfortunately, nobody figured that out until they were dead.

Such is life. If you’re not enjoying this moment, right now, then you’re in trouble in the next moment.

 

Feeding Yourself (Water the Garden, not the Weeds)

An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one I feed.”

We all have flowers and weeds in our garden, natural tendencies we lean towards. In other words, we have good and bad feelings, good and bad thoughts, ideas, actions, and habits. It’s easy to fall into the trap of watering your weeds by watching horror films and doing drugs and making fun of people and complaining about life. But true happiness lies in taking time to water the flowers. Be kind to someone. Exercise. Give to the poor. Say a prayer. Love your neighbor. Forgive. Say thank you. These are the actions of the truly happy. And they take practice. Do it.

 

Get Life or Die Trying Finale

When you can give up wanting things to change or wanting new stuff to come or wanting bad stuff to go away, and you can focus on the fact that you are totally and completely and positively for sure about to die in the next few minutes (or several decades, give or take), then you can ask yourself what really matters and start to really live.

This is a handy reflection for everything from deciding what to do right now to choosing the right job or mate or menu item. I’m about to die. Is this how I want to spend my time? If the answer is yes, then great. Keep doing whatever it is. If it is no, then change.

The problem is, you can’t really live each day as if it is your last, because then I hope you would not be reading this. You’d be hanging out with your family at the beach or going to church or eating at a really nice restaurant with great people. Instead, you have to live your whole life as if it’s your last life. Because it is your last life.

Don’t waste it.

 

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