The Light and Dark of Western Spirituality with Jules Evans

podcast Sep 23, 2020

Jules Evans is a prolific philosopher who writes on a wide variety of topics from stoicism and cognitive behavioral therapy to Artisotle and ayahuasca. Today’s conversation touches on the weaponization of social media, the need for real in-person community, the counterculture sparked by Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and Krishnamurti, and the surprising affinity many Nazis had for the occult, alternative medicine, and biodynamic farming.


Jeff:  Okay, Jules Evans, welcome to the Commune Podcast. Thank you for taking your time today. I appreciate it.

Jules Evans: Thanks for having me.

Jeff: Yeah, and we're many time zones apart. So as I was saying I'm just having my first and you're likely headed to the pub soon. 

Jeff: I came to your work through an article that I suppose one might say went viral. That talks about the horseshoeing of the New Age or spirituality and the far-right. This propensity for... This sort of undetectable or non-obvious alignment between spirituality and authoritarianism. I found it fascinating.

Jeff: I wonder if just to scaffold our conversation upfront, you could provide some biographical information and outline some of the influences that are shaping your writings and your worldview? How some of your current writings play into that overarching project that you are focusing on?

Jules Evans: Sure. Thanks for that, for those nice words. Well, I got into spirituality and kind of 60 spirituality and psychedelics when I was a teenager. So my favorite book when I was 16 was the electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. My friends and I got quite into drugs probably quite young. That then messed a lot of us up, by the time we're 18, a lot of us have had some difficult drug experiences. Including me, so I had quite bad mental health from about 18 to 24. I got better thanks to, first of all, the near-death experience I have when I was 24. I had a bad skiing accident and fell off a cliff. Had a time of a kind of white light encounter type experience, which was very healing for me.

Jules Evans: Then the second thing that really helped me get better was I got into ancient Greek philosophy and into stoicism. That kind of... Both those experiences, both the near-death experience and stoicism gave me the same kind of insight. Which was what was causing my suffering was my own beliefs, which I could change. Stoicism and the type of therapy that it led to called cognitive behavioral therapy. Gave me the ability, a kind of systematic way to change my beliefs and to heal myself. So I wrote my first book, Philosophy for Life about the revival of stoicism today. How people can use stoicism and are using stoicism to flourish and heal themselves.

Jules Evans: Then in my second book, The Art of Losing Control, I thought back to that strange near-death experience I had and what it was and how ecstatic experiences can often be very healing for people. So in my second book, I looked at the kind of history and philosophy and psychology of ecstasy, of ecstatic experiences. How people find them in modern Western culture and when they're good for us and when they're bad for us. When I was doing that book, the writer who was in a way most helpful to me was Aldous Huxley. Who I'd read when I was a teenager, I went to the same school where he was a pupil and then a teacher. So I had a kind of connection to him and we both went and did English literature at Oxford as well. But he was just... While researching this second book, I really grew an admiration for him and this kind of the way he managed to bring together a historical analysis of ecstatic experiences. With kind of scientific and psychological analysis. All the way up to a kind of theology and kind of spirituality.

Jules Evans: So he really had this ability to kind of understand human experience and, particularly, ecstatic experiences, all these different levels. So he gave the title for my third little book, The Holiday From The Self. That's a quote from him. He often talks about how humans need these holidays from their selves. That's why we seek ecstatic experiences.

Jules Evans: So what I'm working on at the moment is a kind of group biography of Aldous Huxley and his friends. People like Alan Watts and Krishnamurti and how they moved to California and helped to invent the counterculture. I suppose while writing that during this pandemic and we started off really as a kind of book about how much I liked Aldous Huxley and admired him and what he's contributed to our culture. But over the last few months, I've also been exploring, I guess the kind of dark side of Western spirituality. Including, for example, things like the fact that Aldous Huxley was quite into eugenics his whole life, as was his brother, Julian Huxley, who is a kind of leading eugenicist.

Jules Evans: I suppose I've been exploring the kind of elitism one often finds in New Age spirituality and the kind of hierarchy. The sorting of people into the spiritually fit and the unfit and how that's... In a way, how New Age spirituality is not always quite as fluffy and light as we might think it is. That led me to part of that research has been looking at kind of the dark side of the human potential movements. How Nazism was in some ways a kind of spiritual movement. This was a surprise to me there's such a thing as like Nazi spirituality. Some of the ideas that Huxley and his friends were into played out in a rather dark and in extreme way in 20s and 30s and 40s Germany.

Jeff: Yeah, I suppose there were many ideas from Darwinism to the works of Nietzsche to Huxley, as you describe. That were, I suppose co-opted for a particular agenda or narrative by the Nazis. But I'm wondering if you could hover there just a bit and talk a little bit about some of the kind of spiritual proclivities that arose in Weimar Germany. Particularly, you already mentioned it but this idea of kind of purity, which right now feels very connected to there's a sort of growing body of discussion around kind of the sanctity of the human body and preserving. The immune system and the sovereignty of the body and the immune system. Some of that, obviously, can be connected to anti-vac movement, et cetera. But anyways, I'll stop there because I know you've done the research here.

Jules Evans: Well, I've been reading historians like Eric Kurlander, who wrote a recent book called Hitler's Monsters and another historian called Peter Staudenmaier. They've written books looking at the relationship between the Nazis and the occult. So leading Nazis, particularly, Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler but several others as well, were very into the occult and alternative spirituality. So the Nazis set up institutes to research parapsychology. They were very into astrology, into dowsing, and divination. Several leading Nazis were into things like Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy and particularly his theories of bio-dynamic agriculture, which is a kind of spiritual form of agriculture. Where the kind of people have the spiritual link to the soil. Also, they drew on a kind of nature mysticism. The sense that the German people in the area and race have a spiritual connection to the land, into the forests. They were big advocates of like holistic thinking. This idea that you need to transcend your individuality and feel like part of the whole. Part of the biological whole, part of the ecosystem, part of the whole nation. So that kind of...

Jules Evans: They're also into kind of the idea of an education for the whole person. They thought that modern society was too rationalistic and materialistic and it had lost its soul. It needed to rediscover its kind of mythical roots. So Nazi sponsored all kinds of strange research, historical research, to find Germany's mythical roots. Including paying people to go off literally look for the Holy Grail. To go off to Tibet because they thought that the Aryan race included like Brahmin upper-caste Indians and Tibetans. They thought that the Buddha was actually a blonde Aryan.

Jules Evans: So they had this kind of mysticism and spirituality but it was very much racialized. It was very much Aryan and nationalists spirituality. But I suppose it's just odd to find a lot of the things that we would find in a nice kind of New Age bookshop. Was also very popular with the Nazis. Like Himmler would carry around a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, encouraged his SS troops to do yoga. They were very into alternative medicine. They got inmates at the Dachau concentration camp to work on growing alternative medicine. This is not to say, some people reacted to my article rather indignantly. That I was saying the New Age is essentially fascist. I'm not saying that, what I'm saying is it is possible to be both into the New Age and into kind of fascism or far-right politics. It's good to be aware-

Jeff: Right. I think that is... Yeah.

Jules Evans: Yeah. The reason it's good to be aware is just because far-right ideas and now spreading as you know through kind of New Age and wellness and spirituality networks. So we shouldn't be blindsided by that, we should just be aware of that. Aware that there is this historical overlap, so it's happened before and it can happen again.

Jeff: Right. I suppose there was also one of the crowning achievements of Hitler and the Nazis, was their ability to sell the German people on a conspiracy fantasy. That resembles some of the theories that we're seeing today, I suppose most closely associated with QAnon. That all problems were rooted in kind of a hidden global elite. In the case of the Nazis, that was clearly on a religious, that determination was on a strictly religious basis. Well, not strictly but I suppose largely religious basis. But I think you draw some, I guess unnerving parallels between that fantasy that was sold to the German people and some of the, I guess conspiracy-oriented fantasies that are being concocted right now.

Jules Evans:

Yeah, it's definitely the case that the Nazis both promoted and believed in these kinds of occult conspiracy theories. In that case, the classic conspiracy theory found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That there's all-powerful cabal of global Jews who control all world events. They're kind of these demonic, almost superhuman beings, who have a network of underground tunnels and steal children and drink their blood. They pose this kind of cosmic existential supernatural threat to the German people. But luckily, there's this messianic, light-bearing, guru figure in the Fuehrer, who has these kinds of extraordinary powers of insight and wisdom. Will oppose this cabal and overthrow them and there'll be a kind of time of suffering and pain. But then eventually there'll be 1000-year reign of peace and glory. So this has got a lot of similarities to the QAnon conspiracy, which also has this idea of a hidden cabal. They're not Jews in QAnon but they're kind of Liberals and Democrats and democratic politicians and Hollywood liberals. Who also are controlling all world events, controlling the media, and supposedly they have a network of underground tunnels, which they use to traffic children and drink their blood. But luckily, there's this messianic spiritual light-bearer figure in Trump, who will save America and save the world. But we'll have to suspend democracy and there will have to be some military trials and a lot of brutal punishment.

Jules Evans: This is what QAnon call like the storm. But then there'll be this wonderful time of peace and love and light. Both of these conspiracies draw on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which historians think was actually created by Russian intelligence in around 1900 to ferment anti-Semitism. Actually, they think that it was partly created or at least smuggled in by a couple of theosophist. So there is again this overlap between kind of New Age spirituality and pretty nasty conspiracy theories.

Jeff: Yeah and I believe I read that the publishing of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, who was largely provided by Henry Ford. So the crazy sort of Labyrinth goes on. I suppose I would also say that the QAnon theories are not disconnected from anti-Semitism, particularly in the claims around blood libel and adrenochrome. The fact that its origins were the Chan's, 4chan, 8chan, and now, 8kun, which were hotbeds for white nationalism and anti-Semitism. So you just wonder if there's just kind of some just general dog-whistling going on there.

Jules Evans: I'm sure there are some people who are both QAnoners and hardcore anti-Semites. What's dangerous about QAnon is the way that it has mutated to appeal to different constituencies.

Jeff: Yeah, it is so shifting and its ways. One day it can be 5G and its role in the transmissibility of COVID. Then kind of the next day it's a ring of pedophiles and the next day it's something else. I think one of the greatest difficulty is that anyone that is committed to sort of a rigorous search for the truth cannot be an expert on every single component of this kind of shifting landscape of theories. So it becomes very difficult to debunk. I suppose one could argue that the efforts to debunk are in some ways frivolous because folks that seem to embrace these theories seem to be unmoved by rational argument.

Jules Evans: Yeah. I listened to your last episode, interviewing the people from the Conspirituality Podcast. One of them said he'd read the entire John Podesta emails looking for hot dog and pizza references. You think, my gosh, it's hard work. I've been reading the books of David Icke, just to try and understand kind of conspiracy theory mentality. Yeah, they kind of do your head in when you're reading pages and pages of this stuff. It's so copious and it has the appearance of kind of logic. Then there are these huge leaps in logic and just dodgy forms of evidence bought in.

Jeff: Yeah, it's very hard to address. I have three daughters and my youngest one is still very much in her curious phase. She will ask me different questions about how the world works. I'll do my best to summon some form of empirical response from my faulty dementia. But her retort is always why? Any answer I give her there's just another question of why until I'm reduced to sort of basically a puddle of intuition. But I'm curious, as we see misinformation weaponized on social media and an increasing polarization in tribalization of society. What are your feelings around kind of the long-term viability of democracy in a world that seems to lack an ability to talk with itself? Are you concerned around sort of an efflorescence of authoritarianism right now?

Jules Evans: I'm definitely concerned when I see news reports about different militias facing off in American cities. It seems like people have just lost faith in the ability for democratic processes to find compromises and for peaceful handover of power. So yes, it is worrying and these kind of emergencies we're facing, they're not going to go away. We're going to keep on facing them, possibly worse as global warming continues. We're in a transition period, after a few decades of peace and growth. I think in those transition periods, the ruling myth breaks down. In our case, I guess the ruling myth was just growth and things are getting better. When the ruling myth breaks down, I think a lot of alternative myths come in. A lot of kind of conspiracy theories and toxic ideas but that's part of the process of new thinking emerging. It's like a flood of stuff from the subliminal mind, you could say. A lot of it's pretty toxic.

Jules Evans: But I still have some optimism that there's a readjustment happening. There's a necessary revealing of stuff that was hidden. A new myth will emerge to help us cope with the times we're in. I guess I do think democracy is the best system, it's the most adaptive functional system. So we could be in for a rocky 10 years or so. You think about people in the 20s and early 30s and they had a very tough 15 years. Imagine if you were around in 1910, you really had a tough kind of 35 years. But democracy still emerged stronger than before after all these kinds of extremist philosophies that had their moments. So I am, I guess still optimistic about it.

BREAK 

Jeff: It's funny, Maslow who, obviously, created the famous Hierarchy of Needs. Which has typically been understood to culminate kind of at the top of the pyramid with this idea of self-actualization. He started writing later in his journals about what actually comes after. That self-actualization cannot be an end unto itself. I suppose this in some ways may refer to or have a sibling in Buddhism. Where self-transcendence is a beautiful aim or target. But that on the other side of that, there needs to be sort of good work and ethical action. A re-emergence in the society around you to commit to a more collective sense of wellbeing or flourishing. That is certainly something that I don't think we see right now.

Jules Evans: Yeah, I think I definitely agree with that vision you've kind of laid out of a spirituality that's not just about self-actualization. But it's also about good works and trying to improve your society. But I think it's also important the kind of the bit of Western spirituality define itself against Christianity often. It's quite Nietzschean in that way. Nietzsche was a huge influence on it. So it rejects the idea of good works and philanthropy, as a bit kind of sickly and Victorian and sentimental or even counterproductive.

Jules Evans: It also rejects the idea of humility that you should be kind of... There's a kind of pagan pride, you should become like a God. We are like gods as Stewart Brand put it, therefore we should become good at it. I think you even see that in Maslow. There's this idea you get and like who are the top 5%? So you've got the self-actualizers and then maybe there's only like 10% of the population who are self-actualizers. Then you've got the 3% or so, I'm just making it up but who are self-transcenders. They are the ultimate people, the peak individuals. He thought like Aldous Huxley was like one of these rare people.

Jules Evans: So you see there's a kind of hierarchy there. Of course, people who think like that always think of themselves as on the kind of top evolutionary rung. Then you can have this kind of... It's easy if you're thinking that spiritually hierarchical way. To then look down at the messy people at the bottom and think what a waste of time. I think in Maslow's journals, I'm still researching it but I think you do come across those. That kind of Nietzschean contempt for the lesser beings who are less actualized and realized. So I guess the humility one can get off just thinking I'm doing my best but I still fail a lot of the time like everyone else. I'm not necessarily that advanced. That kind of humility and wariness of spiritual hierarchies I think is quite helpful for us in this community and in this kind of culture.

BREAK

Jeff: I'm, to be honest, really kind of publicly struggling with the utility of religion because I see how important it is for community bonds. Just like you described this idea of coming together of being a part of something that's greater than yourself. We live in a society of kind of cutthroat capitalism and individuation. Kind of constant feelings of deficiency and not-enoughness. As we kind of turn our head any which way, all we can see are sort of images of unattainable perfection. Then we're in turn marketed gadgets and products and services and gizmos to sort of address that perceived kind of deficiency. Kind of through that mental torture, we become more and more isolated and lonely and atomized.

Jeff: This is where I believe the church just as an institution is so important because it can bring people together in states of ecstasy. God, how many opportunities do we get in this day and age to be in full alignment with a couple of 100 people or however big your congregation is, in an act of creative expression? What a beautiful opportunity, what an amazing way to spend your life. I suppose the downside is that it's rooted in texts that support in some effects slavery and stoning for apostasy or working on the Sabbath. Being of an alternate sexual orientation, et cetera.

Jeff: So this is really what I've been brooding over. Is that how do we provide those forums and that opportunity for people to connect? For there to be places of community but I suppose strip out the more kind of deleterious fundamentalist components of it. To be honest, I don't have an answer.

Jules Evans: Yeah. You used to have a company, it's still going, that ran loads of events. So I suppose you have done things that have brought people together in their thousands.

Jeff: Yes, true.

Jules Evans: So yeah. I would say that-

Jeff: Yes...

Jules Evans: Yeah, go on.

Jeff: Well, I would just say my one misgiving kind of in retrospect with Wanderlust, we were able to create these kind of peak experiences of community. But then, a couple of days later, we'd pack up the trucks and off we went. Where I think... My wife told me this one day in an unexpected moment. When I asked her what are the core ingredients for the fostering of community? She said something I didn't expect, she said continuity. It was a real light bulb moment for me because I was under this impression that Wanderlust was creating all of this community all the time. But then, I really did think about it more critically. I began to understand that community really does need continuity. This is kind of one of my big worries with the pandemic. Where at least in the United States, half of the yoga studios have closed probably for good. These places were wonderful for Asana. But what they were really about at the end of the day was intentional community or a cooler.

Jeff: Now, it's all just influencers streaming on Zoom. In a way, there's some positive implications of that. There's no middleman and teachers are having a more direct communication and keeping more of the margin economically. But there really is an absence of that connection that happens after a yoga class or a group meditation. Where you've had some form of transformational experience and then you go to the café or to the parking lot or wherever and you connect with someone else in a way that is just irreplaceable. So I worry about that.

Jules Evans: Yeah, absolutely. Instead, people go online and go down a YouTube rabbit hole. I think conspiracy theories are offering a form of connection but a rather toxic form for connection. I think that's true for churches as well. They've got a real problem on their hands with it too. But in terms of like, I don't know, let's say thinking in terms of a year or two later. When hopefully, the pandemic has eased. What do we do? How do we help people find more connection and not just relying on pills to numb their pain? But to get genuine face to face kind of connection and meaning?

Jules Evans: I feel like New Age spirituality is often had a kind of institutional weakness. It was developed by people like, let's say Aldous Huxley and Allan Watts and Krishnamurti and others. They were always kind of like it was this modernist impulse to break free of institutions or even to break free of your country as well. To be a kind of spiritual nomad, a restless seeker. There's a good book on the history of spirituality called Restless Seekers. It's like if you read DH Lawrence's Rainbow. DH Lawrence himself was a kind of restless spiritual tourist. The Heroine of the Rainbow ends with her saying, "I have no father, no mother, no country." She's completely kind of burst free. Same with Nietzsche, this restless, spiritual tourist.

Jules Evans: But after a while, you need to kind of build communities and build institutions. Institutions, they're like the logs that keep the fire burning, otherwise, you just have these brief kind of flames. These brief spiritual movements, which don't just keep kind of burning and keep that continuity like your wife put it. So there's just so few of those kinds of institutions in New Age spirituality. There's things like Esalen, which is this load stuff for lots of people in this culture. It's been going 60 years, that's amazing. But even there, you've got to pay, it's pay as you go. You pay quite a lot for these courses. These courses, as you say, only lasts like a weekend or a week.

Jules Evans: There's an irony there. That spiritual seekers like me yearn for community and connection but we often have to travel for miles to get it and spend a week among strangers. Like I went and did an Ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon. Me and my fellow pilgrims, we all yearned for connection, we all felt this kind of disconnection and loneliness. We really had that for a week, this real sense of our hearts being open and connected to each other. But then we all go back to our separate countries. So I... Yeah, go on.

Jeff: Did you feel that could be addressed through the establishment of institutions like you say but in physical form? This was one of my thought streams for a while. Where I started to see, I think in the United States at one point, there were more yoga studios than McDonald's. There were 24,000 yoga studios, mostly very, very mom and pop. One room, little fluorescent rooms in a mini-mall or something. But they were at least providing some glue for community. I'm not predisposed to yoga, per se but it was I think an example of okay. I was looking at like okay, well, how many churches are there in the United States? 250,000 or something like that. Are there other places for community gathering around spiritual concepts that might not be as kind of fundamentalist in nature?

Jeff: So I wonder if there are institutions kind of at a local level. I think as you say you'll go and have this retreat experience, which is one might call like a very peak experience. But then how do you sustain that kind of through your continuing life?

Jules Evans: Yeah, exactly.

Jeff: Are you able to do that kind of on online, small circle groups? Can digital media actually perform that function well? Do we need these kind of physical locations in order to create that sense of community continuity?

Jules Evans: I think so, yeah and I think it's one of the things I felt in the lockdown, was there was a rediscovery of the local. I did a report with my brother for the Welcome Trust, who are the biggest funders of medical research. We did a report on how people coped during the lockdown mentally. We looked at things like self-care and mutual aid. So people coping with meditation, people coping with philosophy. So like 10% of British people said they turned to philosophy during the lockdown, which is pretty extraordinary. Gardening, cycling, cooking.

Jules Evans: But there was also this real growth of mutual aid. People because they couldn't jet-set around and because they were stuck in their streets, they literally got to meet neighbors they'd never met before. They looked out for each other because as well, like governments weren't really working. Government didn't have its kind of stuff together. So this anarchist spirit of mutual aid grew out of the cracks, with people looking out for their elderly neighbors or just for each other. If they had to isolate, others would get food or medicine for them. It gave me a sense that in emergency times, sometimes you're only as strong as your neighborhood. I was very grateful that I'd moved to Bristol in that time, which has a strong civic sense. It's a friendly place. People look out for each other and that means a lot in emergency times. You can just trust each other and trust that it's not all going to fall apart.

Jules Evans: So it's been strange for me because I'm that kind of restless spiritual seeker type and I love traveling for that. But it's forced me to just stay in this one place during the lockdown and invest in the local community. So I think the local is important on a personal level in terms of finding fulfillment. Seeing if you can, I don't know, start-up spiritual communities but which don't become bubbles. But which try to help their local communities in practical rolled-up sleeves way. That's always tricky but that's the idea.

Jules Evans: So don't become a cultish bubble but become open and friendly and helpful to the community. Then still do the occasional online, international thing because that's great, that's brilliant. But I suspect we're all probably going to be traveling less, aren't we, in the years ahead, flying less? So yeah, it probably is going to be a bit more local. But with the occasional, really great international event or online meetings and stuff. So yeah, I think local might be the way forward.

Jeff: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you and resonate with that a lot. I also wrote considerably about localization kind of in the early lockdown period. As a means to address a whole variety of different facets of life that I suppose were broken. Yeah, this notion that we don't even know our neighbors, their name or their health status. Yet, we're absolutely consumed with a comment that we got from someone on social media who lives halfway around the world. So I think that in some ways if you were looking at silver linings, potentially of the lockdown. Is that there was a re-prioritization around certain facets of like what made life worthwhile in the first place. I also suppose there's also something to be said around developing local economies. That address I think a lot of the anger and disease associated with globalism. Why does the butter from New Zealand cost less than the butter that's made down the street? Well, there's a whole litany of reasons for that, none of which are particularly good.

Jeff: So I do think that this idea of rooting down into the local is powerful. I was drawn to the 80th verse of the Tao and I won't recite it here because I don't know it verbatim. But I do encourage everyone to read it because it's prophetic in some ways. Around how people can actually find true spiritual ease and happiness and contentedness is in the local. I suppose this is a TS Eliot also talks about that. Is that we'll wander our whole lives just to come back from the place which we started and know it for the first time. That God is where we are or there's plenty of different ways of phrasing it.

Jeff: I think just kind of personally, I haven't traveled at all after running a company called Wanderlust and all we did was travel. In a way, yeah, it was I think coming to terms with the idea that one can really find a sense of peace and happiness in their own place. 

BREAK

Jeff: We have an election obviously coming up in the United States that takes up a lot of air. I assume even in the UK it gets significant coverage. There is a worry that a lot of the unrest and I suppose, rebellion against norms and institutions will come to a climax if and when Trump refuses to leave office. Nobody knows what the outcome will be and it is very fraught with many different kinds of circumstances. Obviously, it'd be much more difficult if the pandemic persists to vote in person. There's this whole controversy with mail and ballots, which may give the perception on election night that Trump has obtained more votes and then may control kind of the narrative. Then the votes will be kind of the absentee votes will trickle in and Biden will make a case as well. We'll get into sort of a protracted, legal kind of situation, which is going to only further undermine trust in the government as an institution. Then put, I suppose blow more oxygen on the more extreme flames here. Kind of the Alt-Right and the militia groups on the right and Antifa and some of the more activist elements of the movement for black lives.

Jeff: So we're sort of coming to this climax point and I think it has just a lot of people just so apoplectic or edgy and stressed out. I wonder if you have any tips I suppose on how people can just manage and remain spiritually centered, in a time that is so fraught.

Jules Evans: Well, I think the first thing I suppose is to kind of go easy on oneself and recognize that we're all feeling it. It is pretty normal to feel tired and sad and afraid at the moment and that's not pathological. That's a normal human response to very difficult circumstances. So that's the first thing in terms of framing it and to give oneself a break and not... The Buddhist idea of the second arrow, you kind of have pain and suffering. But then you can turn that into a story about why you're no good. That's the kind of second arrow and that's don't do that. Just avoid turning your understandable suffering into a story about why you're no good. I think there's the stoic technique of accepting what you don't control and focusing on what you do. That we're in a time of the rapids, where things, to some extent, just sweeping along. We as individuals have limited control and a lot of things are just happening. You can do what you can but you're not going to totally change the course of history by tweeting 100 times a day or something.

Jules Evans: So doing what you can but knowing when to kind of step back from the streets as it were. I don't mean completely disengage but when to recharge and knowing how you recharge. Whether that's... Everyone will have their own coping mechanisms. Could be poetry or gardening or just going for a walk or playing with your dog. So yeah and I think that's... For the Stoics, part of that stepping back. Accepting what you don't control and focusing on what you do. With the Stoics also have this kind of, I guess sense of cosmic hope. There are big processes going on, tectonic shifts. The human race is incredibly resilient and I sometimes get a weird comfort from reading history about how rough it's been so often in the past. I think the lack of that historical awareness makes us think my God, this is the worst it's ever been.

Jules Evans: I remember back in 2016, people were like it's 2016 the worst year ever because Trump's been elected and Prince has died. It is like no, there's been some worse years than this. This is one but there's been a lot worse than this. I consider myself really an agnostic, in terms of like I'm pretty sure there is some kind of higher spiritual forces. The higher spiritual power is good but I don't know for sure and that's kind of beyond my pay grade. So I just try and be a good human in the here and now, like the Buddha tells us to. He says, "Look, yes, there's these higher things but you can't really understand it." But I do have that kind of basic sense of cosmic hope, like our own individualized, we do what we can. There are a small bit of the picture and we just do what we can. But I do have that overarching sense of I guess cosmic hope.

Jules Evans: So that's yeah, so the kind of focusing on what I can control, accepting what I can't. Just that kind of faith as well. Those are what helped me. Then making the effort to see my friends, even when I don't want to, even when I feel tired, and feel like just kind of emotionally self-isolating. Making the effort to kind of turn up and see my friends and the awkwardness of making community. I'm a natural introvert, so I find it awkward. It's my birthday on Sunday. I was like should I have a party? It feels a bit awkward. I just moved to this town, I don't know many people. Half of it was lockdown, so I don't have very strong relationships here. Maybe I'll just hide away. I was like no, go on, have a party, invite people. If you build it, they will come. So that's what I'm doing.

Jules Evans: So it's that. We were talking about community and it's awkward. Building community is awkward and local community is awkward too because it's often people, how much really do we have in common? But that kind of thing I think really pays you back in difficult times of just going through the awkwardness of building local connections. So I think that's an important part of how we get through rough times.

Close

Almost there! Just enter your first name and email below to get your FREE relaxation lesson.