The Hero’s Journey

Jean-Paul Sartre says, “Everything has been figured out except how to live.” So perhaps the better question is not what are we to do with death, but what are we to do with life?

Life exists in individual moments and it is up to us to make sure those moments are vast, interconnected, and grand. To make a masterpiece out of life. One that we would willing live again and again for all of eternity. This is what we could strive for.

And I love this idea, this idea of aestheticizing our lives, of italicizing our experience. Of turning our story into the story. Of seeing the universal in the specific and sort of, aligning ourselves, with the archetype of the hero’s journey. Of trying to see a departure from the ordinary in every single instance. A chance to learn something new, a chance to leverage obstacles and learn from them and meet people along the way that can teach us something.

Its what that movie Eat Pray Love talks about: quest physics. The physics of the quest; if you believe and you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, life will begin at the edge of your comfort zone. If you are able to treat what seems like despair, what seems like hardship, as an opportunity to reinvent yourself, if you transcend your own limitations-as Steven Johnson says, “the world is full of clues and you can read your way through it”-if you are able to turn your life into an art piece, if you are able to turn your narrative into the narrative then you become that hero. You become the god of your own life. Its the archetype in every film. Its the Joseph Campbell, hero’s journey.

And um… that’s just rad. That’s just a cool idea.

The Desire To See Memories In Advance

We take it for granted that life moves forward.

You build memories. You build momentum.

You move as a rower moves, facing backwards.

You can see where you’ve been, but not where you are going.

And your boat is steered by a younger version of you.

Its hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way.


You’d see your memories approaching for years, and watch as they slowly become real.

You’d know which friendships will last, which days are important, and prepare for upcoming mistakes

You’d go to school and learn to forget.

One by one you’d patch things up with old friends, enjoying one last conversation before you meet and go your separate ways.

And then your life would expand into epic drama.

The colors would get sharper, the world would feel bigger.

You’d become nothing other than yourself, reveling in your own weirdness.

You’d fall out of old habits until you could picture yourself becoming almost anything.

Your family would drift slowly together, finding each other again.

You wouldn’t have to wonder how much time you have left with people, or how their lives would turn out.

You’d know from the start which week is the happiest you’ll ever be, so you could relive it again and again.

You’d remember what home feels like, and decide to move there for good.

You’d grow smaller as the years pass, as if trying to give away everything you had before leaving.

You’d try everything one last time, until it all felt new again.

And then the world would finally earn your trust, until you think nothing of jumping freely into things, into the arms of other people.

You’d start to notice that each summer feels longer than the last.

Until you reach the long coasting retirement of childhood.

You’d become generous and give everything back.

Pretty soon you’d run out of things to give, things to say, things to see, by then you will have found someone perfect.

And she will become your world.

And you will have left this world just as you found it:

Nothing left to remember, nothing left to regret.

With your whole life laid out in front of you, and your whole life left behind.

— The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


Our Bridge To The Infinite


The philosopher Tolstoy wrote about how in order to live, man must find a way to connect the finite to the infinite. We need to form some kind of kinship between ourselves and the unfathomable vastness of the cosmos. “We are star stuff,” said Carl Sagan. We are made of atoms literally cooked in the furnaces of dying stars, and so in many ways we are infinite. Yet as psychologist Ernest Becker wrote, “we are nevertheless housed in heart-pumping, breath-gasping, decaying bodies.” Simultaneously gods, and worms.

And so we need a bridge, a conduit to the numinous. And perhaps no greater instrument in the history of humankind than the telescope can provide this cathartic bridge as it blasts open new tunnels between the mind and the other. Ross Anderson’s dazzling essay on the James Webb Telescope reminds us that in his metaphysics, Aristotle, called seeing the noblest faculty of man. Anderson goes on to described with requisite virtuosity how the deep field images of the universe taken by the Hubble literally mainline all of space and time into the optic nerve. So that the space telescope has downloaded space and time into our eyeball. Where as once we were blind, now we could see.

He continues, “through the sheer aesthetic force of its discoveries, the Hubble has distilled the complex abstractions of astrophysics into singular expressions of color and light.” Vindicating Keats’s famous couplet, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” And thus allowing the layman to witness the scope and grandeur of the universe through an unprecedented expansion of human vision. Something the new James Webb Space Telescope will take to a whole new level. Anderson continues, “The telescope has provided nothing less than an ontological awakening, a forceful reckoning with what is, as we get to witness galaxies pinwheeling in deep time.”

Something happens to us during these moments of introspective contemplation, drunk on awe, as we literally get to contemplate space and time on a scale just shy of the infinite that enlarges the boundaries of our being. Astronauts have called this “the overview effect,” Neil deGrasse Tyson calls it the “cosmic perspective.” We get to move beyond the self towards something grander, more majestic, ineffable. And we chase these experiences ravenously. As Henry Wismayer wrote, “as spirituality wains, experience is the new faith, and we are refugees from the mundane.”

And so we shall continue, achingly to resuscitate that sense of humbling incomprehension. So that we may say, “Ah yes, I remember what I forgot.” In the words of Nisargardatta, “The other world is this world rightly seen.”

The Telescope: Our Bridge To The Infinite by Shots of Awe with Jason Silva


A False Glimmer


I guess I’m done, and we never happened. I’m not one for words but they’re coming now. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or horoscopes, but I can’t say I’m surprised things turned out this way. I always felt there was something kind of pulling me back to darkness. Does that make sense?

But I wasn’t allowed a real life or a real love. That was for normal people. With you, I thought, well, maybe, just maybe. But I know now that was a false glimmer. I’m used to those. They happen all the time in the desert, but this one got to me.

And here’s the thing: This death, this end of me, is exactly what should have happened. I wanted the darkness. I fucking asked for it. It has me now.

So don’t put a star on the wall for me. Don’t say some dumb speech. Just think of me as a light on the headlands, a beacon steering you clear of the rocks.

I loved you. Yours, for always now, Quinn.


A Moment You Experience For Its Own Sake


The search for meaning is a search for missing treasure. You’ve never actually seen it, but you’ve heard stories since you were a kid. It might have been something you lost years ago, but ever since then you can’t help but keep your eyes open. As if the answer will soon arrive in some windfall epiphany.

That hunger stays with you as you grow up, though you’re not so sure anymore than you’re on the right track. Too many people make a mess of their own treasure maps. Scribbled over with roadblocks and detours, but they’re still asking around for a shortcut.

You start to think you can feel it getting closer, that you can read the currents of everyday life and notice something gleaming just below the surface of things. But you find the deeper you try to dive into life, the more time you spend in the shallows. You just end up back on the shore, trying to go deeper again.

The best you can hope for is to see where the road takes you. To let your mind wander and enjoy the ride. To find those moments when everything falls quiet, and the words lose their meaning, and it all mixes together. Until you can’t tell the difference between the ordinary and the epic. And you stop waiting around for some other meaning to arrive.

You notice how delicate and fleeting it all seems, everything struggling just to exist. And you too are a guest on this earth; whose life is not just a quest, or an opportunity, or a story to tell. Its also just an experience that exists for its own sake. Its ok to linger in the shallows and take it all in.

But even that won’t bring you any closer to what you’re looking for. Its easy to find but impossible to hold on to.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows




I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I’ve been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met
And then I can tell myself
What the hell I’m supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you
I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met
When the night was full of terrors
And your eyes were filled with tears
When you had not touched me yet
Oh, take me back to the night we met
I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
Take me back to the night we met