“You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.” ~Terence McKenna

You are a pivot with a point of view. You are a wave crashing onto the shores of eternity. You are a unique independent soul-signature emerging from a universal interdependence.. You are the cosmos becoming aware of itself. And you are vital for the progressive evolution of the interconnectedness of all things, whether you realize it or not.

But you must overcome yourself to understand this. Codependence must be overcome by independence must be overcome by interdependence. You must transcend your uninitiated ego to engage your self-actualized ego. In short: you must philosophically crush out…

Forget ‘know thyself’:

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” ~Lao Tzu

Embrace ‘question thyself,’humble thyself,’ and ‘rebirth thyself’ instead.

On the surface, the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” seems like pretty good advice. But the deeper you dig into it, you begin to see how impossible the task truly is.

You can never really know yourself. You can question yourself. You can deconstruct yourself. You can transform yourself. But knowing yourself is like trying to know running water. It’s constantly changing. It’s always moving, transforming, and adapting. It’s never the same thing in any given moment.

The best you can ever do is loosely understand yourself. So in order to come to a greater understanding of yourself, embrace ‘question thyself,’ ‘humble thyself,’ and ‘rebirth thyself’ instead. These aphorisms are philosophical kick-starters. They shove you out of your comfort zone. They launch you outside the tiny box of thought. They push you past the stifling envelope of “rules.” They bitch-slap the ego out of the way so that mind-body-soul can burst through.

This is where philosophy becomes self-inflicted, imposed, exacted, wreaked, and meted out. This is where a philosophy as unique as your own fingerprint is fertilized and begins to gestate.

Without questioning, humbling, and re-birthing there can be no fertilization. There is merely what has come before: the typical, the standard, the mainstream, the average, the conventional, the orthodoxy, and the predictable. But with questioning, humbling, and re-birthing there can be fertilization. There is the potential for creativity and novelty: for the atypical, for the unorthodox, for the uncommon, for the extraordinary, for the never-before-seen to reveal itself.

Self-inflicted has a ruthlessness to it that propels you past your fears. It gets you out of your own way. It goes for the jugular. The term “inflicted” has shock-value. It’s just ruthless enough and has just the right amount of bite to turn away the rigid, the close-minded, and the certain, and to welcome in the flexible, the open-minded, and the curious.

But “giants” are needed to see both further and farther than we can alone. The more the merrier. Lucky for you, it’s the age of information, and there are giants galore.

The power of standing (but not remaining) on the shoulders of giants

“Having a personal philosophy is like having a pet marmoset, because it may be very attractive when you acquire it, but there may be situations when it will not come in handy at all.” ~Lemony Snicket

Proactively questioning, humbling, and re-birthing yourself is about discovering a path of your own. Striking out on your own path is no easy task. It requires brutal self-honesty and a unique flavor of rebellious courage that most people lack. That’s why it’s self-inflicted and not self-induced or self-discovered. That’s why it’s called a leap of courage and not a stroke of comfort.

Here’s the thing: If you don’t have a personal philosophy, life happens to you. But if you have a personal philosophy, you happen to life.

But nothing happens in a vacuum, including philosophizing. There must be fodder. There must be substance. There must be vital ingredients. There must be dynamic ideas. There must be other philosophies connected to other philosophies upon which we can build the foundation of our own philosophy. Everything is connected, after all.

We generally don’t have a choice of what these foundational philosophies will be. They are typically whatever religion or ideology we were raised with. Whatever knowledge was handed down by our forefathers. Some of these philosophies are healthy (in accordance with universal laws) and some of them are unhealthy (not in accordance with universal laws), but all of them (religious and scientific alike) must be faced with intense incredulity and deep questioning.

They must be questioned, deconstructed, and re-birthed into our own words, lest they stagnate and merely become stale bi-products of our ancestor’s parochial reasoning. The shoulders of giants were meant to be stood upon, not planted on. Without the leap of courage between one giant’s shoulder to the next, there could be no progressive philosophy. And thus, no self-inflicted philosophy.

While philosophy dies inside answers; it thrives inside questions.

Questioning is the original leap of courage. It’s the foremost philosophy. Without it, all further philosophy is dead. So, the would-be self-inflicted philosopher must question –always. But the first act of questioning (so called sacrilege) is the most important. The first giant must be questioned most of all. The first mask must be broken in order to understand that it’s masks all the way down.

For example: if the first giant’s shoulder was Jesus, you must question him. Question everything about him and his philosophy. Absorb all you can from the lessons he taught, then do the same with the lessons taught by questioning those lessons, then subsume it all in a kind of philosophical muscle memory and then leap onto the next giant’s shoulder. Having taken the boon of his knowledge into deep consideration and then surrendering it to deep questioning, the next leap of courage is onto another giant’s shoulder.

This is not blasphemy; this is providence.

The same goes for Buddha, Nietzsche, Newton, Darwin, and all the giants of both history and modernity alike. No matter who was the first giant’s shoulder you stood upon, take their knowledge into deep consideration, weigh the probabilities using logic and reasoning, weigh the morality of it using universal law, and then move on to the next giant’s shoulder.

Then keep jumping. Keep taking the leap of courage, the leap into the unknown. Master what you can, but then be diligent about embracing Beginner’s Mind, lest the Master’s Complex turn you into a dogmatic basket-clinger clinging so tight to your basket that you crush all your precious eggs.

If philosophy is a razor, then Self-inflicted philosophy is a double-edged sword that the philosopher stabs him/herself with in order to achieve continual rebirth and absolute self-overcoming. It’s self-improvement over comfort. It’s self-mastery over self-preservation. It’s progressive evolution over regressive stagnation. It’s existential calisthenics.

Discover your own philosophy through recycled mastery:

“There is a kind of quiet violence in philosophy’s work. Philosophical thinking that doesn’t do violence to one’s settled mind is no philosophical thinking at all.” ~Rebecca Goldstein

The first key to creating your own unique philosophy is understanding the concept of recycled mastery. If you master someone’s philosophy –say Nietzsche’s, for example– then you have merely become a Nietzschean. But if you master his philosophy and then cast it off to engage the Buddha, then you’ve just added another vital ingredient that can get you out of the one-dimensional trap of belief.

Then, if you can manage another leap of courage out of Buddha’s philosophy, there is nothing stopping you from doing the same with Jesus’ philosophy, then Kierkegaard’s, Plato’s, Aristotle’s, Kant’s, Sartre’s, Camus’, Gandhi’s, and Rumi’s. The list is endless. There’s a veritable forest of giants out there just waiting for you to take the leap of courage onto their shoulder. There’s always more to learn. And anyone can be a giant if you have the eyes for it.

The second key to creating your own unique philosophy is cultivating imagination. So, you’ve got all this knowledge. You have all these philosophical ingredients. You have all these vital dots just waiting to be connected into a dynamic matrix of unique thought.

Now it’s time to get down to the creative process. It’s time to be imaginative. It’s time to take the best (in your opinion) from Nietzsche’s philosophy and mix it with the best from Buddha’s, and then put your own creative spin on it, in your own words. No plagiarizing. Then do the same with George Cantor and Eckhart Tolle.

Keep doing it. Do it with three philosophers, five, twenty-five, one-hundred and five. Borrow; transform; gift. Birth; death; rebirth. Learn; unlearn; relearn. Master; recycle; remaster. Condition; uncondition; recondition. Thesis; antithesis; synthesis; meta-synthesis. Keep questioning all the way. Keep recycling yourself. Keep reinventing yourself. As Scott Adams said, “Awareness is about unlearning. It is the recognition that you don’t know as much as you thought you knew.”

It’s all yours for the taking. You’re the artist and these are your pallet of paints. You’re the chef and these are your tasty ingredients. You’re the philosopher and these are your vital ideas. So, paint something original. Cook something that’s never been tasted before. Philosophize like nobody else has philosophized. Dare to create something unique that will add to the progressive evolution of your species.

Image: agsandrew/Shutterstock.