Ready for change? Your time starts now


Life Changing is a hands-on guide to harnessing the power of change. Using philosophical examples, it shows you how to cultivate the resilience, agility and vision to embrace change and make it an adventure.

The book includes practical exercises that enable you to apply the ideas in familiar contexts. By doing the exercises, you learn how to think philosophically about change and unleash its life-changing possibilities.

Be creative with change. Don’t just ride it out — use it.

Life Changing: A Philosophical Guide is available on Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes.

Check out the introduction to Life Changing on the P2P Foundation wiki.

Life Changing marks the end of a personal journey. For the past fifteen years, I have been studying, teaching, and applying transformative philosophy in my own life, first as a doctoral student at the University of Sydney, then as a lecturer at the Universities of Sydney and New South Wales, and recently in my Philosophy for Change course, which I’ve run at the Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sydney. My guiding intuition has been that it is possible to distil from philosophical ideas a kernel of practical wisdom, which can be communicated through simple exercises that students can apply to their lives.

This intuition is core to Life Changing. The book is structured about five practical exercises. Each incorporates a life-changing insight. The exercises show you how to muster the courage to change; how to control yourself like a Stoic philosopher; how to cultivate your Nietzschean will to power; and how to use Spinoza’s philosophy to supercharge your social life. They show you how to take adventure from the heart of crisis and fulfilment from the struggle with adversity. [Read more…]

Learning how to love

‘One must learn how to love. — This is what happens to us in music: First one has to learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate it and delimit it as a separate life. Then it requires some exertion and good will to tolerate it in spite of its strangeness, to be patient with its appearances and expression, and kindhearted about its oddity. Finally, there comes a moment when we are used to it, when we sense that we should miss it if it were missing; and now it continues to compel and enchant us relentlessly until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers who desire nothing better from the world than it and only it.

But that is what happens to us not only in music. That is how we have learned to love all things that we now love. In the end we are always rewarded for our good will, our patience, fairmindedness, and gentleness with what is strange; gradually, it sheds its veil and turns out to be a new and indescribable beauty. That is its thanks for our hospitality. Even those who love themselves will have learned it in this way; for there is no other way. Love, too, has to be learned’.

Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (also trans. The Gay Science), aphorism 334.

Socrates as entrepreneur: philosophy as a tool of war

CHAPTER FOUR: PHILOSOPHY AS A TOOL OF WAR

But why are we talking about Socrates? If you are reading this blog, you are probably interested in practical wisdom to help you deal with contemporary crises and challenges. What could possibly be relevant in the story of a philosopher who died 2400 years ago? Isn’t this perpetuating the bad habit of looking to the teachings of long-dead white men for answers in a young, multi-ethnic, post-feminist world? Worse, it seems to be celebrating that hoary old intellectual chestnut, ‘reason’ – and reason has earned itself a bad reputation in recent years, deservedly so. The twentieth century saw reason applied to abominable ends: the rational extermination of millions of people in death camps; the establishment of the technocratic state, which claimed the right to socially engineer its populace in the name of rational gain; the ascendency of neo-liberal economic management, which posits every individual as a rational, value-maximizing agent (and too bad for you if you don’t fit the paradigm); the invention of the atomic bomb, turning war into Mutually Assured Destruction and international relations into game theory.

Why should we think about Socrates in the middle of cleaning up the mess that has been made by his descendants? Sure, Socrates is interesting – as a relic. But here in the second decade of the twenty first century, we have more important things to do than reflect on things that happened in the long-distant past.

I hear these kinds of views from people all the time. I agree with the criticisms to a large extent. Still, I think that, in this particular case, there is good reason for us to delve into the story of a dead white philosopher. The story of Socrates has immense value today, especially for those people concerned to address the challenges of the present and our transition into a sustainable future. [Read more…]

Vision and empowerment: the Spiderman moment

What goes through Peter Parker’s mind when he first realizes he has superpowers? This scene in the original Spiderman movie sent chills up my spine. What goes through your head in a moment of vision? ‘I am alive, I am empowered, I have the capacity to think, feel, act, and experience life in some way’. In a moment of vision, we understand our sources of power and our powers themselves. We realize that we are empowered through having the capacity to think, feel, do, and be.

Thinking, feeling, doing and being are the building blocks of human experience. Together they encompass an incredible range of capacities and abilities. If we located all the different species in the world on a graph showing their relative powers, with insects and reptiles with basic sensory and motor functions at the one end of the graph, and the higher primates with rudimentary cognitive and affective powers at the other end, human powers would be off the scale. Of all living creatures, only humans have the power to seize on an issue and think it through; to attune themselves empathetically to the needs and desires of other human and non-human creatures; to respond to a situation with a complex and deliberate set of actions; and to assume a social role and become a certain sort of person in a social context.

We call our species homo sapiens, the wise man. We might just as well call ourselves homo potens, the powerful man. Wisdom is only one of our powers. It is all too rarely applied. [Read more…]

Reflections on empowerment

Do not underestimate the desire to think and learn. You know what Parmenides said — thinking and being are the same.

Do not underestimate the wonder in discovering a new sentiment or passion. Don’t you remember the first time you fell in love?

Do not underestimate the value of learning a new activity, or acquiring the ability to tackle a new task. These things can transform lives.

Do not underestimate the human need to be and belong. To say ‘I am…’ and have that mean something… It gives meaning to life.

What do these experiences have in common? They are all forms of empowerment.

No one knows what they are capable of thinking, feeling, doing, or being. No one knows the true extent of their powers. The adventure of life is to find out.

Nietzsche’s three metamorphoses

I wanted to know all about everything when I was a kid. I was an inquisitive child. The will to knowledge took root well before I was in any real position to pursue it. I remember, as a child, being conscious of a realm of adult understandings that I just didn’t have access to. There was a universe of truth and wisdom beyond my ken, and it fascinated me.

Things are different for kids today. Thanks to the internet, the truths of adult existence are only a mouse-click away. But I didn’t have recourse to instant internet gratification. I was left to think about things. My search for knowledge, as I travelled through childhood and teenagerdom, led me to dwell on the weightier things in life. Intuitively, I knew that many of the adult things beyond my experience were sombre, perhaps even dreadful, matters. The more that I reflected on these matters, the more I became a sombre person myself. I was weighed down by what I knew. I stared too long into the abyss and I started to see the abyss in me.

This was before I read Nietzsche. I started university later than most, at the age of 24. Attending philosophy classes and reading Nietzsche was a revelation for me. I had a Damascus road experience – broke with much of my past life, and devoted myself to philosophy broadly.

Looking back, I can see there was a spiritual transformation that came along with this as well. I went from being a camel to a lion. I transitioned from the first to the second phase of Nietzsche’s “three metamorphoses.” [Read more…]

For the new year!

On January 1st, 1882, Nietzsche wrote in celebration of the new year:

“Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and dearest thought; hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish for myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year – what thought shall for me be the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth. I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things: then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati [love of fate]: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer” (Gay Science, 276).