Whenever I feel uninspired, I look to a collection of my favorite quotes and passages I keep in a document on my computer or marked in my books (my idea bank). Today was one of those days.
As I was re-reading some of these and remembering why I love writing, reading, and the power of words, I thought perhaps someone somewhere out there might be feeling the same as me before I started writing this post.
So, here are 20 of the most beautiful passages (in no particular order) I have ever read on life and related subjects, and which have helped me become a better version of myself over the years. These exclude everything I have learned from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger (there’s anyways an overdose of these two wise men on this blog).
Hope you find these passages of some help, and worth your time. Ready? Let’s go.
1. Steve Jobs on Having Courage to Follow Your Heart and Intuition
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. (Source)
2. Naval Ravikant on Life Being a Single Player Game
Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player competitive game. When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game.
We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore. We compete purely on multi-player games.
The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player. (Source)
3. Eknath Easwaran on Fighting the War Within
The battlefield is a perfect backdrop, but the Gita’s subject is the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious.
Scholars can debate the point forever, but when the Gita is practiced, I think, it becomes clear that the struggle the Gita is concerned with is the struggle for self-mastery. It was Vyasa’s genius to take the whole great Mahabharata epic and see it as metaphor for the perennial war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness in every human heart. Arjuna and Krishna are then no longer merely characters in a literary masterpiece. Arjuna becomes Everyman, asking the Lord himself, Sri Krishna, the perennial questions about life and death – not as a philosopher, but as the quintessential man of action. Thus read, the Gita is not an external dialogue but an internal one: between the ordinary human personality, full of questions about the meaning of life, and our deepest Self, which is divine.
There is, in fact, no other way to read the Gita and grasp it as spiritual instruction. If I could offer only one key to understanding this divine dialogue, it would be to remember that it takes place in the depths of consciousness and that Krishna is not some external being, human or superhuman, but the spark of divinity that lies at the core of the human personality. (Source)
4. Carl Sagan on Being Kind and Compassionate
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. (Source)
5. Seneca on the Shortness of Life
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it. (Source)
6. Marcus Aurelius on the Unnaturalness of Anger
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural. (Source)
7. Haruki Murakami on Weathering Life’s Storms
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. (Source)
8. Dale Carnegie on Living One Day at a Time
You and I are standing this very second at the meeting place of two eternities: the vast past that has endured forever, and the future that is plunging on to the last syllable of recorded time. We can’t possibly live on either of those eternities – no, not even for one split second. But, by trying to do so, we can wreck both our bodies and our minds. So let’s be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime.
“Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down. And this is all that life really means.” (Source)
9. Kahlil Gibran on Children
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable. (Source)
10. Viktor Frankl on Dealing with Success
Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say! — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it. (Source)
11. Dostoevsky on Not Lying to Ourselves
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love. (Source)
12. Anne Frank on Seeking Solace in Nature
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles. (Source)
13. Nassim Taleb on Us Being Black Swans
I am sometimes taken aback by how people can have a miserable day or get angry because they feel cheated by a bad meal, cold coffee, a social rebuff or a rude reception…We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, a chance occurrence of monstrous proportions.
Imagine a speck of dust next to a planet a billion times the size of the earth. The speck of dust represents the odds in favour of your being born; the huge planet would be the odds against it. So stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present and worried about the mildew in the bathroom. Stop looking the gift horse in the mouth – remember that you are a Black Swan. (Source)
14. Yuval Noah Harari on the Power of Meditation
According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify.
People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them. This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realise how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasising about what might have been. The resulting serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it. It is like a man standing for decades on the seashore, embracing certain ‘good’ waves and trying to prevent them from disintegrating, while simultaneously pushing back ‘bad’ waves to prevent them from getting near him. Day in, day out, the man stands on the beach, driving himself crazy with this fruitless exercise. Eventually, he sits down on the sand and just allows the waves to come and go as they please. How peaceful! (Source)
15. Ed Viesturs on Karma
Although I remain uncertain about God or any particular religion, I believe in karma. What goes around, comes around. How you live your life, the respect that you give others and the mountain, and how you treat people in general will come back to you in kindred fashion. I like to talk about what I call the Karma National Bank. If you give up the summit to help rescue someone who’s in trouble, you’ve put a deposit in that bank. And sometime down the road, you may need to make a big withdrawal. (Source)
16. Albert Einstein on Widening Our Circles of Compassion
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. (Source)
17. Daily Stoic on Dealing with the Scary World
In Aaron Thier’s wonderful new novel, The World Is A Narrow Bridge, there is a scene where Eva and Murphy, the two young prophets of the god Yahweh, are sent on a mission that terrifies them. As they begin the mission, Eva and Murphy are approached by Satan, who has been sent by Yahweh, to give them their final instructions. After Satan gives the instructions, he begins to leave for his next mission:
“You have to go so soon?” says Eva. “Right away?”
She looks devastated. Murphy, too, is unhappy. Satan frowns and chews on his lip. He doesn’t like to leave them like this.
“I’ll teach you a trick,” he says. “I’ll teach you an incantation that will protect against despair. If things are dark, and I’m not around to help, you can repeat it a few times and it’ll help.
It would go something like this: ‘The world is a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.’”
Murphy and Eva both repeat this very slowly. Eva says, “That’s lovely.”
Satan nods. “Just repeat it to yourself when things are bad. You could try different translations too. ‘Do not make yourself afraid, the whole world is a narrow bridge.’
The point is this life we’re living—this world we inhabit—is a scary place. If you peer over the side of a narrow bridge, you can lose your heart to continue. You freeze up. You sit down. So too with life. If we think too much about the journey we have to make, the one that begins with the trauma of birth and ends with the tragedy of death, the one that is so perilous and unpredictable, we’ll never make it.
The important thing is that we are not afraid. That we don’t overthink things. That we don’t give way to fear, as the Stoics tell us over and over again. Just repeat it to yourself—The world is a narrow bridge and I will not be afraid—and keep going. Like the thousands of generations who have come before you. (Source)
18. Morrie Schwartz on Life’s Purpose and Meaning
So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning. (Source)
19. Seneca on Hope and Fear
Limiting one’s desires actually helps to cure one of fear. ‘Cease to hope … and you will cease to fear.’ … Widely different [as fear and hope] are, the two of them march in unison like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to. Fear keeps pace with hope … both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. (Source)
20. Courtney Peppernell on Living Our Stories Well
You can’t skip chapters, that’s not how life works. You have to read every line, meet every character. You won’t enjoy all of it. Hell, some chapters will make you cry for weeks. You will read things you don’t want to read, you will have moments when you don’t want the pages to end. But you have to keep going. Stories keep the world evolving. Live yours, don’t miss out. (Source)
What Inspires You in Life?
Please share in the comments section of this post (no investing stuff please, and no quotes, but only passages on life and living, with name/link to the original source).