Prometheus – on the Art of Empowering Yourself

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

From time to time, even the true downshifter, who is much less interested in power, money, glamour that the average chap, will feel a stitch of envy.

Especially if you are a self-made man or woman, who started without rich daddy, without great family connections, helping little ties etc.

A downshifter will typically not envy the powerful or rich career makers who made it to the top on their own account and paid their price to climb up the ladder, because he theoretically could have done the same but decided not to.

But he might envy the 1% (or 5%, whatever), who did just nothing, who did not work hard or invest clever. Those who simply and by stupid luck were born rich and powerful, in the right family, at the right time, in the right place. Those that (although they – as the only ones – will never see that) got their status, their wealth and their (apparently!) care-free life not by effort, but by pure luck.

As most human emotions envy is nothing wrong at all, but holds a function:

It’s a signal from your subconsciousness, that something is wrong here, that you seeing something unjust.
Of course the signal can be wrong, but often it is also right, because – please don’t tell your kids – life is indeed unjust.
There was never full justice in the world, there is not today (not even in your country, company, family) and there probably never will be full justice in the future. I don’t like it, but that is the way it is.

On the other hand, too much envy is certainly not helpful, so today I have something for your comfort:

 

One of my favorite “heroes” from Greek mythology and a “role model for the modern middle-class employee” (woodpecker interpretation 🙂 ):

Prometheus!

As you might know, Prometheus was the guy who stole the fire from the gods and brought it to humankind.

In the Woodpecker modern interpretation:
Prometheus was the anti-authoritarian self-made man, who empowered himself, built his life from scratch without the help of a devine birth and then took what needed to be taken from the powerful without caring too much about their permission (in fact no harm done, of course the gods still have their own fire too, but they just wanted to keep it all for themselves). And he had his pride about his self-empowerment and about all he had accomplished HIMSELF despite his low born start.

To better understand, read my favorite poem from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Simply replace “Zeus”/“the gods” by the “rich and the powerful born class” and “Prometheus” by yourself or “the self-made-man”.

You will see how Prometheus/you can be proud about the house he built on his own and in fact is envied by the gods for the warmth of his hearth. A warmth that they will be able to enjoy.
You will see that the gods/the rich born are poor in a sense that they all depend on the mercy of the people plus owe their whole status to our all masters: time and fate.
You will see that Prometheus/you overcomes disappointment, empowers himself and decides on his own to be as happy as the gods/the rich&powerful, and you can be as well.

You will understand that you, the self-made man/woman, have sources of happiness at your hand that the rich born will never know.

That is independence.
That is real comfort.
That will shield you and make you an upright and self-confident person, no matter where you stand on the “social ladder” of your country.

What a fantastic piece of art by Goethe!

(English translation of the poem here)

Prometheus

Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus,

Mit Wolkendunst!

Und übe, Knaben gleich,

Der Disteln köpft,

An Eichen dich und Bergeshöh’n!

Mußt mir meine Erde

Doch lassen steh’n,

Und meine Hütte,

Die du nicht gebaut,

Und meinen Herd,

Um dessen Glut

Du mich beneidest.

 

Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres

Unter der Sonn’ als euch Götter!

Ihr nähret kümmerlich

Von Opfersteuern

Und Gebetshauch

Eure Majestät

Und darbtet, wären

Nicht Kinder und Bettler

Hoffnungsvolle Toren.

 

Da ich ein Kind war,

Nicht wußte, wo aus, wo ein,

Kehrt’ ich mein verirrtes Auge

Zur Sonne, als wenn drüber wär

Ein Ohr zu hören meine Klage,

Ein Herz wie meins,

Sich des Bedrängten zu erbarmen.

 

Wer half mir

Wider der Titanen Übermut?

Wer rettete vom Tode mich,

Von Sklaverei?

Hast du’s nicht alles selbst vollendet,

Heilig glühend Herz?

Und glühtest, jung und gut,

Betrogen, Rettungsdank

Dem Schlafenden dadroben?

 

Ich dich ehren? Wofür?

Hast du die Schmerzen gelindert

Je des Beladenen?

Hast du die Tränen gestillet

Je des Geängsteten?

Hat nicht mich zum Manne geschmiedet

Die allmächtige Zeit

Und das ewige Schicksal,

Meine Herren und deine?

 

Wähntest du etwa,

Ich sollte das Leben hassen,

In Wüsten fliehn,

Weil nicht alle Knabenmorgen-

Blütenträume reiften?

 

Hier sitz’ ich, forme Menschen

Nach meinem Bilde,

Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei,

Zu leiden, weinen,

Genießen und zu freuen sich,

Und dein nicht zu achten,

Wie ich!

 

(side note: Prometheus was harshly punished by the gods for his theft, thus be a bit careful with the “stealing” part 😉 )

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

 

Book Review: Stop Thinking Start Living

stopWhen doing the winter trip last week and writing the last post, about the importance of the here and now, I actually had a few insights in mind from a book I read recently:

 

“Stop thinking, start living” by Richard Carlson.

 

The book is a bit repetitive in parts, but the central idea is quite compelling:

 

  • How you feel is entirely dependent on your current thoughts.
  • I.e. whenever you feel unhappy, bad, stressed, it is a result of “negative” thoughts that stayed in your mind too long.
  • You cannot control what thoughts enter your mind (they are created by your sub-consciousness) but you can learn to control if you allow them to stay in your mind.
  • Most people cling to negative thoughts too long and turn them around and around in their minds, thus creating an unnecessary feeling of unhappiness.
  • Too the contrary what the mainstream says, “Thinking problems through” is in most cases not helpful but harming.
  • Most “problems” are better solved when not thinking about them but letting the subconsciousness (your “wisdom“) solve them without active thinking-effort.
  • Querying your wisdom (i.e. listening to your intuition) will yield much better results and save you from bad feelings due to negative trains of thoughts.
  • If you are in a bad mood, always understand that this is just a symptom of some bad thoughts you had before, and not reality.

In a nutshell, Carlson is opposing basically all the psychological opinion in saying you should not dig around in your problems, your bad thoughts and the reasons for that.

According to him, you should learn to let negative thoughts simply pass by and get a distance between you and them.

I am not yet sure if I would go as far as Carlson in all of his conclusions, but in some points he seems to be damn right:

  • Learning how to not follow negative trains of thought is very valuable. Especially if you are already aware that you cannot change the situation now.
  • Getting a better connection to your intuition sure also is a good advise. Intuition is not something esoteric, but it is neglected in today’s world as it is not seen as “rational“.
  • Getting distance to your negative thoughts and also to negative feelings makes sense. The trick is to accept both the negative thoughts and negative feelings (not to fight them), but to say to yourself in the same instance: “This is just a negative thought or feeling, it is not reality. My mind is currently clouded, thus I do not see things realistically but much more negative than they are in fact.”

At least for Woodpecker, especially the last bullet was a very valuable advise that seems to work.

Try out yourself or better read the book!
If bought used, it’s not more than 3-4 EUR. 🙂

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The Importance of the Here and Now

 

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of "perfect" - if you are able to enjoy it...

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of “perfect” – if you are able to enjoy it…

An important (and a very difficult) ingredient to leading a good live is living in the here and now.

To not spend unnecessary thoughts on facts and circumstances that you cannot change anyhow.
The idea is very simple on the one side and VERY difficult to put into practice on the other side.Basically – if done right and taken to the extreme – living in the here and now means that you never spend any thoughts on anything that you are not doing right now.In other words: In the optimal case, your thoughts and your doing is always fully aligned.

  • When you take a shower, you take a shower. You do not think about the argument you had with your boss.
  • When you are driving, you are driving. You do not think about that vacation trip you still have to organize.
  • When you are doing a hike, you do a hike. You do not think about your stocks which could have performed better.

In theory that sounds like a simple thing, and you will find the idea repeated throughout all schools of philosophy and religion.

However, there are probably only a handful people on the world which are able to fully put this into practice. And in ZEN-Buddhism, a philosophy that has much to say on this idea, they would be called enlighted, so rare are they.

Anyway, as Woodpecker and probably you too are unfortunately quite a bit away from getting enlighted, let’s focus on a first step:

Realize how often your thoughts are distracted from the here and now to something negative, and how these thoughts ruin an otherwise pretty perfect moment.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

I tried to practise this a bit during a two-days winter hike on another alpine hut with an old friend of mine.

In fact, this two days were – objectively – nothing short of perfect:

The weather was fantastic, cold and crisp, but sunshine and fresh, dry air.
A winter wonderland landscape only for ourselves, not spoilt by any other hikers, who all have been partying carnival or whatever.
A cosy hut all for ourselves alone, enough firewood to have it warm (after two hours of non-stop power-firing the stove 🙂 ), totally calm and peacefully surrounded by a mountain cirque. Great fresh food and wine that we carried up in large quantity to the hut.
We both being healthy, alive, not tired, no ache, all fine.

And still, it is so easy to damage that perfect atmosphere.
In that case it was not so much me (although I play that part often enough myself) who was unbalanced, but Woodpeckers friend.
I do not at all blame him, as he currently is going through a difficult time, I only want to highlight the mechanism at work in all of us in some examples.

  • We parked at the wrong parking place. Meaning +30 minutes additional walk. A walk through a very nice, winter-snow valley plus we had a lot of time, so actually something great and we were there to walk anyway! But made my friend uneasy for not having found the “right” parking.
  • He forgot to bring “vanillin sugar” that was needed to prepare a Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Bavarian sweet dish) after a recipe from his grandmother. It had to be replaced by normal sugar, not a big deal and the result still tasted fantastic, but made him rant for not less than half an hour.
  • Instead of enjoying the evening, he was repeatedly bothered by the fact we only had one night at the hut because he did decide not to take two days off but only one. A second night would have been much more relaxing.
  • A lot of discussion on Munich city government’s stupidity regarding traffic planning and what could all be better if they were not so stupid.
  • Woodpecker did ok “here and now”-wise these two days, but of course I also had my “moments”, e.g. a mood-lowering discussion with him on a car shortcut he proposed and I was so damn sure my way was better (I initially asked for him to do the navigation, and of course it turned out he was right). etc.

So you get the picture.
It was all minor normal things that happen all the day in human interaction.
And don’t mistake me, it was still two great days out in nature – fortunately not great harm done.

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

But still my point is:

All of the above happens all the time.
This kind of negative thoughts are of absolutely no use, as you cannot change the given situation anyway. And (for the given moment) this kind of thinking takes significantly away from your happiness.
If you observe closely, you will find that all of us have this types of thought very often.

But now the good news:

If you continue to observe, you will get better and better in stopping this kind of thinking.
You will not dwell on an error you cannot change anymore (the forgotten vanillin sugar) for 30 minutes but only for 10 minutes, and later for 1 minute. And even later you will just accept it and laugh about it, turn the fact from a mishap into something increasing your happiness, e.g. by seeing the absurdity of the situation and enjoying it!

This is and important step towards happiness. Start today and try it out!

Take the next situation were you feel you get upset. Observe it closely and try to put some distance between you and the situation.

It will be difficult in the beginning, but the more often you practise, the easier it will get to stay calm and let the negativity spiral pass by.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

 

Poem – “Das Ideal” by Kurt Tucholsky

Castle Neuschwanstein, close to Munich.

Castle Neuschwanstein, close to Munich. Nice place I’d say, but owner Ludwig II committed suicide anyway…

One of my favorite poems about life that – despite our wishes – always refuses to be perfect. 🙂
Simply great.
(Sorry, German only)

Das Ideal

Ja, das möchste:
Eine Villa im Grünen mit großer Terrasse,
vorn die Ostsee, hinten die Friedrichstraße;
mit schöner Aussicht, ländlich-mondän,
vom Badezimmer ist die Zugspitze zu sehn –
aber abends zum Kino hast dus nicht weit.

Das Ganze schlicht, voller Bescheidenheit:

Neun Zimmer – nein, doch lieber zehn!
Ein Dachgarten, wo die Eichen drauf stehn,
Radio, Zentralheizung, Vakuum,
eine Dienerschaft, gut gezogen und stumm,
eine süße Frau voller Rasse und Verve –
(und eine fürs Wochenend, zur Reserve) –
eine Bibliothek und drumherum
Einsamkeit und Hummelgesumm.

Im Stall: Zwei Ponies, vier Vollbluthengste,
acht Autos, Motorrad – alles lenkste
natürlich selber – das wär ja gelacht!
Und zwischendurch gehst du auf Hochwildjagd.

Ja, und das hab ich ganz vergessen:
Prima Küche – erstes Essen –
alte Weine aus schönem Pokal –
und egalweg bleibst du dünn wie ein Aal.
Und Geld. Und an Schmuck eine richtige Portion.
Und noch ne Million und noch ne Million.
Und Reisen. Und fröhliche Lebensbuntheit.
Und famose Kinder. Und ewige Gesundheit.

Ja, das möchste!

Aber, wie das so ist hienieden:
manchmal scheints so, als sei es beschieden
nur pöapö, das irdische Glück.
Immer fehlt dir irgendein Stück.
Hast du Geld, dann hast du nicht Käten;
hast du die Frau, dann fehln dir Moneten –
hast du die Geisha, dann stört dich der Fächer:
bald fehlt uns der Wein, bald fehlt uns der Becher.

Etwas ist immer.
Tröste dich.

Jedes Glück hat einen kleinen Stich.
Wir möchten so viel: Haben. Sein. Und gelten.
Daß einer alles hat:
das ist selten.

(Kurt Tucholsky, 1927)

Frugal Winter Weekend in the Alps – Father & Son Style

View to Aschau from Kampenwand cable car.

View to Aschau from Kampenwand cable car.

This weekend, Woodpecker and his older, 5yrs old son decided it is time for a weekend in Nature again.

Actually my idea was to take young Mr.Woodpecker to his first alpine hut-weekend experience.

Checking short-term availability off DAV huts (=Deutscher Alpenverein, German Alpinist Association), the mountain Kampenwand close to lake Chiemsee was the target.

It’s an easy one to go with small kids, as most of the ascend can be done by a lovely, 60-year-old, retro-style cable car, the “Kampenwandbahn”.

The DAV hut up there is a self-catering hut, i.e. you get a key, they have fire wood, cold water and kitchen equipment up there, but the rest you bring yourself.

As always when going to the mountain, this little timeout was great:

  • Two meters of fresh snow for a great shoveling andigloo-building experience, in other words a kid’s paradise.

    Sunset at 4.30 p.m. A LOT of time for cooking now...

    Sunset at 4.30 p.m. A LOT of time for cooking now…

  • A fantastic dinner prepared by Mr.Woodpecker. I made it a habit to cook luxurious when being at huts in winter, as it gets dark at 5 p.m. anyway, so there is plenty of time to kill.
  • These huts are always good to get into contact. About 15 other interesting and diverse people stayed up next to us. Among them 5 kids, who, along with little Mr.Woodpecker quickly retreated to the upstairs dormitory for an extended pillow fight, while I and the other adults had some nice beers together downstairs in the “Stube” (=living room). From the noise pouring downstairs, I sometimes feared the wooden ceiling would break, but it obviously is used to a lot of jumping kids.
  • A chilly (3 degree Celsius) thus healthy night in the unheated dorm, enjoying my beloved down sleeping bag (recommended!). And the good feeling that our bodies are not yet fully softened by civilization.
  • A great downhill ride with the sledge we brought with us. In fact, the slope was close to what it doable with a small boy on the lap and a 20kg rucksack on the bag…but we made it! 🙂

Total cost for 2 days, 2 persons:

Brave Mr. Woodpecker junior climbing up to a snowy peak. (In fact he was quicker than me, as not sinking in so deep :-)

Brave Mr. Woodpecker junior climbing up to a snowy peak. (In fact he was quicker than me, because not sinking in so deep 🙂 )

  • 11,50 EUR for cable car (kids are free).
  • 12,00 EUR for night at hut (members tariff, kids are free).
  • 30,00 EUR cost for car-ride.

Total: 53,50 EUR. Without the bloody car ride, just 23,50 EUR. (I do not count the food, we would have needed that anyway)

This is what I call value! And better fun than most 5 star hotels I have ever seen. 🙂

Highly recommended! (Also without kids)

Cheers,

Woodpecker