Discover more from Deeper Knowing
He is a young man (mid-30s). He is deeply curious, and enjoys learning about the ideas that are changing the world. He also enjoys learning about himself, and aspires to be the best father, partner, son, friend and human that he can be. He is consistently surprised by how often these two themes intersect.
He thinks it’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive. He spends most of his day researching the technologies and companies that are at the frontiers of innovation (and occasionally making investments based on the conclusions). He feels very fortunate to be able to spend his time this way.
Outside looking in, he appears accomplished in all the traditional ways modern society evaluates success. Below the surface, he has an intuition that the ways modern society evaluates success aren’t actually aligned with living a rich and meaningful life. He sometimes wonders if he has spent too much time cultivating resume virtues over eulogy virtues. He feels very comfortable operating from his head (which feels safe), but often struggles to live from his heart.
His whole life changes in an instant.
Meet Basho’s rare cancer.
It is a pernicious disease. It has been silently growing in his body for years, only to reveal itself in a grand fashion on a random Tuesday afternoon. It makes itself known via a very large tumor in Basho’s eye, as if saying “look at me” in a disturbingly triumphant tone. Fighting it makes Basho blind in one eye. It has won a battle, but the war wages on, and its true deadly secret lies in waiting. If it spreads, there are no effective treatments. There is just an 18 month median life expectancy - a statistic that stares coldly at you in the mirror.
Demanding to not be forgotten, it shows up on a scan of Basho’s liver a year after its original discovery. With a new location in Basho’s body comes a new name: metastatic.
The reality of impermanence settles in.
Experience Basho’s emotions.
Words are inadequate to convey Basho’s emotions. An odd mixture to have simultaneously. A potent cocktail that doesn’t always go down smoothly. Hope. Terror. Sadness. Shock. Determination. Most of all, vulnerability. Vulnerability experienced not just as an emotional sentiment in the present moment, but as a more fundamental state of being.
To borrow from a poet (David Whyte in Consolations):
Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusionary privilege and perhaps the prime and most beautifully constructed conceit of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.
Witness Basho’s relief.
Months later, the spot that showed up on Basho’s liver miraculously disappears. The doctors do not know why or how, but sometimes the outcome is more important than the explanation. The Sword of Damocles lifts from Basho’s neck. The immediate reaction is gratitude. But then questions…lots of them.
I am Basho.
Welcome to my journey. Why share this with you? Because my story is your story. Because I lived in the same blissful ignorance as you, and assumed the extended runway ahead would give me ample time for all the important but not urgent activities of my life. Because the questions I now ask myself daily - How do I live in the face of extreme uncertainty? What should I prioritize? What is the purpose of the time that I have left on this planet? - are questions that we all confront.
The answers are not always straightforward.
If I knew I had one year left to live, my priorities would be clear. Time with family and friends. Cherishing every moment I get with my daughter. A lot more love, and a lot less stress - about work, or what people think of me, or the expectations I have carried about myself for so long.
And if I knew I had 50 years left? The reality is that none of the above would be any less of a priority. There would just be more time. More time for joy, investment, responsibility, learning, service, exploration and growth.
It is not clear which path I am on. Do I have 1 year, 50 years, or somewhere in between? It’s impossible to know the answer. This is not unique to me though; this uncertainty is a fundamental truth of the human experience.
This is Deeper Knowing
I know what you may be thinking: “You thought you were going to die, and that inspired you to write a Substack?!”
What the experience of facing cancer did do was amplify my courage and my compassion. It pushed me to ask better questions about myself and the world, and demanded that I be more open to the answers. It reinforced the foundational components of how I want to live my life, and underscored that I want to prioritize:
Spending time on things I care about, with people I care about
Exploring my curiosities about the world, and ensuring that the learnings are shared in a way that enriches those around me (if I’m not creating value for others, then what’s the point?)
Continuing to live with presence, both in respect to myself and others, from a place that acknowledges the fundamental truth that no future moment is guaranteed
Deeper Knowing is an output of all of these things. It’s an experiment. It may seem odd to have essays about the impact of business and technology on the world sitting next to meditations on living a meaningful life, but these are the themes I find myself constantly reflecting on, and I’ve found that the most interesting people I spend time with are thinking about them too.
Will it work? I don’t know. What I do know is that the world is infinitely interesting, that the self is endlessly complex, and that the more we know about both, the more we can flourish for the limited time we have.
I hope you have as much fun reading this as I do writing it.