As we advance in the spiritual life and in the practice of systematic self-examination we are often surprised by the discovery of vast unknown tracts of the inner life of the soul. They seem like great plains stretching out in mystery and wrapt in mists that sometimes for a moment lift, or sweep off and leave one looking for one brief instant upon great reaches of one’s own life, unknown, unmeasured, unexplored. Men stand at such moments breathless in wonder and in awe gazing upon these great tracts upon which they have never looked before, with kindling eyes and beating hearts; and while they look the mists steal back till all is lost to sight once more and they are left wondering if what they saw was reality, or the creation of their fancy. Or sometimes they see, not far-stretching plains which fill the soul with an awestruck sense of its expansiveness and of how much has been left absolutely uncultivated, not these plains but mountain peaks climbing and reaching upwards till lost in the heavens, echoing it may be with the voice of many streams whose waters fertilize and enrich those small tracts of the soul’s life which have been reclaimed and cultivated and which many a man has thought to be his whole inner self, though he never asked himself whence those rich streams had their source. Now he sees how their source lay in unmeasured heights of his own inner being whose existence he never dreamed of before. In one brief instant they have unveiled themselves. He looks again, and they are shut out from his eyes, there is no token visible that he possesses such reaches, such heights of life. The commonplaces of his existence gather in and crowd upon him, the ordinary routine of life settles down upon him, limiting and confining him on all sides, the same unbroken line measures his horizon, such as he has always known it, the same round of interests and occupations crowd in upon his hours and fill them, the pressure of the hard facts of life upon him are as unmistakable and as leveling as ever, bidding him forget his dreams and meet and obey the requirements of the world in which he lives. And yet the man who has caught but a momentary glimpse of that vast unknown inner life can never be the same as he was before; he must be better or worse, trying to explore and possess and cultivate that unknown world within him, or trying—oh, would that he could succeed!—to forget it. He has seen that alongside of, or far out beyond the reach of, the commonplace life of routine, another life stretches away whither he knows not, he feels that he has greater capacities for good or evil than he ever imagined. He has, in a word, awakened with tremulous awe to the discovery that his life which he has hitherto believed limited and confined to what he knew, reaches infinitely beyond his knowledge and is far greater than he ever dreamed. -From Self-knowledge and Self-Discipline by Basil William Maturin,
Have you ever experienced such a moment? Suddenly you caught a glimpse of your infinite possibilities-time seemed to stop, your heart skipped a beat, your breath caught in your throat…perhaps you had such a moment when reading the above passage! And then the phone rang, the voice of a friend cut in, your hunger for a Twinkie made itself known. Just as quickly as the curtain was drawn back on your panorama of potential…the vision closed. And your ordinary life marched on, keeping you too busy to think, “What was that all about?”
So here’s my proposition: In 2011 let’s stop turning away from those moments and ignoring what we know to be true about ourselves and our potential as men. Instead, let’s set our sights on becoming more than what we are, on becoming superhuman.
What It Means to Become Superhuman
Becoming superhuman, that certainly sounds interesting…but what does it even mean anyway? Is it a silly idea, something only reserved for comic books and science fiction?
I think we all know what it means to be human. That’s easy. But while we throw around the word “super” a lot, you’ve probably never thought much about its meaning. So let’s take a look at its entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary:
“from L. adverb and preposition super “above, over, on the top (of), beyond, besides, in addition to,” from PIE base *uper “over.”
So if super means going over and beyond something, being superhuman means living a life over and beyond that of the normal, average person. Being part of the top percentage, the human elite, who refuse to accept mediocrity in any aspect of life.
Every Man a Superhero
Of all the superheroes in popular culture, I’ve always been most drawn to Batman. While many superheroes come by their superpowers through genetic blessing or freakish accident, Batman is a regular guy who gained his superhuman abilities on his own. He studied science, perfected his body, sharpened his mind and powers of deduction, and utilized technology. He became superhuman through his own effort, adding to his powers element by element.
While such a transformation might seem like a flight of unrealistic fantasy, it’s really not. While we may never quite approach Batman’s level of prowess, we can build ourselves into men whose abilities far surpass that of the average joe. Don’t believe me? Then take the time to read the Houdini post we did a couple of weeks ago. Houdini was an ordinary man who through the force of discipline and hustle taught himself how to escape from any handcuff, chest, prison, straitjacket or safe in the world, hold his breath for almost four minutes, fly one of the first planes in the world, endure freezing temperatures, untie knots with his toes, and charm the pants off of ordinary folks and dignitaries alike. He kept the goal of becoming superhuman ever before him and he attained it.
The Whole Man
Becoming superhuman involves reaching for ever greater heights in all areas of our lives: physical, mental, moral, and spiritual.
The average man spends his days as a sedentary lump; the superhuman man strives to keep himself in peak physical condition.
The average man rarely cracks open a book after college; the superhuman man is dedicated to lifelong learning, constantly feeding his mind with books, magazines, and newspapers and studying a wide variety of topics.
The average man cheats and fudges here and there; the superhuman man makes his word his bond and lives every day with integrity.
The average man is content with surface pleasures and material goods; the superhuman man explores the greater depths of life through meditation or prayer.
Getting Started on the Path to Becoming Superhuman
So we should strive to become superhuman in all areas of our lives, but such a task sounds, well, super-overwhelming. The reason many of us ignore the kind of moment described in the introduction is that the vista of our potential is both beautiful and enticing and overpowering and paralyzing. It’s a vast landscape that stretches outward and upward. “How will I ever be able to explore all this territory?” we think. Getting started seems too difficult, so we’d rather stay where it’s safe and comfortable.
The key is simply to take the first step. Don’t think about tackling every aspect of your life at once. Choose just one peak to climb, and once you’ve scaled that mountain, you will be strengthened and able to see things from a new view, leaving you ready to explore other areas.
But which peak should you choose first?
Deep down you know which one to pick. It has always stood in the middle of your life, inspiring you with its majestic heights while mocking you with the fact that you’ve yet to reach the top.
Still don’t know which peak I’m talking about? Have you ever had this experience?
I believe that there are few people who have not at one time or another in their lives been startled by the power of self-revelation that comes to them through other people. I do not mean the judgments of others passed upon them…I mean the flash of light which often pierces through a dense fog of self-deception or of misunderstanding of oneself, merely from the presence of another. There are few of us I think who cannot say to someone: “You have been the light of my life.” “In thy light I have seen light.”
Surely it is so. You have come for a moment into the presence of one whose life is a silent but most eloquent rebuke of the inmost tone and temper of your own life; and as you stand within the radiance of such a presence you feel at once what you ought to be, what you might be, and what you have failed to be. Had you been told what now you see, you would not have believed it, nay, you would have protested with honest indignation that the criticism was most unfair, but standing there in the presence of one who reflects in a remarkable way those virtues in which you specially fail—your characteristic failures hidden as they are from your own eyes—you see and judge yourself. Such is the mysterious power of personal life. In his completeness you see your own incompleteness, in his success, your own failure. A person—in all the strange attractiveness of character comes before you, the incarnation of forgotten ideals and of unrealised ambitions, smothered and stifled under a rubbish heap of worldliness, selfishness, sloth and the living image of what you perhaps once dreamed you might be—pierces through all that overlies and weighs upon the soul and calls forth a faint reflection in its mirror. In seeing what you might have been you see what you are. -Self-knowledge and Self-Discipline
I know this has happened to me. I’ll meet someone who has an amazing level of some virtue or strength, to the point they’re truly radiating it, and when I encounter them and partake of their aura, it stirs a dormant desire within me; a part of myself I’ve shoved down and buried awakens to exclaim, “I too could live a life like that!” All the rationalizations for having been too lazy or too fearful to work on that part of myself evaporate in the presence of someone who could have made the same excuses but didn’t. This happens a lot as it concerns my spirituality. I get spiritually lazy and then I encounter a man who radiates intense spirituality, and I think, “Holy crap, I am seriously missing out here.”
It’s a humbling experience; it makes your stomach sink and leaves you feeling kind of depressed. Why am I not like that? Why have I wasted so much time in my life? And from this sinking feeling, two outcomes are possible-1) you can keep on kicking yourself and pitying yourself until the demands of day-to-day life dull that prick in your heart and you forget about your desire, letting it grow dormant until the next time you encounter someone who uncovers it once more. Or, you can use that prick as motivation to take some kind of step, no matter how small, toward making that desire a reality.
If you’ve had this kind of encounter, then you know exactly what area of your life in which to start working towards becoming superhuman. It is your biggest mountain peak, the one that has always beckoned to you; it is your unique center and calling as a man; it is your place to begin the adventure of self-improvement. This is your foundation as a man: once you make that area of your life the way you’ve always wanted it, that will give you the power and confidence to tackle the rest on your journey to becoming superhuman.
Remember this maxim from Marcus Aurelius:
If anything is possible for man, and peculiar to him, think that this can be attained by thee.
People always want to know-what is manliness? As I’ve said before, my definition is really quite simple: striving for excellence and virtue in all areas of your life and fulfilling your full potential as a man. It mean stretching yourself, testing yourself, and ever seeking to become everything you can be. That’s what embracing the Art of Manliness is all about: improving every area of your life-big and small-learning the know-how to be confident and competent in every situation and the knowledge to live life more fully. Living the Art of Manliness is about wanting to be more than the average guy, and striving to be a superhuman man.
Won’t you join us? Who’s in?