What if you treated the hard earned life wisdom of History's great quotes as a modern version of The Gospel?
I did and it changed my life.
We say something is "gospel" or "the gospel truth" because the bible tells us that The Gospel (the stories of Jesus Christ's life) is the truest truth known to man, because...well, the bible says it is.
But, tautologies aside, can we honestly say that stories of one man's life, written hundreds of years after his death and edited decades later by a patriarchy of Bishops (if that's not the collective noun, it should be), each with their own empassioned political agenda, are any truer than the heartfelt quotes of wise people all over the world of all creeds and colours, who have lived full rich, fully human lives in both the ancient and modern eras?
Whether you believe in god or not, wisdom is wisdom whoever speaks it and so for me there was never any question that I have the right to live my life based on words I resonated with from both biblical and non-biblical sources.
This seemingly simple choice, made on my 34th birthday, 14 years ago, has led to a life beyond my wildest dreams and paradoxically, right up there with some of my most fevered nightmares.
For starters it led to me losing it all...my wife, career, £70K salary, house, car, family and friends to end up selling The Big Issue Magazine on the streets of Central London, while living under a tree in a sleeping bag in nearby Battersea Park for seven months.
Very much not the smartest way to escape your 9 to 5 life!
More on that later.
The first fateful quote that I ever lived "as if it were true", came from a source far older than the gospels...
"The unexamined life is not worth living"
This bit of profound pithery had been ringing bells in my soul since 1991 and I'd been examining my life like my life depended on it, ever since.
The second quote I chose to live by?
"Security is mostly a superstition. There is no security in nature...life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all."
That's what you call one of those inconvenient truths, isn't it?
Inconvenient, but utterly undeniable when we're honest with ourselves (you know, every other Sunday). And after years of futile resistance I finally embraced it as a life mantra and today it's evolved into a much more palatable, but no less challenging call-to-arms...Do what your love.
But the quote that sent me over the edge and on into the dreaded abyss of homelessness and making a living on the street, was this little doozy from everybody's favourite American wit Mark Twain.
"The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why."
Dammit all if I wasn't in bone deep agreement with him! And consequently damned myself, to an all or nothing, life or death quest to have the second most important day of my life.
So with Socrates packed safely in my back pocket, Helen Keller as my sword of truth and Mark Twain providing comic relief, I went and lay beneath that old oak tree in the park and begun my adventures in meaning.
12 months later I was performing my stand-up beat poetry all over London and living rent free in one of east London's hippest art lofts with 20 odd bohemianauts (pun intended) and earning a living from putting on monthly cabaret show and selling CDs (yes CDs...it was 13 years ago) of my performances.
More importantly though, I now knew both the day I was born and the why.
And yes, I was having the time of my life.
It would be more accurate to say, I was living a completely different life, completely differently.
I felt like I was living in a lucid dream, within which what was happening just kept getting more and more beautiful the more I appreciated how beautiful it already was.
But of course there was a crash coming. A big one.
After the ecstasy, the laundry. As they say in meditation circles.
More on my subsequent crash n burn(s) in future posts.
But for the time being, the upside was undeniable. The conscious process of living "as if" my favourite quotes were true, had completely transformed me and my life in a way I could never have imagined.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not unaware that confirmation bias was at play here...I so wanted to believe that my favourite quotes were true, that my brain found evidence for them by filtering out all evidence to the contrary.
But no amount of confirmation bias can make a 35-year-old university drop out who's never written a poem in his life, and thinks he hasn't got a creative bone in his body, suddenly start writing and performing stand-up poetry to a level that (virtually overnight), people became eager to pay him coin of the realm, actual legal tender, to do so!
The thing is, it wasn't just my life that was transformed by my DIY Gospel, it was my very sense of self.
Although I wasn't "a completely different person" (that's impossible right?) I'd miraculously found access to another version of me who was way more talented and capable than I used to be.
A road to Damascus type conversion?
Either way I was determined to milk this uber-able me from all six teets.
More on my subsequent higher-self organic dairy produce in future posts.
I'll try to go easy on the cheese.
But now I'd like to hear from you.
Do you have any quotes that you live by? (Edith Piaf doesn't count)
What are they and did they bear you bittersweet fruit like me...or was it juicy ripe mangoes all the way?