Advice to Youth

 by John Stahl


     I’m sure I’m not the first adult who has wished that he had the opportunity of reliving another lifetime with the benefit of all the wisdom he has learned since the first one.  If only I could do it all over again!

     The difficulty faced by youth is very similar to the problem faced by a reader at the library: certainly there are plenty of wonderful books, but there are so many stupid and boring ones, too, that it is hard to find the wheat amongst all that chaff.  I don’t understand why someone hasn’t compiled an extensive hierarchical index of the world’s greatest books.  Certainly there are “Great Books” lists, but I’m interested in something much more extensive, arranged by categories, and comprising a real map to the treasures in books.  I have read many thousands of books since my earliest youth, and I really could have used such a guide.  When I think of all the stupid, useless and boring books I have read in my life, it makes me wish I had another lifetime to live over again during which time I could read only the best and most amazing of the literary creations which have surfaced since writing began.  

     I have a whole lot of ideas here and I direct them to young people.  Older people don’t seem to be interested much in new ideas, which is one of the main reasons why most adults are so boring.  A young person with a fresh and open mind and a new life to lead can do anything, and anything can happen.  But people end up taking different paths, and not all of them lead to happiness.  Many people are finally unhappy, no matter how hard they try to live their lives well.  Some of it seems so random sometimes -- or is it all very carefully under control as so many people seem to believe?  

     It was entirely by chance that I discovered The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini.  I could hardly believe that such an amazing original window onto the high times of life so long ago should have escaped my attention for so long.  Why didn’t somebody tell me?


     If there is any point to religion or God at all, it has to refer to Life.  Life is so amazing that it must be reverenced as God.  Those of us who are still alive -- trees, people, animals -- we are God.  Every individual being is an emanation from the one light.  

     The purpose of the individual ego is to maintain that distinction by which it separates itself from the rest of the cosmos.  Whatever is alive wants to survive, first, and then to grow, as its own independent twinkle of light.  This is such an obvious idea, and yet it is sometimes overlooked by young people who are growing so fast in so many directions at once that survival doesn’t really seem to be important or relevant to them.  But the truth is that everybody dies when their body wears out in one way or another.  Some people die young, and some people live forever.

     So take care of your body as well as you take care of the house that you live in.  A lot is known about health these days.  So much of it is negative news: so many familiar things seem to be harmful to life.  But suppose you knew ahead of time what your life were to be like?  Suppose your life were like a “chose your own plot” adventure book: you could look over the endings first and decide which way you wanted the story to go?  

     If you choose the ending where you live a long and happy life in good health, then you will be happy to make the obvious health choices.  You will eat mainly fresh food which you grow yourself, and avoid toxic substances as much as possible (many people would have no idea of what to eat if they had to eliminate the “three main food groups” — fat, sugar, and salt).  Wherever you live, plant some fruit and nut trees.  If you are still young, you can enjoy the tree’s maturity yourself; if you are older, you can plant the trees for your children and still live to enjoy some of the reward yourself.  

     Why do people use drugs -- coffee, alcohol, sugar, cocaine, and the rest -- when they know that they are so toxic to life?  And is it worthwhile sampling them for yourself to decide if any of them have any value?  In a word, no.  Marijuana is probably the safest of the social drugs, and it is possible that there may be drugs like LSD that perform their effects without any direct physical damage to the body, but, by and large, most drugs operate on one very famous principle: buy now, pay later.  Of course, the payments one makes later always greatly exceed any current value.  “But,” the apologist says with a smirk, “You do get it right away!” That is true; and one is born every minute.

     Coffee is a pretty typical example of an insidious drug.  I have grown to develop a taste and fondness for the stuff which makes it very hard to keep it permanently out of my diet.  But coffee just exhausts my energy.  If I drink coffee on a day when I have some important work to do, I just have a harder time getting it done once I start drinking coffee.  

     About the only time drinking coffee really seems to be an effective strategy is when you have a three hour final exam.  Twenty minutes before the exam, you consume your limit of double espressos or a rich Italian roast, or even a moderately roasted Sumatra, brewed black and strong from freshly roasted beans (avoid the over-roasted beans — I don’t know why they are so fashionable — all subtlety of flavor is lost, and much of the caffeine is even roasted out — all that remains is the taste of burnt carbon), and then take your seat in the exam hall.  Be sure to fasten your seat belt and wear heavy shoes.  Of course, as soon as the exam is over, it may take you three days to recover, but you’ll have written a memorable exam paper (not necessarily any good)!  But it may be possible that even this tactic is based upon a mistake; that your best preparation for the exam is simply a good night’s sleep, coffee only clouding your mind with confusion.  Certainly a good night’s sleep ought to provide you with abundant energy for performing whatever it is you have to do, so it might be totally unnecessary to outrage your body with violent poisons just for the sake of a brief exhilaration.  You could drink wheat grass juice instead of coffee.


     After life and health, the next concern is sex.  Sex refers to the extent and manner of a person’s integration with the rest of life; in other words, a person’s relationship with God.  It may seem like a surprising way of expressing it, but sex is intimately connected to the very center of Life itself, and its importance can hardly be overstated.  

     The only way to do justice to the concept of sex is to emphasize that it concerns separation, disharmony, and discord, as much as it concerns love and union.  Why do you think pain is so erotically charged for so many people?  It is the other end of the lever of pleasure.  

     There is also a kind of social currency that is analogous to money and power, and is, in fact, often related.  Some people are young, healthy, intelligent, beautiful, white, male, rich, and powerful, and some are old, sick, stupid, ugly, black, female, poor, and helpless.  And then there is everything in between.

     Whoever said life was fair?  By the way, what advice is there for those on the bottom?  Go out and work in the garden, take off your shoes, and rejoice that you are still alive and may feel the sun on your body and the earth beneath your feet; and eat fresh food.  

     If you are at least young, on the other hand, there is always something you can do to improve your chances of survival and growth.

     What is the secret of life?  Go towards the Light.  God is at the Center, at a point of balance and clarity, radiance and light.  Movement away from this light leads to confusion.  The more the lines in your life converge towards a center of peace, happiness, clarity, health, and love, the more you will grow stronger.  If, on the other hand, elements in your life pull you off center in random clashes of accident, sorrow, confusion, and sickness, you will weaken and decline towards your eventual death.

     Love is wonderful stuff, and we can all use as much as we can get.  All manifestations of love are good, as long as they are welcome, in whatever forms they take.  

     Broadly speaking, there are three ways of managing the energy at the core of life: solitude and celibacy; bonded to another life (usually human, although bonding with dogs, other animals, trees, cars, a cigarette, a syringe, a teddy bear, etc. are all very common); or living in a state of dynamic interaction with more than one other partner.

     The first pattern is the pattern of youth.  While infants are quickly bonded to their mothers (usually), this usually gives way to a period of life in which children are fundamentally alone, emotionally.  Even if sexual activity with another partner is discovered, masturbation is usually the sexual activity of choice for children, whose erotic interests usually center in themselves, exclusively.  

     Among adults, solitude is often a reasonable or inevitable choice for many people.  Living with other people in bonded relationships of one sort or another is frequently destructive to certain personalities in some situations, and solitude allows a chance for independent personal growth.  Solitude is basically conservative as far as life force is concerned: no new force is created, but the remaining force is conserved.

     Personal pair bonding is so well known as the basic medium of sex, that it is hard to find anything new to say about it here.  I will merely remark abstractly that some relationships are fairly well balanced in one way or another and result in a stable bond, while others are fundamentally unequal in ways that are not balanced by other factors, resulting in an unstable bond often expressing oppression, hostility, frustration, neurosis, or other hindrance to the free flowing of sexual energy.  

     The third pattern of social interaction is less clearly perceived as a sexual alternative by most people.  It is possible for a complex relationship of more than two people to be both intentional and stable.  Sometimes this pattern is represented by a weak bond between two people, one of whom feels unsatisfied, or confined in too small a box, and who is looking for a different connection.  

     There is something crude about the economy with which these processes of social evolution manage to accomplish their effects.  One problem is the plight of those who prefer an unsatisfactory relationship to the loneliness of solitude, perceived as the obvious precedence to a new relationship.  But it is possible to arrange an intentional triangle as a creative way of living intimately with others while at the same time avoiding the attachment of exclusive bonds.  

     I go even further: all of my life I have been attracted to both men and women; there are two genders, and it has never seemed necessary or good to eliminate either one or the other from the considerations of personal and intimate interest.  I certainly want both men and women in my life.  I guess I realize that a stable triangle of three persons can’t really last forever, but it seems to me that it might be possible to go on for quite a while and enjoy a remarkable array of benefits.  

     In the first place, there is the matter of economy.  If two can live as cheaply as one, three can live as cheaply as two.  Furthermore, with three people, there is always another person to wash the dishes, take care of the kids, or work in the garden.  As much as I desire a sexual intimacy with both a man and a woman, I also need to have time to myself.  Obviously, in a triangular relationship, everyone has time to be alone.

     There is nothing inherently better about any of these three basic patterns of relationship; any of them may be appropriate at any given time for a particular person.  Heterosexual pair bonding may be the inevitably dominant variety of human relationship, but any other variety may be suitable as a temporary or even relatively permanent alternative.  Life is far more complex than it was two or three hundred years ago, and there is no reason why new arrangements may not take the place of traditional relationships in some situations.

     The utility of rigidly differentiated sex roles has been rapidly declining during the last hundred years to the point where the only important absolute distinctions which can be made between the genders have to do with the biologically differentiated sexual function.  For this reason, there is really not too much difference between heterosexual and homosexual relationships other than the obvious limitation of procreation.  In terms of the involvement with another person, it’s all the same.

     As each person’s life unfolds, he may find a different set of personal needs, and the only advice I can give is that you try to find someone whose needs are a complement to your own.

     Oh, yes; it hardly seems necessary to refer to an idea which is so painfully obvious in these days of AIDS, but if you do want to survive, you will exercise caution and discretion in your physical sexual activity.  It may not be quite as much fun with a condom, but at least you will remain alive.


     What’s next?  Some people put money ahead of sex, but I think that is a mistake.  Money may be very important, and may be essential for many aspects of survival and growth, but money alone, as everyone knows, is never enough to compensate for the poverty of an empty life.  

     On the other hand, after sex, money looms as an abstraction that measures so many other aspects central to survival that it must be taken seriously.  Basically, it works like this: you have to work out some arrangement about money before you can make any other plans about your life.  Whether you like it or not, most people end up spending most of their time working in order to keep a supply of money coming in that can keep up with their needs.

     Since you spend a third of your life in bed, you might as well sleep on the most comfortable bed you can find.  And since you spend most of the rest of your life working, you might as well find things that you enjoy doing as the vehicles for your financial resources.  I do not say that you should find something that makes lots of money, on the theory that money is so useful and necessary.  How you make the money in the first place is the overriding consideration since that is what you will spend your life doing.  


     So how do you arrange your goals and desires?  What is it that you want to put together?  Goethe says, “Beware of what you wish for in youth, because you will get it in middle age.”  My father put it another way: “Be careful when you pray, lest your prayers be answered.”

     We come down to the real question: What do I do now?  You may see goals in terms of the future of life on Earth, or as a personal solution with one or more partners with your own land and your own business.  Or your vision might include all the above, or something entirely original.

     The question of what to do also includes the question of where to do it, and with whom.  Usually this knot has to be untied all at once.  You can’t decide to live in Kansas and make your living as a sea captain, for instance.  Many people run into the dilemma of wanting to live in the country, and yet feeling tied to the economies of the cities.  

     Best, perhaps, is to work for yourself; perhaps with one or two partners.  Working for wages is as much of a dead end as paying rent.  In both cases, the institution is set up to benefit the employer and the landlord, not the worker or tenant.  In both cases, of course, this is easier said than done.  It is hard to set up in business with no money, and pretty hard to buy property without money either.  The rich may be able to buy property with no money, but not the poor.  

     The place where you live is like the bed you sleep in at night: you spend a lot of time there, so it might as well be a nice place.  It ought to have some land attached to it, as much as possible.  You want to be able to plant some trees, fruits and nuts, as well as an annual garden to provide most of the fresh food you eat.  

     And you want children.  At least I do.  I love children so much that it is hard for me to comprehend how anyone could imagine that his life were totally fulfilled without them.  If, on the other hand, you are stuck at the infantile level of emotional development in which you really aren’t interested in anyone but yourself, you might want to take a look at some of the Author’s other writings, which might give you some ideas for further personal evolution.  I think the desire for children is often suppressed in people who don’t really have the place or means to properly care for them, but if you have arranged the elements of your life so that you have a place to live and some money to live on, then you may find yourself wanting to have children so that life can continue.

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