28 Apr Words Of Encouragement From Dante Alighieri
LAST SUNDAY, I decided to get out of Osaka and travel to Kōyasan, the mountaintop settlement where Shingon Buddhism was first established by the priest Kūkai around 1200 years ago.
It’s funny reading that, but it’s true. Sunday morning: should I go to the park? Or… the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism on a sacred mountaintop?
I took a train two hours south to the Wakayama prefecture, and that’s where my journey began…
Who was Kūkai, really? What was the world like 1,200 years ago?
As I climbed through the bamboo and cedar-lined forest, I contemplated this thought…
I imagine the mountain has seen earthquakes and fire, torrential rain and ample sunlight. It’s shifted, it’s changed; but 1,200 years isn’t very long in the grand scheme of existence.
In fact, it’s nothing.
Human beings have been around for, well, check out this metaphor.
If we condensed the history of the world into one calendar year, the first human ancestors would have been born on the evening of December 31st, and everyone alive today, the last millisecond of NYE.
Modern human beings, despite being alive 1,200 years ago like Kūkai, around 2,000 years ago like Cleopatra or Marcus Aurelius, or 700 years ago like Dante Alighieri, haven’t changed all that much.
We can take solace in the fact that we’ve been grappling with the same questions, concerns and pursuits since the Bronze Age.
We can find inspiration in the words and actions of history’s greatest heroes and the most ordinary of citizens, for they were like us, after all.
This week, I watched an interview on the Lex Fridman Podcast with Max Tegmark, a physicist and researcher at MIT.
This interview absolutely floored me; humanity stands at a precipice, and Tegmark makes a staggering case for halting the development of artificial intelligence.
Max Tegmark is the man; I highly suggest giving this one a watch. In the interview, Tegmark imparts a lesson from Dante, the 14th-century Italian poet:
Segui il tuo corso e lascia dir le gente (Follow your own road and let people talk).
You might tear up like I did if you watch the video for context.
Despite the noise, the pressure, the weight of expectations — this is all that really matters. We’re still just human, but the age we live in is novel.
As somebody striving to grow in the online space, I often get overwhelmed by the things I should be doing to “make it.”
In a sense I’ve already made it, I’m already successful, because I’m doing what I seriously love to do. I don’t take that lightly; I’m so damn grateful to be on this journey.
But I’m human, and I still compare myself to those making money from writing online or content creation, or those who seem to do something which I’m missing.
It’s natural to compare ourselves in the age of social media.
You start by innocently clicking on a photo or video and five minutes later you’re down a rabbit hole wondering what you’re doing with your life, bombarded with all the ways you aren’t measuring up.
But seriously, take it from Dante!
It doesn’t mean shit what others are doing (that’s what I imagine he said to himself when hunched over his desk, penning La Divina Commedia).
Stay the course. Keep the faith. We’re all grappling with the same ancient trifles, and in that, we may find inspiration.
Perhaps get out there this weekend — the beach or a hike or a big ol’ dessert and take in some fresh air. Revel in that ancient spirit.
Put your hands together in gratitude for this gift of life, which is nothing short of a miracle.