Learning to Live

(John Dehlin interviews Jon Ogden about a framework for living and Jon Ogden immediately (five minutes into second podcast, #786) starts blowing my mind with sentence after sentence of concentrated Oh-My-Ogd-ness. Here are some scattered notes for my own reference.)

Quoting no less than ancient philosophy, Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein (a follower of Spinoza's moral and humanistic argument), the framework centers on the transcendentals (each worth pursuing for their own sake):

  1. Truth
  2. Beauty
  3. Goodness

Fluffy, warm, fuzzy words? Actual, no; it's a framework for what to focus on and how to spend one's time, to ensure the basic aspects of a happy life.

I am immediately reminded of one of the greatest pieces of prog metal, the song “Learning to Live” by Dream Theater, from the album Images & Words, with lyrics written by Mr. John Myung, a deeply believing Christian, and the world's hardest working bass player, wherein Myung writes from the perspective of an individual who contracted AIDS in the 90s:

I need to live life
Like some people never will
So find me kindness
Find me beauty
Find me truth
When temptation brings me to my knees
And I lay here drained of strength
Show me kindness
Show me beauty
Show me truth
I won't give up
Till I've no more to give

Ogden mentions that Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about four types of exercise: intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical.

Ogden says that physical exercise is not his focus in the book and that is fine. (As a side note I would argue that the LDS Church could do more to promote proactive physical health as a spiritual requirement for a life that can give more than it takes, and focus less on the thou shalt nots of the Word of Wisdom and more on putting all that constant nagging to better use, instead urging the saints to switch off their TVs and get up off their couches and move their dang bodies, so they can “run, and not be weary; and ... walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31) in the here and now, instead of waiting for the resurrection, and stop overeating so they can have “health to th[e] navel, and marrow to th[e] bones” (Proverbs 3:8, also D&C 89:18–20). I'd like to see exercise treated as a commandment, to destroy the attitude that says “I don't smoke or drink so I get perfect health for free.” Which attitude then devours the lives of various family members, or leaves others maimed. I have strong feelings about physical health and especially exercise as it relates to mental health.)

Putting this all together, we get:

  1. Physical Exercise = Strength (Endurance)
  2. Social Exercise = Goodness = Kindness
  3. Spiritual Exercise = Beauty
  4. Intellectual Exercise = Truth

And that order is pretty important. It reminds us of Mazlow's Hierarch of Needs, if not exactly, with 1 on the bottom and 4 on top, like a pyramid, with Strength making the foundation and Truth being the capstone.


0. The Attitude That Leads to Strength and Endurance.

Ogden and Dehlin do not address this but I will just say: pick two or three (or six) days a week and a sustainable exercise plan, and always show up, no excuses. (My plan is swimming or hoops on Tuesday and Thursday, and pushups six days a week. Yours may vary but should be something that you can ease into and can keep going indefinitely. Don't hurt yourself.)

If you are ill (e.g. virus) or otherwise have to go through the motions (but only on occasion), so be it: make a substitution. Keep the habit going like your life depends on it; it does. If you have to adapt (vacation, emergency, etc.) then plan or adapt, or substitute, but do not let the habit fall flat. Rain or shine, you will be there.

You can be tougher than the other folks even if you are a scrawny and pasty weakling like me: I am there swimming in the cold November rain and they are nowhere to be seen. I am as tough as the tough guys who could bench press twice my body weight. (They may be at a gym or running on a treadmill when it rains, so that is great too.) And I acknowledge that I could fall off the bandwagon at any time so I am willing to admit that I am weak and just a hair's width away from losing the habit. This is the attitude that leads to Strength or Endurance.

Regarding diet, see how to eat well on $1 per person per meal. I am lucky to have a spouse who more than makes this easy, but I do cook sometimes and I am in charge of dishes, and I help with shopping and meal planning.

The attitude that avoids overeating is the idea that being hungry is fine. You should be hungry between meals. That means you are burning calories. If your energy levels are low when you are not constantly stuffing your face then you need to exercise regularly. If you train your body to inertness it will become expert at it. If you train your body to use a moderate to low amount of high quality calories, it will become efficient at it.

Back to jotting down notes from Ogden:

1. The Attitude That Leads to Truth Is the Attitude That You Could Be Completely Wrong

If you cultivate that attitude and hold on to it, you are more liking to be amenable to correction, which allows you (over time) to get more and more toward the truth. (“You admit that you are stupid, etc.”) The opposite attitude, digging in one’s heals, will ensure that Truth stays far away from you. If you believe you already have the Truth, you will forever bask in ignorance.

2. The Attitude Towards Beauty Is the Acceptance That Perhaps Living Mindlessly Is Not What Life Is About

The idea that there is some higher form of Spirituality or Connection to something higher than oneself, Meaning, Purpose, or connection to the Ineffable; or Transcendence.

Living our life with this attitude leads us to do certain things like getting off Netflix all the time, getting into face-to-face communication, or camping, or singing in a group, etc. etc. Even if we disagree about belief, we can try things that are more likely to uplift us or bring us deeper joy and perspective, i.e. Beauty.

3. The Attitude Towards Goodness Is Really Actively Seeking That Which Alleviates Suffering in the Lives of Others

I am going to see people who are suffering and I am going to alleviate their suffering. We may need a weekly reminder not just to know these things intellectually, but to embody them in our lived experience. (I, Jared, could do much more in this vein.)

Applying It

More Ogden notes:

There is more than one Virtue. “Truth is all that matters.” That is not True! That is not the only value. There is a lot of utility in Beauty and Goodness (arguably more utility than Truth for its own sake?). There is a risk to focusing on one Virtue to the exclusion of the Others.

  • The pursuit of Truth without Beauty makes us cynical, academic, cold.
  • The pursuit of Truth without Goodness makes us lonely. Give a little (or a lot) and see others as more important than just being right.
  • The pursuit of Beauty without Truth makes us gullible, susceptible to being taken advantage of.
  • The pursuit of Beauty without Goodness makes us selfish, hedonistic. Volunteer and get involved to help others for Beauty to mean anything in practice.
  • The pursuit of Goodness without Beauty is exhausting. The checklist of doing all this volunteer work but letting it empty us without refilling.
  • The pursuit of Goodness without Truth is misdirected. Incorrect ideas can be harmful and damaging even when pursued in good faith.

Ken Wilbur, Yuval Noah Harari

  • I = Beauty, personal spiritual experience = Subjective Reality
  • We = Goodness = Inter-subjective Reality
  • It = Truth = Objective Reality

Bringing Back Myth (Harari)

Ogden discusses What Next, with the idea of getting toward a 21st Century Myth. Tremendous power in myth-making. Not trivial; foundational. Harari: Story-telling is the reason humans are different from all the other animals. Money, religion, technology, societal structure. Ken Wilbur: “Transcend and Include” both sides of the aisle. Myth of Trans-humanism, evolving and becoming more perfect (the three virtues), not a divine being necessarily, but a more perfect being.


My wife and I go hiking sometimes on Sunday morning, and we do litter pickup. That gives us Beauty and Strength and some Kindness. We also make bird count checklists and practice learning (Truth) how to identify birds. That is better than just Beauty and sometimes Truth on a Sunday morning (and arguably better than more sitting, being counter to Strength).

Again I have much room for improvement.