Core Principle #6: This Is Water

This is the last of the core principles of the Brave New Life.  It’s also the most important.

The Brave New Life is about awareness – awareness of your self, awareness of your environment, and awareness of your thoughts.  It’s about living a deliberate life, making deliberate decisions, and having deliberate thoughts.  I could go on and on about it, but I decided to let someone else do the talking.

David Foster Wallace was a philosopher, a novelist, and a genius. Below, I’ve created a video (actually it’s 2 parts) featuring a commencement speech given by Wallace in 2005, 3 years before his death. In just 23 minutes, Wallace was able to define and describe a concept that took me 33 years to figure out for myself.

This isn’t your standard commencement speech filled with excitement and mindless optimism.  That’s not to say it’s not an optimistic message, because it is… but it’s also a humbling, sobering and realistic message about adult life.  In his words, it’s “about LIFE before death” filled with awareness and consciousness.  It’s about deliberately deciding not only what you spend your time thinking about, but also how you think about it.  No amount of knowledge can replace your ability to actually think.

I didn’t attend my own commencement, I was in too much of a hurry to start my life (or so I thought).  But had I been in attendance for this speech, I know I would not have appreciated it.  I probably would have left disappointed, because I was too young and too foolish to hear the capital-T truth that David Foster Wallace shares in his speech.

This is the most important of the core principles because it is the rich soil that allows the other principles to grow.  I’ve listened to this speech a dozen times over the past few months, and each time I do, I learn some new insight from Wallace that I hadn’t previously caught – and hadn’t considered on my own.  The video is 23 minutes long, I hope you’ll watch the entire video and enjoy it as much as I did.





42 Responses to Core Principle #6: This Is Water

  1. ssdurkin says:

    Thank you for sharing… I only recently found your blog through another early retirement… An idea that my better half is still a little uncertain of, but as I stride to live a self-sufficient sustainable life, I hope I can show through example that there is more to life than making money for the sake of our children, and rather show them a life worth living. “This Is Water” is one of more literal expressions of obscure feelings that I have had over the past 10 years of my life. I will add it as another tool for me to use to remind myself what this is all for. And even though it has taken 41 years to come to this realization, I want the next 41 years to be about being more alive, and not just waiting for death. Thank you…

  2. Wow. What a speech. I’m going to take some time to process it and think about how I can implement his principles into my life.

  3. I feel like I’ve just been shaken awake after weeks of snoozing. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this.

  4. Chris says:

    Wow. It’ll take a while to digest this message fully. Thanks for sharing, that struck a deep chord. I’ve been striving to notice life around me amidst the “fog of work.” I know on days when I notice a beautifal sunset or just stop to deeply breathe-in the air around me that I’m living more deliberately. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mind-numbing routine that is day to day life.

    Can’t wait to be free so I have the energy to smile at strangers and notice the water more around me.

  5. BDub says:

    Thank you for sharing. I am just letting it kind of soak in now; will need to watch it again. I hope you plan on doing a post where you kind of tie the 6 principles together.

    When he was talking about suicide it gave me chills because I had looked up his Wiki bio before watching the video. He was clearly someone who had a very difficult time getting outside of his head.

  6. Weston says:

    His personal history reveals that he was a deeply, deeply unhappy man. Something to keep in mind when you find yourself wrapped up in the brilliance and eloquence of his words.

    He himself took the ultimate and irrevocable step just to avoid his own thinking and consciousness.

    • I figured this would come up.

      I agree it might be worth considering his state at the time of writing the speech, and doing whatever kind of filtering you feel necessary when listening to his words. At the same time, I’ll argue that listening to the actual message should be what really matters, then making your own decision on how you want to respond and what you want to take in.

      Also, I’ll add that DFW suffered from clinical depression, not “unhappiness.” These two things are vastly different. Unhappiness is a natural reaction to a sad or painful situation, where logic can be applied. Clinical depression is much deeper, and usually illogical in the sense that no awareness or mount of thinking can explain the state.

      DFW spent 20 years with clinical depression, mostly while on medication. A few years before his death, he was experiencing physical side effects, and so he weened off the medication. Unfortunately his depression got worse, and when he got back on medication the physical side effects came back while the neurological benefits did not. This, most agree, is what led to his eventual suicide. No one knows the exact physical and mental anguish, or hopelessness that he might have felt at the time of his decision, nor how that related to what he felt while writing his speech. Perhaps, the two were completely unrelated, perhaps they weren’t.

      I am not advocating, promoting, or condoning suicide. I just wanted to point out that we don’t know what or how he felt at the time of his death, nor at the time of the speech.

  7. Laurie Py says:

    Very inspiring and thought provoking. I need an inoculation of this message every day to keep me fully aware. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Debbie M says:

    He did say it was hard. It’s unbelievably hard to step away from yourself when you’re clinically depressed–too hard sometimes. I don’t think that takes away from his message at all. Even if it did, you can think of this message as coming from Brave New Life instead. But that doesn’t matter, either. What matters is whether this is a message that can help you.

  9. Kinda weird to hear him talk about suicidal people.

    What a brilliant message, all around. Default settings are insidious.

  10. Shawn says:

    I felt cheated (from my own center of the universe view) when I saw the last of the core principle series. There were supposed to be 8, this is six and you pawned it off on DFW to present.

    I have no idea and have not had the time to try and research how you found this. I will say that after listening the first time, I see why you put so much emphasis on the speech. I feel less cheated. Saying it is powerful seems like a weak way to state it. Thanks again for sharing what drives you.

    • Sorry to disappoint. 😉

      I did kind of cheat by pawning it off, but trying to present the argument more succinctly and eloquently than DFW would be like me going 1 on 1 with Michael Jordan in his prime.

      As for dropping from 8 to 6, I actually started with 10. I merged 3 into 1 (frugality, sustainability, self-sufficiency) because they seemed so compatible and interlocked. I then dropped two because I felt they were important to me, but not “core” to the lifestyle.

      I do intend on some follow up posts to help bring all the principles together with some specific examples. I think you’ll like the next one.

  11. The Stoic says:

    WOW… something meaty to chew on. Thank you.

  12. Howie says:

    The speech was excellent and really just a reminder of everything we already now. He just conceptualized the message with stories and such. I don’t understand why people perceive his words differently because of his suicide. Would it be different if he was still alive today but clinically depressed? Or how about he had some terminable health condition that he won’t live for much longer. Or if he was perfectly not depressed and alive today. Many ways to look at every thing with many scenarios to approach. I really don’t think the message changes as well every reader of the blog perceives something differently individually.
    This blog or media or anything is not suppose to create frugal sustainable lifestyle lemmings. I thought it is suppose to make people open their eyes and think for themselves. To enjoy each day and what is around them.To remove the filters placed on ourselves by media or by our past influences or educational experiences. I enjoyed his speech. This April I will attending my daughter’s college graduation and I so dread the blah blah blah speeches given that they are the future of mankind or their communities or whatever you want to put .
    I think there is a graduation college template of speeches to give somewhere online.
    Some rambling thoughts before going to work. Ejoy each day and value them. Plus keep your eyes open open open. Most of us are wearing glasses with the eyeballs open but really are sleeping. I usually save them when I attend company meetings.

  13. Ishmael says:

    Powerful indeed, game changing thoughts – thanks for raising it here. While I will continue to monitor your site for new content, I will also read more of Wallace’s – I believe his writing has won multiple awards. I read a book of related message a while back, titled “Ishmael”, by Daniel Quinn; I believe we must return to this message often and from different perspectives, as it will take a whole lot of active thinking to make the life changes to affect our direction in life in a meaningful way. I will continue to look here for inspiration on making the leap (from professional success to ?). If you were to elaborate on how some of your thoughts in the second paragraph helped you make the leap to a BNL, that might be a tangible bit of value for all?

    • I’m reading Wallace’s book “Infinite Jest” right now. It’s over 1000 pages, so I’m pacing myself. I suggest you start with his book of “short” stories* “The Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” and skip straight to the last story in the book. You’ll be hooked on his insight and wit.

      (*) Nothing Wallace writes is short. Most of the stories in that book are over 100 small print pages.

      I read Ishmael a few years ago. It’s one of the many books and influences that led me to my current state of consciousness (which, I’ll admit, still has plenty of areas for improvement). I highly recommend Ishmael to anyone that enjoys this blog.

      I don’t think I understand your last question. Are you asking how living with awareness and deliberateness helped me make the leap to a BNL? If so, it confuses me because in my mind the two are synonymous. The BNL is just the external lifestyle and actions that are opened up by the awareness and consciousness. This can get very existential very quick. So I’ll avoid going there until I better understand your question.

      • Ishmael says:

        Sorry about the lack of clarity. You suggest, “It’s about living a deliberate life, making deliberate decisions, and having deliberate thoughts. I could go on and on about it, but I decided to let someone else do the talking.” I understand your response – they are synonymous. I was asking for any examples of those moments, or turning points, in the evolution of your thinking towards BNL, that based on the elements you noted, helped you make the leap forward, to implant yourself fully into BNL, perhaps even to sever ties to your previous ways. Was there a particular experience or two, or was it the aggregate of the whole that helped you go all the way to where you’ve landed in your thinking? The question is merely a nuanced tangent of the larger discussion. I know you have lots of comments to respond to, so don’t mess with this question if still not clear.

      • I would describe the “evolution” into a BNL lifestyle and philosophy as an S-curve.

        The progression started 4 years ago when I had my first of two kids. Up until that point, I lived a selfish and unconscious life. I worked hard and played hard, saved money, but never thought about any of it. I just followed the followers. Once kids came into the picture, I realized (1) how precious and fragile life is and (2) that my actions and decisions now effected someone that I loved more than myself.

        Once the kids were born, it led me (not consciously) to fade away from my natural draw towards extreme careerism. My 80 hour weeks turned into 50, which faded to 40. I was still moving up the metaphorical career ladder, but not as fast – and I really didn’t have any desire to move into an executive position as I once had.

        Shortly after this, I think I hit a sort of “mid-life crisis.” In my opinion, this occurred because I had drastically changed my priorities from work to family, but my lifestyle hadn’t changed with it. Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know why. So I just started seeking out answers. I read philosophy books and blogs, self-help books, and many other resources. Finally, I stumbled across Your Money Or Your Life, which taught me how to value my money and my time. This was just the tip of the iceberg, but it was the first time I started thinking against the grain and with real consciousness. It woke me up.

        Soon, the momentum built. I devised a plan that would allow all of my priorities and actions to become aligned. I would get a new job, buy a smaller house close to my new job, get rid of a car, learn to become more self-sufficient, and retire while my kids were 3 and 5, while I could still be a major part of their live’s. Most people would see this as drastic, but it made so much sense to me that I didn’t bat an eye. As I made all these life changes, I was at the steepest point along the s-curve and momentum was strong.

        I would say that I’m now approaching the flat area at the top of the s-curve. I’m now reaching deeper and deeper into various philosophies and purposes to continue to grow.

        Of course, this is all in hindsight. I had no idea what was happening when it was happening, and for all I know I could be way off on my observation of the series of events. :)

      • Ishmael says:

        Thanks for taking the time for this response. Impactful for me and ironically, it’s a perfect parallel to my own situation to date. I wonder of the future of your S-curve, and look forward to tracking it on this blog.

  14. Martin says:

    Really enjoyed this series, and I forwarded these videos to family and friends. Thank you.

  15. Oelsen says:

    Yes, he had this vibe of clear realism, like every slightly depressed person has. After reading the comments, I feel an eerie compassion.

    Most forget what in fact depressed means: not under pressure, its the thing that should press somebody from the inside does not happen. It frees the mind to think deeply and spiral wherever the mind flows. I think depression had this advantage in the savannah by happening when there was enough food and the system didn’t need hunting, gathering or anything else. When the world was enough, our brain went into autopilot. Like a switch on off, to preserve energy and contemplate deeply about how the world works. Somehow, I believe, a depressed human found out about fire some half a million years ago, while thinking about how nice it would be when the world would be consumed right now by fire and vanish into the mythical nothingness that he felt in that moment.

    Thank you btw for pointing out why education (or Bildung in German) is massively needed. This angle isn’t as prominent as it should be.

  16. VoodooChild says:

    Awesome, thanks BNL. DFW was a true genius. It’s eery to hear him mention suicide.

  17. olivia says:

    I am not an audio person, at all, but if you google “david foster wallace this is water pdf” a PDF transcript is the first result.

  18. Lars says:

    A good principle. I’ve heard it before in slightly different ways but after I finished reading it was clear I needed reminding. Thank you.
    I prefer the idea formulated as: “To change the world, Change your perspective.”

  19. DreamChaser57 says:

    “Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer.”
    ~Dorothy Rowe

    It would truly be an exercise in complete futility to try to succinctly express how DFW’s speech impacted me. I had to close my eyes, stare blankly ahead, allow his words to bounce off the existential walls of my mind – I allowed the tears to flow.

    In this Information Age powered by the Internet, information is readily available at one’s fingertips – my first instinct was to look up DFW on Wiki – he died so young, I’d never heard of him …..I wanted my questions answered. I declined to look him up; perhaps I suspected his tragic and unfortunate fate.
    For me, I do not want to be a cynic…..”Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing…” .

    The way his demise came about does not adversely impact the poignancy, relevancy, and sincerity of his message – maybe it informs and shapes it. A weary and wounded battle fatigued solider can more intimately and eloquently speak to the price of war.

  20. Matt says:

    Great speech. This reminds me of the mynah birds in Aldous Huxley’s book Island, which I bring up to recommend to anyone reading these comments and looking for further reading material without diving into DFW’s monstrosities.

    • DreamChaser57 says:

      Matt, I am interested in knowing why you characterize DFW’s works as monstrosities? Also for anyone who is currently reading DFW, including BNL, what is your take on his works?

      • I’ve read several of his semi-autobiographical short stories and they are all very good. He does a great job of combining interesting insight and perspective, wit, and beautiful prose.

        I’m now reading infinite jest and it’s captivating. Each chapter is written from various characters’ perspective – both in 1st and 3rd person – and each perspective is so stylistically unique it’s as if it they were written by different authors.

        The plot is too early to say, but his character development is unparalleled from anything I’ve read in years.

      • Matt says:

        Sorry, I was simply referring to the length/complexity of the writing when I said monstrosities.

        I have had several of his works on my reading list for some time, but haven’t been able to “man up” to work through them yet. I got 20 pages into Infinite Jest and absolutely loved it, but figured that I didn’t have the time or literary experience to “do it justice” quite yet.

      • Matt says:

        P.S. Is there any way to subscribe to comment replies? I would not have seen this if I hadn’t come back to grab the link to the PDF version of this speech.

      • Hmm, there used to be a checkbox to have replies emailed to you. I think it disappeared when I changed themes last month. I’ll have to look into that.

        You can also subscribe to comments as an RSS feed, there’s a link down below.

  21. I thought I had commented on this but I guess not. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have listened to it probably 10 or 11 times now and am just so amazed at how he really hits the nail on the head. It’s interesting living in Japan where people are a bit more “outward in looking” than the other way around. So much good stuff and I am not done listening to it.

  22. Uspsfanalan says:

    I really enjoyed this video. I am always disappointed when I find an author or a band that I really like that has either passed away or stopped producing. I have requested some of Wallace’s books now and will wait for those to come in to the library.

    I enjoy this site’s focus on freedom. I’m 30 and my wife is 34 and we don’t have children. We’re not trying to have kids, we’re just not preventing it. So if we don’t have children within a year or two we have agreed that we would sell the house and take on a different lifestyle. Every month is a mix of emotions, we are usually really happy that we’re not expecting, yet somewhat disappointed too.

    We’ve considered living overseas somewhere or starting some sort of business. This blog and the MMM blog have been helpful when I consider my options. I like the idea of looking at all of the stuff ie. crap, and realizing it just doesn’t matter and it never has.

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  24. Greg says:

    This speech is great, although a little discouraging.
    What he says is a lot like what I have read in Eckhart Tolle (“The Power of Now”) or in Jan Frazier (“When Fear Falls Away”). It’s about being awake! Harder to do than one might think, yet when really achieved, I believe it is effortless. (I’m not “there” yet myself.)

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