Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch-Jewish philosopher of the 17th century, was a man of unwavering conviction. He was raised within a close-knit Jewish community. However, his unorthodox views soon conflicted with established religious beliefs.
At 24, Spinoza was excommunicated from the synagogue. He was effectively ostracised for his radical ideas. Undeterred, Spinoza embarked on a solitary pursuit of knowledge.
He immersed himself in the works of Descartes, Hobbes, and other philosophical giants. And found solace in the study of nature and the pursuit of truth. He believed understanding nature would lead to understanding oneself.
His masterpiece, “Ethics,” wasn’t just a book but a mindset shift. It shook the status quo. It was a mind-bender exploring God, nature, freedom, happiness and human existence.
He dared to say God and nature were one in an era of rigid beliefs. That didn’t sit well with the establishment. Talk about shaking things up.
Spinoza’s insights on how to live resonate powerfully in the modern world. He thought personal freedom was absolutely necessary for a great life. Reason and true virtue thrive on a firm foundation of individual freedom, he argued. “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free,” he wrote.
He believed intellectual freedom to understand life and live it can help us overcome the complexities of life. According to Spinoza, intellectual liberation leads to a more fulfilled and self-determined life, transcending external circumstances.
“Men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined,” he wrote.
“I call him free who is led solely by reason,” says Spinoza. He thought freedom was internal, tied to reason and understanding the necessity of life. He stressed the need to cultivate reason and knowledge to attain profound autonomy. “He alone is free who lives with free consent under the entire guidance of reason,” he wrote.
Spinoza saw true freedom not as an absence of constraints but as the understanding and acceptance of what is. He believed life is deeply uncertain and that we should accept this rather than try to fight against it.
“The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure….you are above everything distressing,” says Spinoza
Life was tough then, and he knew it. He thought stressing about life kills the joy. It’s a warning against overcomplicating life. Spinoza challenges the idea that absolute certainty is necessary for meaningful action. He suggests a degree of ambiguity and openness to the unknown.
Life inevitably is a challenge. But if you become overly consumed by the struggle, it can overshadow the joy of the present. “Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing.”
Spinoza’s saying, “Life’s not a checklist; it’s an adventure. Embrace the unknown.” In other words, forget needing all the answers. Surrender to what’s real within you. Find your truth, your core self. That’s where certainty lives.
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced,” philosopher Soren Kierkegaard also said. If you are too focused on overcoming difficulties, you stop living. You create a negative cycle that limits your ability to savour the present.
“A man is called free when he lives according to the guidance of his own reason,” he wrote. And when he talks about being “above everything distressing,” he means to rise above the chaos by embracing your true self. Excessive striving, stress, and resistance to life’s challenges diminish the quality of life.
Spinoza encourages us to embrace uncertainty and certainty within ourselves. That advice still holds up today. Spinoza wasn’t just a guy with ideas; he was a disruptor, a rebel life coach ahead of his time.
His advice? Still echoing through the centuries: embrace the unknown and live life on your own terms.
Spinoza believed human struggle for certainty and control is ultimately futile and self-defeating. Because you become paralysed by fear and indecision, unable to experience life fully.
Rising above the chaos of life is a mindset shift — from battling against the uncertainties of life to embracing the certainty in ourselves. You can’t be completely in control of anything outside of yourself.
The “real within” is the secret
An attempt to control your outcomes can take a toll on your mind. Spinoza urged us to surrender to the “real within,” the inherent goodness and rationality that resides within each one of us.
Letting go is the real key to freedom. It means choosing acceptance over the burden of constant struggle. Spinoza didn’t buy into the idea that you must have it all figured out.
The more we struggle to control our lives and achieve certainty, the more we miss out on the richness and spontaneity of living. Release yourself from the pressure of absolute certainty in every action.
Surrender to the natural flow is life. It’s about trusting in life’s larger rhythm, rather than forcing everything to fit our own expectations.
It doesn’t mean we should become passive or apathetic. Rather, we should focus on what we can control. It’s an active acknowledgement of things beyond our influence. The more you try to control the outcome, the more the outcome will control you.
“Sometimes you have to let go to see if there was anything worth holding onto,” Socrates said. Letting go is the only way to truly appreciate what we have. Or better still, discover new opportunities for growth.
“Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life,” says spiritual teacher and author of “Now,” Eckhart Tolle.
Spinoza’s wisdom extends to facing reality without unnecessary distress. “You are above everything distressing,” he asserts. He emphasises the resilience of acknowledging and aligning with one’s true self.
His assertion that “you are above everything distressing” echoes Stoic principles. Relinquishing unnecessary struggles helps us transcend external disturbances. Embrace the chaos; forge your path. Elevate yourself above the noise. Let go of rigid expectations to find peace within. Life is balance of holding on and letting go,” says Perusian poet Rumi.