A while back I had set out to write a book called The Invictus Principle. Invictus is often referred to as the ability to master one’s own fate as described in the 1973 Ernest Henley poem carrying the same title. My thought process behind the book was to interview as many high performers as possible and tease out a formula that you and I could apply to our own lives. A three to five step process that if followed, would all but guarantee success in whatever your chosen pursuit happen to be.
I wanted to know how we might learn to define our own parameters for a successful life and what formula might help us achieve whatever that is. An easy to follow escape plan to avoid the drudgery of an average life that so many of us feel trapped inside of. I thought earnestly about how great it would feel to hand the keys to freedom over to all of the people that live lives of quiet desperation. Those of us that work our tails off for thankless bosses all while secretly craving a different life. A better life. It had all of the fixings of the next sexy self help book and I was… hopelessly naive.
Mathematical formulas work when there is only a single answer to be found. A + B = C makes sense when C represents a constant. An unchanging value with defined limits. If I were to tell you that hard work + an unlimited belief system = success, it would be misleading. There are other factors involved. Luck, timing, your support system, your daily habits, not to mention the terms in which you define success, to name a few. And even if all of those things could be accounted for, which they can’t, we still have another problem. We are not putting this equation to paper in a controlled environment.
Our lives are anything but constant and controlled. They are messy, dirty, difficult, chaotic and they are filled with pain and struggle. They’re also filled with inexplicable ecstasy and joy. Moments when you didn’t know being alive could feel so good. And it’s those moments that make all of the pain and struggle worth it in a way that we can’t always understand. You simply can’t have one without the other and that’s what the human experience is; an unstable, impassioned paradox.
We’re always living within an enigma of environments that are changing for reasons beyond our control, which induce feelings we don’t understand. This in turn puts us in emotional states that we don’t or wouldn’t necessarily choose to be in. And then we are left to pick up the pieces. And that’s what life is. You and I, up to our knees in mud, picking up the shattered pieces of what used to be and trying our best to put them together in a way that will make something great. Something worth looking at and talking about.
We are always in flux and if you can gain some perspective, even in the midst of a storm, the flux is what makes the whole thing so damn beautiful. It’s knowing that although your muddy and in pain, it’s going to make one hell of a story when you’re on the other end of it. It is also why you will never come up with a formula that works for everyone. We’re dynamic beings that are complex beyond comprehension. That makes both simplicity and safety short lived ideals within our lives.
Trying to look at our lives as constants that might be controlled and trying to define them within those limits will only lead to trouble. Yet, how many of us do that? How many of us seek out the simple solution to a complex problem and then cling to it hoping for a positive outcome? How many of us hold on tightly to what we know or what we’ve been told because it feels safe?
People make major life decisions about where to work, where to live and who to date based off what will lead to the most “stability” within their lives, failing to realize that any hint of stability is a false sense of security at best. At worst, it is the job that will never change deciding to let you go. It’s the mortgage that will never decrease in value, sinking with the market and it’s the spouse that you chose out of safety, letting you down because we’re humans and we do that to each other. The rug being torn out from under your feet is a lot more unsettling when you believe that it can’t be done.
You are better off getting used to it and becoming friends with the change and the tension instead of fighting to resist it. The moments of tension is where life is lived. It pulls at you in either direction and you are perfectly capable of dancing with it as it does, yet how many of us spend our lives trying to avoid tension in an attempt to get along? Often times we’re fake in our interactions. We lie to each other and to ourselves because pleasantries are easier to stomach than hard conversations. But hard conversations lead to long term satisfaction. Pleasantries lead to resentment when real life is boiling below the surface.
The fact is that so much of what we do is a subtle attempt to squeeze the life out of our moments. Time with our loved ones is squandered when we let an inconsequential riff between us prevent us from holding each other so tightly that the interaction itself serves as a subtle acknowledgement of the limited time we have together.
We set the temperatures in our house so that they aren’t too hot or too cold. We do the same with our showers. We cancel the day’s activities in the event of inclement weather preferring not to go outside in the harshness of the world. Feelings are easily hurt so we protect our youth with safe spaces and trigger warnings. All of this in spite of the fact that a beautiful piece of art can’t ever be appreciated if you never remove the bubble wrap.
We answer questions about how we are doing with “I’m fine” or “good, but busy”. We’re taught to make our decisions based on what is safest and not what might yield the most growth. But that begs the question, what are we here for?
If we are here solely for safety and productivity, than perhaps we are on the right track. If we die and God commends us on our lives of stability, than I think we have a lot to look forward too. A heaven complete with soft edges, 401k’s and conservative traffic laws. Nothing tempts me more than an eternity of “good, but busy.”
But what if that’s not why we’re here at all? What if we’re here to live not as we have been on perfectly paved roads with big buildings and even bigger egos but as something more, something deeper? What if the temperature was never regulated? What if we were never regulated? What if you found the highest possible ideal you could imagine and then went after it with reckless abandon, all while acknowledging that the odds are against you?
What if the odds aren’t important because regardless of your belief system, the odds that you are here now and that you have another chance to pursue something great means that your existence has already overcome the most staggering odds imaginable?
What if we’re here to overload the senses with the best of the world instead of falling back to the same smell and feel of our old, safe habits. What if we are here to make the most of our physical bodies because our souls are infinite beings and they are desperately clawing to show the world and to show you, what real endurance looks like? So many people are faced with adversity, yet when tested, they triumph. The energy contained in one human’s will power is so great that the only logical explanation is one of a soul that aspires to overcome. A soul that knows nothing of limitations and boundaries. What if that’s what you’re working with?
Before the formation of the frontal lobe and the eventual industrialization of our playground, we prevailed in the ultimate game of savagery; survival of the fittest. Long before Under Armor or Nike, it was our bare feet that endured the abuse of the primitive ground. For hundreds of thousands of years, we duked it out with the wild and repeatedly won.
On the other hand, we now have a mind that is capable of looking at and assessing itself. We are faced with the knowledge of the limitations of our own existence. We are developed enough to look at our own animalistic nature and try to curb it to appease the masses but we are very much still dealing with biological baggage that developed during our earlier fight for survival. Afterall, our sympathetic nervous system was not not developed so that we could fight our bosses or flee the office. That just happens to be all that we use it for now.
All of the introspective analyzing and assimilating has left us much more civilized. Or at least that is what we tell ourselves. With our newfound ability to comprehend the ramifications of our actions we’ve developed coping mechanisms that see our nature for its primal actuality and constantly attempt to shove it deep down, hoping no one will ever know us for who we truly are.
Our surroundings no longer require the savagery that they once did and so we are left to explain away and subdue the sides of us that are more beast than human. The sides of us that feel content gritting it out in the elements, far from safety.
In the way life always seems to balance itself out however, what goes up always comes down and what we bury will eventually resurface. Just like a seed can resurface as a great oak tree, so to do our repressed feelings, resurface as something bigger, something greater in the worst sense of the word. Our attempts to muddle and suppress what we really want and who we really are, manifest down the road as much of what ails the human condition; physical illness, character traits that we can’t understand ourselves, depression and chronic stress.
We then attempt to deal with those issues in all sorts of unsavory ways. We develop a dependency on alcohol and drugs (prescription or otherwise), failing to realize how many natural remedies the earth provides us. We’d rather take a pill then eat great food, find a wide open space and play so much we lose track of time. By never getting to know the wild side of ourselves, we end up acting like and eventually becoming someone that we don’t know at all.
What if that quiet desperation that you feel is the universe begging you to come play. To sleep under the stars or swim in the ocean because this entire blue rock is a playground that’s here just for you. To forget about what’s safe in the hopes that you might find what’s worthy?
To be knee deep in mud, picking up the pieces of your broken life only to stumble upon someone else doing the same. And then to realize that your broken pieces fit together perfectly. Maybe that’s what life is about...
Self help gurus tell us that we have to be positive despite our surroundings but how do you stare out the window when it’s raining and still manage to see the world for its beauty? You don’t. Because denying the storm isn’t living within the tension. You have to go out into it. You have to go to the beach and jump in the water while it’s pouring. Then you’ll understand that beauty isn’t about aesthetics at all. It’s about feeling.