My family has this weird tradition (I say family, I mean my three boneheaded brothers and I, “king bonehead”.) Every year on the first snow we all strip down to our underwear and go see who can stay out the longest. I don’t really remember why this started, but it’s been an influence on my approach to life. There’s a strange trend in the human mind to seek comfort, and while I understand this entirely, the best things I’ve ever done in life have been uncomfortable, or downright painful. So, I’ve become an addict for things that I don’t take a shine to right off the bat.
Boxing is my favorite example. I hate the feeling of being hit, everyone does. The first three times I got the wind knocked out of me I almost quit right then and there. A strange things happens though when you keep forcing your body to do things it doesn’t like. It adapts, and not in the way I’d expected. I figured I’d simply get better at boxing and get hit less. Perhaps with another coach that may have been the case. Mine has a slightly different approach. His favorite line is “If a punch doesn’t knock you clean out, it may as well be counted as a miss.” After three years of having this shouted in your face when you start complaining, you stop seeing the pain, and start seeing it as an opportunity the other person missed and acting on it.
This isn’t just true of sports, or being outdoors. It’s also incredibly true to pass times. There’s this desire for all the good parts, but without taking on the less than fun effects of it. I’ve always liked the smell of cigarette smoke. I grew up around it, and I learned something from it. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but I saw how it calmed down the people who used it. It was a sacrifice to some unknown god. In the old days we killed a calf and burned it as an offering, now we light our own throats ablaze and spit the smoke out towards the heavens. There’s something meaningful about that. It makes the chemical reaction something we’ve earned. The same way with alcohol. You want the buzz? You’ll have to learn to stomach bad beer, or strong whisky down your throat. Everything in life should be that way. Sacrifice bits of yourself to get what you want.
I suppose it’s sort of that way already, but we just don’t notice most of it. It’s sort of leeched out as we devote time and breath towards whatever it is we’re working towards. Those are usually the good things though. Anything you’ve devoted time and attention to has a worth of it’s own. That’s why the chemical reactions are so appealing to us. It’s instant, but we also immediately feel what we’ve given up. The bits of our lungs getting clogged, the burn of vodka down into our stomach. Those are good things, because we’re constantly reminded that we’re poisoning ourselves in exchange for that high we need.
Personally, I like that concept of “poisoning” myself. I like being reminded that I’m burning off bits of myself, via fire or toxins. I know what I’m giving up for the few moments of calm that I get. Bits of my lungs in exchange for a train of thought I can actually run and leap onto as it blares past. I understand what I’m giving up in exchange for those little experiences. It’s modern day sacrifice. No god in between the burnt offering and the reward. We sacrifice bits of ourselves to our own desires. I personally enjoy that sentiment, and I’ve never understood the appeal of flavored vodka and things like that. The deliberate attempt to lose the harshness of intoxicants, but maintain the enjoyableness seems like a dangerous and greedy thing to me.
Maybe it’s because I’m rereading Jack London’s work, but I think this quote would come to mind as I write it anyway.
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
~Jack London, Call of the Wild
I adore this line, because it sums up perfectly something I’ve only ever felt when I’ve failed, or realize I’m about to. The most alive I’ve ever felt was when I fell off a small ledge while running at local park. I hit a patch of ice, and slid (In my head, I’m pretty sure I looked like a looney toon) off the edge. I fell about ten feet and cracked two ribs. the jog/walk back to my car? I don’t really remember it. I remember fear which turned into action, immediate and born of requirement. I’m not saying you should fall off cliffs to feel alive, but put yourself in situations where it could happen. Then at the end of the day, while you’re having a beer and a lung scorching smoke, laugh about the fact that it didn’t.