Saturday, January 30, 2010

Speaking Of Answers...

So if there are answers to be found on the side of the road, why didn't i have one the other day, you might ask. Hmmmm..... good question.

The other day someone who knows that i've done the Shikoku Pilgrimage, and knows that i want to walk it again, was asking about "this TransAm thing" i'm going to do. After patiently listening to what i was planning, her only question was, "Why do you feel compelled to continuously challenge yourself with longer and harder challenges? Sooner or later you're going to get yourself hurt, or worse. Don't you think?"

Now how am i supposed to respond to that? If that is the only question that comes up, it's obvious that the word "challenge" has different meanings for the two of us. For her, challenges are entirely mental in nature; there is no need for physical challenges in her life. Or, to put it differently, for her, life is a mental game, the physical side has been put on the shelf, ignored, simplified with all the gadgets, remotes, and toys that you can buy at any store. For her, then, the idea that someone would actually seek to throw away all those simplifications and luxuries and actually attempt to make their life more difficult physically, must seem incomprehensible.

But that's how i live my life. Always have, and, hopefully, always will. There are three aspects to our lives, and if any one of them is ignored, your life is unbalanced: physical, psychological (mental), and spiritual. All three must be tended, watered, and weeded in order for your life to blossom. Granted you can still have a very good life even if these aren't evenly balanced at 1/3 each, but for the best possible life, meaning the best life you could possibly have, these need to be balanced.

That means you can't ignore the physical side of your life. And that's why i enjoy staying in shape, and enjoy the challenge of marathons, or of walking the henro trail, or of riding the TransAm Trail, or of trekking to Mt. Everest base camp, or of walking the Appalachian Trail (which will always be a dream of mine).

But don't get me wrong, these trips are not just about the physical challenge. Anyone who has ever done any of these things will tell you that the mental side of these challenges is just as important to their success as the physical — maybe even more. And it is this combination that attracts me.

Something like the Henro Trail or the TransAm Trail very nicely combines all three aspects of who we are. Obviously the physical side is important; you have to be in shape in order to finish. Likewise, the mental side is just as important as it is this psychological aspect that gets you through day after day of hard work, sometimes boring hard work. You are required to stay focused, alert, and hungry in order to persevere to the end.

What i think many people miss, though, is the spiritual side of trips like this, and here i'm not talking about a search for God or enlightenment or Nirvana, or any of that. I'm talking about using the day-to-day experience to figure out who you are, what you are, why you are here, what the purpose of being is, what Life is all about, etc.

What is Life all about? Certainly it has to be about more than getting up, going to work, going out with friends for drinks, going home, going to bed, and then repeating that day after day, week after week, year after year, life after life. Certainly there is more to Life than that. It's obvious, isn't it???

You don't find answers to these Who, What, Why questions sitting in front of a television. You don't find answers to these types of questions simply by reading books. Or listening to mp3s. Or watching DVDs. Or only sitting on your zafu. There is a very serious experiential aspect to these questions that requires you to actually get off your butt and and observe life's experiences in all their colors, flavors and varieties.

Your books, mp3s, and DVDs may give you pointers. Your teachers may show you where the path starts. Your zafu may take you to enlightenment. But, it is only partial until you balance all three aspects of who you are: the physical, mental, and spiritual. You are a human being, a physical animal, not just a mind. Granted, you really are not this body-mind, i accept and agree with that, and on the ultimate level you are correct. But even saints and sages have to live their day-to-day lives on the relative level, which means on the level of the body-mind. It's a question of balancing the ultimate and relative.

In order to be the best, fullest, brightest blossoming human being that you can be, you have to force yourself to grow in all three areas. It's not easy, and nothing is handed to you on a silver platter; it requires a lot of hard work — physically, mentally, and spiritually.

So how was i supposed to answer her? She would have simply rolled her eyes if i had tried to explain any of this to her. If she even had that question she's not ready for this answer, is she? If you assume that challenges are dangerous, then how do you understand that i think challenge, and overcoming it, is what Life is all about?

What was i supposed to say? All i could think of was to point out to her that if i died on the side of the road in my running shoes, hiking boots, or riding shorts, as i pass on to that greatest of challenges i'd be incredibly thankful that i'm departing from there than from in my rocking chair at home in front of the television.

To which she simply said, "Oh."

DHS 80/100
(It's hard to believe that i'm at #80 already)

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