“All conditioned things are impermanent. When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” — Buddha
Simple as the Buddha may have made it sound, getting right with impermanence isn’t so easy. Accepting the true, transient nature of life means accepting loss at its grandest scale. Acknowledging that the most basal of our pursuits—comfort, happiness, love, life itself—have no final destination is a serious dose of reality.
It’s easy to interpret this nihilistically, particularly in the face adversity or grief. But impermanence doesn’t mean that these aren’t worthwhile pursuits. Life has meaning if you choose to give it meaning, whatever that meaning might be. And I believe that this is what the Buddha meant when he talked about impermanence—when you accept that the journey is what matters and begin truly living in the present, the bumps along the road are less painful because you’re not focused on them.
This is something that I’ve personally struggled with. I’ve experienced—and caused—a profound amount of pain and loss over the years, and viewing that solely through the lens of change has been nearly impossible. At some subconscious level, a big part of my decision to pick up and leave my old life is probably a feeble attempt to own that pain.
“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex. What’s important is leading an examined life.” — Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia — 180 South
Today marks ninety days since I made the decision to get rid of almost everything and embrace a nomadic lifestyle. It’s been an enlightening experience to say the least. Mostly in that–after more than two decades of intense focus on business and unchecked consumption–picking up and leaving it all behind has been a lot of work.
Pablo Picasso once observed, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” In all fairness, there’s some debate about who actually said this, but the notion of Pablo sipping tea, hands stained with paint, waxing prophetic in Castellano feels romantic to me, so we’re going with that.
In any event, I’ve been thinking about purpose a lot lately.
Twenty eighteen was unquestionably the single most challenging orbit of my entire forty-three years. And it’s got some serious competition: emergency dental surgery when I was 2 years old; a 1985 cycling accident that nearly took my right arm and required two excruciating surgeries to fix; a massive overdose in 2007 that killed me for just over 3 minutes and left me in a coma, followed-up by a divorce in 2008 that sent me spiraling back into several more months of powdery, self-destructive depression. The list is longer than I care to admit.
The concept of bone fida true purpose didn’t exist in my universe until another round of addiction landed me back in the hospital–twice–and finally in-patient rehab in early 2018. Despite my deep affinity for learning, it’s apparently not always my strong suit.
A race director friend told me that the average ultra-distance trail runner stays in the sport for about four years. I’m not exactly sure where that number came from, but it seems reasonable. Injury, burn out, family commitment, work, loss of interest–we’re all at risk of losing that spark that helps push us to the finish.
For me, an injury last year spawned a cascade of events that completely destroyed my motivation, not just for running, but for life in general. It was a dark time, and it took more than a year for me to crawl back out of the hole that I’d dug for myself. I lost everything in the process, including my self-respect. I was totally defeated.
Breaking from stagnation has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve had to tackle. That experience led me to start researching the science behind motivation. There’s quite a bit of psychology at work here, but the good news is that once you understand it, you can start stacking the deck in your favor.
About six months ago, I started renovating my house in Atlanta. Groundbreaking was the culmination of years of daydreaming about becoming a fat-cat real-estate investor, and I’d spent the previous six months or so doing legitimate research and running the numbers. I had a high level of confidence that–once up and running–my quaint new AirBNB would generate just enough revenue to allow me to finally cut the cord and hit the road nearly full-time. All I needed was about $75,000 and another six months to finish all the work.
Problem. I didn’t have $75,000, and my credit score–while not completely in the toilet–was low enough to invite more than a casual chuckle from bankers. During the ensuing six months I would most certainly die from starvation, since my recent year of “soul searching” hadn’t been paying very well and I’d blown through most of my savings. So, naturally, I did what any other rational person would do–I got out the wrecking bar and started tearing down the walls of my 100 year old kitchen. What could possibly go wrong?