Not so easy

The answer depends on whether he recognizes that though he may have subdued his external obstacles and enemies, he must overcome psychological foes — depression, anomie, angst — which are no less formidable for their ethereality. He must embrace the fact that though this world may be thoroughly charted, explored, and technologized, there remains one last territory to conquer — himself.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/advice/sunday-firesides-mans-last-great-conquest-himself/

I would argue that all the external conquering and subduing was the easy part. That existential dread? That’s not so easy. The first part of solving that problem is of course realizing it is a problem for oneself. Yeah, I’m working on that.

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Capability

Every person has within himself the capability to understand the life of all humanity. This capability is hidden deep in the soul, but it exists, and sooner or later, a person will find it.

~ Edward Carpenter

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Human existence

Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

~ Bertrand Russel

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Muffled

Nothing you create is ultimately your own, yet all of it is you. Your imagination, it seems to me, is mostly an accidental dance between collected memory and influence, and is not intrinsic to you, rather it is a construction that awaits spiritual ignition.

~ Nick Cave from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/01/20/nick-cave-creativity/

This is a thought which seriously concerns me; What exactly, if anything, am I accomplishing in the totality of my life? In a very micro sense, I’m simply holding back entropy ever so slightly in one minuscule niche of the universe. I like to imagine this is like pushing the cuticles of my finger nails back: Comforting and aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately pointless because my nails continuously grow until they don’t at which point I won’t care any more. I’m not being morbid or pessimistic here. There’s nothing wrong with that micro-scale getting things done. I take comfort in the fact that pushing entropy back a bit is—quiet literally—all that anyone can do.

It’s when I shift to a much larger scale that things look quite rosy. I sleep well at night, (both literally and figuratively,) because I like who I am becoming, and I plan to keep at it. Along the way, a quite large number of people have said the equivalent of “what you did there made my life a little better.” What more could one attempt?

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Oblivion

So begins her obsession with dominating the mind by dominating the body, which would follow her throughout her life in various guises — running, karate, yoga, cycling, skiing — always ambivalent and self-conscious, until it finally resolves into a glimpse of the larger truth beneath the mechanics of illusory perfectibility: that we exert ourselves so violently on keeping the package of the body intact in order to keep it from spilling its immaterial contents — the soul, the self — into oblivion.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/01/01/the-secret-to-superhuman-strength-alison-bechdel/

Ah yes, “oblivion.” Good stuff. Popova is referring to a graphic artist, and midway through the article is an exquisite cartoon example; the author drawing, figuratively and literally, a metaphor for life involving a hill and a bicycle. Reading that cartoon brought to mind my beloved practice of meditating on death. (Try this explanation.) Closely related I often call to mind the impermanence of things. Sometimes I mix the two, thinking…

This is my last sip from this [my favorite, morning coffee] mug. (Knowing it will one day be broken.)

This [regularly scheduled weekly] conversation with this person is our last one. (Imagining when priorities change and we’re no longer working together.)

This conversation I’m recording for a podcast is my last one. (Because I will die.)

This dinner with this person [my mom, my spouse, etc] is my last one. (Because one of us will die first.)

The goal is not to be morbid and depressed; The goal is to maintain a realistic perspective to enable wringing the absolute maximum enjoyment and appreciation from every single waking moment.

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Instincts

Our instincts as humans are slowly dimming the less time we spend in wild nature: rainstorms, cold, whiteouts, loose rocks, adventure. Climbing is an important and sacred opportunity for us to exist in situations that we faced a hundred thousand years ago. The animalistic side of human beings. Our instincts are an important element of our intelligence.

~ Reinhold Messner

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Judgement

As climbers, we are inventors of our own goals, and must decide on our own how to achieve them. There is nobody else there. Nobody to control. We do extreme, dangerous things, and nobody else can say what is right or wrong. There is no moral loathing. We have only our instincts about human behavior, and in the end we are our own judges.

~ Reinhold Messner

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Success

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children […] to leave the world a bit better […] to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Lulled into a trap

We tend to think that what we see is all there is — that there is nothing we cannot see. We know it isn’t true when we stop and think, yet we still get lulled into a trap of omniscience.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2016/10/the-island-of-knowledge/

Admiral Ackbar called it correctly in Return of the Jedit, and this too is a trap. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but they are generally of two types: the harder, science ways, and the softer, experiential ways. Both of those types have their traps. If one is strictly a follower of the hard, science paths up the mountain, one will be lulled into this trap of faux omniscience. And if one is a strict follower of the soft, experiential paths, one will be lulled into a trap of… well, I’ve not travelled much on those paths. My prescription is those travelers would do well to try these hard, science paths more. Therefore, I should try those soft, experiential paths more.

Which path are you currently on, and do you have a pattern of choosing one type over the other?

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The mid-point

At the mid-point of the path through life, I found myself lost in a wood so dark, the way ahead was blotted out. The keening sound I still make shows how hard it is to say how harsh and bitter that place felt to me —

~ Dante

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