In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. It was an epic journey. I hated almost every minute of it.
The problem was that I wanted to say I rode across the US more than I wanted to ride it. This dubious motivation made me want the trip over before it began. I wanted the medallion of cross-country tourer. Most of the countless hours in the saddle were spent listening to the nagging mantra, “Am I there yet?”
The only times I enjoyed myself were during the hardest moments. There were a few mountain passes in the Washington—Rainy, North Cascades and Sherman—where I scaled 20-plus mile passes in rain and 40-degree temperatures. The conditions were so consuming that I couldn’t focus on the fact that the ride wasn’t over. As cliche as it sounds, when I became absorbed by the journey, not the destination, I actually had a good time.
I was talking to a friend last night who is a recent father. He claimed that he has recently been enjoying his work and is more confident in his ability to generate income. Looking to possess similar confidence, I asked him what he attributed that to. He said fatherhood was a big part of it; that having a family largely dependent on him allows him to buckle down and do what needs to be done. Along those same lines, he feels like he is surrendering to the reality that life is work—that he will never be free from responsibility, that there is no vacation or retirement to look forward to. Life, he said, is a series of never-ending problems, resolutions and work. That was freeing for him. Without an expectation of relief, he could just get to work and enjoy it for what it is.
In David Deida’s “The Way of the Superior Man,” he suggests a man refrain from ejaculating wherever possible as the release reinforces his expectation for momentary reward at the expense of experiencing the continuous joy of giving. He believes that a man should give himself in lovemaking as part of his ceaseless need to love, not for the momentary satisfaction his ejaculation promises. Deida writes that a superior man strengthens his “capacity for the fullest communion sexually…[and] strengthen[s his] capacity to dissolve into the source of life and re-emerge soaked in gifts, erect with purpose, and full of desire to give…[his] deepest gifts in the face of worldly resistance (208).”
Both my friend’s and Deida’s remarks hit home for me. I see how my need for reward, pleasure and external validation produces most, if not all, of my dissatisfaction. I don’t want to study, I want the degree. But life is studying. Universities try to protract the process with commencement ceremonies, but we know truth: receiving the degree takes a minute and studying for it takes years.
I woke up this morning confronted. It was a long weekend spent in the trenches of personal development. And while I’m clear many great things are occurring in my relationships, work and wellbeing, this morning I just wanted to rest. Thinking about about all my commitments and what they entail, all the work and responsibility, made me exhausted. I wanted the end-goals—the family, the job, the nice apartment, the muscled, energetic body, inner-peace—and I wanted them immediately.
Well tough shit. There is no break. There is no pot of gold at my destination. There will never be a time when I am without work or responsibility. There is no permanent release in ejaculatory orgasm—only a momentary numbness before desire crops up again and again. This is not punishment. It’s the way it is. And the sooner I let go of my need for a break, for reward, for recognition—the sooner I can dive into now.
With these thoughts in mind, here are some things to consider:
- What “destination” are you waiting for? Graduating, getting a girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife/children, quitting/getting a job, a new apartment/home, losing weight, finding your calling, making a certain amount of money, retirement, etc.
- When you and if you arrive at the destination, do you believe it will resolve anything? Examine your desire. See if presumption of resolution is true. Look at past destinations—ones you thought would provide lasting release. Did they?
- What would life be like if there was no destination? What if this was it? What if there was never going to be a break? What if there were always responsibilities to meet, relationships to tend, dishes to clean, and so forth? What if you didn’t resist any of these things? How might that affect how you engage your world?