A wild horse is a beautiful thing on its own, but isn't very useful to a person. To create a symbiotic relationship with the horse, the owner must break the horse, training it to give up some of its wild instincts and replace them with conditioned responses.
I rode a horse a few weeks ago in Chile. She was generally well behaved, but had her quirks. Sometimes, riding along in the desert, there would be a tasty looking shrub. If we were walking slowly enough, she would stop and eat it. I'd have to yank on the reins to prevent her from doing it, but that didn't stop her from trying again next time.
It feels like my brain is the same way. I train it over and over again, but it's never completely broken. There are battles that I fight every single day, knowing that winning doesn't mean eliminating those battles entirely, but just winning them more often than not.
One of those battles is the desire for pleasure. I can logically want to live a fairly ascetic life, can enjoy that life, but still there's some draw to temptation. I want to do fun things. I want to buy things I don't need. And after two of my good friends have met serious boyfriends/girlfrends on Tinder-- I really want to install that app, even though I'm not dating until WifeQuest begins next year.
Another battle is the battle for rest. Maybe this is the same as the battle for pleasure, just in a specific form. When I'm trying to summon all of my brainpower to solve some technical problem, a part of me wants to just lie down and take a nap. Most weekends I enjoy working, but sometimes I think about how people take two days off every week to do nothing, and that seems like some impossible fantasy.
Maybe, too, there's a battle against selfishness. I'm not sure I win this one as much as the other two I mentioned. I think about everything that my family and friends have done for me, especially my parents raising me, and it seems absurd that I would do anything for myself. And yet-- when I have a spare few hundred bucks to buy a plane ticket, I always buy it for myself.
Part of being a productive human, one who walks towards his goals, is to fight these battles. Winning them ticks one's life in a good direction, losing them sets one back a little bit. The important part is to realize that they're battles that we'll all fight for our whole lives, unless we surrender. Thinking about it like that makes it easier to fight. Yeah, it's supposed to be hard. Yeah, I'm going to have to do this again tomorrow. That can be discouraging, unless you realize that fighting this battles is the mechanism by which we all progress. Then they seem like an opportunity.
Photo is a mean looking Buddha in the Met in NYC
Photos should be getting better soon! Long time reader Max is coming out here with his pro photographer friend to teach me how to take better photos.
A couple months ago I was minding my own business, reading a book, about to go to sleep. I give twitter one last check on my phone and see a message from my friend Jenna telling me of a deal to go to Lima, Peru for $380 round trip. I have no particular reason to go to Peru, but I decide to start booking it and make the decision as I go through the steps. The deal is about to go-- it's disappearing from different booking sites one by one. Hey, might as well go, I think. For how long? Well, I can't think of anything off the top of my head in Peru besides Machu Picchu (which I already decided I had to see before I died), so I play it safe and book eight days, figuring that will give me enough time for Machu Picchu and maybe one or two other things.
After booking, I begin to do a little research. The thing to do is the Inca trail, which is a four day hike from the Cusco area to Machu Picchu. You have to go with a tour group, and you have to book far in advance. I booked too late for that. The standard alternative is the Salkantay trek, which is typically a five day trek. It's harder than Inca and has better natural scenery, but no ruins along the way and doesn't lead directly to Machu Picchu like Inca does. I try to find a good tour group going there, but none of the published dates fit into my short window in Peru. Fine, I think, I'll just go solo.
I order a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and mattress pad, and that's the extent of my planning for over a month. With a week before I leave, I figure I ought to see if I need train or bus tickets. That's when I learn that Cusco is almost 24 hours away from Lima by bus, and that getting to the trail from Cusco takes several hours as well. Long story short, it looks impossible for me to Salkantay. But I've had it in my head for a month now that I'm going to do it, so I don't give up easily. Finally I find a way I can take a bus to Arequipa near the end, and then take a flight from there to Lima just in time to catch my flight. The problem is that this leaves me only about 3 days to do the trek, and less than 24 hours to acclimatize.
A week later, my trip begins. I'm overjoyed when my tent stakes make it through TSA security. Actually getting to the hiking trail is contingent on several fairly unlikely assumptions, the first of which is that the titanium stakes will make it through. The flight to Lima is long, but I somehow manage to get an exit row seat to Panama, and a whole row to myself to Lima. I get the best plane sleep I've ever had.
A few days ago, I wrote an open letter to a good friend of mine - "I Think Greatness is Something You Are, Not Something You Do" - I said to him, I'm not a great man, just a normal man working on great things. Greatness is something you do, not something you are.
To give you some background, my friend Brendon is just one of the most amazingly good people in the world. He takes care of everyone around him, his mind, body, and spirit are sharp. He's a black belt, an excellent programmer, a philosopher, a Shodan in Go (actually, even stronger than that - he's a Shodan under the Asian rankings, so probably even higher in America), a hard worker, extremely loyal, a clear and free thinker, widely read and knowledgeable, and again - an amazingly good guy. I've learned a lot from him (notably, he taught me how to play Go, sysadmin Linux, understand basketball at a very high level, improve at martial arts, improve my fitness, and other good stuff - we'd usually go drink green tea and play Go at Samurai Restaurant in Boston, go fight in the park, talk philosophy out at nightclubs, do stuff like that).
He wrote back to me about greatness and humility. I think this is a really beautiful piece, so I asked him if I could gently edit it and put it up. He graciously agreed. It's long, but go ahead and just start it and give it whatever time you have - there's a lot of amazing insight in here.
A Quick Favor Request - if you learn from this or it helps you, please send Brendon a quick email to [email protected] - he was actually a little gun-shy about having such a personal piece put up with such raw power in it. He only agreed when I told him how many people it could help - so please, drop him a short line to say thanks if this teaches you as much as it did me.
Without further ado...