Preamble: This post is both long and un-funny. I am taking a momentary lapse from humor to rant about a subject that I have spent much time consumed in the last 150 days or so. Despite what the proceeding post would imply, I still find fart jokes to be tremendously funny.
Although I joke about the profound truths that have found me along the trail, I have undeniably had moments of clarity. Moments where “life” seemed to make perfect sense.
In the process of being removed from the onslaught of media stimuli, the superficial concerns that plague much of society’s motives (status and appearance mean nothing out here), and the self induced stress that comes alongside a long work week that offers little to no sense of fulfillment- my eyes have been opened to a new “normal”. Currently, my days consist of: walking terrain that could be described as both tranquil and majestic, quiet moments of introspection, cracking jokes with other smelly hikers, and all the other daily human chores (pooping, eating, and sleeping). But of even greater importance than the new culture I have become a member of over the last four months, is the outside perspective I have gained of the society I have recently left behind.
To put it bluntly, there is a lot of bullshit permeating through our lives. Some “bullshit” (we’ll call negative emotions, energies, events, etc), is inescapable: disease, death, serious financial hardship. Most of this bullshit, however, is entirely artificial; of our own creation.
I want to talk about the artificial bullshit.
But first, allow me to paint a picture for you…
John, a man in his mid 40s sits down in front of the television after another long day at the office, beer in hand. Car company X airs their latest commercial boasting its high end performance sedan- equipped with the most state of the art technologies and all of the premium luxuries. The 15 second spot portrays a handsome, very successful, highly respected businessman in his late 40s, smirking as he’s driving through the winding terrain just off the coast at under bright moonlight. It just so happens that the image of this man precisely reflects John’s own self image, or more accurately put, an image he strives to become.
It is at that very moment he decides – he must buy that car.
Because John doesn’t have quite enough in savings to make the purchase- he is now more determined than ever to get that promotion at work. Although John isn’t all that passionate about his job- or the one that he would be obtaining for that matter – he realizes that he took the job for the sole purpose of being able to afford such luxuries. This particular purchase, would require just a little more work.
For the next six months, John does all of the work expected of someone deserving of such a promotion. He comes into the office early, stays late, and works weekends. He “borrows” colleagues better ideas. He kisses his boss man’s ass even though John despises him (for many reasons but mostly because boss man flirts with his wife the Xmas party every year). Although sleep deprivation and uninspiring day-to-day tasks require John to intake at least three cups of coffee throughout the day, he is confident in his odds of landing the promotion, therefore feels good overall.
Finally, the time for the promotion comes. Boss man calls John into his office. Boss man informs John that Jerry is getting the promotion.
Jerry has been with the company half as long as John. Jerry leaves the office by 1pm at least twice a week in order to make tee time. Jerry hasn’t presented a good idea or increased the bottom line even in the slightest the entire time he’s been with the company. But, as it turns out, none of that matters. Jerry and Boss man were members of the same fraternity.
John is devastated. Out of his devastation, and in a state of bewilderment, John finds himself in the dealer lot of Car Company X, staring at the 2012 edition of his dream car. John tells himself, “I’m just going to look, that’s all“. The car salesman offers John the good news that he can let him in on a “insider deal”, offering a “special financing plan” that would be easy for a man “such as himself” to afford.
John buys the car.
When John rolls into the driveway in his brand new ultra-luxury sedan, his wife runs out, assuming he got the promotion, and congratulates him with open arms. John reluctantly breaks the news that he didn’t get the promotion, but with the “special financing plan” a man “such as himself” could easily afford it. John’s wife knows better.
Between blowing the rest of their savings on the car that they couldn’t afford and John’s never being around the house anymore due to working extremely long hours- she has had enough. Two weeks later, the divorce papers are filed.
Mortified, John’s performance at work takes a major blow. Although Boss man gives John ample warning about his declining performance- he simply can’t muster the motivation to do a job he now clearly sees that he cares very little about. A month later, John is fired.
Unable to make the monthly payment on his car, the bank repossesses it. Because John’s wife gets the house in the divorce, he is forced to move across town to an older, smaller apartment complex.
John, now a recently divorced, unemployed man in his late 40s, is reevaluating his life and thinking back to all of the youthful dreams that he has compromised. He wishes he were a better husband. He wishes he didn’t lose touch with old friends. He wishes he pursued a career based upon interest rather than salary. Now, in the early stages of a mid-life crisis, emotionally unstable, he is watching telvision, beer in hand. It is then when Car Company Y airs their commercial of the new sports coupe….
I could go on.
What this story symbolizes
We are too attached to “stuff”. We associate our “stuff” with our own self image. We aim to obtain more “stuff” to add to this self-image.
John wants the car, because he wants to add to his self image. To improve his self image, he must first gain the approval of others.
Simply put: 1) John wants a car 2) to gain the approval of others 3) so he can feel good about himself.
That’s materialism in a nutshell. It’s a virus that has infected most of our society.
John “borrows” colleagues ideas. Boss man flirts with John’s wife. Car salesman doesn’t give .5 poops about John’s financial situation.
In the process of getting what they want, the above characters push all morality aside.
This is par for the course in our own day-to-day lives. We have been instilled with a Machiavellian mentality where “the ends” are our bank accounts or our standing within society. As a result, a fellow human is interpreted either as an opportunity for our own betterment, or competition (the enemy).
A Loss of Perspective
In the pursuit of happiness, ironically, we lose perspective of what happiness is. We look for happiness in cars and promotions. We look for happiness through social approval. We make happiness contingent upon some outside force. This is not real happiness.
Happiness is in life’s details. Happiness can be found in a sunset, a smile, or a song. Happiness is much more simple than many of us know it to be. Oftentimes, we miss it, because we’re too concerned with the bullshit.
Have you completely lost your fucking mind?
No. I don’t think so, at least.
During this journey, I hoped to find the answer for how I want to live/what I want to do with the rest of my life. I haven’t. But, what I have discovered, is how I don’t want to live my life.
I don’t want to live a life whereby I’m so concerned with what happens in my future, or wrapped up in my past, that I compromise the present. The only time there is- is right now. I’ve come to learn that it’s not about summitting Mt. Katahdin as much as it is enjoying each of the 5 million steps along the way (cliche, but true). Similarly, arriving at any destination at the expense of dispising the path is time wasted. Many people dedicate the years of 24-55 to finally achieve happiness during retirement. To me, this is insane.
Over the last 4+ months I have lived with the bare minimum of possessions (and an iPhone). In the process, I have experienced moments of bliss more pure than at any other stretch during my life. If I am unable to carryover learning lessons from this trip into my soon to be “new life”, I have failed myself miserably.
What about the trail angels and trail magic you have boasted about along the way?
I want to be clear about this: the community I’ve met on (and even more so around) the trail, is like nothing else I’ve experienced in my life. I have been blown away by the consistent generosity of complete strangers who only want to help, solely for the sake of giving. The above commentary details the memory of a society I have recently departed (and will be soon rejoining, sort of). The community surrounding the AT, I believe, is the tip of the iceberg in an emerging way of life. I strive to find like-minded individuals.
Are you suggesting that I need to live in the woods to get a fresh perspective?
Not at all. Altering your lifestyle to the extent of living outdoors for a half year may seem a bit excessive. It is. Although I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world, I understand that a thru-hike, or similar bout of insanity, simply isn’t feasible for a lot of people (still highly recommended for those who can).
A fresh perspective can come from any break in routine. Take a look at your life and what patterns you’ve developed that result in auto-pilot. For me, I was already an hour into my day before there was any chance of having a conscious thought. Check e-mail, coffee, brush teeth, shower, breakfast, Daily Show… Much of my day was determined by what happened the day prior, and the day before that, and so on. Before I knew it, the sun had set, and another day had felt as if it were wasted. In retrospect, because I wasn’t fully present, it was.
With that said, you can do the exact same job tomorrow you did today with an unadultered focus, and get infinitely more out of the same experience. Simply giving your full attention to whatever situation that presents itself can be transforming. The more you can turn your attention away from the repetition of your own thoughts and remain present, especially in moments of silence, the more you stand to gain. I will say being in nature definitely seems to expedite this process. Anyone who spends ample time outdoors can attest to this.
Presence is where clarity of thought is born. This clarity is where bliss resigns.
Are you a hippie?
Not really. Although I smell like one now, I plan to shower on a fairly regular basis upon re-entering society. And although I tout words of anti-materialism, I do still possess a strong sense of ambition and don’t endorse a “fuck the man” approach toward life. To me that’s weak and defeatist. I think someone can be a janitor/salesman/grocery bagger and be perfectly happy with their life. To me- it’s about being completely present in the moment, being true to yourself, and not compromising your morals in the process. Whatever that equates to for you, is right for you. I’m still figuring out what that is for me.
Although this post is a bit disjointed- there is no way to concisely present this particular subject. I could write a book on the social commentary of our times. That’s not happening.
I’m too busy working on another.
Katahdin in 1 week.
Live well friends.