Something you should get out of your system.

The following is an excerpt from my book The DivideRead more about the book and see the index of excerpts here. See Mike & Maggie’s website here.

Mike took the lead again. “So what made you want to do this anyway?”

“Well, I had recently finished school and just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do… I thought it would be a pretty cool item for the life resume, a good challenge. I thought I’d come out here and try to find myself.”

At that last statement, Mike chuckled and said, “Yeah, get that out of your system.”

I thought I saw Maggie turn her head just slightly to Mike and give a look of incredulity at what he had just said. Then again, maybe I was the incredulous one and had just imagined Maggie was on my side.

“Well that’s great, Nathan,” Maggie said, “has it been a good experience so far?”

I thought about it before I answered. “Yeah, it has.”

We talked a few more minutes before I let them go. Decided on my course, I started on the 6 miles of pavement up toward La Manga Pass.

Mike had said, “Get that out of your system.” I couldn’t get that out of my head. I didn’t take offense to what he said. I wasn’t insulted. In a weird way, I was inspired. But why?

Out of my system!

What Mike said had clicked. Being inspired by his statement didn’t seem strange any more, rather it made perfect sense. I had said the trip was, in part, an attempt to “find myself.” Well, where did I go? Did I lose myself? Was my body just mindlessly wandering around without me? No! So what the hell was I looking for!

In my study of philosophy I had read about switching our energy from action to contemplation. This made no sense to me when I read it. Wasn’t that counterproductive? But Plato, he defined contemplation as “knowing and being.” We should switch our energy from “seeking and becoming” to “knowing and being.” Switch your energy from seeking to knowing. What was it I sought?

I had been suffering from the illusion of an internal separateness. I had thought there were two versions of me: the person I was and the person I wanted to be. I was searching for that other person, as if there were a secret that other person had, as if he knew what I wanted and needed, what was best for me, what I should do. What a bunch of bullshit. Mike was right, I needed to get that kind of thinking out of my system.

The wind will drive you crazy.

The following excerpt is from my book The Divide.

The wind was ceaseless. It filled the sails of the boat and pushed me further out to sea. It raised bumps on my skin as well, but the sun was bright and the sky clear. I breathed the ocean salt and bid farewell to land as it retreated over the horizon. I turned to face the ocean ahead of me and said goodbye to a love lost. Laurie. We had been in love. She had been a fairy tale.

I met her before I started college and only knew her briefly. We lived far away from each other and fell out of touch. It wasn’t until after my first novel was published that we reconnected. I had been traveling around the country to promote my book when I landed near her home. She came to a book signing. I recognized her instantly, but I didn’t let it show on my face. She walked up to the table and handed me her copy.

I can’t remember what I said, but it made her laugh. Her laugh was the greatest and sounded just how I remembered. She scanned my face for any sign of recognition, but I played it off like she was another person in the crowd. I handed her book back and her face fell.

She was halfway to the door when I called out her name and told her to read the inscription.

Laurie — You are even more beautiful than I remember, which was already more than I thought possible. Please have lunch with me.

That was the beginning of our relationship. We were together for several months, but the distance made it hard. She flew cross-country to visit me for a weekend. She broke it off. She went back east; I went further west and refused to stop at the ocean. The wind carried me away from all of that pain. Or so I thought. What if I hadn’t gone west? What if I had followed Laurie east? What if I had tried to make it work? What was it about tragedy that I found so appealing?

Wait.

I didn’t get on that sailboat. I didn’t have a relationship with Laurie. I never wrote an inscription in her book.

I never wrote a book.

I never left my bike.

But the wind was ceaseless.

The Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life?

I’ve wanted to address this question for several weeks now. I think a lot of the dissatisfaction people experience comes from not having an answer to this question… myself included.

After weeks of pondering, writing a little, then deleting a lot, I came across a fantastic answer to this question.

It was in Viktor E Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, his personal account of life in a WWII concentration camp and a brief synopsis of logotherapy, a psychotherapy doctrine pioneered by Frankl. In it, he acknowledges the difficulty one can encounter when trying to answer this question.

“I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.”

It was how Frankl reframed the question that made the answer easier to track down.

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

As I said in an earlier post, “We are — quite literally — the embodiment of life.” And, as Frankl pointed out, because we are life, any meaning it has is assigned by us. Instead of being the students trying to guess the correct answer on our midterm exam, we are actually the teacher writing the answer key.

“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Whatever we do with our life is the meaning of life — just from our own unique perspective.

Reframing the question to reflect that you always assign a meaning to life forces more self-reflection. For instance, ask yourself how you spent your day… well, according to you, that’s the meaning of life.

I ask myself this on lazy days… I really don’t want to answer, “The meaning of life is Cheetos and Xbox.” This self-examination is brutally honest… which can also be highly motivating.

So how about you? What’s the meaning of your life? Do you have any desire to redefine that meaning?