Monday, April 18, 2016

How to die happy [No bucket list needed or desired]

How to be a human that dies happy.

Most people understand the idea of a bucket list, which includes the experiences that a person wants to have before their life ends. This idea seems foreign and forced to me. It reminds me of the way that some folks wait until the very last moment to do a thing that they must do. I have always been the opposite kind of person, who does the needed things at the very beggining of the 'due' period.

That is why I addressed my lifes goals very early on, even before i was a teen. When, at age 16, my childhood did not seem to be going well, I forged my parents name on a motorcycle title, and departed the east coast once and for all. Driving west felt correct to me, and I took some care to avoid a traffic stop where my learners permit would come into question.

I was frightened, but far more worried about wasting my life in a region where i did not belong, and doing pointless deeds that were merely expected of me. I recognize that people are driven through their lives by various fears, and later by the compulsion to reproduce. It is not so much that they make incorrect decisions about their lives. It seems like the ship of their life has no captain at all, and floats about at the mercy of winds and tides.

To continue with the analogy, the ship has no destination, and the only steering is to avoid dangers that are very near the prow. These unpiloted ships drift about, directed by greed and fear and community concensus. At the end of their seaworthy days, moments before a particular ship sinks to the bottom of the sea, the captain is finally tempted to point the prow in a direction and stick to it.

Although the mention of death is emotionally catchy, this essay is not really about death. It is about using timing and strength and trickery to balance the fear and greed. There is no religious component to the argument, because, it seems to me that religion most ofen serves to further constrain ones behavior. Instead, I will offer the only real evidence that i have, which are anecdotes from my own life.

Fear of death is overcome to do my first dangerous rock climb.

I started rock climbing later in life, and persued it with my typical single minded zeal. Being slender and somewhat feeble, i knew that genetics alone was not going to power me to the pinacle of climbing accomplishment. So, i purposely sought out the best climbers on earth. I noticed that some of the very strongest climbers would climb tall rock and ice faces with no rope.

I tried some short ones, and was able to do every one by overcoming brief bursts of fear. My first long unroped climb was the east buttress of El Capitan. It is on the right side of the wall, and it's most difficult move is a traverse to the right on small holds. The 'crux' is at an awkward height for an unroped human. At perhaps 60 meters up the wall, it is high enough that a fall can not turn out well, but low enough on El Capitan that the ground is real looking and 'present'.

In addition, quite a few difficult moves occur below the crux, so that retreat is not very attractive. Climbing down is really no harder than climbing up, but the participant spends much of their time looking in the direction of a possible fall to find the foot holds. This can bring on vertigo and dizziness, which will hinder the process. I remember that i was singing a silly popular song about falling, falling, falling as i approached the crux. When i reached it, the look of the moves froze me in place. I felt that there was a good chance that my little song would come true. I thought about starting down, but was disgusted with the idea of being that pathetic guy who fails at everything in life.

After a while, the anger and revulsion at being so pathetic overcame my fear. Basically, i preferred to be dead than to give up any chance of a real life while paralyzed with fear. I headed right across the small holds, finding that i could insert my arm through a sling that was hanging from a piton during the hardest single move. I would not place weight on it, but would have more than one try if I slipped. I got it on the first try, and it felt remarkably easy! It was apparent that the fear had made the holds look smaller and further apart. I still had a few hours of easier climbing to reach the top of El Capitan, but it seemed that i had passed a kind of threshold, and it was easy to remain relaxed. Later, i was to learn some mental tricks that would often reduce the fear and thereby, make the act of climbing unroped much less suicidal.

Getting over a seemingly insurmountable difficulty with leading very hard routes.

After about 10 years of concentrating my efforts on climbing, I realized that no more improvement was happening. When i attempted to lead a very hard route, a terrible conversation would begin in my brain. The cross talk took 99% of my attention, and sapped my confidence. I would always fail, and fall safetly onto the rope. Where was this cross talk coming from?

I meditated on this question for some time, and decided to travel back east and try to make 'friends' with my parents. Perhaps, it was guilt for running away from home, and for depriving my projenitors with the closure that they deserved. I arranged the trip, and carried it off with my charactoristic mixed results. When i arrived back in the west, I set out to climb 'burning in hell'. It was far too steep for my feeble frame, and the holds were simply too far apart to reach! to my delight, i found that the mental conversation had ceased, and i could, at last, concentrate on pulling myself up the rock.

None the less, i continued to fail miserably. In searching for the flaw, i quickly discounted the physical side. I was not a genetically gifted climber, but was highly trained and free of injury. I looked around me, and saw many young climbers attempting to excell. It was thought at the time that lots of pre climb meditation was needed, along with all kinds of shouting and good energy from the onlookers. So, i tried the opposite things. I ceased the pre climb meditations. Instead of practicing the moves in the air, or bragging and beating on my chest, i started bringing a chess set, and found a partner that liked to play games in between our attempts.

There was a huge difference! We would be playing chess, and suddenly, i would glance up at the drastically overhanging wall and notice that no one was climbing. I would hop up and tie into the rope, drag my slippers on in seconds, and begin to climb. My belayer would remain silent, and ask any other onlookers to refrain from the customary yelling. I started to reach the crux of 'burning'. But, being the warmest part of the summer, I would be too hot by then to make a huge reach while pulling myself to the right with my toe under the roof. Obviously, one more ingredient was needed.


One day, i encoutered a large 'possee' from Boulder Colorado in the cave. They were trying 'burning' also, and were attempting to overcome the heat by resting in the shade, and then spraying the climber with cool water just before they began. There was plenty of chest beating and yelling. None of it was working for them, but it gave me an idea for an empiracle experiment. So, seeing that the route was empty, i broke off a chess game, and went out into the hot sun. i began to run up and down hills, and do jumping jacks. I came back into the cave breathing hard and dripping with sweat, and tied myself to the rope. After asking for quiet, i quickly reached the top of burning without any difficulty. furthermore, i could always do it fairly easily after that!

How weed helped me to do Pumparama

So now, i had the basic ingredients to do short, hard routes consistently. I could do long easy routes with no rope, but was still having trouble with routes that are both long and hard. I was in Rifle, Colorado, trying to do the second ascent of a long, very steep route called Pumparama. i decided to quit smoking weed for the season, to see if that was sapping my endurance.

i got good at the lower difficulties, so that i was reaching the final tiring headwall, where i would melt off of fairly easy moves. With some disapointment, I watched the 2nd and 3rd ascents occur while i continued to fall near the top. In the autumn, i finally gave up, and a few superb guys from Oregon offered to help me to retrieve my equipment from the route. Since my quest was over, i could now smoke weed, and we kicked the hacky sack and got really stoned below the wall. The wall was so steep that the only way to get the quick draws off of the bolts was for one person to lead it, and then another person could remove them while climbing the route with a rope from above.

Those guys were smart, and knew more about the issue than i did. So, they convinced me to bring the rope up there myself, even if i had to hang on every bolt. When i started, i heard them begin to say calming things in a conversational volume. They were the opposite of battle cries, and i was disconnected from any expectations of success. Of course, i made the top easily without getting tired at all! I mean, there was never a moment of doubt. Again, I had succeeded because i was willing to experiment. However, in this case, the experiment was to stop consuming a drug that could never be of use to an elite athelete.

To elaborate further, i had quit canabis at an earlier age, and then visited the eye doctor to find that i had the glaucoma that runs through my family. So, quitting canabis for the summer probably lost me a bit of sight around the edges of my visual field. If there is a lesson, it is that there is no magic bullet that leads to triumph and success.

After these experiments, i began to ignore all of the folk wisdom of climbing. I ceased with any kind of special diet or silly sport snacks. As the climbers turned from street people to affluent office workers, i became a object of ridicule; with my ancient ropes, course manners and ripped blue jeans. But, once i had realized that climbing was just a part of ordinary life, i did much, much better. I would feast on boiled eggs and baked potatoes while the others ate power bars and 5 dollar bags of spiced tuna. I learned what to say to the office workers so that they would not yell at me while i was climbing. I learned to choose partners very carefully. One could often find a Norwegian or an American mechanic or farmer to climb with. i learned to hide from the crowds of weekend warriors, and to camp and climb with others that 'lived' climbing.

I repaired climbing shoes out of my truck, so I had no need to travel to a city to obtain income. There was no sense of security, and litterally no safety net at all. There was something else besides sucurity and safety. And here is the catch.... it seems that the safety is illusury. Just like there is no way to get fat enough to live out the rest of your life without eating food again. There is no way to get ones bank account fat enough so that one is 'really' safe. Human safety is not in obesity or wealth. Indeed, it is the opposite! Safety is in avoiding extremes of poverty, illness and injury, and healing from these conditions faster than new misfortunes arrive. It is not so important to entirely avoid hunger, extreme behavior, or risk. Life is like a big machine, with inputs like food and information, and ouputs like poop and behavior [and even new machines!].

Ones machine does not run in outer space. It is emersed in a sea of other machines. That is the complicated and important part. It is the interactions between the machines that is 'seen' by the universe. One's inner struggle takes place largely in secret. There is already a concept of the 'good deed', but 'good deeds' are not strange abberations of behavior motivated by a supreme being upon nearly senseless single cell organisms. 'Good Deeds' are the way that cells of some kind of extended body cooperate to maintain life. Death will be assured if the cells of this proposed body loose all contact with one another, and each cell behaves as if it were alone in a harsh and dangerous environment.

I do not suggest that anti-biotics, bombs, guns and tall walls are of no use in this system. If the universe were like that, there would be only red blood cells needed in the circulatory system, and no need for militaristic [and potentially harmful] white blood cells. How does one deal with situations where love will not work? This question is to be answered in another essay, as this writing is about maintaining a healthful ballence between two extremes. Here are some strange tips for getting older:

All of your friends will die. As tempting as it is to pick one or two humans, and consider them to be all of humanity, this approach may lead to a series of balloon popping events. Eventually, one may just give up the drivers seat after enough of these deflating events. I am pretty sure that I have seen this happen to many humans. As I look around, I see a kind of deep communication between humans that is not easily explained by Physics. As mentioned, I believe that this somewhat unseen 'bobbing of sparks' in the huge darkness is the real business of humans. Avoiding unbearable regret can be as simple as remembering the sparks while wallowing in the earthly mire.

Later, you will not remember the times of total comfort. It will be the times of rapid personal growth that stay sharp and clear in the memory. As long as the growing outpaces the dying, well, that is called 'life'. This should slightly redefine the meaning of 'safety'. I mean, sometimes, a person's way to see beyond themselves is to run really, really far, or to try a dangerous activity. So, there are grades of foolhardyness, that range from attempting to fly from a tall building, to trying a friendship with a human that is not exactly 'inside the box' of comfort. Being too 'safe' can itself be a kind of danger!

So, what is the summary of this essay? Do I suggest that everyone quit their job, and start bungie jumping and hitch hiking about? Well, if you are frozen in place, and no longer growing, some kind of shake up might be in order. But, I am not suggesting that one pilots ones own ship by constantly making random course corrections. One picks far off gails, and heads in that direction. If the ship is not making headway with the sails how they are now, the sails are reconfigured. Although one makes one's own choices, one stays on the radio with the other captains who are out there, themselves making choices in the dark and briney deep.












 



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I am a fine art photographer and filmmaker. Lately, I have been doing panoramic images of the Canyonlands area, and printing them using archival materials. These large images are placed in work cubicles and homes, and can sometimes briefly transport the viewer to a contemplative location.