I wrote this four months ago at the start of my travel through Bali and Thailand. Somehow I failed to post it to this blog. I still stick with it, so here it is. I hope you make something of it.
Life is so ironic and paradoxical. We want to live the best life possible. To do so we have to go and find the best. Do the best. Be the best. But at the same time, it’s our natural biological, psychological tendency to protect our lives.
In protecting our lives we shy away from moments of greatest greatness. We dodge excellence and settle for mediocrity. Then we realize that it’s out there, the best is just beyond our feebler attempts, and we jump. And we find the richness of life again. And so we dream, we try, we get, we fear, we hide, we miss, and we dream again.
Seneca encourages Serenus to live with his throat bare to the threat of Fortune’s knife. Only then will he be his fullest self and realize his fullest potential. Gladiators, he reminds us, are admired when they show contempt for life. Not when they want to protect it. We stand in the arena of life and are judged the same way by Fortune (On the Shortness of Life).
What does it mean to live with no reserve? Who can do this and find truth and meaning?
As a novice rugby player in college, and a small one at that, I had two choices when stepping on the pitch (what we call the field). I could try to preserve myself because I was afraid of getting hurt. Or I could let go of myself and give without holding back. Either way I was bound to leave the pitch with some bruises; the difference was that in trying to preserve myself, I would suffer the hurt.
When I let go of my fear, I stepped into the arena without inhibition. I thought clearer; I moved better; I tired slower. There’s more success in letting go and giving all: more of a chance of getting to the ball before the opponent, more likely to bowl than to be bowled, more likely to make a better move with first assessment of a situation. To hold back is to keep myself from the edge of the game. I won’t know who to pass to, which gap to slam, because I won’t be there first. I’ll end up instead at the bottom of a very painful scrum.
This may sound like life in general. Putting yourself forward through fear presents opportunities not available to most other people. Not available to yourself either, if you had stayed back or hesitated.
Living with your throat exposed won’t get you what you want every time. But as a philosophy it certainly keeps you on the fresh, developing edge of your life. There’s a caveat to this. Seneca applies this mode of life to someone who “has such self-confidence that he does not hesitate to make a stand against Fortune and will never give ground to her… And he lives as though he were lent to himself and bound to return the loan on demand without complaint.”