Perhaps for that one fine day you were able to do it. As you committed to the deepest of commitments standing among your family and friends you thought: this is it, and it is enough. No wondering when or how you will be happy. No capitulation to the random desires that endlessly flow through your mind. Nope. Just gratitude to the point of disbelief, to the point where wanting is a foreign concept.
xxxxxxxxx kinda always knew how this could happen. He and I were fresh out of Torres del Paine travelling alongside an outrageous character – a guy who hiked “off trail” an entire day so he could avoid paying the $20 entrance fee; wore Walmart boots, jeans, and a hooded sweatshirt1; and whose calories came from nothing more than a loaf of bread and some dinky cheese slices – when it was time to rest for the night. xxxxxxxxx and I shared a room while “the character” negotiated a reduced rate for his own room by vowing to not use the bed, but rather to set up his tent on the ground, inside the hostel bedroom.
At this point in the trip, xxxxxxxxx and I had already discussed so many of life’s questions. Some answers had emerged, many had not. Due to curiosity, my own personality where silence = bad2, and surely to boredom as well, I kept pushing.
xxxxxxxxx: Maybe we aren’t supposed to spend so much time thinking about all this stuff.
xxxxxxxxx: Yea, maybe we are doing it wrong. Maybe we are able to dwell on these unanswerable questions because we haven’t filled our lives with something more important. Like, if you have a family, you can’t constantly ponder the universe, since people are counting on you. This reality encourages focus on what can actually be controlled. Furthermore, getting to care for your loved ones, for anyone other than yourself really, is more rewarding than constantly thinking about yourself.
The more I ponder this, the wiser it becomes. And like so many insights, its beauty lies in seeming both obvious and profound. Sometimes these two forces contradict each other: what is obvious can’t be profound, and because of perceived lack of profundity, we are less likely to adhere to the suggested principle. This illusory contradiction is exacerbated as the principle becomes cliché; when everyone says “LIVE FOR OTHER PEOPLE,” the advice trends toward irrelevance.
This is where careful attention to the why, not just the what, need be paid. Too many people who utter versions of what xxxxxxxxx said offer weak defenses. Like, Family is all you have3 or They would do the same for you4 or It’s the most important thing.5 xxxxxxxxx may well agree with those points, but he knew that the most compelling reason to do anything is a selfish one: find other people to love BECAUSE it’s a worthy escape from the cavalcade of existential thoughts that are ultimately less fulfilling. This is not the only reason to love, but it’s a unique, non-obvious starting point, and so its uptake is increased.
Let’s say you are convinced. So much so that there you are getting married at Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. And you reach that highest form of living defined simply as not wanting to be anywhere else, doing anything else.
Alas, these moments are fleeting. As Alexandre Dumas wrote:
Dantès, who three months earlier had wanted nothing except freedom, felt already not free enough, but wanted wealth. It was not the fault of Dantès, but of God who, while limiting the power of man, has created in him infinite desires!6
So, while I know not of what currently resides in your mind, I would safely wager it again features a level of wanting. This wanting, though, is now more manageable since you are equipped with a defense tool in your partner. Because, truly, all the ingredients that existed on June 9, 2018, are present today. The promise of xxxxxxxxx’s principle was never complete elimination of self-centered thoughts, merely a relief, a control. You won’t always utilize the principle, but you always can. Having a loved one around is an ever-present reminder of that fact. When you opt-in, for seconds, minutes, or days, the wedding day state can be recaptured.7
Thanks for including me in the wedding and for giving me plenty to think about (other than myself).
- This was particularly preposterous given the snowy conditions.
- This is far less true for me today.
- Maybe true in the 16th century, but not today.
- Not anywhere close to being absolutely true, and even if it were, this isn’t that motivating.
- Tempting, but why is it “the most important thing”?
- From The Count of Monte Cristo, a book of overwhelming wisdom.
- Or so I think. Ha.