During my time in Central America — on the trip that would become my book Vagabond Dreams — I pondered one important question: how to turn living into something more than just existing.
Time is our worst enemy. Youth seldom considers time; it seems so endless. But youth is characterized by hopes and dreams, and old age is too often the realm of unrealized hopes and dreams. What’s in between? Is that where I found myself at that moment? Or is there in fact no in between at all, just the sudden shock of realization that it’s all ending and you haven’t even begun?
With knowledge of the name and nature of one’s adversary comes the power to take direct action. Here is the fork in the road. You can throw up your hands in despair — it’s all for nothing so why bother — or you can grab Time by the throat and squeeze as much as you can out of it by way of experience. Both choices are equally valid. In the end it’s all for nothing. Time is the predestined winner. The game is fixed. But I think the path of Experience is the more heroic of the two.
To pursue the path of Experience is to squeeze the most out of Time. The time-obsessed have no patience for triviality. I’m constantly amazed at how we nickel and dime our lives away on useless details and inane things: obligations, manipulations, pointless babbling phone calls, make-work projects done just for the sake of form. We bleed ourselves to death with a thousand tiny paper cuts. Refusing to drag around those anchors is a significant step towards finding personal freedom. Cut away the sandbags and your balloon will soar.
Busywork obscures the important things in life. The meaningful gets lost among the trash. Like a sculptor, we must cut away the unnecessary to reveal the minimalist core within. This includes cutting away unnecessary people, those relationships that drain you, those people who pull you down. In doing this, some will call you selfish. They want something from you. Their method is manipulation through guilt. You assume obligation; it isn’t automatic.
Western society has lost touch with the vibrant core. We live our lives at second hand, through movies and TV. We’ve become middle class people made cowards by our own possessions. Our lives are geared towards comfort, swaddled in narcoleptic routine. We’ve become afraid to live deeply, and so we live vicariously through fictional characters instead, and through the exploits of others. But that isn’t living.
Leave the papers in the pile unshuffled, unstapled. Someone else will do it. And if no one does and they slowly turn to ash, their true importance will be revealed because not a thing will change. The world won’t end. But when Time is judged the victor of your lifelong duel your world will end. It’s your choice what to make of it. Do you leave a legacy of paper in tidy piles, or a rich store of experience that vanishes when you do? Only you can decide. You have only yourself to answer to. In the end the clock will win.
Life can’t be lived by other people’s rules, not society’s and not religion’s. The great philosophical discovery is that there aren’t any answers. We put too much importance on the questions anyway. We die and the dream dissolves with a hiss.
We have an interval and that’s all. All our moments, both significant and insignificant, will be lost in the mists of time. The Judgement Day question has nothing to do with morality. It is, in fact, “Was your life meaningful?”
This life is so tragically short, but we let so much pass by. We obsess over trivialities. We take on guilt and unhappiness through self-imposed judgements and labels. None of those things are real. Judgments and labels are so much smoke in the air. In the end nothing really matters much. You’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.
The heroic path is to live! No regrets. No apologies. Roar at the top of your lungs and punch a hole in the sky! Cry hot salty tears and pull out your hair at the sheer cruelty of time! Laugh and love like a thousand Zorbas! When your light goes out let it end with a flash, not a fizzle.
‘Live’ is an active verb, not a passive one. Don’t plod through life in the Third Person. Claim this brief life as your own and live it.
Sometimes opportunity really will knock only once.[Ed. Note: Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. His first book is called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America.]