0525 – strive to transition from ordeal to adventure

There are many metaphors for thinking about life. One of the most common is probably “life as journey”. Birth is the starting point, death is the ending point. Along the way you travel. You rendezvous with others. You part ways. You hit dead ends, or a rough patch.

There’s also I think this seductive sense that life is supposed to be a grand adventure. I’m thinking of a quote from Charlie Chaplin’s The Dictator:

> “In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

Similarly, Alan Watts said,

> “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

That’s a somewhat privileged perspective, of course [1], but there is truth to it at least for those of us living in corporate-cubicle-civilization-land, AKA the developed world AKA the primary source of whiny thought pieces such as this one.

Anyway. So the point is– we start out in life hearing [2] that we’re supposed to seize the day, live our this grand adventure. [3] To live our lives with passion, with drive. To find out what we care about, what makes our soul sing.

And then we enter adulthood and we discover the flipside of the coin– that on the the other side of the Adventure is the Ordeal. Actually, we learn this even before adulthood. School can be quite the ordeal. Keeping up with shallow social relations is an ordeal. Developing a healthy self-image and self-concept in a world bombarded with advertisement and appeals to ego and lowest-common-denominator desires is an ordeal. Staying alive is largely an ordeal.

It’s interesting to think about how (it seems to me that) parents tend to try to prepare kids for this, and yet kids tend not to really internalize it. I suppose you don’t know what the ordeal really is like until you really encounter it.

The point I’m trying to explore is… how does one transition from Life as Ordeal to Life as Adventure? What are the precise steps that need to be taken?

Let’s go through the possible outcomes.

1. Your life is really an ordeal. It really, really sucks. You’ve got parents and children to care for, you’re not making a lot of money, you’re basically in crisis mode 24/7. Maybe there’s a war going on. In this case I think it’ll be pretty tough to think of your life as an adventure. At best maybe you might see it as a “glorious” ordeal, like maybe God has given you a great challenge because you’re the only one who can handle it. I don’t know, I’m not a religious person but I imagine under such stressful/difficult circumstances it might be consoling to imagine it as such. Or maybe the secular equivalent is that you live a life that is an example for others, to inspire others. Either way, hardly an adventure.
2. Your life FEELS like an ordeal. It seems like an ordinary middle-class existence. You have enough to get by, but it’s a struggle. You hate your commutes, but you don’t need to worry about the precise details of how you’re going to pay to top up your bus/train cards. You don’t have a lot of free time, and when you do you’re typically so tired that you end up indulging in very superficial crap just to distract yourself.

Well, I guess those are the two main scenarios. If your life is already an adventure, or feels like an adventure, then you don’t really have an issue. Enjoy it. Hopefully in a responsible way. [4]

I guess where I’ve personally been stuck is– if life is an ordeal, obviously you batten down the hatches and solve your fucking problems like a man. But if your life FEELS like an ordeal, is it really? Is it not? Should you just “wait it out”? Should you just distract yourself? You know you don’t have “real problems”.

But the perception of a problem is still a problem that needs addressing just as much as any other problem. If things feel like an ordeal, maybe there’s something broken with how you’re feeling (which needs correcting) or maybe you need to correct something else. It seems like the first thing you should drop would be the mindless distractions– you probably need rest, mindfulness and sleep instead.

I feel like there was something substantial I didn’t cover in this vomit. Something about predictability. Part of the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is predictability. If you’re trapped in a box of things that you already know, and the world outside of that box is scary and unfamiliar and you’re not going out there, and you’re being grated by your circumstances (bills, mortgage, obligations, responsibilities), it’s probably an ordeal. If you’re getting out of your current box and expanding it, then it’s probably more of an adventure. We’ll explore that later.

[1] Those of us who are born in relative safety have the luxury of being engaged in the present and calling it play. There are still billions of people in the world living in incredibly harsh conditions, and it would be insulting to them to tell them that they ought to interpret their struggles as play. [1]

Yet probably a surprising number or proportion of them are likely to actually do just that, and be happier and more satisfied and laugh more and have better social relations and so on. So there IS probably something to the idea that modern civilized corporate cubicle life is dehumanizing. It’s tough to make comparisons.

[2] When I say “hearing” – where are we hearing this from? Is this what parents talk about? My parents never really talked about that, they talked mainly about getting a good job, earning good money, not having to struggle. To escape and avoid the ordeal, I suppose. Because that’s what they were subjected to. And they must’ve hated it and resented it so bad, and wished they could’ve bypassed it altogether.

[3] The latest iterations have been “eat pray love”, “live laugh love”, travel, wanderlust, look at auroras, take pictures in beach resorts and Europe and… argh.

[4] It’s always possible to just drop everything and go crazy, maybe run away from the country, go backpacking or something. I mean, just take grand decisions. The question is– what about your responsibilities and obligations? If you don’t have any pets, children, etc– if it’s just you, then enjoy yourself. But otherwise you need networks of relationships to take care of things, etc etc.

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