We've been taught that the good life is found in comfort—in luxury, in relaxation, and in doing as little as possible. Those best living the American Dream have the constant experience of the highest comfort with butlers, drivers, cooks, maids, secretaries, and assistants to anticipate their every want and need. At that pinnacle of comfort, one shouldn't have to do so much as lift a finger, every desire as satiated as possible in every moment.
Is constant comfort, ease, and luxury the real pinnacle of human experience, though? The rightful aim of the western world?
I don't think so. In fact, I've increasingly come to see comfort as false gratification, as the wrong target most are unknowingly aimed at.
I don't believe I’ll live to grow old. It's not that I think I'm going to die young or burn out before thirty because I'm living so hard. Rather, I know all too well that life could end at anytime.
When I was sixteen years-old, a mosquito bite almost killed me. I went to bed with a piercing headache, and if it wasn't for my mother's investigation of “strange noises,” I would have been dead the next morning. More than a close encounter with death, though, I struggled with the consequences of that illness the following two years.
This mosquito transferred a virus to me that infected the fluid surrounding my brain, causing it to swell and compress my brain resulting in multiple grand mal seizures, a stroke, and leaving me in a coma for four days. Over the couple years it took to fully recover my speech, my struggles were a constant reminder of how close to the edge of life I had gone. Every time I lost my train of thought, every word that wouldn't come out mid-sentence, every time I was told,“It's alright, Ethan” when I stopped a conversation dead in its tracks, was yet another reminder of life's fickleness.
Inspired by two books I read this spring, I started a philosophy discussion group in Silver Gate, Montana this summer.
My first encounter with the idea came from Shantaram, an incredible chronicle of an adventure in which the main character is swept up from the slums of Bombay into the city's all-powerful mafia. His first encounters with the mafia leaders occur at their monthly philosophy meetings. The second encounter came in Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, where I learned of Franklin's Junto, a weekly discussion group composed of a dozen rising tradesmen and artisans in Philadelphia.
In both books, these discussion groups seemed a vital ingredient for success, communication, and organization of both character's communities. I simply thought, "Why not try to start my own?"
I released an application a couple weeks ago for a Chautauqua, a gathering with the purpose of exchanging ideas about how to live. It was meant to be a six-day experience of wilderness, introspection, and discussion hosted at the Range Rider's Lodge—a big, beautiful log cabin structure I manage in the summertime located a mere mile outside of Yellowstone National Park.
As the innkeeper of the Range Rider, I got a sweet deal to rent the entire building at the end of September. By day, I envisioned long hikes, mountain climbing, wolf watching, and exploration of some of Yellowstone's best, often overlooked areas. By night, a couple speeches and small group discussion of the things that underlie our actions in life. I envisioned us riding the high of alpine forests and breathtaking mountain vistas while we shared the whys and hows of our lives.
From Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin, to Oscar Wilde and Ralph Waldo Emerson, great thinkers throughout history did more than read the books they picked up. Many wrote and storedthe most useful, profound passages in something called a Commonplace Book—an easily review-able collection of wisdom and ideas for their personal use.
We humans forget much more than we remember. The Commonplace Book was a sort of outboard memory, a way to keep and revisit our most insightful insights. In the 18th and 19th centuries, these collections of wisdom were so popular that "commonplacing" was an actual term for the act of writing in your Commonplace Book.
Somewhere along the line, Commonplace Books retreated from popular culture, yet thankfully, never disappeared completely. A year and a half ago, I discovered and began to build my own based on the index card system of one of my favorite authors. Today, I'm 56 books in and have over one thousand index cards comprising my Commonplace Book. I recently filled up my first "shoe box" of index cards, a milestone that inspired me to finally write this article.
Leopold Huber is the founder Hippohelp—a new, totally free, map-based work trade website that can help you travel the world for a fraction of what your journey would otherwise cost. I absolutely love this site, it's navigable map feature making it the easiest work trade site to search for volunteer opportunities wherever you want to go.
Browsing the map on Hippohelp, I chanced to encounter Leopold's own farm in Guilin, China! Fascinated by this young entrepreneur turning his own soil in the Far East, I wrote and asked if he'd like to share a bit about his life and Hippohelp with readers of The Living Theory.
We all know some things are so small that we can't seem them. But what we often forget to consider is that some things are so huge we can't seem them either.
I would like to point out one of the latter to you.
This was a discovery years in the making. I encountered a piece here, a piece there, wondering for a long while what they meant in relation to each other. The first piece I picked up about three years ago reading one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In all the books I read, I circle passages that I find useful or profound and write each down on a 3x5 index card after finishing the book. I have well over a thousand of these cards now. Most are useful or convey remarkable insight, but one particular card from this novel pointed to something mysterious, something I wrote down in hopes that I might one day understand:
Stop, just for a second, and ask yourself: "When's the last time I did something I had never done before?"
Really think about it... Do you have an answer?
Back in May, I went for a run in the heat of a summer afternoon in Phoenix. The sun cooked me as I coaxed myself along a six-mile route I'd run many times before, but never in such oppressive heat. Halfway through, I became woozy, increasingly unsure I could keep lifting my feet. I slowed to a walk, feeling like I might faint and immediately my face and hands were overcome with a tingling sensation of pins and needles. I staggered along for what must have been a couple minutes until the feeling subsided, then finished running the last few miles. It was the closest I had ever been to overheating. I've gone for a thousand runs, yet I'd never pushed myself that hard. I'd never experienced anything like it before.