Friday, April 16, 2010

Achieving Life, further thoughts

Achieving Life. I feel like I've talked about it too much. I feel like I've barely touched the tip of the iceberg.

I'm well aware that achieving life is a weird phrase. By its construction, it seems like it's something you earn: a promotion, a victory, a prize. Only the prize fits. And it must be earned. But the prestige is always private. The glory always hidden. In its simplest form "achieving life" means... joy and the fullness thereof. But I use the phrase "achieving life" instead of "being happy" for two reasons: 1- Ayn Rand uses it, and I want to pay homage to her by using that phrase and 2- because I don't want you to be confused by what I mean.

What's joy? Is it just an expansion of happiness? Is it, like so many Christians blabber about, eternal and thus different from just plain 'ol happiness? When people speak of happiness they speak of chucking sick days to take off, paychecks, the Yankees winning the World Series, a new gadget, breakfast in bed, a night out drinking, parties where you get drunk and hook up randomly, vacations in the Caribbean. No, joy is much more than those things. They're nice but not enough. They can move endorphins but not the soul.

Joy is deep. Ecstatic. Effervescent. Overwhelming. Welling up from the depths exploding into reality. It fills up your being so that there's no room for thought. The Romantics pegged poetry correctly when they believed that it should be composed in quiet contemplation remembering passionate moments. It should not be composed in that moment.

Usually when I think about joy I think about competing in triathlons. The hot-blooded thrill of churning through the sea of arms and legs in the swim, zooming on the bike and tearing up pavement on the run. I think about the sun burning in the sky and my soul burning twice as hot in my gut. And I can't stop smiling. No matter how much the body hurts, no matter how out of nutrients, how torn the muscles, I never stop smiling when I race. And as I storm across the finish line I let out a giant roar and beat my chest. Joy.

The first time I wrote about achieving life, I wrote it after I did yoga with Kendra. A phenomenal teacher that I consider a huge blessing in my life, I'm glad to have begun my practice with her. I achieve life, I joy when I practice yoga with her. When we practice my mind and my body fall away and I simply live, I simply move. And afterwards, when we're done, I walk away feeling 10' tall and floating 6" off the ground. No fist-pumps, no shouts or hollars, only the realization "That was joy."

And when my girlfriend took me to see Cirque du Soleil's "Ovo" this past Wednesday she saw my jaw slacken and my eyes widen. I get that same child-like look when I witness joy in others. And the grace of the movement, the playfulness and artistry, the explosion of color, even as I call up the memories I feel my fingers slow and another smile stretch across my face. Joy remembered.

(Pictures not my own. Taken from a photoblog here which captured the Toronto show.)

To be honest, I'm dissatisfied with the stills because as beautiful as these pictures are they lack the energy and movement, the astonishing and haunting soundtrack (that I've been listening to ever since) that happens when you experience the show live. This is what I think about when I think about joy. Energy. Movement. Beauty.

A life you've achieved should be beautiful. Not a fake beauty like the air-brushed mannequins on men's magazines but surpassingly beautiful like a live Cirque, like an honest smile.

An honest smile for an honest life. It fits doesn't it? Playing beer pong does not seem like an honest life. Drinking, dissolving reality in alcohol, seems like a protest against life rather than life itself. How is that honest? Clicking your way through thousands of channels, watching a show because it makes you forget the fact that you're alive with powers and abilities beyond any animal, gifted with locomotion and initiative, does not seem honest. Thumbing through endless magazines, buying gadget after gadget, iPod, iPhone, iMac, iPad, I want to know if there's a reason beyond impressing others. No, that doesn't seem like an honest life.

Let me be clear here. I'm not advocating that people run off and join the circus, practice yoga (though that would be great), or register for a triathlon (that would be horrible as races are crowded enough as it is). These are merely metaphors. They worked for me. You cannot follow me in the same way I cannot follow anyone else. That's what honesty... integrity, is. You are what you are. You love what you love. Your life is what you live. So go and achieve your life.

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