This is a follow-up to my essay "The decision tree" which can be found here:
You're riding the sportbike on a technical road or track, quickly following the riders ahead of you, braking to shed speed, leaning through the turns, straightening up the bike, revving the engine until it's screaming with rage and joy, and you're propelled forward by the awesome acceleration of the racing bike, and you do it over and over again, until every fiber in your body is vibrating with the thrill of the extreme speed and the world disappears in a fast receding blur.
And there's one thing that moves you, one thing only that floods and overwhelms your perception until everything is seen only through the filters of this driving principle.
You're at the gym and it's Friday and you've been through one hell of a week, and you're tired and fed up and probably something inside you would like nothing better than just take a long vacation, but you're gripping the metal with your bare hands and there's one more set to complete, one more rep and it's over, and your body seems to tell you that this is it, it can't be done, stop now and go home, but you go ahead nevertheless and push against the iron bar to lift it one more time, one more rep, against everything that your instincts are telling you, against that seemingly unmovable resistance, you push harder and harder, and your muscles scream in agony, and the calluses in the palms of your hands hurt, and there's a voice saying "this thing is going to break my back" or arms or legs, but somehow the bar moves, and you complete the rep. And then you're like "one more rep, just one more, and I'm done". And you're doing it again, one more rep, against all odds.
And it's the same thing that makes you do that last rep, and then another "last" one, and so on, breaking all imagined limits, somehow accomplishing what seemed unthinkable just a few seconds before.
And while riding the bike something goes wrong and you crash and break something. And while lifting the huge barbell your body can't take it anymore and you tear a tendon or worse. And then you ask yourself - was it worth it? People say it's "the voice of reason" demanding to know if the price wasn't perhaps too big - but is it really the rational mind the one asking this question?
It should be fairly obvious that no significant achievement is possible without this inner drive that makes everything seem easy. Think of Edison trying to figure out how to make the light bulb, and failing hundreds or maybe thousands of times before succeeding once. Think of Scott or Amundsen walking thousands of miles on ice towards the South Pole, or Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest, and the issue is self-evident.
Oh, I see what you're saying. You're just an ordinary person, you have no intention of conquering the South Pole or the Everest. You will probably never invent the light bulb so then why bother?
This, my friend, is the beginning of your downfall.
It doesn't matter that you're not the next Edison or Einstein. It doesn't matter your endurance is nothing compared to Amundsen's. But if you lack intensity, even your "normal", average life will be second-grade, refurbished material. You need intensity just to be a good citizen, aware of the world you're living in, able to make correct decisions - a human being whole and awake. And life itself seems to fade out and lose its colors when intensity is lacking. Yes, it's fairly easy to exist and function, but to Live - that's an entirely different matter.
Just look around you, at the people who lack this drive to bring more intensity to their lives. You've seen them before, you see them every day.
They're the fat asses with their eyes glued to the TV screen all day long. Oh, yes, lacking intensity will make them fat asses, for sure, but that's merely the insult. You see, the actual injury is that their brains, too, degrade and are not much more useful than mere handfuls of porridge - same texture, same color, pretty much same value.
Oh, I'm exaggerating? But then how do you explain the innumerable herds of sheeple, content to absorb and then parrot back the propaganda spewed out by the spin doctor du jour? Do they look like real human beings to you, endowed with free will and rational judgment?
They live under the heavy boot of Falsehood and Ignorance, and are not even aware of it.
Have you tried to speak the truth and nothing but the truth, no matter what, for a few days? It's an amazing experiment, and the conclusion may not be what you expect. If you manage to do that for a day or two, you were just lucky. If you did it for a whole week, you're probably a saint. Anything beyond that, and you must be a god in a human body.
But nevertheless you did it, and eventually you failed. Now look in the mirror, with all honesty, and figure out why you failed. What do you see?
You failed because you were weak. At some point, it was just too much, it was easier to just tell a small lie, because the alternative would have been to spend an impossible amount of effort to live up to your own words. You lacked strength, you lacked intensity, and you gave in to falsehood.
Have you ever witnessed an injustice and failed to stand up and set the wrongdoer straight? Why did that happen? Well, this is easy, isn't it? Same thing, you lacked strength, you lacked will power, you were afraid, weak, the life in you was void of energy and you just fell down like a deflated puppet and crawled whimpering under a shrub.
So perhaps now it's clear why you need to load up that barbell and tear down again your own limits. It's clear why you must swing your leg over the saddle and rev that engine and go play on those winding roads in the canyon.
Intensity is Life. You're not really living when the life in you is about as intense as in jellyfish. You must capture this energy, learn to summon and control it, hoping that some portion of the awesome torrent will trickle down into your daily existence, make you whole, make you better, wake you up and bring some truth to this otherwise mechanical act of living.
So you're back on the bike, chasing again the group of riders railing through the turns. All your perceptions are amplified a thousand times. You pack in a single second about as much awareness as in a whole day of "normal" living, and riding the 100+ horsepower is the closest thing to flying you will ever experience short of taking the pilot's seat in a jet fighter.
Your intensity is back, full throttle.
And so is your life.
Post scriptum and notes
I was talking with someone about these things, this attempt to push back the limits of what one can achieve physically, and I tried to illustrate the experience as seen from inside. The context of the discussion was spiritual, referring to some meditation techniques of various origins. I came up with the paragraphs below, which definitely belong in this series of articles, but are not big enough to require their own installment. For what it's worth, this is the text - I feel it's very relevant to the matter at hand:
I am not sure whether this is a closed chapter in my life but it's clearly on hold at the moment. In any case, it was a foray into a realm of Vital experiences. Quite fun in and of itself, but at some point, something strange happens.
As you're pushing harder and harder, trying to shove back the limits of what you can accomplish, driving up the intensity gauge, higher and higher, at some point the material, physical (and in fact, per its true cause, vital) feat becomes transparent and somehow unreal.
And then something starts to glimmer behind it, some kind of Truth or Freedom, you can almost touch it, and you can quite powerfully feel it, radiating, warm with joy, shining in its own light. It doesn't descend from above, but springs forth from within. It steals your heart forever.
You look at it and you go - ooohh, I get it, this is what keeps moving things forward, people towards higher achievements, nations towards greater common good, races towards greater power and joy and intelligence, and the whole evolution towards the Omega point. It swipes you off your feet and it moves you to tears for having the privilege to glimpse it however partially and incomplete. And you would give anything to make this experience permanent, final and complete - to have it with you forever, burning to the full extent of its power. And you know you will come back again and again, to make it grow, to sow it deeper, so that it will never leave you again.
It changed me (*) in ways I could not imagine years ago - due to these experiences I ostensibly suffered physical loss in some ways, but gaining the insight into that truth at the top of the intensity mountain I feel is a lot more valuable and important. There's also the comparatively more trivial gain of realizing that what I thought were "limits" were in reality no such thing - just shadows projected by transient obscurity and inertia.
(*) change - more of the inward kind. Outside the shift is minimal, not much to see, just the same geek, now with more wrinkles, less hair, and scars to entertain the kids with stories.