“I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry rot. The proper function of man is to live, not merely exist…I shall use my time.” ~Jack London
There’s a reason why people have mid-life crises. There’s a reason why people make bucket lists. There’s a reason why people say, “spend your money on experiences rather than things.”
The reasons are simple: life is fleeting. We only have so much time. So, the question is do we want to spend it afraid, risk-averse, unhealthy, and caught up in a sick society that keeps us lazy, comfortable, safe, secure, and wasting our life, or do we want to spend it with courage, on a quest, taking risks, challenging ourselves to be healthy despite the sick society that surrounds us?
Of course, most of us would like to think that we would choose the latter. But most of us will end up choosing the former out of fear of the unknown, discomfort, and a plethora of excuses.
But there is a way to break the cycle. There is a way to transform our boring life into something at least a little less boring. There is a way to come alive despite a culture that seems to want to keep us half-dead.
We break the spell by looking at our life as a quest rather than a grind. There are three ways in particular to do this. The quest for adventure, the quest for truth, and the quest for beauty. Let’s break it down.
The quest for adventure (the hero’s journey):
“The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Focus on what makes you come alive. Because what makes you come alive is the best way to reap the greatest fruit and joy from life. Everything else is moonshine. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. Split the smoke. Shatter the mirrors. Let your aliveness boldly blast through it all.
Taking the Hero’s Journey is the epitome of a life well-lived. Escape the default setting. Set up spaces where self-empowerment and uncomfortable blooming are possible. Make possibility possible.
Begin by asking yourself terrifying questions. Dig deep. Plow your way into the Underdark of your psyche. Encounter your shadow and reconcile your differences. Then the rest of your journey takes care of itself.
Taking the hero’s journey is daring to take the grit of your current self and test it against the rub of the universe. It’s taking the coal of your current self and testing it against the pressure of a challenging world. It’s taking the dullness of your life and sharpening it against the whetstone of challenge.
If you survive, then you’ll have become a pearl because of the rub. You’ll have become a diamond because of the pressure. You’ll have become sharper from the sharpening. But without the rub, the pressure, and the sharpening, all you’d have is grit, coal, and dullness. All you’d have is a wasted life. So, stop making things easy for yourself. Test your mettle the crucible of a life well-lived.
Indeed. Even a bad adventure is better than no adventure at all.
The quest for truth (the search for knowledge and wisdom):
“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions, all life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Truth Quest is the primary quest of life, whether we are living it or not. Life is one big truth experiment. But most of us fail. We fail because our need for certainty has us clinging to aspects of the experiment at the expense of ever learning what the experiment has to teach. We forsake the Truth Quest for the “truth,” and thus lose our ability to live on purpose. We forsake the cure of curiosity for the disease of certainty.
As Robert Greene explained, “The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.”
Those of us who are able to detach ourselves from the experiment gain the benefit of learning from it. For we realize that life itself is a grand experiment and we are the experimenters. We are the mad scientist, and our life is our crazy invention. Our curiosity is our sword of truth cutting through all so called “truth.” So forget certainty, forget being serious, be curious.
Begin by reading philosophy. Read about stoicism, absurdism, and existentialism. Read Plato, Socrates, and Epicurus; then move onto Kant, Hume, and Nietzsche. Let Albert Camus drag you kicking and screaming through absurdity. Let Ernest Becker break down the human condition in terrifying detail. Let James P. Carse tear your perception of reality apart with his Infinite Game.
The truth will always be elusive. So be it. It keeps life interesting. It keeps us on the edge of our seat. It keeps our Beginner’s Mind ahead of our Master’s Complex. It keeps curiosity ahead of certainty. Stick to the path. Destination Truth will never be attained. And that’s okay. Because when you’re on a Truth Quest the Quest is the thing not the Truth.
The quest for beauty (appreciating and creating beauty):
“Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need, we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.” ~Roger Scruton
Learn to appreciate beauty. Natural beauty, manmade beauty, cosmic beauty. All beauty. Train your eyes to fall in love again and again. Sometimes the only way to experience the beauty of things is to think about things in a beautiful way.
There’s beauty in a grain of sand if you have the mind to see it. There’s beauty in a blooming flower as there’s beauty in a dying flower. There’s beauty in the light as well as the dark. There’s beauty in imperfection. There’s beauty in madness. There’s even beauty in hypocrisy. Your scope for beauty is broader than you might imagine. A quest for beauty will help you reimagine Beauty itself.
Begin with the profound beauty of solitude and meditation in nature. Lose yourself on a mountain, a beach, an ocean, a canyon, or even a desert. Rediscover the sacred balance between Nature and the human soul. Listen to her speak a language older than words. Distinguish healthy from unhealthy. Soak it in like a primal sponge, risking sanity for divine connection. Decipher the inexplicable into something explicable. Then bring it back to the “tribe” as magic elixir.
Then move onto the beauty of humanity. Not only the mind and the body, but the soul as well. The soul of humanity is in its deepest art. From paintings to poems, architecture to acting, singing to sculpting. Human beauty is captivating and awe-inspiring. All cultures have a unique beauty that is only eclipsed by their striking similarity.
Then realize, deep down, that you are as human as all the people who created such beauty. You have beauty within you waiting to burst forth upon the world. Your Muse is the cosmos.
Use beauty to transform your life. Better yet, create something from it that transforms the world. Make art that demolishes the status quo. Make it, as Nicholson Baker beautifully espoused, “So good, and so twisty, and so shadowy, and so chewy, and so boomerangy, that it requires the forging of a new word for ‘beauty.’”
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Life as a Quest—The Cure for a Wasted Life) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.