November 9, 2003

Make Up Your Mind

I go through periods where all I can concentrate on is the specific, and I eventually reach a series of revelations and then all I can think in is the general. It’s always progressive, never regressive, always moving forward to some unknown goal. Recently I’ve been in a specifics stage, and right now I’m on the cusp of entering a general stage. I can look at life, focus on the small things and draw far-reaching inferences as to the nature of reality; how our universe is composed, the best means of arriving at truth, what this elusive “truth” actually is, etc…

Right now everything is related; atomically, molecularly, mechanistically, socially, naturally, etc. I can take what I have learned in many different mediums and apply them across disciplines. I feel like I have lived a million lives since I moved out here, since I left for college, since I was born. I have done so many things that are, on the surface, greatly unrelated, but I feel it is my duty, in order to justify my existence both to myself and to a lesser extent others, to explain how they relate to one another. And from my experience of how they relate, we can infer grand universals of the universe writ large. It’s heady stuff, but it’s important stuff.

“Why do humans do what they do?”

“How does that relate to natural law?”

“What is natural law?”

With this last one I’m not necessarily questioning the premise that there is a natural law, that there is an objective universe. I’m just curious how many layers we need to peel away until we have an accurate representation of that universe. If you’re down close to the Earth the surface looks flat. If you’re on a mountain it resembles a dome. From space it looks like a sphere. Toss in the strange relationship between gravity and a massive body’s ability to bend the fabric of spacetime, and the Earth is four-dimensional. Back away far enough and it is reduced to a pinpoint of light.

All my lives, my millions of lives, all seem to have at least one thing in common. Me. It is a clumsy concept of me (as Hume pointed out in his Bundle of the Self theory), but I insist that there is something mental, spiritual and physical (keeping these words conveniently undefined for the moment) that is constant and forms a cohesive whole of my doings, my experiences and my memories. Me. And what have I done? The list is extensive, and is absolutely incredible for the short amount of time it has all taken place in. And now with Bend on the horizon, the list only stands to get longer.

And it’s already so long that I can’t keep it all straight. My mind often finds itself befuddled over its history. No matter, though. Look forward. Live in the now. Recall the past, but don’t dwell there. If you remember neat things, like tossing frisbee with Bee Dub friends at the Sandbar on your second day in Hood River, cool. But don’t get hung up trying to conjure memories. It’s too much work, and it just gets in the way of creating new memories.

Taken individually, nothing I have done is all that impressive, but really to have an accurate understanding you need to look at everything in context. Pulling them out and looking at accomplishments on a plain white background is conducive to analysis, but an abstraction of real life. In real life we’ve got concerns like hunger and hydration and stress and bad memories and good memories and states of euphoria… all things that indeed make up our own personal realities, but are all variables that need to be momentarily forgotten during the analysis phase. And maybe that’s why my brain feels so fuddled; that to evaluate my experiences I need to detach them from the very things that make my experience. Lunacy, indeed, but it is a thought. Maybe I don’t need to try as hard as I think I do. Just relax, breathe deep, and let the life flow through you.

The experience of climbing Mount Adams was unlike any other. Waking up at 1:00 in the morning, donning our headlamps and crampons, trudging up glaciers and false tongues to the Lunch Counter, and then starting the brutal ascent to the false summit. Yikes. To think that a year ago I was in my apartment penning an essay or something, with mountaineering nary a glimmer in my eye. We humans are more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for, we are, we are.

But I remember the feeling as we climbed towards that summit and my lungs ached to keep oxygen in my body. There was no sound but the crunch of my crampons, the sound of my breath and the rush of blood in my ears. The only sound was what I carried with me, a personal biological orchestra. I remember those last struggling steps to the summit, atop a huge ampitheater of ice, as I rested and gasped for air every ten feet.

I remember that there was no fanfare at the top, there was no rush of emotion. There was no energy left for it. The pictures I managed to fire off were exhausting and irritating at the time. Relief did not come at the summit, as there was too much exhaustion to waste precious energy on emotion. Physical relief only came after we reached the car and threw down our packs, but the spiritual lift didn’t strike me until later, after my body had recovered. The mental fed off of the physical, which was busy denying emotional responses that should have been present in times of great accomplishment.

So much of climbing is a mental game. There were times when Joe was completely convinced that he couldn’t make it to the summit, and times when we flipped and I wanted nothing more than to give up… the desire to be back at home in bed with a mug of tea. "Why can’t the mountain be just 1,000 feet lower?" you ask yourself, even though you know the answer. Because it can’t be. You are here because it is the exact height it is, and realizing this you are forced to shoulder right up with reality and accept your fate.

In mountaineering, existence becomes binary. You can either go up or you can go down. There’s no question of whether you want to bake muffins or make an omlette or eat out, or maybe skip breakfast entirely and go kiteboarding. It’s the lack of options that makes mountaineering alluring, the brutal simplicity that exists when you have sealed your fate in making the summit. You’ve already set the pieces, learned what you need to know, packed the right gear, chosen the right climbing partners… now you just need to take everything you’ve got going on inside and channel it to the top of the world.

And that, my friends, is the rebirth of Universality. As in Mountaineering, as in Hood River, as in Life. There is a logical structure to all things; the question is only whether or not we have enough time, patience, reason and interest to figure it all out. You only get one shot at the whole deal, so you best make the most of the time you’ve got.

And troublesome questions like these should not plague your everyday life, but should be set aside in moments of intense consideration, in an attempt to improve your direction and passion in the things that matter the most to you. Because ultimately, that is all that matters.