The struggle and the pursuit of modern wellbeing.
Let’s focus on the struggle which I believe is just another word for action, it’s the ‘getting going’ moment, the lift off from the launch pad. The energy required for the struggle is vast, its expensive, its dangerous but its also spectacular. It’s the head turner, the applause raiser and the initiator of the pat on the back, it’s also the moment that conjures up schadenfreude in others.
Yesterday I watched SpaceX launch Heavy Falcon towards Mars with David a practice member of mine. Heavy Falcon is the most powerful rocket on the planet (now off the planet) by a factor of 2 (thanks David for this fact), it’s twice as powerful as anything that’s come before it. You can watch the launch here. You’ll notice as the rocket powers itself away from earth (eventually reaching ridiculous speeds) that it seems to hover just above the earth for a while, we held our breath as the jets screamed and smoke billowed and then, slowly at first, Heavy Falcon took off, gaining more and more speed As it reached an altitude in which the air was now thinner and provided less resistance the engines had to pull back so as not to go too fast, once it punched through the atmosphere entirely it was full throttle again. A stunning display of engineering and modern science. But at what cost?
In short and without getting into the boring details that make you wonder wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere? I can say with out a shadow of a doubt, heaps of money! FYI I’m not a details guy.
Oh, and there was applause, yelling, whistling, clapping and indeed schadenfreude. At the time of the launch there were 150k viewers on SpaceX’s facebook live, after the launch was successful and two of the rockets had landed safely on earth the number of eyes on the facebook live had dwindled to just over 90k. I estimate all of these viewers were quietly watching hoping this would be a catastrophe (aware there was no life on board the craft) hoping for an explosion that didn’t arrive.
The red or blue pill?
I love the movie The Matrix, not only because it was shot in Sydney or that a mate of mine from my childhood was in it but because it poses the question: would you rather float gently down the stream in a world of computer derived fantasy or forge your way in reality, against the stream and woke to the lies? Neo chooses to be Woke AF even though he’s not sure if he’s ‘the one’ but his bald mate with goatee decides he’d rather go back to sleep and float down the stream, he’s sick of eating gruel and wants to taste steak and red wine even though he knows it’s not real. This guy always comes across as a rat, weak and feeble, but how would you go in that scenario? Where do you draw the line in the sand? Where do you uphold your values relentlessly? It ain’t easy, the struggle is real.
But just for a minute, think about how that makes you feel, can you empathise with Mr Goatee? Don’t you sometimes wish you could just take a pill and bypass the struggle in order to have ripped abs and olive skin? Or be charming and funny? Or have a constant flow of new business? Do you think Elon Musk wouldn’t rather just click his fingers and be on Mars?
Of course. I know I do. Every damn day.
But here’s the kicker.
The struggle doesn’t last forever, in fact as far as I’m aware the struggle that we experience is the shortest lived of the 3 stages of Action but only in proportion the speed at which we face our fears.
Our ancestors experienced struggle as we do and as our future generations will, because it’s hard wired in our nervous system to ensure our survival. We struggled or we died, the beginning of any action occurs when the cost of not struggling is greater than the cost of struggling. In order for us to over come it there either needs to be a movement away from an unbearable cost or it must be doused with liberal doses of fun. Develop heart disease through a lifetime of struggle aversion (ps not the only way to develop heart disease) and subsequently restrict your lifestyle (at your cardiologists insistence) to stay alive or join an active community, meet friends and get fit together both strategies keep you alive longer but one puts you in the drivers seat of your own life.
What we have lost in our modern society is that pain associated with our drive towards survival. It hasn’t been removed but it has been moved. It’s been placed further away from our immediate experience. We no longer feel the pain of real hunger that forces us to hunt and fight, the scarcity of shelter that would expose us to cold and heat, the day and night cycles that make us stop and go. Now we can have it all and at any time and its getting in the way of whats really valuable for a healthy life. Action.
As I explained in the opening sentence, struggle is action, its action with a particular feelings, and I would say it’s commonly not nice feelings. It’s action mixed with fear, anger, resentment, pain and self doubt to name a few. It’s the foundation of action, it’s the base, the starting point of action and for most of us it sucks, with one exception.
When I was a kid I used to play on our trampoline with my brother and our two sisters. Occasionally we would even sleep outside on the trampoline, like backyard camping. I was the oldest and biggest and although we all went to sleep evenly spaced across the trampoline by the time I woke up we were all squashed on top of each other with me in the middle. Fun right? So fun. It was so funny trying untangle ourselves with sleeping bags, pillows, arms, legs and toys. Getting up became a struggle but it would be filled with giggles (BTW the physics that explains why we end up on top of each other involves the term ‘space-time continuum’, feel free to read about it here) and there in lies the difference, if the struggle is reframed as fun the problem is already half solved..
My point is we may have been squashed together but the fact that it was fun made the struggle almost irrelevant.
So what has all this got to do with the pursuit of modern wellbeing?
I think in order for us to be well we need Action and in order for us to achieve this we need to move away from where we are. This poses a challenge that leads to the struggle. He struggle is real. Reframing it and choosing when and how to struggle is the modern humans gift.