Dear E & V,
Life is awesome.
It provides you with the opportunity to explore a reality rich in experiences that can be used as building blocks to make life what you want of it. I’ve written before that my own personal purpose in life is to live a life that is a work of art — to live a beautiful life. To me, that means having a rich variety of experiences and ideas I can live from in order to have more ideas and experiences that I can live: a benevolent cycle of a beautiful life.
While I’m by no means 100% content with my life, I am content enough with what I have and what I have accomplished that were I to die today, I would die without the fear of death.
I’ve reflected on the things I’ve done in life so far that have made it worth living, and hence are some suggestions to help you have a deeper, more profound experience of reality. They’re not in any rank or order, and will all provide you with different mediums with which to build your beautiful life:
- Have a child in your life: This doesn’t necessarily meaning having your own kids. It could be adopting, fostering, teaching, aunt-ing/uncle-ing, mentoring, or even coaching kids. Children have a unique way of viewing the world that makes it almost impossible not to laugh or enjoy life with them. Their appreciation for life is contagious and a joy to share.
- Have a meaningful and intimate relationship: You will have your fair share of heartbreaks and heartbreaking, but if I have done my job as a father you will end up in a relationship with a significant other that will change your life like nothing else. Everyone of my past relationships has helped me become a better person in one way or another, with your mother being the ultimate beneficial person in my life. Finding someone who you can share anything with and who pushes you to be your best self is a wonderful and fulfilling experience that can’t be replicated any other way.
- Volunteer as a first responder: There are a few reasons I put this one on here — it provides you with unique adventurous experiences, you make a very real and immediate positive impact on other people’s lives, you serve your community in a self-less manner, you get to be a part of a tight-knit group of other first responders, and you regularly confront mortality and death (see the next point for more on death and mortality). This is something I wish I would have done at a lot younger age, as the experiences it has provided me have been deeper than words can express.
- Experience death: I wish that I didn’t have to experience your Grandpa’s death when I did, but it’s something I cannot change and it has had a deep impact on me. I’d like your experience with death to be a bit more controlled, but I think it should happen either way. When you confront death — either by having a near-death experience (please don’t seek this out!) or by seeing death as a first responder or even just visiting a morgue or funeral home — it makes death less scary and it makes life more beautiful. When you’re less anxious about death it’s easier to experience life more fully.
- Eat something that’s not normally eaten by your culture: This is one of my favorite and easiest ways to get out of your comfort zone and find new foods to enjoy. I’ve had whale meat in Norway, pig intestines in Argentina, french fries and gravy (poutine) in Canada, silk worm larvae at a Thai restaurant, crickets from a health food store, bull testicles cooked by your Pa in southern Virginia, cactus at a Mexican place, and a number of other foods you would never find in a fast food restaurant. Some of those I would never try again and others I still can’t get enough of. But it puts into perspective the cultural stigmas behind what’s “okay” to eat and what isn’t, and how those moral decisions are rather arbitrary.
- Fast for a long time: I once went 72 hours without any food and only drinking water as part of a challenge sponsored my my university’s philosophy and religious studies department. My two friends who joined me dropped out after 24 hours and 48 hours respectively; I was the only one I knew who made it the full 72 hours. I am saying this partly to brag, but also to give authority to what I’m about to say: fasting this long is a great way to show you just how powerful your willpower can really be. It was a painful and very uncomfortable experience, but in the end I only had the belief in myself to rely upon. One of the best confidence boosters I’ve ever had.
- Live in an impoverished area: Living in Baltimore county, I meet a lot of people who refuse to go into Baltimore city because of the perceived danger and “scariness” of the poverty there. To put it simply: it’s a culture and way of living that they don’t understand so they fear it. I’ve lived in areas of Baltimore city that many people would be afraid to drive through, and they’re not even the worst neighborhoods. You won’t understand until you’ve lived in a poorer area that most the people living there aren’t any different than you. Are there more bad people there? Maybe, depends on the area, but its still not the majority. Are the houses more run down? Usually. But most the people there just want to live their lives, go to their jobs, and live in a decent house. I’ve had neighbors who have made me cakes and neighbors who have yelled at me for stepping too loudly on my stairs. I’ve had to avoid certain streets at certain times because I didn’t want to be hassled by drug dealers and enjoyed streets blocked off for neighborhood festivals. The media does a great job at portraying the poverty and violence but a shitty job of portraying the sense of community and amazing people you’ll share a beer with.
- Live in a country that doesn’t speak your native language — by yourself: There’s something energizing about having to fit into a culture and use a language that is completely foreign to you without being able to rely on a friend or family member for support. You build a sense of confidence and self-reliance as you learn that humanity goes deeper than what you speak, wear, and eat. Your connections with the friends you’ll make will last lifetimes (some of my favorite people are ones I met while studying in Germany 15 years ago). You learn that nationality is arbitrary to what makes a good person and that most people are pretty happy as long as their basic needs are being met. Plus, experiencing new countries is really just fun as hell.
- Go skydiving: Skydiving is an exhilarating way to confront your mortality. Stepping our of the plane you realize that you there is a small chance you may smash into the ground, and whether or not that happens is completely out of your control. It took me a minute to grasp that as I was falling through the air at 120 miles per hour, but once I did I stopped worrying about it and had a beautiful sense of calm come about. I then took what little time I had left to enjoy the Hawaii coastline from a perspective I’d probably never have again. Afterwards, you kind of realize that most things in life — including death — aren’t that scary after all, even when you’re headed right for it.
- Own a business: This is the only experience on this list I haven’t undertaken, but one that is at the top of my bucket list. But the reason it’s on this list is the lesson you learn of how to create value for other people. It’s different than volunteering because with volunteering people will take anything that’s free. But if you want them to part with their money then you have to start challenging yourself to show them how you can provide value to them and how your good or service will help improve their life. These sales skills will be invaluable for being successful in other parts of your life as well, not just for your financial wellbeing.
- Create a dish from scratch: I’m not talking about buying raw ingredients and mixing everything together and tossing it in the oven. I’m talking about growing, harvesting (plants)/killing (animals), and cooking everything from start to finish. First of all, you gain an appreciation for how much work goes into putting food onto your table. Second of all you appreciate the fact that something — plant, animal, fungus, bacteria, etc. — is giving their life so that you can live. Through this you will understand that taking life to survive isn’t inherently cruel or kind, but how we do it is (and even then — do you call the tiger cruel for crushing the throat of its prey?). Third of all, you’ll gain an appreciation for the differences between callous industrial farming and respectful/sustainable natural farming.
- Stare at the Milky Way on a dark night: You’ll have to travel far from a city to be able to do this, but I can’t think of any experience that makes you feel more at one with the universe. First of all, the image of all those stars and the galaxy alone is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see. When you stare at it, you get an understanding of just how vast the universe is — because you’re staring at such a minuscule portion of it! At the same time you get an appreciation for how significant your existence really is. Yes you’re an extremely small part of the universe, but you’re a part of it nonetheless. The chances that you should exist here on earth are so small that it’s practically a miracle — and one that you should continue to appreciate.
- Push your physical boundaries (but don’t break them!): It is an amazing feeling to push your body to it’s limits — whether its by joining the military, running an obstacle race, or setting a weight lifting record, experiencing the capabilities of your body is one of the best ways to really feel alive. To put it in a quote from Socrates: “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a [person] to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which [their] body is capable.“
- Mentor/teach/coach someone: Whether you know it or not, you have something you can teach someone about life. One of my favorite non-traditional teachers is Mike Johnson of PerpetualSaturday.com, and one of my favorite quotes of his is “You may be the only Bible that someone ever reads”. EVERYONE has wisdom to share, and EVERYONE has value to provide. It’s a meaningful, impactful service that you can provide to millions to make a positive difference in their life.
- Build something from the ground up with your own hands: The most meaningful things you will create are the ones that you build yourself. It can be pottery, a painting, an app, a piece of software, a house, a process, a program, a diet plan, etc. The sense of satisfaction you’ll get from completing a project all by yourself is like nothing else you’ll ever experience and is one of the best ways to build confidence in your capabilities.
- Go for a hike at 4am in the snow: Quiet. Snow is an amazing sound absorber, so when you go into an area that’s already pretty quiet — like a forest — and walk in the snow it really feels like you’re alone with nature (or your thoughts, pick one). Being alone in the woods while its eerily quiet brings a sense of serenity like nothing you’ll ever experience, except possibly inside a sensory-deprivation chamber.
This list is obviously not an exhaustible one — there are thousands of ways to experience life in a way that is meaningful and life-affirming…like figuring out what a meaningful and life-affirming experience is for you!
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.