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STOIC POETRY | Getting off the boat

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

September 28, 2019

Dear Eric,

I wonder who you became before you were no more? I only met you that one time after our lives parted ways after college and you seemed mostly the same. Did you ever become anyone else? Did you ever live more than the one life you enjoyed when I knew you in youth? Did you even want or know how to change? For all your smarts did you understand that to become someone else we must first sometimes pretend to be someone else?


There's no dishonesty in play-acting. Sure, others - especially those who already know us - may see right through the pretend and wonder or even tease us about our seeming charade. But this trick of make-believe is a good one, especially once we've fooled ourselves and forget to act. And then we suddenly find ourselves in a new role, with new clothes perhaps and a new persona, and new surroundings, and possibly even a new life.

You can only become The person you first pretend to be

Becoming someone new, or living a new life, is a journey which sometimes requires a little help. We may need a gentle - or firm - nudge to get going; something to break the stable inertia of the life we live now. This is especially true when our current life is dug-in and settled, and when others cling to us demanding we stay; hanging on like zombies, hungry, not for brains, but for the security and comfort our presence brings to their own lives which they deem content, or which they have settled for; the life they now live and desperately wish you to live as well.

There's also our own fear and trepidation to deal with. This, in fact, is the biggest challenge. For who can become someone who they are too fearful to meet? Or visit someplace they want without first opening a door to step out? Or live a life imagined only in dreams? To these people I offer no consolation...little hope even. You will become exactly what you are. And if you do not like that person today, while you are young and fresh and full of potential, you'll probably not like them very much when you become old and decrepit and are dying, and the dream you had imagined all those years back is now as impossibly removed as a mysterious and inviting ocean isle passed by long ago during a journey across the sea. That foreign port is now long removed. Your final port-of-call is just ahead now in old age...the ship is currently making secure to the dock and you must soon get off. Oblivion awaits upon the shore. An eternity of nothing just ahead. Bring your failing body down the ramp now. Screw-up that sour expression into one last scowl. Think or even speak some pained, angry words to the world just as you've been doing for the last decade of old age, attempt to share your upset with everyone around you one last time. And then goodbye. You go to your oblivion with a backward glance perhaps and a vain hope of ever after. A longing look of pain at the imagined memory of a life you had not the courage or resolve to live. Goodbye. Or not even goodbye. Perhaps for some, good riddance even.

But there is another way... It isn't safe. It may not even be very sane. But it works. I guarantee you it works. Even if it wounds, maims, or kills works.

The Path of Wildness is easy to find The course of a stream Leaves blown in the wind A beast's track through the brush And the direction of our first inclination

The Path of Wildness is the hard way out of the youthful bind of indecision regarding the life of our dreams. The technique works even when we are older, though it's best deployed when we are young, and have so much more to gain from even the slightest course correction to our early life trajectory.

The trick is to identify our dreams for what they are, and then honestly assess which life we really want to pursue. Imagine yourself much older, and looking back to examine the pathway of your spent life. Which route, of the many before you, would you be most proud and happy to have lived? Which life would have been in best accord with the values you hold dear. Indeed, consider the impact on others; and if you've already made some big and important life choices and actions such as marriage and the starting of a family then I hope you'll give these responsibilities the very heavy weighting they deserve. In short, don't take on such important responsibilities unless you are really prepared to see them through. This is especially true with children, to whom your first allegiance must always be applied. Do not get married or have kids then too soon. As these are paths not easily diverted from without the potential of great upset to the well-being of those you have already committed to be there for. These responsibilities cannot be taken lightly. But even if you already made such choices early - as I did - then there is still a way.

But if you have not yet made such commitments, and you are in a sense free - sure, you've probably got family who want a say in things but this fact is nothing like the responsibility of starting your own family, and you can certainly tell the extended family that you will live your own life if you so choose - then get ready to plan your Great Life Adventure.

A Great Life Adventure is a key life activity and experience which taps into the dream you identified in charting your course along The Path of Wildness, where The Path is nothing more than the collection of facts you have accumulated about your dream along with the resolve and maybe a little gut-feeling needed to take that first step forward into such a life. Where will that first step go? What are you headed into? Whatever that is will become your Great Life Adventure. Whatever life you live, for a day or a week, or a month or a year or more is the experience which will make you into the man or woman you dream to become. But don't expect to return as any one particular being, as any exact type of person, or with the dream you've pursued intact and complete; for if you do your adventure right, you will likely become someone you didn't expect or even imagine might exist. This is the magic of a Great Life Adventure embarked upon along The Path of Wildness. It's a dream begun in some mystery, and nudged forward with some instinct, and then carried through with resolve despite the setbacks, pains or even some dangers encountered along the way.

And then who will you become? I don't know. I can't even suggest you will become anyone, as you might die along the way, even in the first steps. You must, however, accept that risk, welcome it even, for the trick of adventure to work. It's a gamble with your very life - a gamble with your everything, in fact. It's a risk of living you cannot ever repeat or return to. You must take that risk now, or soon, as the moment will very quickly pass and you'll never get it back.

But it you do go...if you set out on your own Great Life Adventure. And if you do step...if you do step lively upon The Path of Wildness. And if you do somehow return, then I'm confident you'll be glad you did when old age arrives at last, and the ship pulls into that last port, and the ropes go down and the gangplank is lowered and the captain calls you to depart. How will you appear to the world then? What countenance will you present as your last visage before oblivion? Something tells me you will go out with less regret. And that this will show upon your face, and your body, and your deeds and in the whole story of your life. And then you will be gone. And maybe the world will even miss you a little.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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