Way back in 2002, smack dab in the middle of my 4 year active duty career in the Air Force, I spent just over 100 days on a deployment in Pakistan. Depending on who you are and what you’re doing, 100 days can either feel like an eternity or a flash in the pan. The reality of our situation was that we only had to do 3 months there, while most of our Army counterparts would have been lucky to leave after 6. Keep in mind that this was prior to the invasion of Iraq, where soldiers routinely went for year long tours, came back for a few months, and were sent right back out for another year long tour. A 100 days was a long time for me to be in the middle of nowhere, especially when the alternative was that I could have been in England getting legally drunk with my new British girlfriend.
Even if I didn’t fully comprehend the ramifications at the time, those 100 days in Pakistan had a profound impact on me and how I view the whole of the wide wanting world. Many mornings found me waking up to vivid remembrances of cheeseburger dreams; I wanted what I could not have. Don’t get me wrong, the food in the chow hall tent was ok, even if none of us believed that the tuna salad actually had any tuna in it. Almost every meat tasted more like a “mystery meat” than whatever it was that they were calling it that day, which is fine, we had food that wasn’t MREs and we had plenty of it. What we didn’t have was the good shit, a greasy hamburger from your favorite burger joint or a juicy sirloin from the best steakhouse in town. More than anything, we thought about how much we wanted all of the things we no longer had access to. You know that the brain has gone to a weird place when you’re daydreaming about a McDonald’s burger, I mean seriously.
That which a person wants, but cannot have, speaks volumes about the core of who a person is. It’s that aspect of my time in Pakistan that I’ve recently been comparing to my current journey. Giving up something that you do not have may seem harder on the surface, but the reality is that you have no other choice – it is what it is and that is all it will ever be until it is something different. Giving up a thing that you have direct access to… it might actually be even easier than the former(enter shocked face). This doesn’t apply to drugs, alcohol, and other especially addictive substances, so let’s table that conversation for another day. Giving up that juicy burger is easier precisely because it is so accessible, I can have it exactly whenever I want. The burger wasn’t even an option in Pakistan, which only made me want it more, because for some reason the people on this planet are never satisfied with what they have, they are almost always reaching for that which they cannot have, will likely never have, and would be no good for them if they got it anyway!
I’m in no position to tell people where the lines for reasonable expectations are. If you want to buy a house, work hard to make/save money and buy that house. If you want to be a CEO of some company, then put in the extra hours and move up that ladder. What I am in a position to tell people about is how unnecessary those things are and how much happier we could all be, if we were more able to focus on that which we already have instead of on the future self who has that which we think we need. Annnd that’s a mouthful.
You might be asking, “If giving up something that you don’t have access to is easy, and giving up something that you do have access to is easy, where’s the hard part?” I’m glad you asked. A true test of strength would be in not just giving up something, but in also giving up access to the thing.
After much thought and careful consideration, Alex decides to join a monastery. This particular monastery requires a strict vow of silence, 8 hours a day of prayer based meditation, as well as 6 hours of basic to heavy laboring. Seems hard right? What if I told you that Alex has millions of dollars in the bank, would that change your opinion of how difficult Alex’s vows might be to keep? What if Alex gave away all possessions and money, with nothing left to her name but the clothes on her back, does that change anything?
There is a certain level of uncomfortable commitment that is necessary before an abstention can have any real value. Uncomfortable commitments can come in so many forms, I only used the money based scenario because it’s the easiest for most people to relate to. We can give our time, our hearts, our thoughts, and our smarts. The journey that I’m on now is easier than the journey that was forced on me back in Pakistan because I have the power to choose when it ends. If you see evil in the world that is easily within your power to change it, even if the change is only on the tiniest of scales, and you still view that change as a “choice”, then you need try harder. I need to try harder.
I want to talk more about this… later.