A question I’ve asked myself repeatedly on this trip is whether I should stay or go. Should I rest after the day’s hike or go to a bar with people from the hostel? Should I stop my hike here or continue up the volcano? Do I climb one more before I leave Ecuador tomorrow? Stay an extra week? Go back to New York?
My tendency in these cases is to come up with a mantra to guide future behavior. Do the uncomfortable thing. Listen to what your body is telling you. I attribute some of this to reading and writing too many manifestos, but it’s also a general part of growing older. It’s a human tendency.
When we’re children we have fewer such rules. We learn some of them to protect us. From things like burning our hands on a hot stove or walking off a building. We learn all our rules to protect us, actually. Except that as we get older it tends to be from more abstract threats, like discomfort and regret. Across time and volume our mantras can calcify, lead to the very things we’re trying to prevent.
I say to myself: Stop making these rules! but that’s dangerously close to becoming its own rule. And in practice, the rules are more like a new shirt you find at the store – you try it on for size, it seems to fit, you bring it home and wear it the next day, maybe again the week after, and over time it either becomes a part of your wardrobe or hey, actually, that’s not really me. Your tastes change. You grow out of it. Or it’s no longer trendy or functional. Sometimes, as soon as the week after I tell you about some rule I’ve come up with in regards to my writing process, I’ll find that it no longer fits.
Maybe the name for when you stop making these rules for yourself is Wisdom.
Or maybe it’s Death.