Metaphor from a Mountain
How can I live such that each day I can say my time remaining will be even richer than the sum total of all that I have already lived?
Last week I had the privilege of spending three days with friends in Ashland, Oregon. Mostly known for the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland and the surrounding region are also home to a beautiful array of mountains, forests, parks, and tributaries. On our first full day, we climbed to the top of Mount Ashland. At the 7,532-foot peak, the highest point of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, we reflected on our lives – what had come before this moment and, most importantly, what lies ahead.
I sat at the summit taking in the breathtaking beauty of the views, and I thought about my own life. It occurred to me that if I'm lucky enough, it’s possible that the remaining time I have will be even more fulfilling than my entire life so far. The mountain became a metaphor for me, with the ascent representing the time I had already lived and the descent the portion of life yet to unfold. I began to ask the question, “How can I live such that each day I can say my time remaining will be even richer than the sum total of all that I have already lived?” I realized that for this statement to continue to be true, I need to be fully present. I need to be completely attuned to not just the peak experiences like the one I was having at that moment but to the banal, everyday moments.
I recognize as I write this that at some point, it will become impossible to say that the quality of the rest of my life will exceed all that I've already experienced. There is a sort of mathematical improbability to the statement – an asymptotic paradox where each successive day on average must be exponentially more fulfilling than the previous day. To take it to its logical extreme, I would have to believe that my very last breath would contain within it such pure joy and exquisite presence that the quality of the experience of the final breath itself would exceed the sum total of all that I've experienced before that breath. But what if it were possible? As I prepared to descend the mountain, I saw a glimpse of this possibility in the vast expanse of nature. And I left the summit determined to live my life as a test of this very possibility.
1. An important longitudinal study providing evidence of the positive impacts of pre-K education was just released. This will surely play a role in the current administration’s efforts to pass universal pre-K education legislation.
2. If you haven’t seen the documentary Free Solo, I highly recommend it. The movie captures Alex Honnold’s free-solo ascent of the 3,000 foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Here is a recent HBR interview of Honnold in which he shares lessons from climbing and how they apply to creativity, problem-solving, teams, and leadership.
3. A quote I’ve returned to this week. “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.” – Epictetus