Wednesday, June 4, 2014

On Abstinence and Effort:

Warriors, Old and New
Toledo, Spain
Photo Credit: 
A. Massey Productions

Caked sweat, blisters, jock-itch, opened veins with blood pooling onto the hot desert sand…

Face paint, nostrils filled with gun smoke, explosives, heat stroke, lots of yelling, hospital waiting rooms, dance parties across the street from hospital waiting rooms, more explosives…

Press interviews, photo-ops, miles upon miles of marching, pain, fatigue, tears, and even more explosives…

These are just some of the things I endured during my last week of advanced combat training in the military. It was intense to say the least. But then it was all over. After a lengthy graduation ceremony with pomp and circumstance, led by a rather boorish army Major, we were sent home for a weekend of rest, recovery and recuperation.

Immediately upon returning to my apartment I dipped my cracked and calloused feet into a hot soapy bath. Armed with a large glass of Scotch I tried to reflect on the week’s pass while allowing the instrumental Jazz music that played from the speakers in the other room to soothe my aggressive spirit. I had done it, finished what I had set out to accomplish. It was grueling but I persisted and even through my exhaustion, flames of honor burned in my chest. I was damn proud of myself.

Yet, I was also heartbroken. My latest occupation had nearly killed one of my greatest loves: writing. Because of the demands and urgency of the military I had little to no time to write. Even when I found the time to put pen to paper all my work seemed like shit. Nothing flowed like it should and the words failed to excite. It was almost as if nothing stimulated me anymore.

Suddenly, right then and there, I got it! In the midst of my brooding I was smacked in the face by Mother Inspiration herself. Scotch still in hand, I bolted barefooted out of the bathroom and stumbled into the bedroom to find my ever-ready pen and pad. After close to a half a year of writer’s block I had finally found a cure. The cure, coincidentally, was found in it’s own symptoms: Vice, pleasure, debauchery, excitement, and inspiration.

All is for pleasure or the absence of pain. Sounds hedonistic, I know, but even religious folks who fantasize about their afterlife when they die are expecting a heavy dose of the world’s favorite pastime: feeling great!

Thanks to once-booming economies and a technological revolution, many vices and devices these days are quicker, stronger and easier to acquire. The buildup of waiting for something exciting is a thing of the past. This is, in theory, a fantastic phenomenon. It has led to increased pleasure, quicker feelings, more sophisticated sensations.

Except when we become desensitized to it all — then we feel dead.

Connectivity is stimulating and in today’s new age we are overstimulated. Furthermore, things like fame, validation, success and attention — feats that once took lifetimes to achieve — can be accessed with a single upload. Up until the Gulf War a soldier had to wait up to weeks to receive a letter from loved ones. Now, thanks to instant messaging, communications are streamlined even overseas. Modern thinkers blame Globalization and the media for bringing various “EXCITING” issues traditionally scattered around the world — such as war, crime, poverty and natural disaster — into the everyday living rooms via TV and internet. Ironically, it is possible these days to feel the horror of a murder, tsunami, rape, or coup d’etat that took place halfway across the globe even before you get to work.

But as we are pumped with heavier doses of strong sensations, from things like lightning-fast connectivity and hyper-consumption of now affordable luxuries, our dependency as well as capacity for pleasure grows. This can have long term consequences. One in particular, aside from desensitization, is the lack of triumph usually felt after working hard to achieve something.

In a way this is how narcotics effect the psyche. When ingested, strong drugs pique the pleasure plateau to shockingly high levels in a fraction of the time normally needed to achieve those results naturally. For example, if, in one day, you ran a marathon, volunteered at a food bank, planted a tree, cleaned your room and saved a panda you would undoubtably reach a lofty level of self-worth. All that hard and fulfilling work would leave you feeling encouraged, happy, proud and overall pleased with yourself. Unlike the pixie dust that some indulge in, those pleasures took hard effort to attain. It will last and be available even longer through memory and tangible proofs. You won’t just pee it out after a painfully long withdrawal process.

If the military has taught me anything it’s to appreciate the small things as well as things I had previously taken for granted. With all luxuries limited as of late, I have a new appreciation for everyday gifts like hot showers, tasty food, human connection, entertainment and even freedom.

Surprisingly, the army’s limitation of all these things has transformed me not only into a reflexive warrior but, in many ways, a happier person. When I have that free time I’m more conscious of it. Every tune is magic. Every kind pair of eyes is adored. Every uninterrupted night’s sleep with my boots off is a miracle and, of course, time in general is better utilized.

Boredom is not a fun state of mind. But even with increased stimuli and options we can still feel empty. I know I can. The idea is to pace yourself. Have something to look forward to. Limit yourself and let desire develop. Savor the flavor and enjoy the chase. Fight for lasting pleasures and take your time enjoying them.




After much time (unwillingly) abstaining from hot baths, groovy music and anything remotely close to Scotch I was finally able to properly enjoy myself. What followed resulted not only in renewed excitements but the restoration of the even greater pleasure of creativity. And with that, I got more than I bargained for.