In Defense of Obsession
Rejecting a life of balance, and going ALL IN on doing you
Oscar Wilde is credited for saying “everything in moderation, including moderation”. The beautiful nuance of that life lesson can sometimes get lost when it’s parroted by someone using it to justify why they wolfed down a box of donuts after a run — but I digress.
I believe that a life fully lived is one that is steeped in extremes, on both ends of a polarity:
On one side are the fringes of hedonistic pleasure; tantalizing rich foods, hours of wild, taboo sex with a massive multitude of partners, and dancing to a tribal beat until the morning light with sweat flying off every square inch of your skin. The nocturnal nectars of youthful passion and savage lusts. To taste this side of life is to tango with your shadow. It is full surrender to a primal beast within which lays dormant under a veil of social convention, but is ready to rear its indulgent head at any moment it’s given permission — and sometimes when it isn’t.
This is excess for excess’ sake; where the only time is ‘now’, and consequences lay far outside the reach of conscious attention.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the extreme of stoic discipline; the adamantine suppression of comforts to forge ourselves in the blazing fires of deliberation and focus. Rejecting momentary pleasure to offer the deep and abstract gratification of knowing your suffering is edging you closer to your potential. This is a deep and intimate relationship with your resolve and your will that can only be known by bordering asceticism in your lifestyle.
Either one of these extremes offers more depth of experience than most ever allow into their lives, but either on their own can only ever offer a life half-lived.
One particular East Indian interpretation of the spiritual path lays out four purusharthas which are the steps to a fulfilled human experience:
1) Discovering dharma, which is both your purpose and duty: the worldly contribution which is unique to your character and personal blueprint. Everyone has natural tendencies, talents, and abilities which offers service to the collective when shared. Dharma is embracing this unique blueprint.
2) Pursuit of artha, which is the creation and accumulation of personal material wealth. While typically shunned by spiritual dogmatism, the pursuit of wealth can be viewed as pursuing the divine through self-actualization in the world, and embracing worldly abundance as a manifestation a divine part of creation, and is meant to be embraced and enjoyed.
3) Indulging kama, which is one’s desires for pleasures and personal ambitions. Whether desires involve fame, sexuality, adventure, or otherwise, it is integral for the growth of the soul to cross the threshold of experiencing it so that one is not consumed with the curiosity of what might have been. No fantasizing about greener pastures, no resenting your repressed yearnings, which can build up like the pressure in a shaken beer bottle until *POP* — you make a mess of everything. In colloquial terms, “get that shit out of your system!” Fully own what it is that you want out of life, go get it without judgement, and move onto your final chapter.
4) Arrive at your final destination of Moksha, which is liberation — the ultimate detachment and freedom from all the material and sensual possessions and experiences you spent the former part of your life accumulating, and realizing the ultimate infinite nature of the Supreme Self. This is merging your consciousness with infinity, a non-dual realization of the personal self with the eternal cosmos. Let’s put that in woo-free terms: you’re at peace with your mortality by virtue of a personal relationship with what you consider an ultimate greater force of which you are a fundamental part of.
This is the all-inclusive journey that sees no separation of the individual self from the cosmic self, acknowledging a union between the responsible and the sensual, the saint and the deviant. While most people will only ever experience one or two of these steps at the exclusion of others, they are here seen as non-competing forces — they are acknowledged as complimentary and essential to one another, the same way an inside requires and outside to exist.
My own interpretation of Mr. Wilde’s assertion that even moderation should be moderated is that the only way to experience a life of true excess, passions, and extremes, we need moderation as its structure. Our discipline is a foundation to create the necessary contrast to experience truly wild indulgence.
Extreme discipline when it comes to physical training and nutrition can equal immense sensual rewards. Yeah, you might spend hours and hours suffering alone, sore as hell in pools of your own sweat, constantly suppressing the inner voice that keeps asking “what the HELL are you doing?” You go for a kale salad in lieu of the cookie and latte like everyone else at work is opting for. But then again, you get to experience things that no-one else in the office gets to experience because of that.
Things like your body becoming a factory that mass-produces sex hormones and pheromones, and being able to ravage your partner in a raw, primal display of lovemaking for hours on end. Or the boundless vibrancy, focus, and drive that pours out into every other area of your life that lets you run circles around your colleagues. Or maybe even just being able to keep up with your kids and have the energy engage with them meaningfully as they’re growing up.
Most people will never jump into the raging rapids of either extreme discipline or experiencing extreme pleasure. They may dip their toes in, but they’ll avoid either pole for the same reason most people don’t nosedive into glacial rivers and experience the exhilarating rush of going ALL IN; it’s fucking uncomfortable.
It’s extremely scary to go against the status quo, owning what it is you want from this crazy thing we call life, and go after it with everything that you have. It requires sacrifice and immense commitment, it requires courage and mental conditioning against the primal centers of the brain wired for survival and safety. Perhaps most of all though,
it requires confronting a lot of social scrutiny.
As soon as you start taking action on achieving whatever it is you want to go after, it’s going to trigger the SHIT out of everyone around you who isn’t doing that, and needs to mentally justify why they are settling for average, opting for their comfort zone instead of their deepest desires. Any ounce of insecurity hiding below the surface of the polite smile is going to bubble up in the form of opinions, objections, and criticism.
As I talked about in one of my earlier podcasts, people want to preserve their models of reality, and not have their beliefs challenged. This is fundamental human psychology; a cognitive filter we are all subject to called the confirmation bias makes us reject information that contradicts what we already believe.
For most people, it’s easier to believe that they aren’t personally responsible for the lack of passion, success, health, or excitement in their lives. It’s way easier on the ego to blame circumstances, obligations, or whatever the hell else than it is to take accountability for their situation.
If you’re spending hours in the gym, start listening to audiobooks instead of Top 40 tracks, go to bed early instead of drinking so you can get up early and crush it, create copious amounts of content like podcasts and great articles on Medium (*cough cough*), then you’re going to hold up a mirror that reflects everything that a person could be doing to change their situation, but straight up isn’t.
What’s the easiest way to escape this “harsh attack” on a person’s pride?
Simple — just say that the way that the person is living is sacrificing too much or way too extreme to ever live a “life of balance”.
Fuck balance. Balance is a myth, and has quickly become a way to justify why people avert challenges in their lives and give up on their dreams. I utterly and thoroughly reject the idea of balance; the concept has become disparaged by being adopted by those who would use it to make sense of their laziness and mediocrity.
Let me ask you this — is living a life where you’re constantly tired, and hazy, stuck in a rote routine with relationships founded on obligation and familiarity instead of passion and growth something that you consider “balanced”? Because that’s how most people define it.
Conversely, if you start owning your primal urges, start sharing your body with new partners, explore the edges of your consciousness with psychoactive substances, or explore the limits of Dionysian delights, then it’s easier for you to be seen as irresponsible and naughty than it is for people to accept that they aren’t experiencing all these fucking awesome things that life has to offer.
Of course everyone wants to have more sex, eat more delicious food, see more beautiful parts of the world, and have mind-blowing, knee-weakening earthly pleasures. Kama is a part of life — and a damn fun one. But rather than own that shit and take responsibility for going out and seeking it, people would rather get wrapped up in a game of holier-than-thou judgement BS — the same scrutiny they’re afraid of falling under if they were to seek out pleasure for their damn selves.
Of course, the paradox is that the same people who shame a lack of balance in life are the same who idolize professional athletes, celebrities, or artistic virtuosos who live inherently imbalanced lives to master their crafts. They’ll also watch shows about sex, drugs, and all the experiences in life that they don’t let themselves have. Go figure.
I realize that right now I’m writing with the same fervor and zeal as some fanatic foaming at the mouth on his street corner soapbox, but my passion is not without purpose.
(As far as I know), this is the only life that we have— are we going to go through it telling ourselves stories about why we can’t accomplish what we’re capable of, aren’t deserving of the sensual richness that we crave, or can’t meet the people we yearn to connect with?
If that’s balance, then you can feel free to tip me over.
What’s actually imbalanced to me is suppressing my desires and acting inauthentically to meet a quota for social acceptance — social acceptance I can’t even fully enjoy, because I subconsciously resent those people for not being ‘on my level’ and failing to accept my real, fierce, wild self that is begging to be unleashed on the world.
The thing is… if you actually let loose and unleash your full self in the world ignoring whatever the hell anyone else says, you start meeting other people like you pretty quick, and your relationships start being built on some real, obsessed, common ground.
These are the people that you’re more likely to climb mountains with than grab pizza with after the third night of brewskis that week.
I’m not saying that spending a night in eating pizza and watching Netflix is a bad thing at all, by the way. I don’t JUST want extremes; I want it all, and some relaxation, a cool movie, and some ‘za thrown in there is part of that, too.
But not when it’s experienced in repetition or rote routine. At this point, with my 55-hour week I’m working to fund my bigger projects, producing daily podcasts, 20+ hours of training per week, working on a book, playing weekly shows as a musician, publishing articles regularly, AND still remembering to call Mom once in a while, taking some time to chill out and watch a movie would be an extreme contrast to my norm, and therefore, is far more enjoyable than if it was a regular occurrence.
The contrast of extreme discipline and production creates the foundation for deep pleasure. When you seek sensual rewards now, you make damn sure it counts, and you enjoy every minute. Saddhguru Jaggi Vasudev, one of my favourite commentators on modern yoga, points out that a yogi (in all their discipline, awareness, and focus) is not against pleasure. They simply do not settle for cheap, easy pleasures, and instead make sure that their whole being is engaged in the experience.
This is, to me, a life fully lived. Not in the grey zone of balance, but in blacks and whites of discipline and extravagance. The brilliant dance of contrast that makes up the richness and vibrancy of the human experience; that which lights up your nerve-endings like fireworks, carves your body into a Greek god or goddess, and warps your consciousness into new edges of reality.
It is both which makes you surrender and release into the flow of the present moment, while later challenging you to grit your teeth and fight for every bit of control and progress, just to prove that you can fucking do it.
I’m training like I want to win the Crossfit Games, playing and writing music like I’m fucking John Mayer, creating content like I’m trying to beat Gary Vee to buying the Jets, role playing my sales skills like I need to outsell Grant Cardone, jumping into icy rivers like I want to be the next Wim Hof, and yes, I still remember to call my mom.
Conversely, I have periods of contraction to recoup and refresh in the cool pools of extreme pleasure; raw, orgiastic, psychedelic gratification
I might not ever achieve any of the feats I’m gunning for, but the reach itself is giving me a seemingly infinite amount of energy — contrary to the idea that you’ll ‘burn the candle at both ends’, when every minute of your day is back to back infused with purpose, and you’re present to the process, your spirit is plugged into the battery of passion and can’t get burned (caveat: obviously sleep and take care of yourself, duh).
That OBSESSIVE drive to live your life as fully as possible is what gives you the energy and motivation to do so.
As you become more obsessed, you’ll start eating better foods, exercising more, and creating more energy within your physical systems. The motivation and drive are compounded as you’ve doubled the horsepower on your engine.
You’re all in on doing you 100%, but soon you’ll have more than 100% to put in. Who you are is going to expand, grow, and evolve, and that momentum is going to make your life feel as thrilling as a triple-loop-de-loop roller coaster, even as you’re grinding through the ‘mundane routine’ little things that make up your disciplined approach.
Or, you can go day in and day out feeling the haze of monotony and plastic smiles gradually eat away at your soul until you’re an autopilot shadow of the passionate dreamer you used to be.
This may very well be the only life we get. When are you going to say fuck it and go all in?