A Worthwhile Uphill Climb Is the Essence of a Meaningful Life

When I travel, I always find a unique bookstore and pick up a book that vibes with where I am.

A book is more than just a souvenir; it becomes a companion whose ideas, like a friend’s, coalesce with my own and inspire me while on the move.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the classic by Robert M. Pirsig, fit the bill while on a recent trip to the mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The book tells the tale of a father and his son riding a motorcycle through interior America — yet sustaining the story is a tantalizing concoction of meaning.

Pirsig brews this foamy philosophical beverage with deep introspection, strange plot twists, and a first-person interpretation of the mountains, the plains, the sky, and the small, antiquated western towns.

The book illustrates both physically and metaphorically the spiritual journey we all undergo, how our souls face landscapes — mountains and valleys — just as varied and vast as the United States.

“The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make,” writes Pirsig.

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.”

It took me a second read to realize that Pirsig’s talking about the spiritual mountain — the mountain of life.

This, in particular, is what’s resonating with me. Regardless if we’re literally on the road or if we haven’t traveled in years, we’re always moving.

One of my favorite quotes about the continual adventure of life comes from the painter Vincent Van Gogh, who was also a brilliant writer.

In a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote:

“Truly life is a fight, and one must defend oneself and resist and make plans and calculations with a cheerful and alert mind in order to make it through and get ahead. It becomes no easier the further one gets in life, and it has been rightly said:

Does the road go uphill then all the way?

‘Yes to the very end’

And will the journey take all day long?

‘From morn till night, my friend.’”

Time moves forward whether or not we stop to smell the roses. This riddle of time is challenging, bizarre, and so beautiful, to grapple with. How to make use of it, understand it, and appreciate time for everything it is.

I’ve been thinking about this stage of life I’m in, how even if I reach my dreams, the top of the mountain, let’s say, what I feel inside will hardly change.

We want to reach the top of the mountain because we believe life will get better, we’ll change, whatever it is. Yet with our sights set solely on the peak we forget to look around at the beauty of the flowers which fight for life on the side of the mountain.

We forget to look our companion in the eyes as we’re panting and covered in dirt and sweat, and share how good it is to be on this journey together.

We neglect to cherish what it feels like to be able to climb.

“To live only for some future goal is shallow,” writes Pirsig.

“It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. But of course, without the top you can’t have any sides. It’s the top that defines the sides.”

It’s the top that defines the sides. It’s the goal, the dream, the aspirations which decide the life we live day in and day out — the top of the mountain determines our aim.

But what’s the point of reaching the top if you can’t enjoy the climb?

Something tells me even if I reach my goals I’ll still be seeking, and what I’m seeking on this journey won’t necessarily come from reaching the top of the mountain.

What I’m seeking is love, joy, and inspiration from the climb — no life is without an uphill slog, for the fact that time moves forward means we are dealing with something.

The valuable climb is the very thing I want, I think what we all want.

A worthwhile uphill climb is the essence of a meaningful life.

I’m in the garden of my parent’s house, the house of my childhood. It’s more beautiful than it’s ever been. The evening sky is darkening, cloudy and purple, and I feel life in me like never before.

I do want to grasp it, make it stop; yet I know I can’t. This moment, where I am right now, it’s not an interlude or a means to an end. This is it. This is everything.

Time won’t stop moving. Yet perhaps when life feels as though it’s moving too fast, all we must do is take a step back and look around. Dig your heels into the dirt.

Look left at your sweaty mate, and share a word of appreciation. Then, when you’re ready, look down at the valley and how far you’ve come. Turn and look up, for there’s a long way to go, and that’s a glorious, glorious thing.

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