A place for a

21.11.2015

What are your limits?

There were a handful of situations in my life where I really tried to be a hero and fight through it all, but ultimately failed. Nothing tells you quite as much about yourself as to find your hard limits despite best efforts. It fortifies your sense of reality and you are undeniably confronted with the mechanics of cause and effect.

I am no John McTough and these are no war stories. Nevertheless, these experiences at their respective times defined the boundaries of my power and are thus among the most intimate of my life.

They are intimate, because they reflect truths about my self that can not be denied. When you know that you tried your best, you can not lie to yourself by saying you could have, if you had really tried. Because you really did try.

This definitive and disillusioning quality of limits is also the one that brings peace to your mind. It is an experience of absolute truth at the time and shuts down all ego-preserving attempts to rationalize or relativize. It gives you the gift of finally being able to feel yourself without running away and puts a dark and calming cloak over your senses. The ultimate bullshit-breaker.

Ironically, thus, this admission of defeat also provides you with confidence.

You do not have to read all these stories. Choose the ones you find interesting. If you have a moment, please share one of your stories as well.

Anyway, here goes.

The stories

Sense overload

Me on IAA

One of the most peaceful and content periods of my life was towards the end of 2013. I was disciplined and worked each day on an important and well-paid project in solitude after reading The Fountainhead. I ate well, got enough sleep and did not do any single thing I did not want to. I largely operated on my gut. Every weekend, I rode about a hundred kilometers on my bicycle and hiked in the mountains.

From that professionalism and peace, I greedily accepted a photography job at an automobile convention. I would earn 2000 EUR in ten days.

I arrived and was only concerned with doing a good job. While all others were searching for ways to slack or abstain from work, I flourished and only lived for excellence. I cared about nothing and nobody except the job. I set up the camera and took pictures of all the people who came by and wanted to. To perfect the workflow, I even put sticky tape around my thumb to quickly deal out little papers with the web address for the photos.

Unfortunately, being quite an introvert, I grew increasingly agitated by the same playlist of pop music that was repeated every single minute of the day and the hundreds of people that passed by, to be engulfed in it.

Mobil

Hot hostessI despised all those morons who had nothing better to do than watching the newest fancy cars and eating junk food with their fat kids and empty gazes and slobbering all over the hot hostesses and letting me take a picture of them with some stupid company slogans and logos and carrying around bags full of worthless branded junk like pens and stickers, while my boss told everybody what a great new, young and dynamic automobile club we were. The truth is that our product was actually just a rebranded and ordinary thing from a big insurance corporation.

On top of that, all my colleagues were bored and unwilling to work, one promoter girl even bugging me all the time with stupid grimaces, trying to break through to me or something. I lost focus and dissociated from my senses to be able to bear it. I started to eat lots of sweets and overeat in general. The initial zest turned into exhaustion and self-loathing as I did no longer want to perceive that repetitive hell. It did something very weird to my mind and I think I am not exaggerating when I say it drove me mad to a certain extent. A painful trance of stupid people, stupid music and meaningless, repetitive work. Maybe it just made me aware of my madness, though.

It took me over a year to really get over it, but it taught me an important lesson. Mental health is more important than money, because you need it to enjoy the fruits of your labor. And even when others are able to take something just fine does not mean that it can not hurt you.

Weight loss and burn out

Weight lossAfter that period of overeating, I overcompensated and willed myself into a period of a few months where I ate very very little. That is, around 1000 kcal a day for a body that normally needs around 2000 to 2500. Of this little, most was unhealthy food from cans. To be a cool bum who survives on nothing but willpower, you know.

Fat Tom ArrowNote that I have always had an eating disorder and at a time in my life, I had weighed 280 pounds. It is part of why I was shit with girls and hated life.

Anyway. On top of that diet, I forced myself to wake up early at the morning to practice the guitar. After that, I worked on the big project, desperately forcing my mind away from the agony of being hungry, depressed and demotivated. I thought it was just mindset and I was having the wrong thoughts about it all. I thought the headache was a manifestation of my own unworthiness as a hero.

Each day, after the work, I would additionally spend hours of writing on a book project that I considered important. Then I would go to sleep, dreading the next day.

During this period, I also felt the necessity to suppress all my emotions. I never smiled at anyone. I never greeted anyone. I lost a job because I refused to speak a single word that had nothing to do with business. I wanted to be a total asshole, like Rand’s Roark. It was extremely painful and I started to develop an intense fear of social interactions. Would I manage to be cold and unyielding enough? Would I be able to suppress every notion of wanting to smile or be nice to anybody even for a second? What if it cost me a job?

HairlessOne day, I stood in front of the mirror and felt the impulse to cut off my hair. The hair bothered me and I wanted to feel the sun and wind on my head skin. Pure innocent curiosity. And I realized nobody was there to stop me or dictate my life. It was nobody’s business. It was my own choice. People at work would be curious. But fuck them. So I did it.

There was no peace in my mind during that period and inevitably, I broke down at a point. The 30 pounds I had lost, I regained double within half a year. My work motivation sank to zero, but I kept beating myself up over it. Life felt meaningless, but I thought I just was not forcing myself hard enough. I felt like a failure and saw no point in it all – but was not aware of it, no, actually ashamed of it. When even eating a lot did not help, I started to be extremely nice to people and even start random conversations with strangers. I also approached girls for the only time in my life. It worked kinda well for a week, but it was just a drug and it did not take away any from my misery.

No food or friend or game can ultimately defeat inner emptiness. But I also learned that discipline can achieve wonders.

Lost in the mountains

Dark mountains

An important event that co-initiated the break down after the weight loss was a hiking tour into the alps, to the Montscheinspitze. My provisions consisted of two apples and a pear for a planned tour of 6 hours.

You can read my article about the whole story, but the general lesson here was that nature does not give a fuck about you wanting to be a hero.

On the other hand, I survived. But for over a year, I became immensely afraid of cold showers and it took me even longer to incorporate and actually let myself feel the experience.

Ayahuasca

Saturn Devouring his Son

End of 2014, I saw no point in life. I flew to Peru for an Ayahuasca ceremony. I wrote about it here.

I thought I could take anything, but on the second session, I saw the devil, panicked and ran out from the place into the jungle, screaming like a madman and ruining the ceremony for everybody. I then catatonically lay in the reed for hours and pissed myself while the whole team watched me.

It taught me that there are hidden aspects to life that are too much to bear if you just jump into them blindly. It taught me that my mind was weak, being the only one out of a dozen people who could not take this ritual.

But eventually, I put together my courage and came back at it with LSD and meditations. I started to confront my demons and it has only made me stronger.

Sexual failure

Ands

In Peru, I became acquainted an extremely hot French girl. I desired her in an otherworldly intensity, but my body failed me. I could do nothing, more or less paralyzed.

When I then took off in the airplane, watching the Amazon river vanish under the clouds, looking to a future back in cold Germany, I could no longer contain myself and cried miserably for hours. The only pride I had about the whole thing was that I had not fapped in ten days, but it was too much to bear and I went into the bathroom of the airplane and satisfied myself eventually, thinking of the girl I could not have despite desiring her terribly. It filled me with shame and I ended up without the tiniest shred of self-respect on my way back to a country I despised, ruled by a cold winter I hated.

She had not even rejected me. It was my body that had rejected its own wish, leaving me in agony. I was my own dreamkiller and I was far from knowing what to do about it. It reminded me of Neil Strauss’ Game.

Life was even worse than before the tour, but at least I had a vision what I wanted to achieve. I want to be free to feel and do anything I wish at any time. I want to be the opposite of paralyzed and I have hopes that I will achieve it. I want to not give a single fuck.

Failed to reach the pinnacle

On the way to the pinnacle

Somewhen in 2015, I went into the mountains with a couple of guys. It was still snowy and the others started whining. For me, it was all about the pinnacle. Without reaching it, the tour was meaningless.

Eventually, the guys sat down and said they do not need that pride. They preferred to lunch and take selfies. I called them cowards and moved on. I crushed my way through a meter thick layer of snow, wearing nothing but simple shoes and a jeans.

My feet were freezing, but I kept going. The guilt from going on alone was paralyzing me and I cursed the guys in my mind. Why can I not have a father who is here with me, who keeps pushing me while I push him? It would be the highest joy on earth, but it is denied to me.

On and on I went up while the sun was going down. Towards the top, I was stuck in the snow to my hips, but kept going. The guilt was eating me up and on top of that now came the memory of the time I almost died in the mountains, as the shadows of the rocks around me grew longer and darker and the sun no longer warmed me.

Dim pinnacle

Eventually, only the pinnacle was lit anymore by a tiny bit of orange glow. I wanted to force myself to move on and I did it as much as I managed to for half an hour longer. Irrational fear eventually got the best of me. Before my eyes, reality threatened to disintegrate and reveal something deeper, more horrible.

I broke down, cried and sobbed, my legs freezing and I wondered whether the guys would just leave me here, disrespecting my childishness. The terror I felt was also very much a terror of my own self. Of a self that terrorized me into all this pain, with no regards to my feelings. Because, who cares for feelings, right? Was it the self? Or the ego? What is the difference, anyway.

DespairBut I could not go further. I wistfully looked at the almost graspable pinnacle now almost completely hidden in the shadows. You can see the despair in my face. I was completely overwhelmed by my emotions. I gave up and slid down through all the snow, amazed how far I had gotten. The guys were already away and I became feverish and my feet somewhat numb. I felt rejected, hated and like a loser who needed to prove something he could not prove. I expected the guys to pity me when we met up again and patronize me for wanting to achieve what I wanted to achieve. As my mother would have done it. You are okay just the way you areI dreaded that moment and internally shielded myself against it.

But as there was no one around to comfort me, I became quite calm. My teeth clattered, but my mind kind of accepted it. This was an initiation. My own fight, my own pain. When I reached the car, I was in pain but relaxed. The guys took it all with humor and one of them said that I must return to this mountain someday and beat the challenge. That was great. It was a nice day in the end and I learned that I can show weakness and failure without being pitied.

Dark red

I leaned back as the dark red consumed the day.

Kinda broken leg

XRay ShinFor the first six months of this year, I went to the Muay Thai training three times a week and did not miss a single time. Once, I bruised my ribcage miserably, making the sit up drills next to unbearable. When I got a kick in there, I felt like fainting. Nevertheless, I kept going. There was always some kind of bruise or injury, but I pushed through.

When I was sick to the stomach, I went. When I felt weak, I went. When I felt sad, I went. When I felt anxious, I went. I went always.

But eventually, my soul called on me to stop. It did that through an injury of my elbow and shin.

I kicked a training partner during sparring and hit his knee. A sharp pain shot through my leg and the leg felt as if it was broken. I could barely stand and had to sit down. An absolute game stopper.

Out of habit, I carried on. But every time I hit that place on my shin, I broke down and had to stop and sit down, much to my dismay. The doctor found nothing on the X Ray. Anti-inflammatories did nothing.

After 6 months of absolute discipline, I was beaten and gave up. It was time to sort out some issues.

Insanity

Insanity

For years, I had been chasing the right way to live. The right set of rules. Especially after reading Ayn Rand and experiencing the confidence that certainty could give you, I was very zealous to be right.

But I was too smart to just listen to somebody who said something was right. I had to know absolutely that it was right. I did not even know what that was supposed to mean, but my head hurt every second of the day, searching for the right way, for the perfect way.

My ego was unable to allow any uncertainty, any sign that I may not be perfect or able to reach perfection. I did not know what that was supposed to be, but I was convinced that it existed.

One day, the pain was just too much and I went to sleep realizing that I knew absolutely nothing. That I was certain about absolutely nothing. That I had faith in nothing. That I did not know what life was about. For all the people who called me intelligent and for all my pride, I did not know a single thing about life with certainty. Had anyone asked me for one absolute truth that evening, I would have lowered my head and said: I do not know any. I know I should, but I do not.

It took me one or two more attempts of rationalization to finally understand that there is no absolute truth. Or perfection. That I had just searched for an ideology to give me safety and stability, but there was really no hope for that. I had to learn to live with myself as I was. Life is not a problem to be solved, but an experience to be lived.

Conclusion

For the sake of completeness, I must also mention my staring duel with the dude at the restaurant.

Hope you enjoyed this. If you had one of these lessons in your own life, please share. What are your limits?

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  • Smokingjacket

    Limits are not solely related to will-power. Intuition and instinct are key to knowing ones limits on a particular challenge. These are adapted and modified depending and your body and mind and the type of challenge you face.

    • During those times, my intuition was pretty much non-existent. So I usually either evaded challenges or totally overdid it.

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  • thordaddy

    “But I also learned that discipline can achieve wonders.” — Tom Arrow

    And this is really it… A profound personal insight to be reiterated over and over again in one’s mind. And not as a redundancy, but as a necessary habit of mind in reaching one’s destiny. This is where the nexus between a real self control and peace of mind come together.

    “We” operate in this mass delusion of everyone trying to control everyone else without the slightest inkling of self-control. And with this collective corruption is the requisite liberating of the language and “our” societal conception of “discipline.” So now this most important concept has been denigrated to not just mean mere control, but to mean totalitarian external control. In other words, the sheepwalkers can only conceive of “discipline” in the pejorative sense of external punishment and control. What they CANNOT CONCEIVE is a discipline as self-control and the path to peace of mind.

    • I agree.

      The wish to control others stems from a complete lack of control over one’s own life. When one is a slave of somebody else, the only way to ease the humiliation is to make somebody else your slave.

      • thordaddy

        But for most, not an actual “wish” (way too much effort to control another human being), only PRETENSE to HIDE their own uncertain stance. They “look” in control to hide a total lack of real discipline and thus true peace of mind.