In 2006, I quit the vast majority of intoxicants. I don't drink, I don't use recreational drugs, I don't smoke tobacco, I don't drink soda, and I am working on quitting all sweets entirely, and largely succeeding. I am not one for fine dining, and not frequently one for other forms of hedonism.
I usually do not advertise this - I might write about it for people who wish to know what I do, but I do not bring it up in conversation unless it comes up. But occasionally it does come up, and a common reaction is someone saying, half-joking, "Then why bother living?"
I think I understand. Many people do jobs they dislike for causes they feel nothing about. This must wreak havoc on a man's spirit. Most people spend more of their waking time on their work than any other thing - I can only imagine what spending the bulk of my time on something I disliked would feel like. Or worse, not even something I disliked - but something I felt very neutral about.
If a man's occupation becomes a slow crushing of his spirit, then of course he would need high energy, and high impact to free him from it. He needs to fit all of his leisure into his remaining waking time - from 6PM at night to 10PM when he is home from work, on the two days of his weekend, and his vacation time each year. Of course, not even that time is all his own - he still has to commute, run errands, do admin, do necessary little things. The reality of the situation is far worse - most people don't live bad lives, they just move slowly and quietly through things they don't particularly care for.
Of course, if a man only had 5% of his waking time to himself, he would want to maximize this time in the easiest, most surefire way of producing pleasure and relaxation. Who could blame this man? I don't. If I was suffering through a soul-killing occupation and had very little time, I would want to make sure that the time I did have was very enjoyable.
And I should add, I'm not a Puritan. I have drank some of the finest liquor in the world. I used like the Trappist beers, Chimay and Duvel and Dubbel. I had a freshly brewed Guinness at the top of Guinness Brewhouse in Dublin, on the third story of the brewery which is on a hill overlooking the city. It's beautiful up there. I've had good wine, good champagne, good whiskey. I've drank lovely sake, and choked on shoju. I've smoked very nice marijuana and hashish in Amsterdam, including delicious mango hash milkshakes at Abraxis. I liked good tobacco, I used to roll my own cigarettes. I bought a box of Monte Cristo Cuban cigars in Mexico one time; that was quite a treat. I have had delicious chocolate and ice cream and desserts. The best slice of cake I ever had was actually at a chain store of cafes, surprisingly - it was a perfect slice of matcha cake at Pacific Coffee in Hong Kong.
And yet, now, I do none of these things. I have been there, I have done it. I liked good beer, Chimay Blue in particular. I liked good hashish, good tobacco, good chocolate, good sweets. They were very nice sensory experiences, truly.
I'm not a Puritan. And I understand why a man turns to the most high impact of sensory experiences. And yet, I do not do these things, and then sometimes I am asked, "Then why bother living?"
And the answer is, and I promise I am telling you the truth here - that going for a walk can be as enjoyable and pleasurable as the finest liquor, intoxicant, tobacco, sugar. Well, hmm. It is not as straightforward. If you have a glass of hot sake or a cold beer, it is very straightforward to enjoy that. You are thirsty, you feel the dense flavor on your tongue and in your mouth, you swallow and you feel the sensations move down your throat, and slowly your inhibitions become relaxed, you enter a lighter state, half-thinking, half-not-thinking. This is, indeed, an enjoyable place to be.
But truly, honestly, you can achieve a similarly pleasurable state taking a walk. I am not lying to you, I promise. The nicer walks I've taken compare very favorably to the nicest intoxicants and decadence that can be consumed; I know, because I've consumed much of them.
I don't know that my way of walking would suit you, but I'll tell you about it, and maybe it will be interesting. I almost always bring headphones with some smart audio on them - an audiobook, a podcast, or an audio program, about any topic I please. Not music, usually. I put on the audio, and I walk in concentric circles from where I start, exploring different neighborhoods and the people in them.
I always loved Sherlock Holmes, particularly "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." After reading that, I started paying so much more attention to the world around me. And now, I try to look at the businesses, the trends, the people, the kinds of cars, the restaurants and cafes, the law enforcement and military, the monuments, the quality of the roads and sidewalks, everything in a neighborhood or district. I wrote something about this in "A Lot of Victory is Just Walking Around." I pay attention to the world around me, and drink it in.
If I see something particularly interesting, I stop and look. A dog, a butterfly, a park, a strange building. If it suits me, I'll stop and pay attention. If I come upon a nice view, I'll stop and stare at it.
Or sometimes not. When I am walking, I have five things that I have a choice of directing my attention to -
(1) I have audio playing, I can pay attention to it, or zone out from it. (and I can turn it off if it's distracting)
(2) I pay attention to my surroundings, trying to drink in and observe everything about the environment.
(3) If I see something particularly fascinating, I can stop and just focus on it, immerse myself in it.
(4) I have my blood, my breath, my muscles, the act of moving. This in and of itself can be pleasurable.
(5) I have my thoughts. I have had many great ideas while walking. I have a little note taking program on my phone, which is I have with me anyways for the audio. Sometimes I'll stop and take a note, or keep walking and type a note if the area is safe to walk without staring forwards all the time.
These five things - audio learning, my surroundings, stopping and focusing on fascinating things, being connected with my body and moving, and thinking and capturing my thoughts - mean taking a walk is almost always a very suitable pleasure for me.
Sometimes I will be in workout clothes, and will jog or run if the inspiration suits me. Sometimes I'll walk slowly. Sometimes my mind will be hazy, and I'll just wander - yesterday I needed to clear some ideas off my mind, and I wind up walking three to four hours or so. I'm not sure the exact time, I went out, got a massage and a small bit of food, went walking afterwards, and came back six hours later. My mind was refreshed and I slept very well.
But this takes practice, refinement, improvement. I was getting back into a good fitness regime in March when I was hit by a motorcycle in Cambodia. After that, during recovery, my health was in decline and I became out of shape. In the past, I didn't walk to exercise; I would go to the gym and use an exercise bike, go swimming, or lift weights. But, four months ago in Taipei, I started walking almost daily.
It wasn't so enjoyable right away. I had to learn to walk, so to speak. You don't need to learn to enjoy chocolate, your taste buds already know how, it is simple and straightforward. Walking took me some time to get at, to have it become pleasurable, but now it is. It's as pleasurable as all those sensory pleasures I used to indulge in some years back.
I try not to talk about this sort of thing very much - when I was a heavy drinker, I found loud non-drinkers often insufferable. No, I'm cool about it, everyone's life is their own to construct. My way isn't for everyone, and I'm not encouraging anyone to quit their pleasures. No, that's not the point of this - the point of this is to say yes, I understand why people choose those pleasures, but there's another one if you're willing to put in a little work for it. I think any man, any man on Earth, can find pleasure in walking, if he is willing to practice and learn how to do it, and find his most suitable way. Audio, music, silence, or someone else to walk with? How much thinking, how much exercising? What pace, what speed? How much attention to surroundings, and what neighborhoods and areas to traverse? Through a city or through nature, or both? Stop and observe interesting things, or keep in constant motion?
Every man will have to figure out those details for himself, based on his temperament, his goals, what he's looking for, how much time he has. But there is pleasure in walking. I would recommend it, but I might not recommend doing it just once. Maybe, I mean, it couldn't hurt. But maybe instead commit to trying it 10 times over the next month, or a few days in a row. That way, I think you'd get a more significant understanding of what it could be. I have boring, uneventful walks sometimes, they're not all magnificent and glorious. But the best walks are so refreshing, enlivening, so wonderful and magnificent, so pleasurable - well, I'd feel ashamed if I didn't encourage you to try it, because it's so good for me.
Do you walk from time to time? If not, have you considered it? It's good for mind and body, incredibly pleasurable, conducive to thinking, and it's free. I would recommend it to you wholeheartedly.