Thu 4 Aug 05

I’ve been feeling a little introspective lately. Maybe from lack of sleep. Maybe a reaction to the kids I work with. I don’t know. Either way I’ve been noticing an underlying theme creeping into my day to day thoughts. A couple of quotes I’ve bumped into recently:

Sitting there , listening to my stomach growl, I started to understand things about myself I’d never thought to ask. I’d never gotten to a point like this where my entire sense of identity hung by a tiny sinew of ambition. Most people find a confort zone, which they sometimes stretch but never exceed. They live in there, thinking they know themselves. Some define that sense of identity in terms of what they can do. Others define it in terms of what they won’t do.

The military has known about this process for hundreds of years. It’s the psychological regeneration – the phoenix principle. You take a capable, earnest spirit, then break it down, strip away any trace of ego, dig a crater of insecurity and need. Then you fill it back up with dogma and ability and trust. The talent you started with becomes harder, forged of a different metal and tempered in another image.

You traveled the world… Now you must journey inwards… to what you really fear… it’s inside you… there is no turning back. Your parents’ death was not your fault. Your training is nothing. The will is everything. If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely. Are you ready to begin?

The first two quotes are from Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and the second, if you couldn’t guess from the pictures, is from Batman Begins. In Cold Zero, a book I just finished, the author describes his path into and through the ranks of the FBI with great emphasis placed on the internal struggles throughout basic training. It’s one of the better books I’ve read recently, written with great clarity, gripping detail, and a fascinating story. You also see the auithor’s strong sense of his own self pouring out onto the pages. He has clearly pushed himself to mind-boggling extremes, choosing challenge after challenge, and come through it with a great grasp of what his mind and body are capable of. And also with a sense of his life’s purpose. He’s faced the demon’s and fears and self-doubt. Result: inner strength, inner calm, purpose.

Batman Begins, which I saw in the theatre with Mary about a month ago, shares a similar idea. After Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered in front of him as a boy, Bruce grows up and wanders the earth in an attempt to understand himself and his place in the world. Ultimately his search leads him to the League of Shadows, a secretive warrior society based deep in the Himalayan mountains. It’s an exhausting search and even more exhausting battle to become one of the society. Just like the author of Cold Zero, Bruce emerges from his struggle free from fear and with a warrior strength. And with a sense of what he’s willing to dedicate his life to. Result: inner strength, focused anger, purpose.

So, my point is, I think to ever really know yourself (your fears, capabilities, dreams), you have to take some sort of journey of self-discovery. Some sort of challenge where all the external garbage is stripped away and you’re left with your thoughts, ambition, and survival instincts. But, of course, this is a tricky thing to pull off. We aren’t all billionaires or lucky enough to get selected for FBI special agent status.