“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man [woman] is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London
I recently headed to the USA and came across this quote during my travels. I embraced it as a kind of guiding wisdom for two reasons. Firstly, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and entering the world of electric motorcycles in the hope of building a series of youtube clips about an incredible friend, Terry Hershner. Our journeys would involve dashing all over California on his motorcycle for a two-month period of filming. I felt this bold wisdom might help inspire.
Secondly, this wisdom challenges my views on how to build a happy life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve consciously slowed down and focused less on bold achievement and more on simply feeling content. I’ve worked at appreciating beauty in every moment, even the most simple, most mundane. I’ve focused more on yoga, meditation and eating well. My morning rituals have involved walks, pilates, coffee and quality time with my retired dad. Unlike my dad, however, I am not retired. I am young, I’m full of energy and there is much I have yet to give. So I starting wondering… Had I prematurely become a ‘sleepy planet’? Do I really live or do I just exist?
To all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, Terry needs an introduction. Terry Hershner is an extreme motorcycling adventurist who knows more about electric vehicles, battery technology and charging infrastructure in the United States than just about anyone on the planet. Given the urgent need to move away from our gas guzzling, fossil fuel dependent ways, he’s knowledgeable about some pretty critical stuff. He’s gained this knowledge over decades of pushing the extreme limits, both in terms of his own capabilities and the technology he’s working to develop and promote. Oh, and he has the most ridiculously bad ass electric motorcycle you’ve ever seen.
Terry doesn’t love electric vehicles; he is obsessed with them. When he wakes, his electric motorcycle is the first thing on his mind. His nightly dreams are full of ideas on how to improve the efficiency of his motorcycle, the new world records he is yet to claim and who he might work with to achieve his great ambitions (which are, you know, just the small things like ridding the earth of its addiction to oil before it’s all gone and combating climate change). For Terry, brilliant ideas spring forward as if they were transmitted to him overnight by some sort of celestial sleep being.
Terry is to me like London’s proverbial meteor in magnificent glow, acutely aware of his own impermanence and in his burning desire to make a difference, destined for that brilliant blaze. Emboldened by Jack London, I found myself swept up by the urgency of his Terry’s ‘earthly assignment’. I found myself desperately craving to be more, live more, do more. I felt the anxiety of wasting my own life because of indecision or laziness or what felt like a lame preference for comfort over challenge. When in the company of Terry, I would – like Jack London – launch myself out into the unknown because I too would rather be ashes than dust! I would see the immeasurable richness of life pulsating with endless energy, I felt boundlessly wild and I could not but want to taste and feel everything.
So during my two months in America, and in the true spirit of Jack London, I surrendered my usual preference for yoga and meditation and became like Indiana Jones, scurrying around as if the earth was about to melt and there was not a second to lose. We rushed from one electric vehicle event to another. I traversed California with him, helping film and document his journeys, his frustrations, his challenges in pushing boundaries, I met other incredible electric vehicle pioneers and I felt as though I travelled more, saw more, met more, tasted more, argued more, cried more and laughed more in a two-month span than most people do in a lifetime. Seriously.
Two months passed quickly and I left America feeling mentally exhausted, in desperate need for a meditation retreat, intensive daily yoga and the serenity of existing like an old sleepy planet. I left craving numbness and anonymity. I left feeling utterly exhausted, derailed of my focus and a bit scattered in my goals. And so I left for a little holiday. Now as I write, I’m facing backward on the Eurostar train in Spain, so that the coastal scenery flows calmly past me. This calmness could not be in sharper contrast to the days I spent squeezed into the back of Terry’s motorcycle, exposed to all the elements as we dashed about at stupid speeds through California’s mountain ranges.
I’m completely comfortable now and perhaps I instinctively prefer my sleepy Spanish carriage to the utterly exhausting journeys across California with extreme adventurist Terry. But the funny thing is, while I left feeling exhausted and scattered, these two months were also ridiculously joyous. I loved learning about electric motorcycles. I loved meeting other pioneers in the field and I loved exploring new lands. In retrospect, I even loved the moments that were physically or emotionally hard. These moments brought a different kind of happiness, the kind of temporarily euphoric happiness that comes from doing something you didn’t ever imagine you would, or could. It’s the happiness that comes from feeling truly alive, even if momentarily it hurts. I miss California, I miss all the talk about electric motorcycles I became a part of and most of all, I miss Terry and his bold, irrepressible spirit.
So, Jack London: to live life as a superb meteor or to live life as a sleepy planet? You were neither right nor wrong, for it cannot – at least for me – be one or the other. What I’ve learnt from this experience is that in my own life, I absolutely must have both.