Hang gliding, thrill rides, running with the bulls, bad relationships. What all these things have in common is intensity.
Alone on a crowded planet
What is it about intensity which finds a grip on the human psyche? The other animals with whom we share a planet don't seem to have a penchant for new things. Cows are content to stand in the pasture and munch grass all day. Dogs and cats find lying in the sun and catching a few extra winks a great way to spend their time. Why do we, alone among all our fleshly neighbors, have a hunger for the new, the strange, the scary?
Feeding the mental beast
Entire industries exist with the sole purpose of sating our desire for the new.
Movies transport us to ever more outlandish scenarios where we can, for a couple hours, vicariously experience danger, love, excitement. When we are through we feel invigorated, cleansed, even sated, if the cast and directors have done their jobs well.
The travel industry exists to whisk us away from the hum drum everyday existence which is the norm for most people. Sail away to the Fiji Islands, sample the cuisine of Thailand, travel via dog sled across the frozen arctic waste for a time, then store away the memories for later.
Firefighters, police, rescue personnel are drawn to their chosen tasks because, in addition to serving their community, they will experience the thrill the job brings. War and law enforcement share the idea that most of the time is tedious, but occasionally is interrupted by moments of sheer terror. It's that moment of terror which tells us we are truly alive.
Love me tender, eat me alive
In relationships there can be a strange sense that the ones which were the worst, the most destructive, were somehow the ones most real. I'm unsure what that says about myself, and if applicable what it says about you. Almost everyone has had the experience of having their heart broken; it is part of the human condition. The pain is real and can manifest itself in physical ways. Loss of sleep, lack of appetite, a feeling of depression and rejection. Nervousness, anxiety, a trembling of the fingers when we light the 40th cigarette of the day. The trembling isn't from the nicotine, it comes from the emotional maelstrom within which we whirl. What do we do now, what do we do next? We find ourselves ineffectual, unable to make a simple determined decision. Trapped within ourselves we whirl about until time finally allows the door to our inner closet to crack, swing open just a fraction, allow us just a glimpse of a possible future. All the time that damnable inner voice whispers Man, what a rush.
Roller coaster ride
Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night time from the day
You’re loosin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away
Desperado; The Eagles
I've never sought professional care, so am unsure of a correct diagnosis of a condition which plagued me in my younger years. Perhaps it was a manic depressive state or bipolar disorder. I remember waking up with my body almost vibrating, as if sometime in the night God had turned up my power setting by a factor of 10. My mind would be ablaze, thoughts coming at an amazing speed. My body felt awesome, like the mere process of walking should produce blast craters where my feet touched the earth. It was a trip to the mountaintop, a wonderful thing to experience. I was creative in a way which normally I cannot attain. I had business ideas which much later I found others had tried, ideas which made them a lot of money.
Every mountain is surrounded by valleys, and the valleys were terribly deep. After that blaze of energy came the fall. I'd wake up totally drained, de-energized for days, even weeks. The world was no longer blazing with color, energy, or joy. It had become a drab grey nether world which could only be endured.
The high never lasted more than a day, the low would sometimes last weeks. I learned to dread that high because I knew that, as surely as day follows night, after the ascent came the fall.
Whatever the reason for these experiences, they have moderated as I've aged. No longer do I have the amazing natural high, and no longer do I spend weeks in the depths. The peaks and the valleys have each shortened, modulated like an oscilloscope view of a sine wave. For me it's a good deal. The highs came at too high a price, one I couldn't see myself paying indefinitely.
Give me something new
There are a host of other conditions which share the condition of intensity. In the broad spectrum of human sexuality, many of the variant behaviors such as sadism, masochism, fetishism and others share intensity. Some behaviors are harmful, even deadly to the practitioner, but the intensity draws them back for another experience.
Other behaviors of a non-sexual nature qualify. Self-mutilation, cutting, burning, etc., while detrimental to the body still bring an intensity to the experience. In in our society it has become acceptable to flirt with intensity by getting a tattoo, body piercing, or other (multiple) body modifications. Whatever other statement one makes by their choices, there is a shared kinship with others who have made that same choice, the kinship of having endured the experience.
It is common to see on TV programs detailing customs of primitive peoples. Many of these mark the passage from childhood into adulthood. The customs which mark that passage are often ones where the subject endures a painful rite of passage. It will always be indelibly imprinted on their memory, that journey they made to become a man or woman.
Pleasure and pain are twins, closely akin to one another. Mankind seeks them in many ways. Addictions play into the scenario, whether an addiction to drugs, sex, gambling, exercise: the list is long and varied. All these actions share the common characteristic of intensity.
Those addicted to drugs are sometimes called junkies. Extreme sports participants can be called thrill junkies. Both share the lust for repeating the experience, getting that shock to the psyche once again, and yet again, and forever more yet again.
The final thrill ride
As we age there is yet another intensity which looms. It may ultimately be the most intense experience we can know as physical beings. That is the crossing of our own personal final frontier into death.
We do not remember the intensity of birth. Perhaps it is simply too intense to bear the recollection. Perhaps at that phase of our development we are not equipped to even experience it to its full extent. For whatever reason, it is a life event shrouded in forgetfulness.
That last step though, that final plunge into another state of existence, will it too be shrouded to us? I choose to believe it is not. That final installment in our journey as physical beings will be to experience that departure as we shove away from the shore and again journey into an intensity we can only imagine.
All things in their time
All in good time, though; it is enough to experience the ride we're on until there are no choices left.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, Verses 1-8, The Holy Bible