I typed in the word lukewarmness, at the top line, gazing out the window of a coffee shop in Durango, CO. I was feeling quiet, passive, uninspired… lukewarm. Unsure how to start my new series of essays for my newsletter. Behind me, the barista yelled, “Hey stop! I’m calling the cops.” I looked up from my blank page, unsure of what was going on. All I heard was grunts and scuffling behind the bar. Curious, I headed over there. The cook had one of the baristas, a thin man, in a headlock and punches were flying. My heart began to beat faster with the thrill of a fight, and the knowledge I had to do something. I took stock of the situation. It was only me, the two fighters, and two other women watching in horror.
Are they carrying any weapons?
Doesn’t seem like it.
Are there other threats around?
I took a split-second scan before I approached, a little unsure of how involved I wanted to get. “That’s enough guys. Break it up.” My voice came out strange to my own ears in the shocked stillness of the cafe. Right as I reach them, the cook released the barista and stomped off. The barista’s shirt was crumpled and torn, his fingers were bleeding, and he stood there gasping with a wild look in his eyes. I could sense all the post-fight thoughts playing through his mind as the adrenaline wore off. I stayed with him for a few minutes until the cops showed up, and then I wandered back to my window seat.
At last, words flew across the page. I feel alive. Invigorated. Is it evil of me to benefit from physical violence? Is physical violence evil? Yea, coffee shop brawls and bar fights are probably a bad thing, but yet, people love to watch them. Why? Cause it wakes everyone up from our sanitized, “normal” and mundane lives? Because it is an echoe of our primitive past? Is the occasional fight a good thing? Sparring at the Muay Thai gym has been a thrill that comes loaded with revelations for me.
I kept pondering. Questioning. What is the value of conflict? It led me to the more grey areas of morality.
Is our society overly timid, and alienated from our natural expressions and instincts? Yes. If we all fought more, and had a culture that accepted physical aggression and had built-in boundaries and traditions around it, would we not all be a bit more healthy and alive? Would we not be more aware of our environment and respecting of others? I know verbal conflict at times makes my relationships stronger, inner conflict makes my mind and character stronger, does not physical conflict create strength as well? Perhaps even a heightened sense of comradery and aliveness? Is it the lack of conflict, inside and outside, that makes our life dull? Is it too much conflict, or rather, repeated unending conflicts, that cripples us with overwhelm and stress? What’s the correct amount of conflict?
Over the past month, I’ve been the most balanced I’ve ever been in my life. My book is written and the war of editing for hours every day has ended. I’m finally sleeping well and insomnia has passed. The fires of heartbreak have cooled. Summer is here, and the steadiness and well-being I have prayed for for months and years, has arrived. Obviously, nothing is ever perfect and challenges still arise, but I feel like I came out of a storm recently and the sun is shining.
And yet, I’ve often found that something is missing. I felt buoyant with peace and well-being for a period there, and I’m so grateful for all the blessings, but after the highs wore off, I was left lukewarm. Lukewarmness has been a repeated, curious experience for me throughout my life. Without periods of conflict and challenging purpose, I have found that peace grows stale and my spirit dull.
Two weeks ago, my rhythm changed when I was overwhelmed by the whole publishing process and trying to find a great publishing team. The pressure to finish and share my book never felt higher, and for days I felt frozen by indecision and inaction. The inner conflict grew until I fully grabbed the reigns and broke through the resistance. I started working eight-hour days, trying to figure out everything there is to a successful book launch and marketing infrastructure. I ignited the fire, and working actually felt easy for once in my life—these tasks were nothing compared to the continuous grind of working on the manuscript. I was filled with joy. I felt strong and like I was living at my edge. Unshakable. I had reached a new horizon. And every evening, contentment was mine.
But as the days passed, my nights became more hollow. Yes, I was working hard, training, and playing outside each evening, but there was a growing sense of lack. Balance and hard work, which filled me with joy five days ago, were no longer enough. A new edge had to be found. The peace was becoming lukewarm; the balance, lacking spice.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked, myself laughing at my condition. “Must you always be moving forward? At war? You lunatic, enjoy yourself.”
I do! I thought in my defense. And no, not all that is true. I deeply enjoy serenity. I can find pleasure in the mundane. I live for soul-felt connections. But peace must be punctuated by battle and overcoming. A good fight gets the blood pumping, a challenge puts dance in my bones.
Peace is most pleasurable in victory.
I sat there for a few nights, feeling dull—sensing a hole I still had inside myself from the breakup. I made it to where I wanted to be, and enjoyed the victory, but all things wear off, and I wanted more. And yet, a part of me knew such great appetite could only create suffering. Count your blessings, he advised, be content now. And so I practiced contentment, breathing in the sunset and going through my daily routines. It felt good to go slow, the mundane held treasures, and tears sometimes misted my eyes perceiving the beauty of nature awaken to a new summer. But as time passed, my daimon grew restless. I wanted my heart to sing songs of grief and celebration. I wanted to be drunk with passion. I wanted to hit profound states of peace. I wanted to be inspired again. I wanted love and intimacy. I wanted more brotherhood in my life. I wanted more purpose and success.
I started to feel lonely. Disappointments began to pepper my life. Frustrations and anxieties returned. A new phase in my work overwhelmed me. Women ghosted me. My friends had a huge clearing with me, and called out my shortcomings. I took heat in all areas of my life, and got frustrated with myself and my own inadequacies. I gloss over all this, but it did feel like a war inside me for days, and as I addressed it, and rose to the occasion, the pressure released. And after all that, renewed fire ripped through my soul once again, I grew, I moved forward, and a new balance was attained.
The eternal cycle repeated in me. And once again I saw, there is no destination, no lasting utopia, only rolling hills with nice vistas along the way. The purpose of life is the contrast, the changes, the daily overcoming of yourself; the dance of peace and war is where the beauty comes from.
There’s a part of me that despises anything lukewarm and another part of me that cherishes the quiet moments of life. One part of me wants to be balanced and free, fishing the river and bantering with friends, content with life; but another part wants to be on fire with purpose and conviction, building, destroying, creating, suffering, and loving at the depths. He is supremely discontent with life, and he is what catalyzes growth.
The spiritual traditions talk of peace and presence, while the warrior traditions talk of battle and virtue. What is the middle way? Is discontentment such a bad thing? Is it not the counter force to complacency?
This is the war of wisdom: there are always two truths. Peace is great until in becomes lukewarm. Challenge and conflict can suck, and lead to strife, but they are essential to stir the pot into a new configuration. War creates virtue, while peace creates vice in the long run. Tension gives rise to music in the strings of an instrument. The challenge, the internal conflict and war, and then the overcoming, is the joy of life. But without presence, happiness is not enjoyed and peace is never possible. So, how do I best navigate these two sides of life and the unending cycle? What is the right amount of pressure? The right amount of stress? The right amount of conflict?
I don’t have the answers, but I’ll continue to observe and adapt. The highest wisdom, it seems to me, is in meeting both contrary sides of your nature, and bringing them into a harmonious totality. It starts at simple awareness, affirming conflict when it comes, accepting both the mundane and extremes, and bringing the full you to each season of life. When times are hot, find the cooling water inside you. When times are lukewarm, find the fire and ice within. Bring depth to happiness, lightness to suffering, and presence to all things. That is the mastery of the cycle.
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