I'm stealing from my own book, Are You Useful. A story about how BodyTribe started, at least philosophically, which happen to be one of the first chapters of said book I'm plagiarizing.
So many good stories begin on a mountain or under a tree, so far be it for me to be the exception. There is a mountain ridge amongst the Sierra range that is modest in size and user friendly. It is an intermediate hike to the crest which provides a nifty view of Serene Lakes on one side and Lake Norden on the other, not to mention the numerous other mountains, valleys and acres of trees that can be seen for miles in all directions. This ridge probably has a name, but I knew it simply as a mountain that rose up between a ring of cross country ski trails that circled its base during the winter. If, for the sake of organization, you’d like a name for it, let’s call it Sherry. I was about 10 kilometers from a resort’s lodge, deep in the woods and at the far end of Sherry one day when I decided that, since it was there, I might as well climb it/her. It was early spring. This meant the snow was solid ice in the morning and slush by late afternoon. In the ice stage, it was easy to ski off trail, if you had a modicum of familiarity with the `skating’ style of cross country skiing. I did, so up the mountain I went, skating the snow/ice, eventually reaching the top of the ridge. Once the climb was made, the rolling peaks of Sherry’s top were a pleasure to ski, and the view had few equals, at points a 360 panorama of one of the finest, most piquant mountain ranges in the world. I rested on a giant rock, not knowing that it would be the location for an epiphany that would lock me there for several hours. Sherry had many things to teach me. To Nature, Humans are not beautiful creatures. We’re fond of ourselves, and sometimes each other, but the rest of the planet, the non-human majority, doesn’t view us as particularly winsome. Naked, we’re not built to tolerate most climates. We offer no real place on any food chain. We’re not essential to any original ecology (in fact we tend to destroy any environment we inhabit). Also, when compared to other species in the grand scheme, we aren’t really that great to look at. Why are we still around? For reasons beyond our understanding, we possess a cognitive gift more developed (arguably) than anything else on the planet. The theories explaining our `how’ have been debated since we first realized we could communicate beyond grunts. More exciting, though, is figuring out the `Why.’ Sitting on that rock overlooking vast sections of organic pulchritude drove me to think a little. Admitting our inherent ugliness and lack of importance to an otherwise thriving and autonomous planet was a tough step. We all want to feel needed, but having the bosom of the Earth Mother staring at me from all angles imparted a strong message that if we didn’t exist on the planet, her survival would actually be easier. We, probably sensing our worthlessness in some corner of our unconsciousness, have made dangerous decisions about how to assert ourselves. We’ve decided as a species to claim worth through domination, the classic sign of the insecure bully. The irony is lost on us that our punk-ass attempts at commanding the planet eventually show us how dependent we are on the planet. At that point our seemingly infinite capacity for logic and rationalization have degenerated into greed, and we’re too power-drunk to admit to our natural, birth given ugliness. The Hollywood scenario would look like this: the battered, bloodied hero, while spitting out a broken tooth and trying to get up off the ground, starts to laugh. The villain, feeling inches from victory, stops the pummeling for a minute to ask where the humor is in the present situation, just as he gets splattered by a train that the hero saw approaching the whole time. Right now we can hear the planet giggling under our clenched fists. Even the lifetime ago (when I was still in my 20’s) when I was on top of Sherry, nature was laughing at us, and had been for some time. My solitary perch upon her peaks gave me some unexpected insight as to what might really be our purpose as a species. I was surrounded by nature’s beautiful determination, as everything within visual distance had a place in the glory I was witnessing. In other words, where I was wouldn’t be what it was without everything I could see at that point, from the diminutive, almost invisible spiders that wanted me to get the hell off their rock to the massive range of peaks on the other side of the valley daring me to climb on them. The only one not serving a purpose would be this pale, stinky ape sitting on the rock with giant sticks on his feet and obnoxious colored boots. Understanding that there was beauty in the usefulness and cohesiveness of everything became simple. It all had purpose. Except for me. Stop me if you’ve heard something similar: If a tree lived in a forest and no one was around to see it, would it really exist? Oxygen might have been a little sparse up there at 8,000 feet, making the spam and lime jello globe vibrating between my ears a little more privy to wackiness, but it wasn’t hard to believe that Sherry was telling me something. Perhaps this realization reeked of cliché, but I was being schooled by nature. The lesson seemed to be that too many of our philosophical pursuits are as selfish as our quests for planet domination. In other words, yes, that tree exists, whether it falls and we don’t hear it or it stands for several hundred years hanging out with peers, and no human eye ever beholds it. Cogito ergo so what? What good are we then? If we don’t have an instant place in the order of nature, then let’s look at the tools we were given, this ability to create thought, and see how it might be better used. First, let’s define beauty as it relates to our scenario here. Beyond human aesthetic perception, let’s define it also as being an integral part in nature. This definition explains how, to the planet, we’re ugly and a dung beetle is, in its own way, hot. Beauty, to this big blue ball, is the utilitarian synergy of living things. With a little squinting, we can probably see that too. Guess what we can do? Better, in fact than probably any other creature on earth? We can create beauty, in both the aesthetic perception sense, through art and ideas, and in our relationships, to each other and the planet. Unlike the rest of the planet, which has birth-given usefulness, our magic seems to be that we can dream and build what is useful, maybe even integral, to the interpersonal systems we’re part of. We’ve been given this ability, this quest, and the cognitive understanding to realize it. We’re more verb than noun, more process than object. How do we make that beautiful? Let’s embrace this groovy mission. How we got this power isn’t really the big question. Whatever deity or beaker-and-slide-ruler you want to put stock in doesn’t change the fact that our real challenge is how we use this gift. Just for laughs, let’s pretend we come from nothing and will probably leave a completely insignificant footprint on the big picture. But turn that frown upside down! We should celebrate! This privilege we have to BE, this brain we’re given to believe what we need to believe to get through our ridiculously limited time on this dance party Earth, this honor of having a potentially glorious organic machine to get our amazing brains and their perpetual thoughts from point A to point B, and have a blast doing it – this should all be cause for celebration. THAT’S what creating beauty for a human is… being active in our joy for what we do have. This idea of celebrating our truncated timeline is the difference between just existing and truly Being. We’re surrounded by a constant parade of existence, with lots of energy, hype, and stimuli achieving nothing at all. We’re masters of creating so much unnecessary work that we’re under the false impression that we’re productive Truth is, we’re just busy. When we are honestly using our gift, though, steeped in the process of truly Being, then we are beautiful to the planet. If we can achieve this as a species, harmony ensues. Alas, a boy can again dream. If it isn’t obvious yet what the role of the holistic athlete is, and how each of our individual bodies connects some important dots in all this, then your meditation to keep reading. It’s the purpose of this book. In the meantime, be you. It’s what you should be best at.