Friday, 17 September 2010

When times are tough

In Jan Martel's Life of Pi, a 16 year old boy called Pi finds himself adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, At first he thinks he is all alone, but he soon finds out he's wrong, very wrong. He is sharing the lifeboat with a Royal Bengal tiger.  

Pi is terrified. He starts to cry. He's convinced he's going to die. He finds it unbearable to think about all the life in front of him, that he will now never see.  

But at that moment Pi discovers he has a fierce will to live. 'It is not a question of courage' he says, 'it's something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity.'

I love the idea of life hungry stupidity.

It is our basic, essential desire to survive. 

Spinoza was a philosopher and lens-grinder, who lived in Amsterdam more 300 years ago. He was a strange guy, but he had some great ideas. One of his best ideas was that our desire to survive is at the very essence - the heart - of our being. His word for this was conatus. 

It works in real life too.

Joe Simpson was climbing in the Andes when disaster struck. First he slipped down an ice cliff and landed awkwardly, breaking his led. Then he fell 100 foot over a cliff and was dangling in mid-air. His climbing partner thought he was dead and cut the rope, dropping Joe way down onto a precarious ice bridge inside a vast crevasse.

In Touching the Void, Joe Simpson describes his response: ‘It would be a long time before cold and exhaustion overtook me on the ice bridge, and the idea of waiting alone and maddened for so long had forced me to this choice: abseil until I could find a way out, or die in the process. I would meet it rather than wait for it to come to me.’

Joe chose action over inaction, even when the chances of success were vanishingly small. Remarkably, he survived: eventually finding a small hole in the roof of the crevasse, crawling slowly out of danger and somehow finding his way back to base camp.

When times are tough, we can turn to our ‘life hungry stupidity’, our desire for survival, our inner hope. 

And we can build on it. In my next blog, I will explain how ordinary magic and personal medicine can help us do more than just survive.


  1. People do have incredible strength in desperate times. this does lead on to how it is used for the right and best way.l hear people wanting to battle through their illness, both sexes no age brings my thoughts especially to our hero's,loosing limbs physical pain for all to see. The determination to want to live a full life l can only finish by saying all creatures are amazing....

  2. this blog may well be the basis for the next book.