The following is a small passage from Again to Carthage by John L Parker, Jr. This is the sequel to Once A Runner, which became a cult sensation when it was self published in the 1970s. The author printed copies of the book himself and sold them from the boot of his car at runner's meets around America.
It's not something most human beings would give a moment of consideration to, that it is actually possible to be living for years in a state of constant betterment. To consider that you are better today than you were yesterday or a year ago, and that you will be better still tomorrow or next week or at tournament time your senior year. That if you're doing it right you are an organism constantly evolving towards some agreed-upon approximation of excellence. Wouldn't that be at least one definition of a spiritual state?
When I was a runner it was something we lived every second of our lives. It was such a part of us that if we had ever given it any thought, it would have been a mental lapse, a sign of weakness. Of course I am getting better every day, I would have said, what the hell am I training for otherwise? As if there were only one alternative, as if the arrow of improvement necessarily parallels that arrow of time, and in only one direction.
You might say--again--that we're just talking about an artifact of youth. That when you're young it is only natural to grow larger and stronger, to learn things, to master more and more of the skills and techniques of life, to get better, to improve.
It that's true then how do we end up with so many monsters, trolls, dickheads, and psychopaths? So many Pol Pots, Joe McCarthy's, Ted Bundys, and Lee Harvey Oswalds? Or Nixons for that matter? They were all young once and relatively harmless, and in a better universe they would have stayed that way.
Or consider the religious aesthete whose piety and serenity and good works increase and multiply as the years go by, into middle age, into old age, onto the deathbed. She's working on it too, and what keeps her going is the absolute conviction that every day she's getting better, saving more souls, that she's getting closer to God.
My point is that this way of living that we once took for granted isn't necessarily a "natural" process at all. It's not like water flowing down to the sea, not like aging. It takes effort, determination, conviction. But mostly it takes will. It takes a conscious decision to follow one difficult uphill path, and then the will to stay with it and not waver, to not give up.