During my months of study at the San Francisco Zen Center there were a few people who were peripherally involved with both Ch'an and Zen. They were perpetually undernourished and clad almost in rags. One told me, “It's what you got to do to get enlightenment, man.” Some were stoned on drugs, although most were making a serious quest.
In college I saw how some grad students and professors alike let excruciating work-weeks wreck their health and marriages. I saw the same thing once I joined the work force: the toll that overwork can take on every edge of life.
At one contract job, I found a forty-something woman sleeping at her desk early one Friday morning. She had been working non-stop for three days t o get a project done on time. I started past her desk when she roused. She scrambled to her feet and and started away. “I'll be back in a couple hours. I'm almost done, just a few more details... !” She wasn't back when I left that evening. I didn't see her until the following Monday; her eyes refused to meet mine. I never did learn what happened, but several days later her desk was vacant, stripped of any trace of her having labored there.
Sometimes lives of radical deprivation or endless challenge do serve well; we're all unique. Most times, I think extreme routes of searching for happiness and fulfillment are like a locomotive racing toward derailment. A better route follows the middle path through life's myriad theaters.