"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom; for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough." William Blake.
Often, what Blake said is true. But he should have been a bit more careful in how he said it. His statement is a bit ... excessive.
The Oracle at Delphi, the holiest spot in ancient Greece, had two commands for wise living inscribed in marble to greet all visitors.
The first command was "Know Yourself." The second was "Nothing in Excess."
I long thought these were just two important but unrelated recommendations. But now I understand more deeply. You can't really know yourself unless you know what counts as excessive for you, in any area. And you can't know what's excessive for you unless you know yourself. These are deeply intertwined imperatives.
I wish William Blake had been more cautious in his often quoted statement about excess. The road of excess doesn't always lead to the palace of wisdom, but it can. It can also lead to the mortuary, or to a dark cave of chronic stress, or else to what my mother, and many mothers of her generation used to call "the poor house." It can lead to the edge of a cliff or to another unexpected dead end. It enlightens only those who are sufficiently aware that they have crossed a line, and need to back up.
We indeed never know our limits until we attempt to pass beyond them. And, to the wise, the experience is enough to give rise to a sense of what is ... enough. One year, I gave talks in 93 cities. That, I found out, was for me far too much. And I cut back on my schedule right away. The decision was a wise one, and brought me immense benefits.
Experience can be a great teacher, if we're alert students.
Is there any excess in your life right now? Be honest about it. Come on, really.
Ask yourself whether there is anything you need to do to back up a little and correct course.