I want to find out what screwed up the lovely and lively children the majority of adults once were. What in society, in education, in employment replaced their beauty with ugliness, depleted their spirit, made them mean and coarse? If we can find these things, can we change them? Can each person develop from a lovely and lively baby to a lovely and lively adult? Why not? Is society anti-human by nature? Does growing up have to be the death of the spirit? Why?
We are really still in a primitive stage, despite all our technologies and sciences. Despite the complexity of all the derivatives, we are basically still animals living a life of feeding and breeding. Everything else is just decoration.
The human side of us is still far from developed. Most people do not live a life of the mind. Most people cannot appreciate the finest poetry and music. Most people work for pay, not passion. Their jobs often bring neither satisfaction nor growth. Many of them blind their conscience to be able to do their job. Many people do not have the urge to live life in an honorable way. Look at all the spammers, and even worse, scammers.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. (–Ralph Waldo Emerson) This self, after its humble search of wisdom, comes to maturity at middle age, confident in the knowledge that actually nobody knows better how to live. The decision is yours. The risk is yours. The stage is yours. The best freedom life grants you is the freedom to make mistakes. To take risks and to make mistakes are better than to leave a life unlived, which is the worst sin. There are threats and punishments from the establishment. As a fish in a fish bowl, when you jump out, instead of finding the ocean, you may well die of thirst on a waterless table. All the other fish in the bowl, witnessing your terrible end, will celebrate their captivity, their decision to not seek freedom. There is no right or wrong. There is always risk. There is always hope. Walk out of slavery or forever remain in the false peace, it is now or never. At middle age, the inner fire burns into panic, in the hope of final awakening and action-taking. Otherwise it will be too late.
Life is about growing, about abandoning the old self, about finding new things, about reaching new heights. This is an exciting world after all. Any disillusionment is still due to ignorance. A determined thinker and doer can accomplish things unprecedented for centuries, for millennia.
Let those who have lost kindness and never developed empathy be left in their mental cages. I have no envy of them, no matter how well they fit in and play the power game. I’ll seek human solutions. I’ll work for real things, not what the boss thinks of me. My work will outlive their ashes.
There is a larger truth behind the daily scene we see. What is it? I want to grasp it and live with it, and never be fooled or entangled again by the smaller truths.
No security can make us safe. The only way to feel safe is to put aside life and death. We must live on courage only, not security. Therefore all the misfortunes, though they may have tortured us, shall not frighten us. We must be ready to give up everything, life included. The future is unpredictable. Insurance is for the worldly and animalistic who have no other desire but to maintain their physical well-being. We are epochal creatures who must cast these aside in order for our mind to function on its intended scale.
There is no clue in this universe on how we should live. My life may be a complete mistake. If the right path is only one, then the chances we step on it are near zero, while the chances to go off-track are infinite. Therefore we must not worry about being right anymore, but be willing to be wrong and know we can almost never be right. Therefore life is about making mistakes, as creative, big, many, and meaningful as possible, to our best knowledge.
Therefore we must seek knowledge, and talk to other people about their lives, so we can come up with new ways to make mistakes akin to our own nature, worthwhile of our own life.
It’s the quality of our mistakes that counts.
The perpetual mask of eternity is conventional opinion. Follow it and you’ll be trapped in a routine path where every day is laid out for you without your thinking. The part of us that is human, that is divine, that is spiritual thus gets smothered, and thus dies the true meaning of our life.
We live between the threat of losses and the call to freedom. We are like zoo animals, caged birds, prisoners. Every day we are torn between our concern for a secure supply of food and shelter, and our longing for a wild, exciting life. In our hearts we know that a day lived in such an approved, conventional way is a day wasted of this precious life we are given only once, of this prime life energy that quickly passes. Every night we go to bed with the vague guilt and dissatisfaction that nothing of eternal value has been done during the day. Every day we go to our job, without contributing anything to our own goals, before the energy is exhausted for the day.
We look for ways to improve the condition of our prison. We devote a tiny and irregular amount of time to our intrinsic interests. However, most of all we live a life that is not chosen, but dictated by needs and obligations.
There has to be another way of living. Every generation asks this question and experiments through its own hippies and eccentrics. Some fall off the edge and serve as a warning for those who want to attempt to be free. Some live in a compromised way and become “successful”. Most are assimilated, back to the black hole of mainstream, unsuccessful, unhappy, grounded in mediocrity. Some are in fact corrupted. Their souls have gone rotten. Their expression, speech, movement, and manners stink of hypocrisy and evil.
To be able to live a good life in the full human sense, one’s given default setting is not enough. If it were, education and thought and action would not be necessary. Going with the flow is not an option. To be able to exercise consciousness and rationality and choice, there must be a reflective element in one’s life. A life that does not allow time and energy to think will be a life of ignorance and passive reaction. The command “slow down” has the beginning of wisdom in it. Too bad most lives do not have this element. People do not reflect, therefore they never learn the lessons hidden in life’s pains and frustrations.
One must reflect or remain at the psychical state of a 3-year-old, which is common in adults and even elders. They never mature or blossom in the true human sense. Their beauty is external, if it ever exists, given by nature and gone with youth. They contribute nothing to the human heritage other than their reproduction, which they usually fulfill instinctively and irresponsibly.
The default life is not a good one. We live in a society defective in many ways. Without wakeful individuals, it will not be able to correct itself. Unthinking herds contribute to its evil. If one cannot command him/herself, he or she will have to obey society, which makes one a part of a machine, inconsequential, unimportant, not a human being that is unique and full of its own spirit.
An unexamined life is not worth living. But an examined life may still be unworthy of living. There must also be a creative element, a learning element (which I would like to think is supplemental and subservient to the creative element and without exception comes with it), and a meaningful element, through which an individual’s learning and creative action extend to others, and connect to the whole universe.
These, I think, are the conditions of having a good life. Reflection must come first and life must be examined, once the individual has gained independence from his family of origin in both mentality and financial means. This reflection must also be done continuously, as life more often than not poses unexpected and unwanted lessons to us. Paying attention is the key. Pretending to be dumb will make one truly dumb.
Back to Vancouver. Still beautiful, the city lights before dawn. It was 7 degrees below zero. It snowed 3 days ago. A taxi driver from India drove me home. I have never met a taxi driver at the Vancouver airport who is not from India. In Calgary they are all from Pakistan. Often an occupation in an area is controlled by people from a certain area. For these people of a certain regional and/or racial origin, it is also a fate they can hardly escape, due to lack of influence and connection in any other career. I realized this latter point yesterday when again a (this time underground because he is not licensed) driver from Hunan Province was driving me to Shenzhen Airport. We talked about it. He told me how hard it would be to start from scratch in a new field in which nobody you know could guide you with experience. There is also people’s inertia in play, but a cultural effect like this is an almost determining factor in the economy and in people’s lives. Again, people are not free to do things they have never heard of. And it takes great courage to go out of one’s “normal” way into a risky, unknown life.
A life, even one full of meaning, performing all duties, fulfilling all obligations to family and friends and society and even the human species as a whole, if deprived of intrinsic interest, is still a life not worth living by itself. You will still have difficulty getting out of bed every morning.
By intrinsic interest I do not mean material or monetary interest, I mean what you are interested in, naturally and genuinely, and, as in many cases, have a natural gift for. For instance, you really want to be teaching, preaching, playing piano, helping the poor, gardening, doing woodwork, painting, playing with kids, observing nature, traveling, studying economics, leading the community, making a film, climbing a mountain, sweeping the streets, knitting a sweater, or making a doll. You really want to do it.
Whatever you look for leads to it. Even if this desire has been laughed at, or thwarted, you still want it subconsciously. You do not feel alive when not doing it. Maybe you cannot name it, maybe you cannot find it in the National Occupation Codes, but you want it to be your occupation, your life’s work and leisure. It is so vague that sometimes it only becomes clear when you get to the last years of your life, but you are still glad you have found it in this life anyway. The earlier you find it and are able to do it, the luckier you are. You will be seeking it until you find it. You will be searching your soul, this world, the known and the unknown fields, the trodden and untrodden paths, the recognized and unrecognized skills, different places, different peoples, different jobs. Unless you are doing it, you are never truly happy, no matter how high the income is, how sweet the wife and kids are, how beautiful the house is, how widely you have traveled the world, how competent and well-praised you are at your work. No, you will always feel an unnamed part is missing from this life, no matter how you persuade yourself that it is not so, like all other people persuade you, with seemingly solid facts, and by such common standards. You feel guilty for not being happy. This adds to your unhappiness.
A life worth living is a life engaged in the activity of your intrinsic interests and natural talents. You forget time and are immersed in it intensely. Your strengths are being fully used, challenged, and nurtured. You are concentrated, fully engaged, thinking of nothing else. Afterwards you feel not exhaustion, but a deep relaxation and satisfaction, like waking up from a good dream.