Real learning happens on the subconscious level, causing real changes. This is the paradox: we must verbalize to communicate knowledge, yet real thinking happens in a non-verbal way.
We invented languages, written and spoken, to convey messages, to preserve knowledge. The mastery of a language is considered a valuable skill, and indeed is. A newly learnt language opens up a new world.
Language conveys yet distorts the message. During the transmission, the real power of the original message is lost. For example, at first, the founder of a religion lives his belief with the entirety of his life, the words spoken are from the bottom of his heart. From him to his disciples, the message loses some of its original living power, personality, passion, and depth. Afterwards, the next generation of followers does not even have the luxury of exposure to the master’s silent direct influence, to correct any misinterpretation. On and on the doctrine is diluted and distorted. By the time a belief is institutionalized, doctrine has become dogma, spark has left the ashes.
However we have not found a better way of communicating, and must try again with the only tool we have, again and again, in any creative way we can imagine, in all literatures, in all conferences, in all presentations, in all documents.
Yes, we have also sounds and colors and shapes and touch and movements; therefore we invented music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. But the majority of human messages are still carried by words.
There are very diluted messages, or pure junk. There are also forms of condensed wisdom. Great books are the latter. Though our interpretation is different from one another, or even from each read, some valuable messages get across. We are therefore nourished and grow in the rich soil cultivated by generations of our ancestors, not the barren environment called daily life we are thrown into. Whether to take this inheritance or not is up to us. There is no obligation.
I should focus on freedoms and opportunities, and count my blessings daily. I should not allow myself to be dismayed by the dismal aspects of reality and the lousy demands of life. Because time passes, all my blessings will be gone, freedoms and opportunities will be wasted. Everyone can complain, whine, and despair. Only heroes can love, persevere, and pursue. It is nice to be normal. It is exhilarating to be heroic. Nothing tastes better than victory. The second best would be an epic failure. I want to play with this life. This is my toy. This is my joy.
I wish to live a life pure and concentrated, like the liquid center of a bottle of frozen wine, like the white heart of a fire.
Ballet is such an artificial form of art. It represents the human desire for dancing freely beyond the limit of gravity, for a beauty unreal to blood and flesh. It is cruel to the dancers. They have to stand, walk, jump on their toes, and the nails are broken again and again. Yet with such inhuman effort, the dancers present to the human eye a seemingly effortless near-perfection of the bodily form in movement and gesture, hence an achievement of transcendental value.
Otherwise, it is really just an unnatural way of dance, rooted in men’s fantasies of women and successful at molding real women into their fantasies. It is based on lives not of labor, but of luxury. Men who have choreographed such art are highly regarded, such as George Balanchine and Marius Petipa; so are the women who willingly achieved their choreography with their own heart, body, and life, such as Suzanne Farrell, Maya Plisetskaya, and Galina Ulanova.
Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham are closer to my ideal. They used their body and technique, not to conform to a classical yet dying art, but to communicate what their hearts hear, what nature calls to them, what the human emotions struggle to express.
It’s wonderful that life can be stripped of inessentials once in a while. Our petty worries and vanities are a hindrance to a great life. Live on the edge, live on the bare bones, so you can deal with abundance.
So at this new year, let me not think of a beginning, but of the end. It is a good idea to get ready to die, so you can live with clearer choices and stronger determinations. In the past year, many people I knew met their end. It is an empirical truth that we will all die. Why should not everything be evaluated from the end point backwards?
I may have a long life. I may die anytime. The ultimate end, death, reveals the meaninglessness of individual life. This is a harsh truth we’d rather not look at. But it also makes life sacred. And there is tremendous energy we can use to live a satisfying life if we get out of this slumber. Don’t we just sleep through life, normally? I know I have so many concerns I can let go of if death kicks in. This unpleasant frame of reference is liberating.
We look forward to the end. What we expect to see is not pleasure, but victory, over difficulties, over impossibilities, over hostilities, over death.
The fatal fallacy of living a felicitous life alone is that it is not up to you. Anyone who strives for personal happiness only will inevitably find this happiness hindered or destroyed by forces over which he or she has no control, including one’s environment. Your food may be manufactured with hazardous, genetically modified ingredients; the air you breathe may be polluted; your neighborhood may not feel safe anymore after break-ins, robbery, kidnapping, shootings, or gang violence; you might get hit by a drunk driver; your kids may receive a bad education at school, suffer from bullying, be subject to the temptation of legal junk foods/beverages and illegal drugs; everywhere you may be provided with services of poor quality by heartless incompetents, from your house builder, your government, to even your doctor and dentist; a person may curse you when you are taking a walk because you are of a different skin color; your country may decide to go to war; another country may attack yours for oil, land, ambition, or religious difference. The ozone layer is getting thinner and the sunrays are becoming more harmful, causing skin cancer; rain forests, your ultimate oxygen supplier, are being destroyed at an alarming rate; species that constitute the genetic repository are being extinguished; the oceans are being over-fished; the deserts are spreading; the glaciers are melting; terrorism is rampant; fascism is reviving; civil liberty is being compromised; and so on and so forth. There goes your felicitous life.
The sooner you become aware of the problems on a larger scale, the better. Otherwise when disaster hits, you are just one of the casualties.
There is really no good life on your own. All your inputs are coming from the environment—people and nature around you, and all your outputs go into it. You have to have relationships with your environment. Your relationships with other people and nature are less decided by your quality, more by their quality.
The world we live in is not a good one. It is not a world we want our children and grandchildren to live in. Since there is no self-contained, self-sufficient island of heaven to escape to, we had better work on changing at least one thing that does not make sense. Yes, one person cannot change the world. But it is not an excuse not to take action.
If we cannot live a felicitous life, at least let us live a meaningful one by striving to improve the possibility of individual felicity. Maybe we’ll have a better world in our lifetime. Maybe our children will, in a future too distant to us. Either is good. Our happiness will derive from our struggles and victories. Therefore it will be a happy life after all. We will have thus truly lived to our limits and answered the exigencies of our life.