11 minute read
“What is the meaning of life?”, is a question that all of us encounter sooner or later. We didn’t choose to be on this planet, we just appeared. So, what are we doing here? Our baby-selves got smiles and encouragement when we did some things. We got angry faces or punishment for others. So, in our early lives it seems that conforming the people around us is pretty much what life is about. We were craving for positive attention and were doing what we could to avoid being rejected for our behavior.
Soon enough however, we grew older and we saw this philosophy of life for the empty shell that it is. After all, the people that we are trying to please are people-pleasers themselves. And the people that they are pleasing are pleasers in turn. The moment that we realize this, is the moment that the big questions comes around the corner. “What ís the meaning of life? Is there something more than this to life?”
Now, I personally don’t believe that there is some conscious entity that somehow dictated a meaning of life. Some universal target to strive too, that for some mysterious reason is kept a secret to us. Something like ‘never break this arbitrary set of 10 rules’ or ‘you should use this lifetime to figure out how to make the perfect pancake’ or ‘have amazing sex with as many people as possible’. (I might be wrong though, so please don’t let me hold you back from trying… And hit me up when you figured the pancake thing out.) However, we are stuck on this planet together. Stuck in these bodies with all their short-comings as well as their amazing abilities. So, we might as well figure out how to make the best of it.
This insight has led me to reformulate the big question a bit. For me, the question is not about meaning, but about what makes us enjoy being alive. How do we feel that we are alive, in the fullest way? And how can we not only feel alive ourselves, but life in such a way that we can share the richness of our bodily experiences. The ecstasy of our emotions. How can we share the tingling lifeforce in the tips of our fingers with those around us? This is a question that I like to summarize as: How do we celebrate life?
In search for the answer to this question, we should realize that no amount of ‘success’ in this world can give you more than a brief feeling of satisfaction. I recently spoke to a friend who just finished half a year’s work on her thesis. She told me that the feeling of relieve that she experienced when she was done writing, was about the same as the feeling that she would get after a single day of good work. And this is the way of things. Feeling alive and amazing, being on top of the world, this feeling of celebrating life, it will not come after reaching some personal landmark. No matter how long you have been working for it. There is no one life event that will give you the feeling of life satisfaction that you are looking for.
But there is another way. There is a way that will offer you this satisfaction and deep life experience. It is the way of mastering acceptance and living in the current moment. When we watch YouTube or TV, we will see people that are so desperate to experience being in the moment, that they bring themselves into very dangerous situations. They will jump down mountains with a parachute on their back or try to balance their bike on some 2000-meter-high ridge. And while this might truly bring you an amazing experience, doing this on a weekly basis is not really a sustainable lifestyle (unless you are planning to construct this perfect pancake from your own body parts).
However, the same feeling of being ‘fully alive’ can be obtained in any everyday situation. All you need to do is to open up to your own consciousness. Are you standing in an elevator, or sitting in the train? Amazing! What is the temperature in the room? How does the texture of the walls play with the light before it reaches your eyes? Is there a person standing next to you? Try smiling at them and see how they respond with their own facial expression. You are a part of their life experience as well, you know! If you allow yourself to slowly sink into these moments, you will find that it is the smallest, most subtle events in our life that proof to bring us the richest experiences.
I realize that the above might seem a bit abstract to you. So that’s why I have come up with 5 practices for you to, well, celebrate life! Ladies and gentlemen, buggle-up! It is time for lift-off. (We will start serving drinks shortly.)
1) Celebrate your body
In the western world we like Descartes’s notion of dualism. We like to see our mind and body as two separate things. Unfortunately, this notion couldn’t be more wrong. Our body is not just the vessel that sustains our brain, our brain and body are part of the same unity and deeply intertwined. To illustrate this point, I would like to point out a recent case of a patient who developed schizophrenia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a person with the illness . To enjoy our cognitive abilities, to think and read as you do right now, to talk with a friend or lover, is to enjoy your healthy body. Because of this, we should take steps to keep this body of ours healthy.
“Yes, yes I know. I should get my ass off of the couch and push myself to train harder”, you might think. But this is not what I am trying to tell you here. Instead, I would like to encourage you to move in soft ways. Go for a walk, try some Yin yoga, swim some relaxed laps in the local pool. Take a moment every day to stretch and strain and move your muscles in ways that feel good. Give your body the attention it deserves! Your body works hard for you every day. It is the source of every happy feeling you have ever felt. And finding the movements that feel good for you, is the way to say thank you. Thank you, body.
2) Schedule time for contemplation
“People say nothing is impossible. But I do nothing every day”
Yes, I know. I sneak this one in every single blog. But that just goes to say how important I think it is to have room for contemplation in your life. Every happy or sad moment in our life, is only as happy or sad as we make it. When somebody calls me a jackass who wastes his time writing shit blogs, I could become very angry, or sad, or maybe I wouldn’t take it too seriously and feel quite unmoved. The point here is that it is not this name-caller (with a terrible taste in blogs) who gives me the emotion. I am the one who gives myself the emotion. How I relate to what this other person says, is the only thing that determines how I will feel about it.
And it is because of this, that it makes perfect sense to reserve some time for contemplation. To take some time on a daily basis to do nothing but observing our own thoughts and feelings and conscious experience. Your inner world is the most profound thing you will ever be able to experience, trust me, and it needs some precious time and attention to come to blossom. Read here how to ‘think outside the tub’ and learn how to ride the waves of your thoughts and feelings.
3) Keep a journal
OK great, you mastered the art of living in the moment and are no longer the victim of thoughts about past and future. Hooray! Only… you just realized that this also means that you are no longer able to actually plan what to do in the days and weeks ahead of you. No longer able to daydream. To think back on your past mistakes and learn from them, or to be grateful of what happened to you in the past days. And these things are vitally important as well to live a celebrated life!
Not to worry, way ahead of you. While these things all deserve plenty of attention, they don’t need to receive your attention at any random moment of the day. How about you simply start a new habit. It can be as simple as buying a little booklet and reserve 10 minutes every morning after waking up to write down some thoughts, doodle style. After your thoughts have left your mind and settled on the paper, you might want to add some more text. For example, write a detailed plan for the day ahead of you, add a good intention for the day and close your record with 3 things that you are grateful for. All done! And no longer any need for all these obsessive thoughts 🙂
4) Be like a child. Play!
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
There are two ways to relate to almost any challenge you will encounter in your life. You can either think about how serious the challenge is and all the serious things that will follow if you fail to meet your own sky-high expectations. Most likely, this will cause you to reach the conclusion that it is probably better to not even start taking action.
The other way is to see the challenge for the game that it is. The whole world, all of society, is made up of nothing more than a big collection of games. And everybody, if they know it or not, is participating in these games. The games might overlap here and there, and they might have vague rules, but that makes it all the easier to do a little playful cheating here and there. Just set yourself up for success!
Aspiring a job in finance but not as good with math as the people around you? Just stop aspiring this job, stupid! Finance is just not your kind of game. There will be plenty of other games where you are better than the people around you. “But my salary will be lower”. Well, how about you exchange the ‘who can get the most money’-game for the ‘who celebrates life to the fullest’-game?
5) Find your source of ecstasy
We humans are capable of many states of being. And some of these states, states that most of us rarely venture upon, are ecstatic. Never do we feel as alive as when we experience ecstasy. And it is these experiences that we look for when we ‘break our routine’. When we aimlessly walk into nature and get ourselves lost. When we meet up with an old group of friends and go out in the city center. When we sign up for a new art course. When we talk to a stranger. We look for this feeling of being outside our normal self. Of overflowing in some sense. A rapturous feeling that presents itself only when we are vulnerable enough to expose ourselves to new and uncertain situations.
The funny thing is that it is possible to discover a reliable source of ecstasy for yourself. For me, I find it in ecstatic dancing sessions. A style of free-form dance without intoxication or chit-chat. In his book The Art of Losing Control, Jules Evan recommends anybody to figure out what type of events give you your personal dose of ecstacy. And then to visit these places on a weekly basis. To nourish and bathe yourself in these strong and other-worldly feelings regularly.
Armed with this advice, my little grass-hopper, I now invite you to go out into the world and play, discover and celebrate life!