On a sunny day on my way to the confines of work I was struck with swirling ideas and floating feelings. In other words, I felt alive. There was a sense of - metaphorically speaking – running around through wild grass and jumping into clear rivers filled with colored fish. No, I was not on drugs, far from it, but those sensations could be classified as being “high” or in tune with nature and all that pulsates and throbs with life.
In that moment, everything fell away and apart like dust. The intellectual ceased and gave way to unadulterated and spontaneous outbursts of feelings. I imagined myself bursting out into operatic songs. And I re-evaluated the meanings and connotations attributed to our notion of life.
What is life? It seems that the most relevant aspect of life are the senses. It is the sensual cues that make us vividly aware of our surroundings. To be alive is your heart beating profusely, your eyes taking in visual beauty, your ears attuned to the musical sounds of nature, your nostrils filled with the odor of all that is emitting hues of scents.
Being alive means seeing and feeling and digesting in color. This was shown in cinematic experiments where the black and white of the dead gives in to the colored perception of the living. The most striking example is the masterpiece Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, in which an angel used to see the world in shades of grey but when he becomes human, everything is converted into color. He feels cold and rubs his hands with glee. He is delighted to taste his blood or a cup of hot coffee.
It is those natural and often ignored sensations that make us alive. We are too often immersed in our imaginary talk and limit ourselves to the tiny space within our heads. We are worried about the past, the present and the future, our jobs and our families and in such an unhealthy state, life passes us by. It just happens to us and floats away unnoticed while we are busy making other plans as John Lennon sings, or we do not breathe and do not stay home to watch the rain only to realize that we are nearing our own demise, as Pink Floyd exclaims.
So life can be subsumed to two things: the present and our senses. If we base our definition on these two aspects, there are things that are against life and others that promote it. For example, philosophy, as much as I love it, is for the most part, anti-life. It mistrusts the senses and puts on a high pedestal the tiny voice in our head that prides itself and feeds off on logic and reason.
When we look at the arts, cinema, music, fiction and poetry, we see that they, again for the most part, embrace life. They accentuate feelings and sensations, perceive them under the magnifying glass and help us to spill over those insights into our daily life. A seemingly dreadful life of routine and hardship may turn into a blossoming flower and affirmation of human existence.
Where does religion end up? It again depends on our brand. But if we look at what is given as mainstream religion, then we sense that it is notoriously anti-life. The senses and natural instincts are not only mistrusted but seen as evil temptations. All that makes us alive we are told to cut out like a budding cancer or withered leaves and instead we ought to rely on something vaguely defined as soul. Our eyes are not focused on this life, the here and the now but an after-life in the realms of the far future, a place that we eventually might not even be able to see with our physical eyes.
All this ties in with some of my beliefs on life and sacrifice. As much as I think it would be heroic to give one's life for a cause, I also deem it foolish and the most anti-life act one can imagine. If religion asks you to give up your life, then it is opposed to all things living, and I do not wish to subscribe to it. Also if its constant focus is on death and destruction, such as the end of all life or the apocalypse without taking into account the beauty of life that lies within this same period, then it is equally misguided in its outlook.
So if we constantly and consistently suppress our natural desires, then we are becoming dead. Death is the end or lack of sensations; it is the endless sleep that has no dreams and hence no feelings whatsoever. What mainstream and organized religion, especially in its radical form, is often asking us is to become eunuchs to life; to suppress our passions and sexual desires and everything else that makes us human.
This may seem harsh, but I am not equating God with religion at this point, the same way we cannot equate Jesus with being a Christian. In fact, Jesus has stood up for all that which makes us alive and has opposed all that which is keeping us stagnant, but his teachings have become strangely crystallized into motionless, limited and limiting dogmas and doctrines. Those teachings have been put on their heads and under the banner of religion, the religious representatives are asking people to do things, which Jesus himself was criticizing in the first place.
If this seems contrary to most people's experience, then I would like to point out that Jesus was not averse to food and wine nor the occasional dance at weddings (he even turned water into wine not merely to show off with a miracle but to add to general merriment). He hung out with prostitutes and openly defied authorities, the priests and the Roman oppressors. The only reason he embraced death because he deemed it as necessary for his purposes, something which I will not comment upon at this point.
So how should we live? One thing I am opposed to and am not condoning here is hedonism, at least in its extreme form. I do not think anarchy would be the strongest expression of life. Anything in its excess will lead to negative consequences. What I prefer is a mild form of hedonism, where you partake in good food, wine, and sex but in good and healthy measure.
At the same time, I am not saying that one should throw ethics and morals out the door. Quite the contrary. I think having an ethical life is compatible with one that is life-affirmative and positive. One should, of course, control sexual instincts and desires wherever and whenever it is deemed inappropriate, but one should not give it up altogether nor control it too strictly or unduly.
Slight hedonism is the best way to go in my view. One should feel life to the utmost, but also not become a slave to one's passions. As the Buddhist says the best way lies in moderation. Yet that moderation is often lacking in our daily existence, and we either diet or binge on life, hence never seeming to find the right and healthy balance between the two.