Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Experience of Being Alive

One of our big influences at Empirical magazine is Joseph Campbell and his work on mythology. In the meme I've created to the right, Campbell is talking about "the experience of being alive." This is part of what we're trying to promote through our work at Empirical. At first glance, it might seem that we're all alive, so what's the big deal? But Campbell is pointing to the difference between mere existence and the experience of being fully alive. One can exist in the human body and not experience the joy, or what Campbell would call the "bliss," of being alive. How do we move from a place of mere existence to a place of this "rapture" of being fully alive? There is a clue in this quote to the right, when Campbell talks about the purpose of life not being the discovery of the meaning of life. The human brain is a powerful tool. It serves many purposes for us. Conscious thought allows us to differentiate, to compare, and to solve problems. It is so powerful that we are tempted to put it in charge of our lives. In the study of logic, we learn that the purpose of reasoning is to problem-solve. I could get through much of my life without reasoning were I not to experience problems that cause me to reflect on how these problems came to be, and how to solve them. Consciously, we reflect on the body of our experiences, try to understand the causal relationships involved, and problem-solve. As self-reflective creatures, what bigger "problem" can there be than not knowing how we got here in the first place, where we're going, or the purpose of our existence? But Campbell's suggestion that this is not what we're really seeking is a result of his having learned that such reflection is does not, in itself, solve the problem of being fully alive. The paradox of this particular group of questions about the meaning of life is that there is no abstract answer to the question. The answer is in the doing. We can make up answers, but no made-up answer is satisfying. We have to go for the experience of being fully alive, living in the present moment, the NOW that Eckhart Tolle talks about, and that the Buddha had talked about. The meaningful life does not consist in navel-gazing about the meaning of life. The meaningful life is a dialectic between the experience of life from the source of our being and the act of putting that energy into practice in healthy and creative ways in our lives. It is a dialectic, one might say ultimately, between the experience of bliss and the active expression of creative love. There are barriers to this creative love, and overcoming those barriers often requires reflection. But the point of the reflection is not, in the end, to gaze at an abstract conceptual solution. In the end, all concepts must give way to life and love.

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