What is living?
Is it to live depending on circumstances, in comfort, fulfilling urges and desires, or is it to act in full freedom, with discernment and intelligence in order to reach serenity and happiness?
Life has the value that we give it in relation to what we are.
For a stone, life is to resist.
For a plant, life is for growing.
For an animal, life is for feeling and fulfilling one’s pleasure.
The human being has within himself mineral, plant and animal elements.
What differentiates the human being from these elements is the ability to ask himself questions.
“What use does life have?” For Pierre Hadot, a philosopher specialized in Antiquity, philosophy is not a theoretical system but an experience which is lived, and it is a confrontation to reality, to one’s ideas, dreams and decisions and a questioning of oneself without, which there is no life.
Life is a movement
What is living? Is it to live in a state of inertia seeking the easy life, or is it to live while fulfilling oneself with determination, decision, responsibility and intelligence?
To live is a movement. Things are alive because there is movement. But if this movement becomes inert, mechanistic, artificial, repetitive, dependent, resistant and routine, then life fades and dies. To move from comfort, laziness, living day to day, and from the instinct of preservation which protects us, we need to take risks, to give a purpose to our movements.
The more ambitious our goals and dreams are, the more we are capable of putting ourselves in motion.
To live in autonomy
Life is characterized by autonomy. It is capable of repairing itself, and healing its wounds. An inanimate object cannot do that without human intervention.
Life reproduces itself. We can program ourselves to direct our existence towards something else. We can reproduce ourselves biologically or through ideas and sentiments.
Life self-regulates and balances itself. This is the basis of ecology.
If our body was not able to regulate itself, it would constantly be ill. Life is to be in movement and to understand the laws of movement. Some encounter these laws through simply being impacted by the movement. They run after life but do not live. They live unconsciously and are moved by instincts and urges. Others question themselves: ‘Where am I going, who am I? What use does life have?’ They seek a goal, a meaning. They marvel before life, the universe and all that inspires them and enables them to learn with intelligence.
The Expression of consciousness
Movement is found in the words ‘to express’, that is, to realize the potential we have within. But what are we expressing? This is where the notion of consciousness comes in. We can express that which is good within, our need for social recognition, our desire for self realization; our quest for Good, the Truth and Beauty, and we can also express the false, superficial and apathetic side of ourselves. In other words, we can express living or appearing to live.
Socrates introduced to the Western world, the concept of conscience.
He said: ‘I have within me a little voice, a daemon, (not a demon but a genie/angel, a conscience) which sometimes tells me what I shouldn’t do but not what I should do.’ There is a conscience within each one of us, and sometimes this conscience makes us suffer and is suppressed in the subconscious where it continues to act on the body or the feelings.
The expression of a destiny
Expression implies ‘to accept to be confronted by others, and to experiment in order to improve that which we think we are, or are becoming’. To live is to express that which is positive, creative, harmonious, simple but beautiful and good. It is not to express oneself guided by urge or desire, or in other words to let off steam and engender violence for oneself and others. To express a destiny is not to express the future through fortune telling. From a philosophical viewpoint, the classical authors of antiquity explain that in ancient Theatre, the Greek tragedy presents the story of a character that has a choice between living a tranquil peaceful life, and accomplishing an exploit which will transcend him, transform him, sometimes at the cost of his life (the Hero).
We all have a destiny in potential. This destiny will express itself in our choosing to not act like everyone else, to take ownership for our own life, to be what we want to be and not to become what others expect of us. Life is to confront the unknown, to accept the mystery, to live with it.
The power of life and freedom
As Hegel said, ‘true consciousness is not a theoretical faculty but a power of living and freedom’. To live is to express a power over oneself which leads us towards freedom. For a human being to become free, he should not be conditioned by circumstances or by his passions. He must decide and act with intelligence.
One can live as an animal, a stone or a tree. To live as a human being, one needs to have spirit. From a philosophical viewpoint, spirit is that capacity we have to understand the world and to free ourselves from it. This capability may be associated with intelligence (intellegere in Latin: to be able to enter). The spirit enables the human being to understand what is real, and to take action while becoming independent of circumstances and not being overwhelmed by them.
One keeps a clear spirit in spite of situations. Spirituality is a struggle in order to maintain intelligence, discernment and the possibility to see things in their unity and not in their various parts. Reason enables us to divide things; intelligence enables us to reunite them.
To live intelligently is not only to live “reasonably”. The ultimate goal of life is happiness. Not an immediate, ephemeral, happiness satisfied by urge, but what Socrates calls eudemonia; an inner state of serenity, wisdom and calm, a state of being without attachment, and with discernment.
To live life is an opportunity to be happy.