Why do we want to go on living?
Think deeply about it. At the core of all of our answers will likely be a lust for life itself. We choose to go on living in order to inhale the exuberance of nature, to revel in our achievements, to bask in the radiance of love with others, and to laugh in the face of entropy as long as we can. The preciousness of life is entirely due to its brevity and fragility. The looming specter of death magnifies the urgency of our short lives. It fans the torrid flames of joy and love that crackle as our individual experiences.
There is a polarity to life. At one end of the spectrum lie pain and death. At the other end lie joy and life. The goal is to choose for joy and life, and to wage battle against pain and death. Since we live in an inimical universe, we cannot avoid this battle. We can only determine the degree to which we will win or lose.
However, our choices are often ambiguous. We choose between life and death and between joy and pain in an intellectual environment of imperfect knowledge and a psychological environment of fear. Both environments will adversely impact the quality of our choices. Ignorance clouds the mind, and fear paralyzes it. Thus, greater knowledge and less fear will help us make better choices that bring us joy and optimize our lives.
We make thousands of choices each day. In between every stimulus and response lies the gap in which we decide the path of our lives. With each choice we make, we are either moving closer to joy and life, or closer to pain and death. This is why the fog of ignorance can be catastrophic, and why the paralysis of fear can be debilitating. Knowledge is the only effective weapon that we as humans possess. Fear is the opposite of everything good. It is the opposite of love, growth, esteem, relationship, joy, peace, and thus life.
Every sane person prefers better rather than worse. We prefer success rather than failure, joy rather than sadness, love rather than hate, ease rather than burden, collaboration rather than conflict, and life rather than death. We care what happens to us. What we choose to care about is our meaning. If we didn’t prefer better over worse, if we didn’t care about anything, we would choose to do nothing. Then entropy would kill us, because staying alive requires action.
Optimizing life is a process of continuous improvement. Our condition is either improving or decaying, and there is zero probability that where we are at now is ideal. Improvement requires change, which is often experienced as a temporary, uncomfortable disequilibrium. Since this disequilibrium can be difficult to face, change requires vision, conviction, courage, and a touch of audacity.
Here are the key elements of a Manifesto for Living:
Life is precious.
It is precious because of its scarcity and its potential.
Life is scarce because it is the most finite element of existence in the universe. Each life is temporary and irreplaceable.
Life has enormous potential, because it can become anything a free will is determined to make it. We exist in a pathless realm of infinite possibilities. As cognitive, volitional, living beings, we alone have the ability to dream and to create.
The purpose of life is sustainable joy.
The preconditions for sustainable joy are Self Esteem, Connection, and Free Spirit.
Self Esteem requires:
- Actively pursuing your chosen intentions and desires
- Acknowledging that you get what you deserve (Law of Karma)
- Believing in yourself and your unique value
- A sense of accomplishment through doing rather than wishing
- Continual growth toward wisdom and completeness (mind, body, spirit)
- Rational thinking and principle-centered decision making
- Evolving a meaningful vision and mission for your life
- Recognizing that relationships are the most rewarding manifestations of the self
- Loving and being loved
- Giving and receiving
- Seeking first to understand, then to be understood
- Finding something good in everyone you meet
- Being valuable to others
- Nurturing a sense of place, family, and home
- Win/win thinking
Free Spirit requires:
- Knowing that the past is for learning, the future is for planning, and that real living occurs with intense awareness of the present
- A lust for joy
- Risk-taking and audacity
- A child’s world view (seeing the world as fun, humorous, and curious)
- Uninhibited expression of self
- Detachment from superficial status symbols and outcomes
- Embracing uncertainty, because fixation on security is a prison for the soul
- Being willing to challenge your own assumptions and beliefs
This Manifesto for Living concludes with an observation by Gautama Buddha: “This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by like a torrent down a steep mountain.”