As Aristotle tells us: to be is to be active. Activity is process; your life is not comprised by the set of outcomes of your endeavours, your life is the process which produces those outcomes.
I’ve recently been through a professionally challenging period in which my capacity has been stretched. As with anything that stretches and increases ones capacity, the gains are won through definite discomfort. Whilst feeling challenged I complained to my father, saying I wish I could fast forward this period; learn the lessons and increase my capacity, but skip the discomfort. His response was forceful: “Don’t ever wish away your life!”
I am absolutely certain that anyone reading this article will be familiar with the feeling of suffering through some process in order to achieve some goal that is worth achieving. Whether it be painful workouts, reading through some textbook, or trudging through a very boring work day; suffering through an arduous process to enjoy the rewards is a very distinctive feature of most people’s everyday experience. This is in fact something some people view as a virtue, this ability to suffer through a painful process in order to enjoy the fruits that are eventually accrued through such endeavour.
There is however a significant problem with this way of thinking about things. This problem is hinted at by my father’s response but is concisely expressed by Joshua Becker. The problem is that this way of thinking focuses all joy on the outcome rather than on the journey.
But why is this such a problem? What is wrong with focusing all joy on the outcome? Well, for one thing, focusing all joy on the outcome makes you wish away your life. The only thing that is pleasant, the sole source of joy in our lives, are these brief moments in which we enjoy the fruits of our labour. The rest of our lives are suffered through, where we just wish we could push a fast forward button and get the process over with.This surely isn’t the best way to go about our lives. Surely we do not want to be robbing ourselves of more than half of our lives.
This approach has other short-sighted, negative effects, which are noted by Joshua Becker:
- It discounts the role and importance of work and effort in our lives.
- It misses opportunity to celebrate the small steps we take along the way.
- It overlooks the value of exercising discipline.
- It fails to appreciate the value of discomfort in our growth.
The failing that so many of us are guilty of is that we do not manage to find joy in these subtle things. We are so often fixated on the outcome that our attention gets pulled out of the present, so that the subtle pleasures of the moment, the subtle pleasures which arise out of the daily acts of living, the pleasures of the process of be-ing that comprise every moment of our lives, are completely lost behind the vale of our own inattentiveness.
What is required is a greater mindfulness. We, and I sincerely include myself in this plea, must return to the process of our lives so that we can reclaim our being. As Aristotle tells us: to be is to be active. To be a human being is to be busy be-ing human. Activity is process; your life is not comprised by the set of outcomes of your endeavours, your life is the process which produces those outcomes. Your life is endeavour, your being is process, you are activity. When you are no longer at work being human, you will be dead.
So what am I actually proposing? Well, its just this: If you spend a lot of time writing, then write to write, and do not write to publish an article. If you spend a portion of your day exercising, then exercise to exercise, and do not exercise solely to get a shapely body. If your work as a risk-assessor, then learn to assess risk for the sake of assessing risk, not just because you want to put your children through private school.
“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” —Zen Proverb
We should not want to get through our lives, we should savour every step, and we do that by savouring everything that we do for its own sake. This just means to say that we must learn to turn life in its entirety into our hobby.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.jacquesdevilliers.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Screen-Shot-2015-09-05-at-1.39.49-PM.png[/author_image] [author_info]Assad Schuitema is currently an associate lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, lecturing in the field of philosophy. His philosophical interests are primarily devoted to the study of ethics. Ethics is a field that is in desperate need of revitalisation and new discourse. Let us all bring our minds together to engage in an ethical discourse that is needed in the field of ethics and the world more generally.[/author_info] [/author]