A timely look: You make your life matter
Life is a struggle for many reasons. Chief among them is unequal access to opportunity. But it is also a struggle because we have to educate the heart and mind, and we have to acquire the boldness and transcendent skills to make it matter that we lived at all.
In the absence of this bold effort, our lives are shaped, directed and constantly unsettled by anxiety, rivalry, antagonism and other natural and cultural forces. In fact, in the absence of this bold effort, we don’t really have access to intellectual integrity and to choice. If we can’t summon transcendence, we act in accord with the dictates of immediacy instead of in accord with the way we know we want to be.
Of course, the hope for humanity and its promise spring from this bold spirit. Sometimes the struggle to be bold (and heartful) is referred to as a spiritual one. However, when I talk about spirit and transcendence, it’s about an earth-bound creative, narrative and active process built of discipline. How have you used your energy, and how have you used the power of your choice and will, to see a bigger picture, be a bigger person, make a bigger contribution and have a bigger life?
Reminder: Everyone’s situation is challenging and complex because the brain is complex. Everyone is home to a multitude of perceptions and impulses, many of which are not in sync. Each of us must wrestle with evolutionary and conditioned conflict or disharmony as incompatible ideas and mutually exclusive impulses compete.
Language, a relatively recent evolutionary possibility, permits us a sense of unified consciousness, information processing and purpose. To some extent, it enables us to distance or detach ourselves from the marching orders of our evolutionary past. Yet, primitive instincts and needs unsettle us, night and day. These influences are neither rational nor consensual. They are messy. They can be cold-blooded, passionate, ruthless and poised to fight or flee. They can be sated, irritated and exhausted, and they can contradict or challenge your ability to bring order to them.
Of course, even with this information about the impulses that arise from successive stages of biological evolution, not to mention the contradictions that arise between nature and culture, you are asked to meet the civilized call to take command of yourself. This means that you are expected to develop a strong measure of self-initiative, self-determination and self-control.
However, you are learning that there is even more to your commitment to be autonomous, to overcome or transcend what just happens to you and to make life how it ought to be. You had to learn about and sometimes discover—in addition to your motor-running body—what makes you tick, what inspires your intelligence and your potential.
Yes, of course, you learned that you want to provide material comforts for those near and dear and for those whom your commitment to generosity can reach. But you also learned that you want to acquire even more transcendent character—its depth and substance, its fineness, nuance and grace. You learned that you find inspiration, fulfillment and meaning in creating and living values independent of primitive impulse, and learned that you suffer when these values are neglected.
If autonomy is to be your destiny, if you are not to be subjugated by biology or to the grim rivalry sanctioned by the Scoreboard, you have recognized that now is the time to strike, to take yourself on, to make it happen, to give artful expression to the struggle to matter, to make order and to care.
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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.
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