Originally Written: Thursday, February 03, 2005
This is Merely Existing - not Living. That's the sort of thing some of my generation used to say when we were young, real young, High School age, when we went to liberal church camps and sang folk songs around the campfire.
What would an existentialist think of such a statement. One of the problems is that words of this sort always wander in their meanings. Deprecating "mere existence" would be a strange way for someone calling themself an existentialist to talk, yet we might reasonably understand them as really "live" and not merely "exist" -- at least in a 1960s liberal teen-ager's understanding of those terms.
I went looking for a decent definition of ontology. The first illustration in the 'wikopedia' version, of an ontological problem was
"Do all nouns refer to entities?"
and they assert that Platonist philosophers tend to say "yes", but others would say that "society" for example isn't an entity, but only refers to some sort of collection of persons.
It is fairly common to believe that there are fundamentally different ways of being as a human being. What would qualify as fundamental? Might this involve mere pretentiousness, or the manipulation of words that elicit highly emotional reactions from people -- perhaps for questionable purposes?
There are many ways to try to speak about this. "Higher consciousness" is a favorite phrase, or just "consciousness", or enlightenment. Many "masters" have a recurrent theme of putting us on our guard against making a fetish of the sonorous word or phrase. The great ontological comedian Werner Erhard used to like to say "You don't know your ass from a hole in the ground", implying that this "ass vs. hole in the ground" might be an important distinction he was about to impart. Not as nice, for some people, as being promised the "beautific vision", or nirvana, etc. Zen Masters sometimes spoke of the "stink of Zen".
Is there a way of being
(Note: a way, not a kind of being -- you need a certain gravitas, which way has and kind doesn't)
compared to which what I'm doing right now is a sort of passive, unconscious thing, just allowing myself to be pushed along?
Does true being, or really living mean something like "the creative life?" If so, what does it take to be really creative? We see generations of artists dismissing their predecessors as uncreative. Take a look at How to Draw a Bunny, (Amazon Link) the movie about Ray Johnson, for an extreme example of a different sort of being. You might say he was a profoundly playful man. Is play the essence of "real being"? Some will say it is fierce commitment. Are they somehow the same thing?
One reason I'm doing this blog is to help make play a more central part of my life.
Another sort of play for me is to get onto some beautiful wild trails, on cross-country skis, or just on foot. Anyway, moving through an unexpected world -- going someplace just because I'm drawn to it. Most of the time I seem to be running around in circles pursuing goals that seem urgently necessary for survival, and it is hard, and might seem foolish, not to put those survival goals first, but I find myself growing indifferent and hence weaker. Next, perhaps, I must beware the trap of doing just enough "real living" to keep the machine charged up with a certain amount of spirit -- treating my self as a means.