In his excellent book, The Philosophy of Living, François Jullien gives us another in depth meditation on Eastern philosophy that offers a guide on how to finally live. As human beings we are caught in the ambiguity of the in-between. We are alive but need to learn how to finally live.
Philosophy takes us out of the Twilight Zone mantra. You control the vertical and the horizontal. This requires you to accept responsibility for everything you do, including your actions, attitudes, beliefs and emotions. The choice always belongs to you.
We all know the friend who has us pose for the perfect image so they can place it into a binder which is dutifully stacked next to the other 100 albums, all of which are Dewey Decimal system labelled. Their lives are a series of labels with key moments captured in files. Little wonder that I do not like sitting in offices. Philosophy shows us that life cannot be reduced to a file. You are not a stack of papers.
A life reduced to a ledger is a death-scape. Sadly, many choose to live within the ledger by dosing themselves with the necessary drugs to make it through their day. A programmed life is a diluted life. The study of philosophy helps us to deploy our lives rather than mask them over with decoys and special effects. Philosophy shows us that our living must not be fixed. Living is never neutral even though our culture and its various religions seek to neuter it.
In the Gorgias, Socrates compares life to two casks. One cask is leaky and the other is full. Socrates prefers the full casks. It’s like the person who finally finds the right backsplash at Ikea and now thinks they can sit back in peace. Such an Ikea showroom life is no life at all, even if they have affordable lunches. To live means to pour out. Life is a process and a flow. This is what makes it vital rather than simply trivial. Life is not a trivial pursuit.
It doesn’t help that our culture prevents us from actually living. Most think they will start living when they retire but a programmed future is as bad as a programmed present. Ask any kid who has to play hockey on Monday, do Ballet on Tuesday, Judo on Wednesday, Piano lessons on Thursday and Tennis and Ringette on Friday and they will tell you that Mommy and Daddy may look like they have it all together but it is really the beer, the red wine and Xanax that keeps the helicopter living running with a false sense of accomplishment. A programmed life is a life of fear.
Philosophy shows us that true life or what Plato calls bios alethes is found within the everyday moments that surprise us. Anything that leads us away from living is an exercise in abstraction and is for someone else’s benefit. One we learn how to finally live, we can reach what Jullien calls “the transparency of the morning.” I highly recommend this book. It is a perfect text to use any meaning of life class.
© 2016 Mark Zlomislic
Mark Zlomislic is professor of philosophy at Conestoga College, Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada