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A life worth living, or: the search for wisdom

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At the end of my vacation a blog about wisdom. In the essay "The Sea Breeze of Ages," C.S. Lewis talks about increasing your own cultural and temporal perspective: lees after every 2/3 books something from another time. You quickly see through the blind spots of that period, and it puts you in mind of the blind spots of this time. In recent weeks I have been reading books from all sorts of time periods. I am trying to weave these into this blog where it talks about "a life worth living.

Many people live backwards: in youth as if in ecstatic naturalness, as if there were no tomorrow. In adulthood, on the other hand, as if the number of new mornings will be infinite. In youth there is no time to contemplate life because everything is so fleeting and the day is almost over; in old age there is so much time that it seems unnecessary to contemplate life. Few come to spiritual maturity and life passes in a moment. We are so busy, but come to so little. We run and rush and never arrive, I once heard during a monastery visit.

We run and rush and never arrive.

Arriving at this point, I can almost - and characteristically - hear someone say: Expectant travel is better than arriving (Virtue in The crooked and the straight road by C.S. Lewis). Finally, what should you be thinking about? What direction to go? Where might you arrive? And more to the point: Why should I really start living, it's better to dream. In your dreams you can experience the nicest things, while life is only sadness (Kalganov - a character in one of Dostoevsky's masterpieces; The Brothers Karamazov).

It echoes with Erasmus when he quotes Sophocles in his Ode to Folly: Hhe most glorious man lives as long as he realizes nothing. And the shortest way there is through Self-love, a gift that Folly likes to hand out so that no one is dissatisfied with his own inner self, no one with his origin, no one with his position, no one with his education, no one with his fatherland (...). Where she [nature] is a little less generous with her gifts, she adds a little more self-love - though again I express myself foolishly, for this is precisely the greatest gift.

To want to live life as cheerfully as possible, without giving it too much thought, is to live in a dream world that can quite easily turn into a nightmare. It is putting your head in the sand and indulging in the 'good' gifts of folly. A thoughtless life is not worth living, Socrates is said to have spoken at his sentencing. I consider that a profound wisdom. After all, to die well, you have to live well.

A thoughtless life is not worth living. - Socrates

But to live well you have to know what good living is. And that is more than finding "happiness. Happiness, after all, is the fruit, the yield, never the goal of good living. And this happiness, which is not pursued, but gratefully received, is far superior to happiness of affluence. I wrote about this before on the basis of the Thoughts of Pascal about lasting or transient happiness, Living quietly and happily or The world for me. Captured in an aphorism:

Happiness is being satisfied. The pursuit of happiness is, by definition, not being satisfied.

Therefore, in order to know what a good life is, you have to contemplate life. But how do you contemplate life? A life worth living is not so much a happy life, but first of all a useful life. Human beings have a deep intrinsic hunger for meaning. Existential questions in addition to life questions and life fulfillment. From the books of both Victor Frankl as Edith Eva Eger, both survivors of concentration camps and (logo) therapists, I understand that it is not the physically strong who survive the camps, or even those with the most food, but rather those with survival instincts from a deeper motivation than just getting the basic conditions of life: water, bread, shelter and warmth.

I think, therefore, that Maslov is wrong when it comes to his pyramid of basic needs and self-realization. A meaningful life seems an even more important source of life than physical needs. Even under the very worst conditions of cruelty, hunger, disease and death, such as in a concentration camp.

Edith Eva Eger writes in The Choice that it is not about blame, but about living fully with what you have been given; Not, "Why did I keep living?" but, "What should I do with the life I have been given?. A meaningful life is a good life. This is wise and true, yet it remains viewed from a one-dimensional point of view. It is how you as an individual perceive it to be meaningful. Without universal truth and morality, it remains personal preference: one prefers a good neighbor, the other eats his neighbor. Which neighbor do you prefer? (Ravi Zacharias). Or C.S. Lewis somewhere writes something along the lines of some people find it important to give their children a good upbringing, others prefer to drink a good glass of wine.

What should I do with the life I've been given? - Eger

Each of us, therefore, senses from these examples that a higher morality is needed to support life. A good life is not what I make of it, or like it, or think highly of it, it is how we want others to look at it. It is what we want others to say about us when they speak of us at our funeral (Steven Covey). It is a higher, universal morality. A morality that is free of place, time, culture and personal preference. I wrote earlier agree that Whether one measures to an accuracy of 0.001mm or 100mm, it proves above all else that one is measuring. In other words; the simple fact that we hold a moral framework, even if we all hold it differently, particularly indicates the fact of a moral framework.

People say, very practically: Start where you are and as you are, above all, don't try to become worth more, and go around doing good with kind intentions. If I had to speak at all in this spirit, I would rather say: Start by being good (Walden - H. D. Thoreau). A good life begins at a deeper level with being good; from this follow meaningful activities and a meaningful life. To be good requires wisdom. For wisdom is not merely knowledge, or its application, but is a knitting through with a moral and responsible life, along with a (childishly naive) joy in pursuing the good. It is a pure soul. This is why so many wise people are not so much the intelligentsia of this world, but wise people can be found in all social strata.

Start by being good. - Thoreaux

And in that wisdom, in that universal (and objective) morality, our soul's desire for all that is beautiful, just, powerful, and of value comes together. Now the human soul strives to find out how these things are, by turning its eye to what is related to it and of which nothing is perfect. Certainly, when it comes to the king and to what I said, there is nothing of the kind. And thereupon the soul naturally asks the question, "But what is it like? And that question, O son of Dionysius and Doris, is the cause of all ills, or rather, concerning that question, birth pangs arise in the soul. - Plato

Some believe that wisdom is internal and that it is about self-development: Building a better me - Dogwood. But to create a better self you already need to know what is better. It is the trap of self-realization in which a better version of yourself can be worked on without knowing what is better. Like happiness, a better self follows from other, earlier, higher choices.

Concerning this question, in the soul, birth pangs arise. - Plato

That barrenness indicates that this wisdom is not to be found without or only within oneself. Man does not stand alone, but needs another. A connection both vertical and horizontal. Love is crucial in our connection with others. And connection with others is crucial for real life. Real life is for a while in connectedness - Martin Buber. The greatest love is living for another. Is dying to yourself. Freedom is to make a choice I said earlier, and there is the choice of the higher over the lower. Now I add that it is also better to make a choice. After all, it is better to live in freedom Having to choose: Dying.

Real life is living in connectedness.

The wisdom to live a meaningful life - a life worth living - is not to be found within yourself. Nor is it to be found outside yourself in temporary happiness. But the beginning of wisdom is that you seek wisdom, add to all that you have acquired insight - King Solomon, Proverbs 4:7. A thoughtful life, a life of insight, becomes a meaningful life if you also act according to wisdom. And in its wake - not prior - life happiness. Which is so very different from doing things "that make you happy," that is the quick, but also short-lived happiness.

But if this wisdom is not to be found within yourself, nor outside yourself in the world, then where? Solomon says in Proverbs 9:10: If you want to become wise, start by being in awe of the Lord. 

Find it within you and find iniquity and falsehood (lie)
Find it outside yourself And find temporary happiness.
Find it in God and find it both within and without yourself, lasting in Him.

Thus speaks Blaise Pascal at Thoughts. It resonates with contemporary thinkers like Emanuel Rutten who in Reflections (with a nod to Pascal) writes: This is my "best account. This is my way of living. This is my way of being in the world. In Christianity I found an existential and also aesthetic veracity, a philosophical depth that I had not encountered in any philosopher until now.

Perhaps happiness is wanting to be where you are and giving your best self there. In deep connection with your surroundings and with Wisdom. Wisdom with a capital letter, because you can connect with this too. It turns out to be personal. Be not foolish, my soul; let not the ear of thy heart be deafened from the tumult of thy foolishness. Listen also thou. The Word itself calls you to return - Confessions, Book IV, Augustine.

And at the end of this search for wisdom, we find the source itself. Not by our searching, but with the opening of our hearts through insight. God finds us. And we let ourselves be found by God - Benedict. A life worth living is a wise life. A life with Wisdom itself.

We let God find us. - Benedict


Erwin de Ruiter

"One man tries to express himself in books, another in boots; both are likely to fail." - G.K. Chesterton

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