“The goal of life … is not happiness, peace, or fulfillment, but aliveness.”
~ Hubert Dreyfus (perhaps indirectly via Sean D. Kelly)
Months ago, my husband Frank told me about a philosophical piece he’d read that suggested that the goal of life is aliveness. I remember talking about it and agreeing. Aliveness is where it’s at.
When I read the piece by Sean D. Kelly called Waking Up to the Gift of Aliveness in the New York Times Opinion section, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.
Kelly starts by setting it up:
Think of the way that life really can become lifeless. You know what it’s like: rise, commute, work, lunch, work some more, maybe have a beer or go to the gym, watch TV. For a while the routine is nurturing and stabilizing; it is comfortable in its predictability. But soon the days seem to stretch out in an infinite line behind and before you. And eventually you are withering away inside them. They are not just devoid of meaning but ruthless in their insistence that they are that way. The life you are living announces it is no longer alive.
Yes. I totally get this.
And he goes on to suggest,
There are at least two natural, but equally flawed, responses to this announcement: constantly seek out newness or look for a stable, deeper meaning to your existing routine.
Still with you. I have experienced both of these and neither feel alive after a time.
Where he lost me was getting clear about what aliveness actually IS. His summation is:
When you really feel alive, your past, your present and your future somehow make sense together as the unity they have always promised to be.
MAYbe I get this. I remember when I met Frank 20 years (?!) ago, that I had a moment of breath-taking clarity. I knew after knowing him only a few days that I had been spending my whole life getting ready to meet him. That was a moment when my past, present and future integrated and fell into place like a puzzle in the clever hands of my sister.
But I know I’ve felt alive in other situations that didn’t have that past-present-future feel. So that can’t be the only definition. Pondering aliveness reminded me of two quotes on the subject that I love. The first was introduced to me by my brilliant friend Kate who is a constant source of play, creativity and aliveness.
“Play is the continuous evidence of creativity, which means aliveness.” – D.W. Winnicott
The energy of play, the focus and flow and spontaneity all feel supremely alive.
The second I found on the Internet (not sexy, I know, but whattayagonnado?).
“Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity. It stimulates. The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri
I feel a looseness, a curiosity, a sense of possibility in aliveness that cannot be had if I’m striving for perfection.
If we can agree that it isn’t fame or money or success or even happiness that is the goal of life but a feeling of aliveness, then what is aliveness to you?