I have often wondered why I do not find more joy in the world at being alive. Often I though it was the condition of things, but really our condition has never changed. Everything that existed then, exists now, and will continue to exist.
Mostly what I find is weariness, punctuated by diverting entertainments. I thought religion, if properly applied, would relieve this, but I’ve seen it have a much worse effect. Then I came across an idea which clarified the question for me, and revealed why I dislike “shoulds” and duty so much: it’s not duty that’s the problem, but the core of people’s relationship to it.
Duty, by itself, is part of getting things done. If you want health, for example, you have a duty to that choice to exercise and eat well. Wishing alone will not bring it into being. Duty in this sense is commitment to one’s choices, whereas the insidious form of duty has nothing to do with our intentions. My emphasis on joy as a guide for activity was about this, since lack of joy often reveals these false commitments.
It is not about joy or duty alone. It comes down to whether we choose to live: the will to be. To really choose life means fully accepting reality, and making one’s choices for his own sake, because he wills them from the depths of his being. This is the soul’s power: to create, to shine light into the void of pre-existence. But it must be the entirety of a man that does this, and not for the sake of anything but his own desire that it should be done. This sincere intention completes the link, and transforms a person into life giving life. At that moment, we wield the creative powers of the One who granted us potential to do so.
This is not a division between the believing and the non-believing, but the living and the dead. Those who are dead have yet to be born again in the spirit of a life fulfilled. They are lamps that wait to be enkindled. They seem bewildered by each passing day, when, in fact, every moment of life is a meaning unto itself. We live to live: in living is our purpose. It is a question of what we choose to do with that life. In making the right choices for the right reasons lies happiness.
How do we make the right choice? It has to be made by ourselves, for ourselves. We cannot make choices for the sake of others, for the plain reason that I would never want others to make choices for me. If I knew that someone were patterning their life around what made me happy, that knowledge would bring me sadness. Would anyone want a lover to say, “I love you because I think I should”? Should anyone marry a person whose only reason for commitment was a sense of duty? There is no room for duty in love; there is no lover who is duty-bound to his Beloved.
Similarly, if the world is the manifestation of our Beloved’s qualities, truly recognizing life implies falling in love with it. To live a life duty-bound is never to awaken to the choices we’ve been offered. As long as we make choices out of a sense of owing our lives to someone else, or something else, or some higher ideal, we might as well say we are living because someone else told us to. Such a life has no foundation of its own. If the sense of duty were taken away, there would be nothing left. This is the condition of someone who endures life for another’s sake, bravely carrying on until mortal existence releases them from their burden.
Dragging through life, one cannot know happiness because life itself is happiness. This weariness causes people to want others to make their choices for them, because they haven’t the heart for it. They don’t want inner freedom or to hear about life’s potential. They want a clear morality to point the way, prodding them along in hope of heaven or fear of hell. And because such a life is empty, one gets lost as often as possible in work, amusements, or other people, while complaining all the while about the unpleasantness of life.
Understandably, such people live for the future. In the future lies hoe, salvation, paradise. It may take the shape of longing for heaven, devoting themselves to offspring, or striving for lasting fame, but since present life does not offer comfort to their thirsting souls, they invest everything in “the life to come”. The present is viewed only in terms of its not being that future: meaningless, trivial, hopeless, petty, filled to the brim with ache and sorrow. As far as such people are concerned, physical death is all too welcome.
Who would choose this life? Yet the fact is that wishing is easier than doing; ideas are more palatable than reality; belief is less taxing than reason. Faced with the real duties of life, some withdraw into a protective cocoon. Attempts to draw them out can provoke anger, vituperation, or violence. I have come to visualize this state as a cozy house built around the soul, that one improves upon and defends with amazing energy. That “little house” is the self.
The soul longs for life, and reaches for it, but life demands a price: the acceptance of death. There can be no pleasure without pain, no building without decay. To know life is to struggle with ignorance; to practice wisdom means often seeming the fool. There are times when real life is anything but glorious – because in really living lies glory. Even if no one in the world understands or confirms your actions, it matters little: such action itself is a confirmation.
In a society of people who opt not to live, duty is all. There is duty to parents, friends, spouse, employer, society. Everyone wants to determine your path, because this is the easiest way to maintain security. What starts in childhood as a desire to live freely turns into following the latest novelty. Always following, being led, handing over our gift of life to whomever we think is better suited to make the choice for us. Some even see giving up freedom as the highest act of freedom. But how many people would really volunteer themselves for a stint in prison? Why do the same to the soul?
I think the Messengers of God came to reawaken people to their gift of life, since the proclivity of society seems to be death. Over time, knowledge of this choice gets suppressed. From age to age these Champions of the soul offer the choice of life to those who would have it – and are promptly persecuted for upsetting society’s time-honored ways. Until, that is, the Messenger’s teachings are later enshrined into doctrine, and used in the same fashion as before to yoke the soul’s freedom.
Once yoked, people want happiness provided for them. If freedom is relinquished to an idea of God, “God” is looked to for happiness and peace. Little wonder it never really comes. The believer assumes that his own deplorable state condemns him, which reinforces the concept of God they’re bound to. It’s a nearly inescapable cycle of self-defeat that rationality cannot hardly hope to breech. The mantra in this state is “try harder, do more”, until life becomes impossibly difficult – and all the more reason to long for escape. The “God concept” can turn life into a prison, with our own mind both jailer and inmate. How can anyone, comfortable in such patterns of being, ever see that there is a vastly different way to live?
Real life is infinitely joyous. It never ceases to amaze. If a spiritual life is the life of the soul, it happens whenever the soul is fully engaged in the act of living: when “God” is no longer the driver of our actions, but rather we act from our own desire. Then we can see God in the world – instead of in our minds – via the medium of our own life. Knowing life this way, we fall in love with it. We seek to act because acting is the fulfillment of living. If we fail to make choices for our own sake, who are we living for? If God had wanted robots, He could have saved us the trouble. But I think God created freedom so we could freely choose to live, and in that choice discover joy as a product of our own choosing – not simply the outcome of prayer, or wishing, or waiting for someone else to provide it.