Choose Today – To Live or Merely Exist

I choose every day between two basic mindsets.

I choose between 

        vibrant, overflowing, joyful LIFE
  “mere existence,” plodding, dull, defeated.

The second choice is aptly summed up in the chorus of an old folk song:

“Life is a toil and love is a trouble,
Beauty may fade and riches may flee;
Pleasures, they dwindle and prices, they double
And nothing is as I would wish it to be.”

“Nothing is as I would wish it to be”

The final line above is telling. In it we can see a vague discontent with everything and an assumption that nothing will ever change. Of course won’t, at least as long as the singer assumes so.

This is the ultimate in passivity, a fatalistic mentality that assumes, “I am a victim of my circumstances, a piece of flotsam carried hither and thither on a vast unfeeling sea of existence. So small am I in the center of my endless universe that nothing I can attempt will have the slightest effect, so there is no reason to even try.”

This choice is the default mode for many people.  If we do not choose otherwise, we sink into a null existence, void of the things that make life worth living. It is a sort of un-life.

The Day of the Unliving

You’ve heard of the Undead; this is the state of the Unliving.  I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’s description in The Great Divorce of a massive, largely undefined, grey, drizzly town that exists in a twilight, tending neither to dark night nor to dawn. In such an existence, there is no motivation to do, attempt, or even hope – in anything. There is no pleasure, no desire, no pursuit, and neither is there any joy in the acquisition. In Lewis’s world, where anything can be obtained by merely thinking it, there is neither contentment nor happiness.

So, why stay in this place? Sometimes we’ve been born and bred there and know nothing else. For the rest of us, however, we’ve often been beaten there by the vicissitudes of a seemingly cruel and indifferent life force. Once in this place, it’s  easier to stay than to begin the challenge of extricating ourselves from the morass of our own choosing.

And it is our choice. Often we don’t think of this as a choice because we fall into it, seemingly without any effort on our part.  Sometimes things do happen to us, but what we forget is our almost imperceptible choice to stay there.  The path of no resistance is always easier when we already feel battered and beaten down. It’s a lot easier just to stay down and accept the present state of existence than to fight against it, struggling to gain our feet again. Yet, that’s the only way to create a new reality.

Shrinking Back

We’ve all been wired with a Caution Alert button. For the most part, that caution alert is very useful in preventing us from harming ourselves. And we won’t talk about those times we have chosen to override it and have suffered the consequences!

However, sometimes our caution alert becomes over-sensitized.  If we’re already raw and reeling from a disaster, literally everything becomes a danger point.  Yet if, after we’ve had time to heal and recover from our raw state, we don’t press Reset, our inner alarm klaxon will continue to scream “Danger! Danger!” about every little thing. What happens then is that we shrink back from the slightest opportunity to touch Life. Not only do we shy away from engaging fully,  we often find we are unable to do so.  We have developed such a strong recoil mechanism that we lack the inner force to overcome it. When we even hint at stretching forward, all we can hear is a loud, panicked voice screaming things like:

  • I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die!
  • “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
  • “Here be dragons!”
  • “We’ll never survive!”

This last is from The Princess Bride. To which I reply, along with the Dread Pirate Westley:

“Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

I  Lied

Well, I didn’t intend to outright lie to you, but unintentionally I may have led you astray. You see, all analogies break down somewhere, and I failed to point out earlier the dissolution of my “alert button” description.

Unfortunately, there is no instant Reset.  It is possible to reset a hyperactive alert system, but it is only rarely an instant event.  It’s more like a process. It’s a process of reversing past choices of thought and attitude, of going against the grain of habitual assumptions. Once again, I resort to C. S. Lewis to describe the path:

“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’ –or else not.”

C. S. Lewis – The Great Divorce
(Note: “with backward mutters…” is a phrase from John Milton)

The crux of it all, the fulcrum, is one simple word, “Choice.” We chose our initial path, so we can also choose to work our way back out of the labyrinth, working wholeness into our lives in the process.

I’ll talk more about the process of rejecting the path of the Unliving and pursuing the Path of Life next week. Stay tuned for the next episode, in which I stammer out:

I … am … NOT… my … emotions … !


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Phyllis Hopper is a creative free spirit who loves exploring new places and getting to know new peoples and cultures. She makes her home base in Kansas.