I was thinking… What is so extraordinary about life anyway? I do not repudiate that being alive and in good health or having the basic necessities that many on the globe are lacking from is not remarkable. Let me elaborate…
The body is the vehicle of being in the world
“The body is the vehicle of being in the world”, said Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962, p82). It is a good starting point since, in his opinion; it is the “horizon latent in all our experience…and anterior to every determining thought.” (1945/1962, p.92). Meaning, the body not only connects us to the world but also offers us the way to understand that world (including ourselves and others).
Applying Merleau-Ponty’s ideas of embodiment, understanding and self-reflection, my thoughts took me on a little journey. Rather than reproductions of clear images, a number of reflective questions came to mind: “What do we seek as human beings? What are we looking for? What do we expect to see from our existence?”
I was speaking to my mother once, in the course of
her rant our conversation she exclaimed: “I’ve lived my life, I’ve seen it all. I’ve dined with presidents (my father was an ambassador), I’ve had maids, nice cars; what is she going to teach me or impress me with? I’ve lived my life!” and these very same words have stuck with me ever since.
My mother is sixty years old and was one of the very first and few females from her village to attend university for the first time. I love speaking to her about her past which, because of growing up in different cultures, she often dismisses as me being a ‘weird child’ for being so inquisitive (she was raised by her father and their relationship was the typically stern African father-daughter ‘do what you are told’ and ‘don’t ask any questions’ type). But I find that the older I get, the more I want to find out about her childhood, adolescence and about how life was while growing up as a female in DR Congo during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. However, more often than not, I am met with a frown, then a cheeky smile with the response: “How can you expect me to remember that? It was a long time ago. Leave me alone!”
It got me thinking about modern-day life; the ‘YouTube-Facebook-Twitter’ generation. What do we want to accomplish with our lives? What are our expectations? Are they realistic? Or are they inspired by George Clooney’s latest love conquests, or Kim Kardashian’s latest gifted Giuseppe Zanotti shoes? The intent here is to stimulate reflection about how much popular-culture consumerism has sieved into our transpersonal realms.
I have a fondness for what historians refer to as ‘History from Below’, also known as the ‘People’s History’; hence my love for documentaries. Typically, when people reminisce about their lives and personal experiences the same rhetoric resonates. Either it is the story of a great love (or three), a dramatic event that led to them making certain life-changing decisions (i.e. physical or sexual abuse, poverty, bereavement, an accident), a great adventure, a course of history they witnessed or participated in directly (i.e wars, political unrests, environmental or Human Rights movements, fight for freedom). In a way, human experiences consists of meaningful interactions and interpretations where contingencies and intentionalities intertwine.
A case of watering the grass
One can simply think of the individual’s quest for self-fulfilment in their lifetime as a never ending pursuit. The concept of “having it all” seems to me, to be an unfathomable pool of wants and needs. Are we chasing the unattainable? What is the “big prize”, that “great job”, that “great husband or wife”, that “great moment of spiritual enlightenment”? And once these humble desires are met then what; has that ever crossed your mind?
Then I rethink of my mother who is a devout Christian, has studied and even taught (she used to be a primary school head mistress in DR Congo) worked her entire life, been married, has had children, has lived a life of opulence once in her life, is well travelled; it makes me wonder if truly there is more to life than this. Surely, the same human life cycle will apply to you and I (it may be in different order or you may choose never to marry and have children). But what will be our stories forty years from now? Will it be that of the great love, the great career opportunity, the life changing experience, the historical moment, the great adventure? But most importantly, will it be gratifying enough to declare with conviction that “I’ve lived my life!”?
In a way, this post was, at its inception, an attempt at
watering the grass emptying my thoughts hoping that they would resonate with you. An effort at offering a real, logical perspective of the “ordinary”; and then apologise for it. I say this a bit facetiously; but the truth is, everyone needs to engage in a bit of “reality-check” from time to time.
In the end, our human experiences taken as a whole are not thought of as something static, but as something that unfolds in a process of becoming.
Perhaps that’s the extraordinary thing about the ordinary…