“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -Oscar Wilde
As evidenced by Oscar Wilde (1860’s), the apathetic individual is nothing new; Plato warned against it, Oscar Wilde mentioned it, Walter Mitty lived it, Peter Gibbons broke free from it–forever, people have been lackadaisical, uninterested, merely sheep, dragging their feet and trudging through only the necessary events to survive (eating, drinking, breathing, working).
When I look around my own world, it appears that not much has changed. People still drive routinely. They show up to classes, meetings, events, mechanically. Conversations are often stifled, shallow, unexciting. They like movies, only for the bright colors and loud sounds that appear. If the weather is anything other than mild–too hot, or too cold–they want to stay inside. They think they should invest in a dog, but only because that is what everyone else is doing.
Maybe I’m just being cynical. Maybe people are having way more exciting lives than I allow myself to observe. It could be that, like Walter Mitty, people are just having incredible internal, exciting experiences that we cannot be privy to; the song coming through those headphones might be taking that person to an exhilarating place; the blank stare may actually be regression to a stellar memory; the non participation in the conversation could just be politeness and tact.
But for so many of us, I don’t think we are quite rocking this kind of celestial, internal experience. I think the headphones are just pumping in music so we ignore the sounds of the world, the blank stare is just a blank stare, and the non participation in conversation is because we aren’t really listening. Instead, what we lack is involvement in our lives. Like Oscar Wilde says, we exist. We eat, we breathe, we raise children, we work, and that is the extent of our existences. We fail to actually do this thing called ‘living’.
The other day, just by happenstance, I wandered into an essential oils yoga class–you yoga, they spray oils–peppermint to open your airways, grapefruit and cinnamon to energize you, lemon lavender to calm you at the end of practice–and the result is magical. While the yoga class itself was finite–60 minutes, no more, and no less–I left, feeling as if I just defied time–that the experience therefore became dimensional, interesting, engaging. While I was feeling something, I was also smelling something; while I was smelling sometimes, I was also hearing something; while I was hearing something, I was also seeing something; blending all of these senses together left me engaged, saturated, and suspended in those 60 minutes.
Now, I don’t mean to make your life exciting in the Taylor Swift “It’s 2 AM and I’m cursing your name”, throwing t-shirts on the front lawn and then dramatically making up kind of way–that leads to destructive emotions, that while may be exciting, can also be very exhausting, and may require you to constantly be solving unnecessary conflicts (as Dr. Gottman researches, this is one of the Four Horsemen that ruin relationships). THOSE kind of situations definitely make life interesting and rile up some intense feelings.
But, what would it look like to show up to your life with engagement? If, when you go into your car to drive to work, you decided to focus on the small details that make up your journey? What would it look like if you showed up to your life with involvement? If, when you walk into that class, or sit down at the meeting, you set an intention to hang on every word, to think deeply, to ask meaningful questions, to find authentic connections? How would your life change if you showed interest? If, when you sit down for that conversation, you take in the aromas of the room, you look people in the eye as they speak, you ask thoughtful, deep, rich questions that move both you and your converser into a new, intellectual territory? You began watching T.V. with a mindful eye, instead of a hollow gaze? You stayed one last minute on the treadmill, to feel that little bit of extra burn in your hamstrings (but at least you know you are feeling)? What would happen if, when you attended church, you sang passionately, and loudly? When you make dinner, you select vibrant tastes? You painted your house lively colors and wore bold outfits? You added as much dimension as you could to your time here on Earth?
How would your life change if, as according to Mr. Wilde, you lived, rather than just existed?