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THINKING ABOUT LIFE
Howard F Dossor
Let us image an assembly of one hundred people randomly selected and let us
imagine that they are required to name the highest value they are able to
recognize. The chances are high that among their responses three answers
would be very much in evidence. Those of a religious persuasion would almost
certainly specify God as the highest value recognizable by humans while a few
who are indifferent to religious views might well specify wealth. But perhaps the
majority within the group would suggest that love is the highest value. What is
clear, however, is that all the members of the group are able to select a value
because they are living human beings. In making their choice, they presume the
fact of life and underrate its underlying value.
In fact, the argument can be made that the highest value human beings are able
to identify is life itself.
In the business of our daily existence, it is easy to simply assume that we are
alive and not give much attention to the fact. We place some value on it by virtue
of the fact that we want to avoid death and prolong life as long as we can, but
even this desire is focused on ourselves rather than on life itself.
But what is life? Life is the reality out of which we come when we are born, just
as, with our birth, it is the reality into which we come. And it is the reality in
which we continue following our death because having once been we can never
not have been. This continuum of our potential to be born, our birth itself and
the effect we have on the continuing history of humanity as a consequence of
our living all serve to suggest that life itself is reality itself. We can never be
outside reality because we can never be outside of life.
Because we are inside life we cannot stand apart from it and get a
comprehensive understanding of it. We cannot define it but we can make
statements about its character based on the experience we have of it during our
conscious life span.
There are at least five crucial facts that we know about life. The first of these is
that there is a connectivity between everything that exists. While life manifests
itself in myriad forms, each form is related to all other forms. Life is a universal
network in which individuality, whether human or non-human, is connected to a
Life as wholeness should serve to remind us that we are on dangerous grounds
when we give pride of place in our communities to the individual. We are social
animals. That is to say that the self is best understood as an amalgam of the
individual and society. If there is legitimacy in our being concerned about the
development of the individual there is a great deal more urgency about our
being concerned with the development of the species.
In the second place we know that life is an agency of change. This is so because
life is a process, a movement from one state or manifestation into another state
or manifestation. What we call history is nothing other than the pathway of life as
it unfolds from an existing condition into a new condition. But in our use of the
word history we need to be careful that we understand that we are seeing only a
portion of life's changing panorama. All about us and across the centuries, life
shapes and reshapes itself in its ongoing development. Even the very boundaries
of space press further and further beyond themselves.
On the other hand, it is important that we should note our own capacity as a
species to contribute to the nature of the change in which life engages. Through
our own planning and actions we can help determine the direction of change
and the degree of propulsion with which it occurs. As a constituent part of life we
have extraordinary capacities.
We know too that life is creative. In its creativity it takes all opposites and holds
them in a productive tension. Indeed, it creates all things out of their opposite
just as it creates a pearl in the oyster shell through the action of an irritant grain
of sand or renews a forest through the cleansing power of a raging fire. And thus
we can interpret death, not as an end but as a constructive mechanism in the
continuance of life - life, not of the individual but of life itself.
Then, too, we know that life is, in its very nature, energetic. More, life is energy
itself, In the words of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, life is the "force that
through the green wood drives the flower." Similarly, it is the force that lifts the
sun's flare from the solar surface to emblazon the skies.
Contemporary physics is puzzled by what appears to be the existence of an
unknown phenomenon in space to which it has given the name Dark Energy. It is
all pervasive and crucial to the operation of the cosmos. Is it beyond the realm of
possibility that this so called Dark Energy is identical with life itself? Certainly
there must be something holding space together as a composite whole.
The final characteristic of life we note here is that it is not a thing. That is to say
that life is not a material object. Life is best thought of through the analogy of
our breathing. The air we draw into our lungs with every breath is of the nature
of life. Being non-material, we might speak of it as being spiritual. But the
spiritual is not religious. It has nothing to do with gods or faith or sacramental
practices. It has to do with the essence of reality and with the principle core of
our identity as human beings. We are spiritual beings because we are living
Nothing cuts us off from ourselves or from reality so effectively as our refusal or
denial of our spiritual identity. To separate ourselves from it is to imprison
ourselves in a material world that has no power to fulfil us or express our
essential nature. However, an acceptance of life as the highest value would have
a profound effect on human behaviour at both the individual and social levels. It
would awaken us to our close relationality and erase national border lines from
our maps, teaching us to say we instead of me. It would resolve all contradictions
and paradoxes in our thinking by teaching us to think in more creative paradigms
and, finally, it would empower us beyond our wildest imaginings if we could
embrace it with a more enlightened consciousness.
A paragraph from my book Man Ascendant draws this reflection to its conclusion.
At the crux, at the unimaginable centre, is a silent, invisible shimmer. Such is its
rippling persistence that it oscillates beyond every boundary and is perceived
universally. It permeates the whole, instilling quality and significance within it.
We call it life and it is the quintessence of meaning.
Adelaide, South Australia