When I started this blog, I said I was passionate about life, and intended to spend time thinking about what makes it worth living. Rereading my entries so far, I’m struck by how earnest they seem. Earnestness is not what I was going for, though I do take the endeavour seriously.
I have never been someone who thought that the things that made life worth living were simply the things that gave us pleasure. Sure, I like to drink wine, eat chocolate cake, have sex -- but are those the things I was put on the earth to do?
I suppose it could be argued that I enjoy those things for sound evolutionary reasons. I need food to live, therefore I like to eat. The species has to propagate in order to survive, therefore I enjoy sex. The trouble is that not all the things we humans like to do are good for us – either individually or as a species. For instance, some people appear to enjoy abusing themselves or others. What’s up with that?
And why is art so central in most cultures? Why do we love to create? Why do we enjoy getting lost in a good novel, being entranced by the depth and colour of a painting or the soft gleam of a ceramic bowl?
Perhaps it’s because art focuses our attention on the minutiae of life. So often, as we move through the world, we are distracted by our own thoughts – so distracted in fact we can’t notice the awesome intricacy and beauty all around us. For just a moment, art invites us to stop and focus on the details – the laugh lines around the eyes of the old man in a black and white photograph, the light falling along the back of a soapstone whale, the delicate trill of a flute soaring above the strings, the synergy of blue, yellow and red paints on a canvas.
And that focus helps to put us in touch with the world outside our own heads. It helps us to notice, for example, that all clouds aren’t white – that they can be purple and grey and pink and lavender – and that, as well as our neighbour’s yapping dog and the trucks barrelling along our street, we sometimes hear the soft swish of autumn leaves tumbling past our window, or the sweet laughter of a child discovering a caterpillar for the very first time.
And maybe, in that focus – that noticing – we are reminded to breath and love and laugh just a little more deeply, to truly enjoy and appreciate the gifts we’ve been given, so that we can, in turn, be more attentive, hopeful, and compassionate when interacting with the world around us.
There I go getting all earnest again.