This is a section from my book Loving Other Human Beings titled, "The Gentleness of Life." This is my favorite part of the book. You'll see why.
By the way, I updated the book today (September 22, 2016) by adding a new section to the ending, which is worthy of being a chapter in its own right (I added 6000 words). Check it out here.
Many see life as a beast. Some run
from this beast. Some fight the beast. Others attempt to tame it.
Perhaps life is indeed wild. But does that mean she is dangerous?
What if, instead of run from, fight with, or overpower the beast, you befriend it? You need not snatch it up and make it as a pet. That would involve taming it. What friend is prohibited from leaving you, anyhow?
To befriend life does not require that you look past her beastly nature. Rather, it asks that you consider what a beast is in the first place.
What is a beast? A beast often refers to a wild being—particularly, an animal. Beasts do not live by the same rules as you or I. Their environments are not iron-clad, nor do they wake and sleep based on a clock. Beasts live instead by their nature. They do not appear to choose or craft it, though they live by it graciously.
There are beasts of all kinds out there—big, small, fanged, clawed, blind, deaf, plant-eating, predatory, swimming, climbing, flying, crawling, slithering, loud, silent.
The human concern with such a list: Some beasts will hurt me. Others will not. Still others, only if provoked.
And this leads to the ultimate question: Which sort of beast is life?
The common answer is that life will probably hurt you—definitely without warning; but, for the most part, you can avoid such hurt by not provoking life. What is it to not provoke life? Go nowhere without money. Sleep eight hours every night. Eat three square meals a day. Do your work during the day, and return home at night. Save money, though not too much. Spend money, though not too much. Mind your manners. Be kind to all. Talk to your friends. Get close to people, but not too close. Stay away from strangers. Protect your family. Mitigate risk. Don’t do anything stupid.
It sounds simple and routine enough. But it is dishonest. At some places, you will have no money. Some nights, you will get no sleep. Some days, you will eat no food. Some days, you will know not where your work lies. Some nights, you will have no home to return to. Sometimes, you will be too stingy with your money. Other times, you will spend it all. In some settings, you will have no manners. You will be unkind. You will have no friends. You will get too close. You will befriend strangers. Your family will be in danger. You will take risks. And you will be stupid.
But there are higher-level questions to answer here—questions that lead you to see what beastliness truly is. What is stupidity? Why, to be stupid is to take excessive risk. What is risk? Risk is your chance of being hurt. And what is hurt?
Ah. Here we have the key question. What, indeed, is hurt? Hurt is what we spoke of with the beasts. Some beasts will hurt me. Others will not. Still others, only if provoked.
What does it mean if the beasts will hurt you? Will they tear you limb from limb? Will they inject poison into your blood? Will they put an end to your earthly life as you know it?
Is the same true of life’s beastliness? Or does that take a different form? Will you lose money? Will time run from you? Will friends and loved ones leave you behind, to your aloneness?
What are the hurts that can be exacted upon you by life?
Oh, they are many, you say. Just look at the list above! No money, no food, no work, no home… Rock bottom doesn’t come any closer than that!
OK, I say. I see your grievances are many. But you have not yet told me. Where does your hurt lie?
Excuse me? You wonder.
Where does your hurt lie? Where do you experience this pain? What is this pain? What hurts you?
What hurts me? You ask.
Yes. When you lose money, what has been hurt? When you go without a house to call home, where do you hurt? When you’ve no work to call your own, what is the hurt that has been exacted?
If I do not have these things, you tell me, I will die.
(The conversation continues. The bold text is “me,” the plaintext is “you.”)
Have you been without them before?
Yes. Of course. Who has not ever gone a night without sleep, or a day without a house? You’re probably not human if you haven’t.
And tell me—did you ever die during those nights or those days?
Of course I didn’t. I’m right here, perfectly alive!
Then why do you tell me that without these things, your life will end?
Well, life ends only if you go too long without those things. You can go one night without sleep and one day without food, but week after week of that is just overkill. No one would last forever like that.
Week after week, you say?
Yep. It would probably take at least two weeks without either one of those things to kill the average person. Even if you make it that long, you won’t be the same person for a long while afterward… especially if you go without sleep. Two weeks without sleep—most people would end up in the nuthouse.
But a person would not die after two days.
No way. To die after only two days without food… You’d have to be pretty darn weak to begin with. It ain’t a fun two days, but there’s no reason you should keel over after they’re done.
Ah. So it is a matter of time.
Exactly. The longer you go without, the lesser your chances of dying.
How do you deal with this dilemma? Do you keep track of your number of hours without food and sleep, and try to keep that number from getting too high?
Well, no one thinks about it that much. But that is the basic idea. Don’t let the number get too high.
Do people constantly worry about the number getting too high?
Why? Do they think the number will get huge all of a sudden, and they will have no ability to intervene?
Some people aren’t sure whether their next meal is going to be their last. They don’t have a lot of money, you see, and they just don’t know if they’ll be able to put food on the table again tomorrow. Or if they can, that food might have to go to someone else, such as their kids. Some people have it rough. That’s just how it is.
But I have seen this fear even in the wealthiest among you. How do you explain that?
Ah… That. Well… Life is unpredictable, y’know? Sometimes the farm fields go through a drought, and then no one gets food. Sometimes a delivery truck crashes, and that’s a whole ton of food that no one will get to eat. Sometimes the store runs out of food… and the next one does, too. Sometimes you get out of work so late there aren’t any stores left open, and you have to go without for the night. Sometimes you walk out of the house with a wallet full of money, and the wallet gets stolen. Sometimes, wealthy people, they wake up one day to find their bank accounts empty—for one reason or another. Who knows what they’re doin’. But whatever they did, they aren’t wealthy anymore. Other times… Well, I don’t know. Maybe people are worried the specific food they want won’t be around. Or maybe they just can’t psychologically make it through the day, and they turn to food to get through. It’s a nice distraction. But really, I just don’t know. It could be lots of things, y’know? Everyone’s fighting their own battle. And you can’t always predict when the battles will come.
Does the fear ever come to pass—that they won’t see their next meal?
Well, sure. Sometimes a meal gets skipped for one reason or another. People get busy, something unexpected happens. Or they’re on some weird crash diet. Or they just weren’t hungry. Maybe they got sick. But missing one meal doesn’t mean you’ve had your last. Like you said earlier—it’s a matter of time. Another meal always comes at one point or another, in some form.
And if it doesn’t?
Well, then, you die. But at that point you aren’t exactly around to worry about it.
So for everyone who is currently alive, this fear has not come to pass.
No, it has not.
It has never come to pass.
Correct. If it had, like I said, they’d be dead.
So the fear only exists in this tunnel of time, between the present moment and the moment of death. Right now you’re OK, and once you’re dead, you can’t be afraid.
Sounds about right. Of course, the fear is of that moment of death. Nobody wants to die—nobody sane, anyhow. But yes, you can only really be afraid of the time between those two moments. There is perfect certainty in life at this moment, and there is perfect uncertainty in the moment after you have died. That perfect uncertainty, in itself, is a strange kind of certainty. We are so uncertain of what things will be like after we have died, that we are certain we will be safe from hunger. Does that make sense?
Yes. I see what you are saying. Between the perfect certainty of now and the perfect uncertainty of death, there is relative uncertainty. What is uncertain is exactly how wide the window of time between the moment of now and the moment of death is. Is it 30 years? 3 years? 3 months? 3 days? 3 hours? Who can be sure? The longer you’ve gone without food, the shorter that window is likely to be. Even then, the window can shrink to nothing right before your very eyes. You get in a car accident. You drink too much. A gun is held to your head. It is like you said—how can these things be predicted? They jump upon us before we could ever possibly be ready. And before we know what is happening, it is over.
You just spoke the fear of every man, woman, and child on this Earth.
The fear of the end of it all, and the uncertainty of it all?
What do you suppose will be done about this fear?
Well… Play it safe and keep eatin’, I guess. There’s not much you can do about it. Oh, and don’t do anything stupid.
So, this is what has been made of life. Its beastliness lies in its time and in its uncertainty. There is not much you can do, then, but fight time and fight chance. Keep them on your side by playing smart and being safe.
But has my question yet been answered? What is hurt? Do you know?
Hurt, it seems, is anything that brings you closer to death. You are hurt when you go a day without food or sleep, as you are now a day closer to death. You are hurt when you are wounded, as your wound may lead you to die. You are hurt when you are without money, for you have nothing to insure you against your dying.
Life hurts us, then, when it brushes us against death. In other words, life does its damage by making us into that which is not life. Hurt is life rejecting us. Hurt is life separating us from itself.
Where is this hurt experienced, then? It must be in the whole of our being. For it is the completeness of our self that dies, yes? And so, it must be the completeness of our self that feels hurt, when it is being converted into death.
If life’s way of hurting us is by killing us, why does life bring us back? Why does another meal arrive? Why does a night of peaceful sleep present itself to us? Why do wounds close?
Why would life, in all her beastliness, bring us back to life—back into her hold?
Here’s an even better question: why would life hurt us, and then return us to life? Has she gone mad? Is she nonsensical?
Life has not hurt us. Life has only scared us. Life has scared us into believing in her unpredictable, unforgiving, ever-changing ways. Life has had us believe that she is a merciless wench. She has had us think that we ought to bow to her and kiss her feet and perform her rituals, lest we set off the devil.
But would Mother Nature have us form such a cult around the beastliness of life? Or is that by our own doing and our own imagining? Is it life that has given to us our religion of her? Or is it a fable that we have passed on to one another?
Tell me—why do you get to eat your next meal? Why do you get to sleep peacefully? Why do you get to see your body heal? Does life do these things to you out of her fickleness? Has she been merciful for but another day? Have you lived smartly, and secured these things for yourself by your own intelligent actions? Or is it in life’s nature to sustain life?
Ah, I know what you think. But why me? If I am to live, many others are to die. That is the only way I will be sustained. Whether they be plants or animals, I must consume life in order to live.
It appears that life is largely in the business of creating death. To grow, trees must absorb nutrients from the ground all around them, leaving none for anyone else to enjoy. Fungi live by feeding off others, sucking the last bit of life out of them. Animals eat the plants that rob nutrients from the ground. Then other animals eat those animals, until those other animals reach the end of their lives and die. Then, scavengers swoop down to pick apart their bodies—until they, too, die. Then, bacteria and worms in the ground take up the bodies of those scavengers and return them to dirt, until they themselves die. There is carnage everywhere.
Indeed—what makes you so special over all others, oh human? Why would life choose you this day? Why should she not choose another tomorrow, and leave you for dead?
Life fears not time. The animals in the woods, the plants in the ground, the birds in the air—none are concerned with time. They grow, they hunt, they eat, they carry on. They look not to the clock. Instead, they look to themselves. What do I desire now? What shall I do about that now? They know, and they go.
Time is but a concept man has created to control life—to tame the beast. Man said he would have life’s fickleness no longer, and so he put her in a tunnel. She is too large to package neatly into a box, and too untame to fit the perfect angles of a window. So into a tunnel, she goes—the tunnel of time. Man did this with the hope that life might elongate herself there.
On the surface, this appears to work well enough for man. Man is here—and so, he lives. But man is always fearful that his solution will not work. He is suspicious that his structure will fall, and life will flee from him. Man fears the collapse of time, for with no tunnel in which to entrap her, life will pass him by. She will return to her witchcraft and wild ways, and will put an end to him.
Such is the dilemma of man. Man works his very hardest- works constantly, even- to keep life within his grasp, and yet he fears his loss of her continuously. Man knows not what he could do without her, yet it seems all he can do with her is to trap her. Indeed, she cannot be lived with, nor without.
So, what is man to do? Our poor man, who only wishes to tame the beast of his affections, so that he may hold her in his loving arms for time unto no end.
Here is what man does not understand. Man believes that life is a beast to be tamed. If he tames her, he can have his way with her. She is hard to tame, and only few have done it, but it can be done. If he does not tame her, she will end him before he has time to turn and run. Indeed, it is all a matter of time.
Yet, what if life does not wish to be tamed? What if to tame life is to leave her like a dog, who stares out the window into the wilderness yet is not allowed to go, and instead atrophies and becomes dependent on rubber toys for her entertainment? Would life have herself posted into this condition? Would she fall into the arms of man in loving surrender to him? Or would their love be a hollow shell—no more than a living arrangement?
Tell me—would you have this done unto yourself?
Life is beastly, to be sure. Yet she needs not taming. For she would not hurt you at random, nor need you to avoid provoking her.
You say you have seen evidence to the contrary. You say men have been hurt left and right by life and have fallen.
But men are not hurt by life. Men are hurt when they try to tame life. When they see life in mere shreds of what she once was, men ache with the emptiness of their being. The spirit of man is in agony at this loss of love.
Man lives when he loves life as she is. This is not to accept her randomness and her time-based nature, for she has none. Life does not know time. Rather, man has tried to tame her in it.
Life can be known to man only when he will not constrain her in time. For when life is pressed into the time tunnel, she loses much of her beauty. Every curve and edge of her cannot be seen. Life appears to be elongated by time, though in this elongation she is deformed.
But what if it is in man’s nature to use time? If man desires to use time, he will have to do as he so rarely does. He will have to communicate this. Rather than sneak up on her with a trap, man will have to tell life that he would like to see her in the time tunnel.
It is in life’s nature to never say No to man. She is gentle, you see. And so, when asked, she will say Yes. Man will then proceed to view life in the place where his mind can process her—where he can at last make some sense of her. It is not man’s job, in this scenario, to tame life, but rather to understand her.
And so, man will take life into the time tunnel, to see how he shall relate to his lover today. And man knows that when they are in there, the two of them, he will not see all of her. But this is fine. The mind of man will understand life one piece at a time.
While the mind of man is content in the time tunnel, man knows that he cannot keep life in there forever. The time tunnel does not know forever. But life does. And so, if man tries to keep life in the tunnel forever, he will not see all of her. The completeness of her beauty will remain hidden from him. She will pass him by.
Once the mind of man is satisfied, then, man decides that he and life may leave the tunnel for now. Read again: man and life leave the tunnel for now. When the tunnel is exited, man enters into the now. There, though his mind has not time enough to grasp it, man beholds life in all of her beauty. There, man sees life in her fullness. There, man feels life in all of her gentleness. Her beauty, which would not be grasped. Her fullness, which would not be compressed. Her gentleness, which would not be tamed.
This is difficult to communicate to those who remain in the tunnel indefinitely. For there, they try to grasp, and to compress, and to tame, and they hope that someday, if they only work hard enough, life shall at last surrender to them, and they will be rewarded by elevating their feet upon life forever.
Life, unable to say no, will resign herself to this fate if asked. But life outlives the time tunnel—whereas man does not. And so, once man passes on, life will lift up the frail cardboard impasse and return herself to now, where she shall reign in her beauty, her fullness, and her gentleness once again. Indeed, life knows no boundaries, and so she does not leave now. Man simply tricks himself into thinking she does.
Indeed, man loves his cleverness more than he loves life. Man loves to see himself as the trickster—loves to think that he has done it at last, that he has fooled life into giving him all he could ever want of her.
Yet, life need not be fooled into such an act. Now, life is always completing this act. Life does this without being asked. Yet, the tricks of man, and his time tunnel, make the truth appear to the contrary. It is only by man’s tricks that man believes he needs his tricks. Indeed, man has fooled none but himself.
When man at last listens to life, and decides he will fool himself no longer, he and she may pass out of the tunnel and into the seasoned, everlasting world of now, where they may love for all of time.
And so it is: man is hurt not by life, but by his own tricks.