When you closely look at how western democracy, for the purpose of the progress of the species, demised human life into demographically usable bits, you realize that modern living is a polarized and systematically caged terrestrial garden of Eden. You can see the garden with its bliss from everywhere you are yet through your choices, luck of the draw, or the self-limitation of your own mind, you may find yourself yearning for its bliss from the distance.
Many cultures have parallel concepts of this utopian garden. Jannah or Firdaus of the Arabs, the gardens of the Hesperides in the Greek world, and the Perdis of the Iranians – which happens to be the etymological root of our almost ubiquitous word, paradise. What these places all share is the aspiration toward a safe, loving, pleasant world shed of worries and struggle.
In Talmud the spiritual Garden of Eden is split in two: a terrestrial abundant, full of vegetation and fertile Eden and a celestial place, habitation of the righteous, where to get in you need to go through a selection of sorts. While not all make it to the celestial one, everyone has a shot at the terrestrial one.
On that premise, let’s take earth, for instance. If that’s our garden, the central path leading to a palace/place of comfort and joy can be the paved road that society has laid out for you or the more meandering paths around it. These ones have less structure and are less reliable on decisions that others make for you. They exert more pressure on you to make your own decisions while, looming low above your head, the chilling fear of never reaching the palace is crippling to some.
If you do stay on the paved road, it’s a certain kind of life and not a bad one at that. The question is do you like it and do you like yourself as you live it? It ultimately does not matter which path you take as long as you’re happy about it.
I used to believe that these are the problems of the modern human. That now, as we all deliberate and ponder upon our lives and that of others, we have way more to think about than those who lived simpler lives before us. But then again, the present and future always seem more complicated than the past.
Contrary to my belief, when I recently came across some of Aristotle’s exoteric texts, I understood that this dilemma was present even then. And if you think about it, that’s when the gardens came about. That’s when the utopia started to exist. Aristotle believed that observation of things around us, pondering on what we see, how it affects us, and how can we use examples around us to make our lives better. He was a pioneer in the study of happiness. Happiness and loving yourself go hand in hand.
He taught us how to look at things around us, how aesthetics play a role in how we feel, and started the germinal idea that it contributes to shaping a better life. His position, that this is achievable only thru virtue, is possibly not quite as current. And I do disagree with its validity in a contemporary context, but, one of his other key ideas, his theory of happiness as an objective means to live your life well, eudaemonia he called it, is quite relevant even today.
I’m no Aristotle, but I do know a thing or two about how you can use design methods to get you more self-confidence, that magic elixir that makes you love yourself and be attractive to others. We all gravitate toward confidence like flies to honey.
What design does is give you the opportunity to create your own aesthetic experience, your own aesthetic medication. For you to design your life you need to be prepared to let go of what does not work.
While designing you make a myriad of decisions along the way toward finalizing a product. At every point in the process, you have to be ready to let go of any decision that you already made if it does not work anymore with the big picture. Everyone who ever designed or made anything knows exactly what I’m talking about. It may be the best most wonderful element that you thought of. If at any point it does not feel like it belongs to the project as a whole anymore, you need to let it go otherwise you risk compromising the integrity of your final work.
During the process of design, despite popular belief, the aha moment is not the hard but the easy part. Sure it takes talent and a whole lotta’ knowledge to know how to invoke one of those but once you got it, only then the work begins. You need to make something out of an idea. And as much as the idea is great and important and all that, if you do not know how to execute, it’s just an idea, a dream, a utopia.
In life, the trick is to set yourself up to undergo a series of aesthetic experiences.
According to Aristotle, even though he was mainly talking about different forms of art, experiencing a pleasant aesthetic of sorts has the power of purging the soul of negative emotions.
Any decisions you’ve made before, you have to be prepared to re-evaluate. Life is not bricks and mortar. You can demolish and build again over and over. Learn how to recognize and overcome staleness, always adjust your path and the decisions you made against where you are right in the moment.
Don’t get stuck in the past for the sake of the past and most importantly, don’t become the slave of your earlier decisions.
There is only a road forward and as much as reincarnation has the hope of living forever, what if it’s not there and all there is, is this one path – would you not want to make the best out of it?
The easiest road is the one that most people take. You know what to expect because there are lots of examples. You can get advice and you can share your experiences with others because everyone understands what you’re going through and you understand what they suggest you change. Appreciation can be exchanged and praise can be given. Because you’re in the clan. The clan of those who chose the same path.
“Happiness depends on ourselves,” Aristotle said.
The difficulty comes when your choices take you away from others. When there are fewer things that connect you to how others around you live their life. That’s when you become an outsider on all fronts, even if you do not want to be. It can be one difference in your life that gets you expelled completely out of the clan even though you may belong there from all other points of view.
Outsiders have it hard because they want to live the way they want and at the same time, they still want to be understood and share their experiences with the “in-crowd”. That is just impossible from the get-go. So as an outsider, if you choose to be or just happen to be one, you have to get used to not wanting to marry these two, and again, make a choice and pick one or the other.
And this you need to do if you love yourself and want to be content with who you are. This.. like all things that sound too simple to be true, is an incredibly hard thing to do.
But when you get to that point of clarity, when you finally realize that every decision you make and every path you take is a non-permanent one, that change is possible at every moment and the only persona you need to fight against when contemplating change is yourself, that moment that, to many, it seems impossible, that moment is power. The true power of freedom.
There is no age when this stops. There is no point when it’s too late.
This month I’m turning fifty. A number so big and so distant from everything that I think of myself, that I have to warm up to it and make it fit. Make it fit with the image of who I am. Yet I am still myself. As I turn this page, the only thing I find myself thinking is that this is where I can love myself again.
Over the years, I’m done with many chores, and many more will come. But since now I know that all there is to this life is the path you take and things you do on the way, why not pay attention to it and craft it my own way? Everything can be on my terms. I trust I have a good enough compass not to make bad ecological decisions as much as moral ones.
Could it be that I grew up in the Eastern Block? I’m sure it is. It is easier for me to question what I’m told since I’ve lived 21 years of the 50 in a place where questioning was all there was.
Where I’ve learned how to discern between truth and reality, where I’ve learned how to spot the invisible reasons behind the visible actions, where I’ve learned to mind my own business when I’m happy and raise my voice when I’m not – not expecting for someone else to come to my rescue though, but making sure, instead, that I’m heard, and I can help others that have not formed their voice get up there and scream if they don’t like themselves and what they’ve become.
When you get stuck on a path whichever one you take, and most likely you will and more than once, you just need to remember, there are many ways to live a life.