node created 2012/06/17
last changed 2013/02/04
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
"Autobiography"
The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it's real, 'cause that's how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, and round and round. It has thrills and chills, and it's very brightly coloured, and it's very loud. And it's fun, for a while.

Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: "Is this real, or is this just a ride?". Other people have remembered, and they come back to us, and they say: "Hey, don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because: This is just a ride". And we kill those people.

"Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry; Look at my bank account; and my family. This just has to be real."

It's just a ride. But we always kill those good people who try to tells us that - you ever noticed that? - and let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because... it's just a ride, and we can change it any time we want.

It's only a choice, no effort, no work, no job, no savings of money; a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.

Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defence each year and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world - which it would many times over, not one human being excluded - and we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever, and in peace.
What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?
Now, nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.

With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
My departure from the volumes of science was a sin far less serious than that which consisted in having neglected to cast his eyes on the book of life.
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid... You refuse to do it because you want to live longer... You're afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you're afraid someone will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
If something in the exterior world makes you discontent, then it is not that object which troubles you, but rather your judgement of it; yet to blot out this judgement instantly is within your power. And if your dissatisfaction is based on the condition of your soul, who can prohibit you from correcting your views? Likewise, if you are discontent because you are not doing what seems reasonable to you, why not be active rather than discontent? "But something stronger than me is obstructing me." Still, do not be discontent; for the cause for your inaction is not within you. "But life has no meaning for me if this is not done." Well then, end your life, as calm as if you had succeeded; but don't forget to forgive your adversaries.
"Meditations"
People are always talking about looking for the meaning of life, when what they're really looking for is a deep experience of life.
Tagslife
A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.
I love to watch and encourage and thank the plants I see pushing up the sidewalks. That is the work we should be doing, and they are leading the way, teaching us how, these plants reaching through the concrete from the soil to the sky, these ants and birds and spiders going about their lives, all remind us that all times and in all places - even in cities - ecstatic life continues beneath the machine, waiting for the chance to return, to recover, and to reenter into relationship with those of us who are ready to live.
"Welcome to the Machine"
Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.
The only possible metaphor one may conceive of for the life of the mind is the sensation of being alive. Without the breath of life, the human body is a corpse; without thinking, the human mind is dead.
[..]

The horseman serves the horse,
The neatherd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse, 
The eater serves his meat;
'T is the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind;
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.

There are two laws discrete,
Not reconciled,--
Law for man, and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet,
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.
'T is fit the forest fall,
The steep be graded,
The mountain tunnelled,
The sand shaded,
The orchard planted,
The glebe tilled,
The prairie granted,
The steamer built.

Let man serve law for man;
Live for friendship, live for love,
For truth's and harmony's behoof;
The state may follow how it can,
As Olympus follows Jove.

[..]
"Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing"

Yes to the Earth

So radiant in certain mornings' light
With its roses and its trees
Is Earth, or with its grain and olives

So suddenly it is radiant on the soul,
Which stands then alone and forgetful
Though just a moment earlier the soul
Wept bloody tears or dwelt in bitterness;

So radiant in certain mornings' light
Is Earth, and in its silence so expressive
This wondrous lump rolling in its skies;
Beautiful, tragic in solitude, yet smiling

That the soul, unasked, replies,
"Yes" replies, "Yes" to the Earth
To the indifferent earth, "Yes!"

Even though next instant skies
Should darken, roses too,
Or the effort of life grow heavier still,
The act of breathing even more heroic,

"Yes" replies the battered soul to Earth,
So radiant in the light of certain mornings,
Beautiful above all things, and human hope.
"Yes to the Earth"
Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.
If only we try to live sincerely, it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and also will probably commit great faults and do wrong things, but it certainly is true, that it is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.
Preserving things and living beyond a reasonable time is based in fear of dying, a culture perpetuated by people that seem to emotionally not understand that letting go is ok.
My life is a hesitation before birth.
Diary, 24th January 1922
I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties. It forgets the great way home that lies before it. Unprepared, given over to childish trivialities, it could be taken by surprise when the great hour comes and find that, for the sake of piffling pleasures, the one great joy has been missed. I am aware of this, but my heart is not. It seems unteachable; it continues its dreaming... always wavering between joy and depression.
If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.
It is hard to have patience with people who say "There is no death" or "Death doesn't matter." There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn't matter.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Man always dies before he is fully born.
I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you aren't willing to die for it then you aren't fit to live.
The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'survive.' The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.
"Sophie Scholl - The Last Days"
All real living is meeting.
Tagslife
If anyone went on for a thousand years asking of life: "Why are you living?" life, if it could answer, would only say, "I live so that I may live." That is because life lives out of its own ground and springs from its own source, and so it lives without asking why it is itself living.
Tagslife