A tourist visiting a place of breath-taking beauty makes frantic efforts to capture every moment and every scene on his camera. He spends all his time shooting everything he sees, and from various angles, knowing that it is a rare opportunity that may never come again. And he hopes to review, edit and enjoy the pictures at leisure. His efforts give him many images but not the experience.
This is indeed a parable of the way most of us live. If there is one thing that we desperately seek in life, it is the experience of living, of happiness, of connecting with the world and of making contact with people. We can be happy and find life in its fullness with all its richness, and its wonder, if we allow the world to bring us to our senses.
We would all agree that the photograph of a loaf of bread does not satisfy our hunger. But that has not stopped us from trying. So we would turn to religions that give us images of God, salvation, enlightenment and so on. There is no use blaming them, because that is how far they can take us. They cannot give us the real thing. Media bring us images of life that inform and entertain, and sounds and songs that stimulate. Technology gives amazing possibilities of digitalizing life and presenting it in pictures and sounds – a camera or video to capture them, books and media to record them – and turns life into a virtual spectator game. We end up bartering images for reality, beliefs for experience, and answers instead of questions and doubts. There is some truth in Pablo Picasso’s comment: “Computers are useless. They can only give us answers.” And it can be extended much else in life.
We can not be happy and content in this way of life. Our bodies lose their energy and vitality, our senses cry out in deprivation and seek numerous ways of artificial stimulation in drugs, alcohol and thrills. Some of us take to meditation or retire to our minds seeking consolation in philosophy and the search for meaning. But it is only our contact with reality, the experience of aliveness, that will really satisfy us. This is awareness.
We enjoy the aliveness of little children, their curiosity and openness, their freshness and enjoyment of life. We are easily surprised by the presence of these qualities in some grown up people we may be privileged to meet. There is brightness in their eyes. Their hearts have not been hardened by pain, fear and bitterness, so they are able to feel the vast variety of human emotions. They are open to life and people, their minds are still uncluttered by opinions and theories. They are available to life. And they have time.
If we have lost our contact with life, it is possible for us to rediscover life. We can learn to be present, to open our eyes and live in happiness in the midst of all happenings and challenges. This is all we are looking for in life. Joseph Campbell said it beautifully, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life … I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.”