Designed to Live
“When death shall come, he me will find Engaged in something I've design'd.” --Montaigne
Like Heidegger's Being, Kant's transcendence, or the Bhuda's Awakening, existence is all a matter conscious deliberation. It seems to me that the living moment is fleeting only in so far as it is ever changing. The interesting aspect of life is that we beings of mind can choose to do whatever we like at any moment. In fact we are required to choose action and decide want simply to be! I think by choosing something rather than nothing we infuse our lives with worth.
Being Physically (what matters?)
I am still here because I choose to exist. In the beginning, maybe, I was controlled by other intentional forces (e.g., mother) as creation occurred. But as soon as I popped out, it was my own conscious decisions which prolonged my mortality. Instinct and genetic codes aside, there is something in me (my being) that is driving this continued desire of mine to exist. It’s the Cartesian “I” that reaffirms at every moment that it wishes to continue to be.
I choose to eat food, or I will starve. I do not jump from the balcony to the basement floor, because I will be crushed. I do not crawl into the oven, because I will be cooked. I want to earn money in order to acquire life-sustaining goods and services. I choose to do these things in order to survive. That is, I make intentional decisions that ensure my continued existence. I want to live. I choose to physically be.
Being Consciously (cogito, ergo sum)
The mental menageries that attach themselves to this existence of mine are something slightly different (whether they be wholly separate, epiphenomenal, or just there; just matter). There is a distinction to be made between the self and the other.
In this sense of self I think is a different mode of being that must be understood. What are these things out here that I touch? Who are these people who talk back to me? What am I doing here? Knowing that I am this thing in the universe, able to make decisions (I at least feel that I am the controlling power at hand, regardless of determinism), changing reality around me, and altering my appreciation of it, I find that I am different from the flowers and the rocks and the trees. I'm not merely here but aware that I'm here, though I think the trick in humans’ case is to be doubly aware (aware that I am aware) to appreciate the phenomenal experiences I am able to consume. I know not only that I am sitting here in front of my computer writing, but that I am a human being in history, realizing that at this very moment I am alive and can choose to do this or that. I'm the actor in so many others' plays of existence and know that I am such an actor who is intending his actions. I am conscious.
Being Absurd (there are no proper plans)
When it comes to deciding what sort of action I will take, I find that there is little or no criteria upon which to base such a decision. Is one thing better than any other? Is good and evil real or just a categorical, human construction? Is painting a picture better than writing a book? I don’t think there’s any difference. I mean, ultimately, when faced with the prospect of my finitude, all these things I do in my life seem trivial. I’m going to cease to be and all the achievements and pleasures and historicity of my self are not going to matter at all! In fact there will simply be nothing. What then does anything I do mean? It’s all absurd.
Being Meaningful (the designer’s dream)
The funny thing is that if meaning is something I’m looking for I find that all I need to do is decide (summon it forth) and I will find it. That is, if I decide to paint a picture of my emotions of angst, then all I need to do is create an angstful picture and it will mean this. If I decide that this picture is valuable, then it carries with it whatever value I place on it simply based on my belief. The consequences are that when people look at my painting they will answer the question “what does it mean?” with the understanding of my experience of existential angst facing the abyss. When they ask how much it costs, they will consult me to negotiate its worth: a function of the value I have deliberately placed upon it. That is, it means the value that I have decided.
My life is what I design. My life is valuable for my choices. At every moment, when I am exercising my volition, I realize my choices in the scheme of life (opposed to death and nothingness) are the radiance of my Being. I am. I am here. I am such a thing that can instigate change. I am a primary mover.
Being One's Self (gnothi se auton)
Making choices and imbuing meaning isn’t enough. I feel I need to not only be, but be myself. That is, it’s not enough to paint a picture, and although I can decide whatever value the painting has, the kinds of decisions I make must be mine. Who am I? What kind of a person am I? What sorts of decisions do I make? Knowing myself (or at least trying to) I can make more meaningful decisions and lead a more meaningful life because I can be closer aligned with my soul’s facticity.
So, like Montaigne’s quote, I too hope to have Death find me engaged in something of my own design. I want to be caught in the moment of living and being making genuine decisions, deliberately choosing the worth of my existence now. Nothing else is a matter.