There is nothing that should be recommended so much to youth as activity and vigilance. Our life is nothing but movement…
When I read this I automatically reframed it into a more modern language and something which fitted better with the themes which are important to me – actions and awareness.
I also thought immediately of the birds in the garden. How they seem to be busy all the time and also, continuously “vigilant” or aware.
If I was to single out two characteristics which make the difference between zombie mode and hero mode in our lives it would be these two –
In some ways you could argue that we are what we do. When writing stories we create and reveal character by describing the choices they make. William Glasser developed a whole therapeutic approach based on making people more aware of the choices they are making all the time – because we do choose all the time. It’s just that for a lot of the time the choices happen automatically as part of habits, routines or manipulation. That’s the zombie way in my view.
The auto-pilot way. We’re not experiencing our human-ness to the full when we live that way. But we are active all the time. Even if that activity is simply sitting and breathing.
If you’d like to explore this in more depth, then search for my posts in the “a to z of becoming” series on this site where I reflect on 52 different verbs, each of which is an action we can take to further our “becoming”.
Life is difficult to define. I mean from a scientific or biological perspective. You can see that in the difficulty we have knowing whether or not a seed is alive. But amongst the most successful attempts to define life there is always some mention of action – of respiration, or metabolism. Or as Maturana and Varela said – of “self-making” – they even came up with a new word for that – “autopoiesis”.
If life is significantly about the activities we are undertaking, then might it not be better to be aware? To reflect and consider so that we can choose? Even if we choose to continue doing what we were doing anyway?
That leads to the second characteristic –
People talk a lot about mindfulness these days, but that word is really just another word for awareness. To be “mindful” is to be aware.
Awareness is partly about paying attention. It’s about focus. Where are we directing our attention? What is catching our attention?
And it’s partly about reflection, because as we reflect on what has just occurred or what we have experienced we heighten our awareness and deepen our understanding of ourselves and our lives.
As Ellen Langer says, mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Why would you choose the latter?
So, maybe there’s something to learn from the birds – and from Montaigne – that “activity and vigilance” are to be recommended!