Montaigne writes about life –
I enjoy it twice as much as others, for the measure of enjoyment depends on the greater or lesser attention that we lend it. Especially at this moment, when I perceive that mine is so brief in time, I try to increase it in weight; I try to arrest the speed of its flight by the speed with which I grasp it, and to compensate for the haste of its ebb by my vigor in using it. The shorter my possession of life, the deeper and fuller I must make it.
The first thing which struck me when I read this paragraph was “….depends on the greater or lesser attention that we lend it.” I’ve thought for a long time that attention is a great magnifier. Whatever we pay attention to gets bigger, more intense, or more significant, it seems to me. That’s what attracted me to the work of the positive psychologists such as Seligman. It seems to me that the more attention we give to a fear, the greater the fear becomes, so is it not better to give more attention to strengths, hopes and potentials and make them bigger instead?!
The second thing which struck me was his use of the terms “weight”, “speed” and “vigor”. In each and every one of these instances he is making the case for an intensity of engagement. This reminded me of the work of the philosopher, Robert Solomon, whose book, The Joy of Philosophy, is subtitled “Thinking Thin versus the Passionate Life”, and of Liz Gilbert, in her “Big Magic” where she talks of the “amplified life”.
Montaigne precedes this passage with a musing on the phrase “pass the time”, and here he is arguing that we shouldn’t just let time pass, we should embrace life fully and so experience it more intensely than we do when time is just drifting by.
The third thing which struck me was “The shorter my possession of life, the deeper and fuller I must make it”. He wrote this when he was older (it’s from the essay “On Experience” which is the last one in the third of the three volumes of the “Essais”). How often do you hear people who have had an accident or serious illness, say, in the full awareness of their mortality, that they now intend to live life more fully? Such crises are often described as “wake up calls”. This is the same idea, isn’t it?
So, what is Montaigne saying here that I’d like to take on board today?
That I want to live today with awareness, with passion and with intensity. I want to fully experience the one and only chance to live today.