We have just crossed the December, 2016 Solstice, and are now officially in the winter season. Today is the first day that daylight increases, but only by a meager couple minutes. Each day from now until the summer solstice, when then northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, daylight will increase until at long last the days are long, the nights short, and the weather warm and joyous. Then, the cycle will repeat in its march towards eternity.
Today is dark and gloomy, a perfect time for writing and reflecting on life and new beginnings. This Yule, I've been considering what it means to be alive, and how to make the most of our time in this world.
Scientifically speaking, being alive means "the existence of an individual human being or animal." While this definition is true, it says nothing of how we define ourselves and fill the space in our everyday existence. In many ways, it is the actions we take that give our lives meaning, more than simply existing.
While I was thinking this over, an interesting analogy came to me, and how I might apply its lessons to my own life.
MY BEST FRIEND, MILLY
Often, I observe my dog, Milly. Milly is a small beagle/spaniel mix with large floppy ears and big feet. She has very soft fur and large eyes and jowls, and always looks confused. She is spotted like a cow, and runs in circles when I come home from work. Most people think Milly is cute, I think she's funny looking, and I love her.
When I think about how Milly perceives the world, I try to put myself in her position: she knows nothing of the universe or how it works, and yet, every morning, she bravely and happily wakes up to face the day. I'm impressed at how animals are able to so blindly make their way through the world, recognizing only simple behavioral patterns from those around them, with no real logical understanding of how the world works. For Milly to do this, day after day, with no real method of communication other than trusting rudimentary signals between her and myself, seems like one of the bravest lives a living thing could lead.
Despite how much Milly relies on me for her survival, and how much we care for each other, if I take her for a walk or let her outside to use the bathroom, I must hold her leash or she will run away.
Logically, this seems shocking, how could she run away from the thing she relies on for her own survival? However, I often forget these are her instincts, and it is woven into her DNA to hunt, explore, and chase after small animals. Milly lacks the logical tools we as humans possess to rationalize running away being a bad idea.
When she has managed to run away in the past, however, she has always returned, usually smiling. Those same instincts that led her to run in the first place kick in to keep her alive while she is away. She relies on her strong sense of smell to retrace her trail, her big feet to walk for miles, and sense of hearing to stay out of danger.
LIVE LIKE AN ANIMAL
In many ways, I believe humans need to be more like dogs: not that we should abandon or suppress our rational self, on the contrary, logic is a tremendous tool for understanding the world around us and making informed decisions about actions we'd like to take (like not running away from your owner). Rather, we should strive to embrace our intuition when we cannot fully understand the world around us, particularly, we should embrace our instinctive understanding of patterns within our world, and be brave and trusting in the face of the unknown. After all, there is no one in the world that knows everything, and it is inevitable we all must face the unknown at some point, even if that ultimately means facing death.
We should trust in the grand design of the system we are all part of, and give ourselves over to it, trusting, like a loyal dog, that events will take us where we need to go, even when our communication is rudimentary, our logical understanding is nil, and our world revolves around a small point in the universe of one sort or another. Let intuition fill the gaps between logic, rather than living life with emptiness in those cracks.
We should be brave in the face of a complex and unknowable system, just as Milly is brave when facing a world she has absolutely no understanding of. While we understand and rationalize empirical data, it is the complex and mysterious interaction of this data, along with the wild and unpredictable nature of human emotion that creates a machine we cannot hope to fully predict or comprehend.
And in those times we fail and the world pushes us to the side, as will happen from time to time, then just as Milly relies on her instincts to bring her home, we should rely on our own survival instincts to return us to our homes.
It is our life to live, and when the world becomes dark (it is nearly the shortest day of the year, after all), jump in and trust yourself and your role in the universe, and eventually you'll find the things that make sense to you. One way or another, the will cycle will repeat on its march towards eternity.