The journey of life is full of births… And in return full of deaths – because every birth is a death for something else.
Learning to live is something that might seem common sense; however, the meaning of “Learn to Live” is much more subtler than we might initially think. This is because Seneca here is not referring to lay living as in the daily running of life per se. However, learning to live is to proceed in the different stages of life with what each stage takes, because each new developmental stage requires learning a new living. An exemplary case of failure to live we might see in the couple who fails to live as parents when they have children, continuing in the same way it was. Learning to live is to learn to proceed into life through the different developments and shifts imposed by our choices and the course of life. Those who fail to live are the ones who live a specific life that’s not suitable for the current situation – like the old who refuses to believe that youth has gone and tries to relive it in actions.
Failure to learn to live is manifested in critical stages of development. A notion we hear about is “Mid-life Crisis”, for example. What’s making it a crisis is the challenge to accommodate rebirth into a new stage and the death of an existing one – which entails a painful tension inside, a battle. There are many crises of that sort. Many tend to avoid the pain associated with such shifts and thus either live inadequately or under depression; however, maturity through life and learning to live is to confront such painful experience of tension – it’s like the woman’s delivery pain to give birth to a new human being. This is what psychologists refer to casually as the Healthy Depression, or simply Healthy Tension. It takes an effort to move from stage to stage; a courage and work on thyself to handle the death of old portion of one’s self and a birth of a new one. That’s learning to live, in the character developmental stages sense.
Also learning to live is adaptation to shifts in the course of life due to change of circumstances: the married becomes divorced/widowed, the healthy becomes sick or handicapped, the parented to orphaned…and vice versa. Some in their avoidance to confront the pain, the fear, and the anxiety associated with such shifts stuck into the old map of looking into reality. They cling to lifestyle, emotions, and attitudes of the old life and in doing so they live not living. Some other remarkable form of change of life route is when one discovers that his/her life is leading in the wrong direction after embarking on a specific road. Some people would tend to let go their dreams or sense of what’s right for them for the same of avoiding battling with something existent. For example, the student who discovered after two years in Engineering school that the Medical profession is right for him and his interest. In such situation, some would take the courage of taking a U-Turn to their living; to mark a death of something that came to be realized as not the right thing and come to learn to live something new thought to be the right thing. However, some would fret on the stress and pain of putting off something they already started to the fear and uncertainty of living something new. They are afraid of dying in what they started and try to live again in something else, that fear is so great that it’s easier to let go the dreams than confronting the pain of shift. There are always valid reasons for doing this or that; what I am saying here is that the key point is a deep reflection and correct thinking about the matter – if it’s something really the right thing, then learning to die and to live are what’s being called for.
That’s what it meant that one must learn to die, many times, in the journey of life… Because as the course of life takes us, things, including our selves, change and in the eternal change of life, we must learn to confront death and letting go a long cherished part of us and learn to live a new living.
To that end of concept, I would dedicate the below poem “Journey of the Magi”, by Eliot:
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? This was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But bad thought they were different; this birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.