Paul Fleischman, USA

Retired psychiatrist, honored by the American Psychiatric Association; author of "Cultivating Inner Peace", amongst other books, and the forthcoming, "Wonder".

(Submitted by the author)

The art of living consists of balancing two whirlwinds, by walking down a middle path, that allows both sets of demands to scintillate yet keeps both of them in check. The arena on one side is competence, and on the other is realization. Everyone grows up under the pressure of establishing competence.

Competence is multiple, a concatenation of competencies. As the child grows into adulthood, his or her situation will evoke and require the development of life skills that are called for by their economic, cultural, political and ecological context - how to hunt for food, file a tax form, drive a car, or download Skype. Unfortunately, competencies can be selectively diminished by gender bias, racism, poverty and other forms of oppression.

Each individual also has biological or existential limits on their personal development and skills-set. Not everyone can learn all that would be ideal for them to master. The more that the individual attains, the more society may challenge them with added demands, new languages, technologies, or interpersonal skills. Of all competencies, emotional and interpersonal ones are the most important, and are often taught in families rather than by formal institutions.

Competencies form necessary baselines for the art of living. People with limited competencies suffer from frustration and depravation in dealing with daily life. Interpersonal incompetence leaves individuals lonely and frustrated in their core social human nature. Economic or cultural incompetence leads to marginalized, defeated lives.

Because our political, social, and personal environments are always changing, new competencies are called for in new life stages. Someone who has mastered a profession such as medicine may have to turn her attention to an unraveling marriage. Someone who is a world-famous, wealthy CEO, whose book on financial advice has sold a million copies, and who has a loving marriage and family, may have to develop new competencies in dealing with cancer.

Everyone, no matter how fortunate or talented, has limits to their abilities. Life has limits, and death can be well-faced, but not exactly eliminated by, skill. Life's other zone is psychological, and consists of facing frustrations, defeats, losses and limits - all that can't be conquered, subdued and won. The art of living includes the art of losing.

The art of living derives also from acceptance, relinquishment, irony and laughter. The best baseball players strike out and brilliant stock investors buy a routine coffin.

The psychological flexibility to accept life's unsolvable problems is behaviorally similar to, but tonally very different from resignation and defeat. Just as skillful activity does, well-seasoned and appropriate passivity brings strength and fullness, rather than cynicism or bitterness. Letting go can also bring a feeling of freedom and lightness.

High up in the far corner of the dynamic zone of the psyche's capacity to adapt to life's hard edge is the spiritual aspect of human psychology. Too often this realm is pumped full of fairy tales that are patently fictitious and which become energized by the fervor that is necessary to override their absurdity. Religious fanatics reveal in their zeal and intolerance their fears that their faith cannot stand up to scrutiny and doubt.

But, yes, beautiful humanity, that animal capable of forethought, objectivity and perspective, can see the horizon expand, and can realize their own life in the context of an incredible, irreducible, and limitless unknown.

The art of living has a whirling halo of awe, reverence and the refusal to conclude. This complex and reverential attitude is called, "realization." Whoever attains it then loves the mysterious gift: the friendly faces, the great words, and the opportunity to know and the need to know more. Every moment is a molecule in which striving and accepting, knowing and not knowing, loving and letting go can get us high.



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