“Great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of anything else that is great” (Henry IV of France).
THERE IS A MALADY THAT AFFLICTS MANY OF US THAT MIGHT BE CALLED “DULLNESS.” I don’t mean that we ourselves are dull, but rather that our attention to life has been dulled. Maybe we have experienced so much that we’re jaded, maybe we’ve been beaten down by too many problems, or maybe we’re just tired or sleepy or bored. Whatever the reason, many of us do not live our lives with much awareness. Our days — and our experiences — flow by us without much conscious attention on our part. It’s as if we’re only half-awake.
As I said, the problem may be that we’ve had too many difficulties to deal with. But on the other hand, maybe we’ve had it too easy. As Karl Ritter said, “People need resistance, for it is resistance which gives them their awareness of life.” It’s a fact that dealing with difficulty enhances our awareness. Pain concentrates our attention, and if that’s what it takes to wake us up, then maybe pain is not all bad.
I can’t discuss awareness, however, without mentioning a particular failure that characterizes our age, and that is a failure to be aware of those around us. Manners expert Emily Post has said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” If so, that is probably why our age is ill-mannered. We are so self-centered that we feel no need to “tune in” and be aware of anyone else’s feelings. Unconcerned and oblivious, we act in ways that a more aware person would not.
Henry Miller once wrote, “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware.” As a statement of the meaning of life, that does not go nearly far enough, but it does contain a grain of truth. There is a sense in which if our consciousness and our awareness have been dulled, we are not really living. If we fail to taste life fully, both the bitter and the sweet, then we’re losing the experience that life was meant to be. So the advice of Thomas Mann is well worth considering, and I heartily recommend it to you: “Hold every moment sacred. Give each . . . the weight of thine awareness.”
“Hold fast the time! Guard it, watch over it, every hour, every minute! Unregarded it slips away, like a lizard, smooth, slippery, faithless, a pixy wife. Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment” (Thomas Mann).