July 2, 2014

How to Practice Being Human.


“Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin—find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.” ~ Maya Angelou

There’s something wonderful about being human.

We can stroll down city streets, taking in interesting people and the tallest of buildings.

We can move through nature; feeling the crunch, crunch, crunch of gravel beneath worn tennis shoes, gazing up between tree branches at blue sky.

We can cuddle up to those we love under soft blankets, cradling our infants and lovers while looking into their eyes to see their souls.

But sometimes being human isn’t a sensuous experience or a sharing of love.

No, sometimes it’s comparison and discomfort and loneliness and abandonment—because being human has a wide meaning and vast connotations.

“The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar… Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen.” ~ Aldous Huxley

But it’s hard to not fit in.

I spent much of my life trying to be like everyone else and then a nice chunk of my teenage years pretending I didn’t give a damn what anyone thought (even to myself). It’s taken years to strike a balance between being satisfied with my own approval as enough and being honest with my needs for love and respect from others.

Still, on a random day when the sky isn’t so blue and being human feels slightly like a large burden, I’m thrown from this fine-tuned equilibrium by a seemingly minor hurt or similar wounding human act.

“Man’s enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.” ~ Lao Tzu

And on any such random day in July, I’m my own enemy; I am my own layer of injustice.

I keep myself in a quaint but cozy box of self-construction; its paper-thin walls my own self-perception and its contents what I envision myself to be in that particular moment of my life.

This changes, though—I change.

I change as I allow myself to either burn my self-imagined cage or as I push out one wall, perhaps even incorrectly thinking it only a temporary investigation of what lies outside.

And change itself feels like this.

Advancement is slowly toying with new ideas, new people, new jobs and new places; it’s experimenting with a different flavor of life—whether by force or desire—and realizing that our palate has much broader taste then we knew.

“No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.” ~ John Steinbeck

Yet we can disappoint ourselves.

We say sharp words to someone we love, more than any other human.

We become anxious in a situation that calls for calm clarity.

In short, we feel challenged by an aspect of life and then, in our human minds, we fail.

But failure, too, is a significant part of the human condition.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

Success and failure, however, are not polar opposites. Rather, they are brothers and sisters on a greater quest: a quest to be human.

And to be human is to seek out love and work and shelter, along with hope and possibility. To be human is to understand both being a supremely rational creature and an insanely irrational animal too. We’re this compelling mixture of emotion, materialism, philosopher and scholar—each and every one of us, our own unique blend.

So, how do we practice being human? 

We open our eyes to our own splendor.

We open our eyes to the magnificence of those around us.

And we open our hearts to the tender, gory reality that our perceived flaws and failings are, in their own less obvious ways, also brilliant.

“I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.” ~Charlotte Bronte

And when falls are unavoidable—when the ground is suddenly beneath our disjointed noses—we consider how our trips, our lapses and our exposed defects are, ironically, the same traits that make us decidedly more beautiful.

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo credit: Flickr.

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