The Art of Living


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Honors 3138, Winter 1980

Dr. Dickson McLean


The word art comes from the Latin ars, skill, which in turn comes from the Greek arariskein, to fit. To fit, to fit in, to put things into place, to assume your own proper place all this implies order, harmony. Order is the state or condition in which everything is in its fitting, proper place; and harmony is the quality of interaction or interrelation within that orderly whole. True order implies wholeness, because the whole of things (everything) is in order.

The art of living thus involves a harmonious existence in which all aspects of one's own being are ordered and harmonized, so that one is a whole being. Also, it implies that one fits in with the rest of existence and takes one's proper place in the whole of things.

If the human being is basically natural, then a natural, healthy state would be an artful condition and the world healthy comes from the same word (hāl, hale) as does the word whole, meaning "healthy, unhurt, entire." And if the human being is a natural part of the whole of nature (nature meaning "to be born"), then it is fitting that he should be aware of, and care for, the wholeness of life, of which he is a part and on which his survival depends. The word "holy" also comes from the word hāl, healthy, whole; and if we live properly, healthily, then our wholeness will resonate with the wholeness of life which itself surely resonates with the wholeness of the universe ("entire, one" from uni-versus, "turned toward the one"). Holiness, sacredness, is by definition an essential aspect of life and existence.

Artful living, which is whole and holy, involves, we said, an inner orderliness and sensitivity to the wholeness of the universe. But what is inner order, and what is man's place in the whole order of things? Inner order implies that the mind and the heart, the intellect and emotions, thought, awareness, desire, will, and so on k are all balanced harmoniously and in their proper places if they have a place at all. (For instance, perhaps will and desire have no proper place in life in artful living if life is whole and if desire and will create conflict and division.) If thought as analysis breaks things apart, then it is dangerous and must be used with care that is, only when appropriate. And if we are, in fact, part of the whole and share in that wholeness, that holiness, then if we do not feel this if we are not aware of this, sensitive to this then we are not inwardly in order. Perhaps it means that awareness is not functioning properly; perhaps there is repression or blockage; or perhaps thought or will has created a separation, a division, in the wholeness by isolating the self (the "you" and the "me") as if it were separate from the whole. As to main's place in the universe, it is logical that man naturally assumes that place just by being what he naturally is. Virtue means "manhood" or the quality of being a man. Unless one is harmonized within oneself, surely it is not possible to sense the wholeness of existence and one's place in that whole. We can conceive, come up with ideas as to what man's place is; but, again, it may not be appropriate or orderly to live by ideas. (In fact, it invites conflict with others who believe or think differently.) My own tendency is to say that man's place is that of observer, as the awareness that the universe and life has somehow developed of itself. The poet Jon Anderson speaks of "the movement regained and regarded both the same," and he seems to be saying that man regains the movement ("the whole movement of life"), which he has lost sight of, by merely regarding it that is, the movement of life is aware of itself through man. Man's whole world ought to be based on this.

The art of living means the art of thinking, where thought is in its place and moves clearly, cleanly. Sanity means "cleanliness" (cp. sanitation) and therefore a clean psyche a mind that is untouched, unhurt, innocent. Perhaps there is no place for sentimentality, regret, fears and desires, or anxiety. Perhaps the past is gone forever, though it is maintained by a neurotic memory; perhaps the future does not exist, though it its conceived and projected by a hopeful imagination; and perhaps sanity and clear thinking (as the natural activity of a healthy brain) operate or take place only in the wholeness of the present, never moving away from actuality.

The art of living also means the art of action, where action comes naturally and has little or nothing to do with the past or future, but deals only with immediate, real needs. There may be an immediate need to plan our resources more wisely, which thus affects the future. There may be a need to learn to more gracefully, to give free expression to our natural creativity, to allow what is natural to take its natural place and flourish naturally. But the natural order of one's inner reality cannot be prescribed. It must be found, it must develop naturally, organically. Morality has little place when there is clear perception of the appropriate place for everything and for every action. When one is sensitive to the situation, the appropriate response will be sensed also. Traditional religion also has little place where there is a natural holiness to all of life, a holiness that is experienced when experience and consciousness themselves are orderly and right. Religion means "to hold (or bind) together" (actually, to re-bind or re-connect) and thus to preserve the sacred unity of all things. And as such, the art of living will be religious living with the whole of your being.



Alan Gullette > Essays