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(2011-06-13 10:59:03)


What must I do before I die?
安东尼娅•马卡罗 , 朱利安•巴吉尼 为英国《金融时报》撰稿


The Shrink


There are scores of books recommending places to see, books to read, music to hear, golf holes to play or watercourses to fly-fish before we die. There are even dedicated websites that assist people in ticking items off the list. You might agree that this sounds a bit excessive. But aren’t we all under an ill-defined pressure to do, see and experience more? And aren’t we all accompanied by a vague sense of inadequacy if we realise we’re not keeping up?


It is sadly true that our time on earth is limited, and we’d be well advised to avoid wasting it. It has been said that instead of getting through our days doing routine things on autopilot, we should engage in new and uncomfortable experiences. These stretch our perception of time and, in a sense, our life. Then there is the research that tells us that people are happier when they spend their money on experiences rather than objects.


But we shouldn’t absorb this cultural pressure unquestioningly. How many new experiences we engage in and how often we do so should depend on our personality, values and situation. Spending our time well doesn’t always equate with doing more.


For a start, if you rely on novelty to keep life interesting, you risk ending up on a perpetual treadmill, always seeking the next thrill. We should also consider the possibility of restoring some sparkle to routine things by doing them more mindfully. While a certain amount of novelty can certainly be valuable, there are other goods – simplicity, contentment and the savouring of small everyday pleasures. A rich life can be one in which a few things have been experienced deeply.


The answer to the question of what must we do before we die, by the way, is “nothing”. Like everything else, diversity of experience will become oppressive if taken as a “must”, even if you’re the kind of person who thrives on it. We don’t have to do anything, although we might choose to do many things. On the other hand, we might just find it more satisfying to watch the blue tits in our garden, like we have done so many times before.


The Sage


The race to do as much as possible before we reach our expiry date is rooted in a justifiable desire to experience life in its fullest intensity, squeezing out as much from each second as is possible. However, as the Danish existentialist Soren Kierkegaard acutely observed, the end result of this is often a life that is empty, not full. It becomes like trying to drink from a constant flow of champagne with a sieve for a glass. The present always eludes us: the moment we try to grasp it, it has already become the past.

在“大限”到来之前,争着尽可能多做些事,这植根于一种合乎情理的渴望:将人生体验到极致,尽可能从每一秒中挤出更多内容。然而,如丹麦存在主义者索伦•克尔恺郭尔(Soren Kierkegaard)敏锐的评论:这样做的最终结果,常常是导致一个空虚、而非圆满的人生。这会变得如同试图用筛子当酒杯,去接不断流出的香槟。当下会始终躲避着我们:在我们试图抓住它的那一刻,它就已经变成了过去。

The problem is that there is a real sense in which we are trapped in what Kierkegaard called the “aesthetic” sphere of existence.


Life is a present-tense phenomenon: we can recall the past and anticipate the future but can only be in the here and now. But that is only half the story. In another sense, we do indeed exist over time as well as at a time, through our memories, intentions and projects. Life in this “ethical” sphere requires us to attend to more than just the thrills of the moment. As any common hangover will remind us, living only for today can cause a headache tomorrow.


The person who heeds the modern imperative to do as much as possible before she dies risks becoming the Kierkegaardian aesthete par excellence. She may know that every moment has immense value, but does she know how to value it? Even the best moments of pleasure take on a different value, depending on where in a life story they come. The enjoyment of a great meal, for instance, is not just a function of chemicals in the food interacting with taste buds. It can make a big difference, even to how flavours are sensed, when, where and with whom the meal is savoured.


It is certainly true that we need to make the most of the short, fleeting life we have. However, to do that requires savouring the journey along the passage of time, not just making as many stops along the way as possible.


The Shrink & The Sage live together in south-west England




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