Wednesday, March 9, 2011

PERSPECTIVE: Live while you're alive

Published in City Press.

Free spirited living is exciting and joy filled.  Aron Ralston’s sudden loss of that freedom is compelling because through his narrative we revisit our own motives for living the way we do.  How then can we inspire ourselves back towards passionate and cheerful living?
Aron Ralston’s story is so much more than just a story about cutting off an arm. Although this terrible scene is a vital element of an incredible story, it is not the most important.  And in this there is an interesting life lesson, and the reason 127 Hours is Oscar material. On this point director Danny Boyle says, “What gets him out of there is not power…but the change that comes from within him.”

1. Check in to the Real World

What is it then that compels us to survive; what is the elixir for living in the modern age?  Living in the real world is a good place to start.  Ralston and another famous vagabond, Chris McCandless [Into the Wild] spent most of their time outside, alone, feeling the wind and the rain, and experiencing the magical sweep of the world firsthand.  Reality is exhilarating. Contrivances, distractions and escapism are poor substitutes for real life.

2. Find your own unique magic

Nor should we just react to life.  What really motivates us is something else. The thing that finally got Aron Ralston to start amputating his arm was not pain, or dehydration, or the thought of missing his sister’s wedding, or visions of family and his friends, or missing out on a party, or suffering or even the thought of death.  None of these inspired him enough to save his life; it was the image, imagined, of an unborn son that did it. In 2003 Ralston didn’t have a girlfriend, nor was he married or a father.  Yet it was that image of the little boy that galvanised a resolve that was already there…into what Ralston calls his ‘epiphany’, one that that made the amputation act, with a blunt knife, a life saving choice.

3. Don’t wait, live now 

Aron Ralston’s alter ego is arguably Chris McCandless. Director Danny Boyle points out the key difference between Ralston and McCandless: “When he does go to the wild he doesn’t just sit there he …races through it with his earphones on and he’s fucking timing himself to try to get through it quicker than anyone else and try to climb higher than anyone else. It’s this restlessness about him that’s very urban.”
While McCandless succeeded in his goal of surviving for 100 days in Alaska in winter, he ate toxic seeds whilst waiting for spring flood waters to subside, and finally died of starvation.  McCandlesss had been outdoors for over three months and in a far more weakened condition than Ralston.  Even so, McCandless was much closer to highways and human settlements than Ralston was.  McCandless waited to be saved and finally died. Survival lesson three: it’s up to you – do what you can to save yourself, don’t wait for help that might not come.  

4. Find Out For Yourself

Amputating his own arm has caused cinema audiences to faint.  Presumably this is more horrifying than having someone else do it.  To make sure things happen in your own life, Do It Yourself.  That’s what a lifetime should be, doing this and doing that, not wait and see, wishful thinking and endless hope without action.  And to test the truth of what life is, you have to be brave and find out firsthand.

5. Entitlement = Misery/Humility = Happiness

The underlying theme to 127 Hours is humility, something conspicuously absent in modern living. And with humility comes grace, something the writer Cormac McCarthy [The Road] says is “the power that heals men, and brings them to safety long after all other resources are exhausted.”   Once he’d disconnected himself from the rock Ralston knew he had won his life back.  It was his humility that also imbued him with a sense of gratitude for the whole experience.
Instead of focussing on the cost of living, find the joy of living.  For each of us, the answer is different, but it lies buried in the narrative we make for ourselves, and sometimes, in the story we can still imagine for ourselves.  Then all that remains is to have the courage to go out and live.

Five Kick-starters for Everyday Happy Living
  1. Give yourself more space to be happy
  2. Be true to yourself [live an authentic life, find the magic inside you that inspires you]
  3. Show more emotion
  4. Work less
  5. Put more effort into your relationships

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