The art of living

By Gabi Weigl, Germany

In the german language there are two words, Lebenskunst and Lebenskünstler, which can be translated as the art of living and master of the art of living. In this article the author reflects on the possible meaning of these words.

What actually is the art of living (Lebenskunst), and what is it to be a master of the art of living (Lebenskünstler)?

When searching for a definition of the art of living, all that can be found is an entry in the online “Wikipedia”, stating, ‘The art of living is a concept that is shimmering in many facets, it is apparently so difficult to grasp that in the Duden Encyclopaedia, for example, you can find Lebenskünstler “master in the art of living” but not the word “Lebenskunst” the art of living’.

How is it possible, therefore, to come to an understanding of the art of living? Is the art of living something that is given to everyone, just because they are alive? Is the art of living a special quality that enriches life in a certain way?

In approaching what the art of living could mean let us take the example of an artist. An artist is the creator of a piece of art, for example a painter who creates a picture. He chooses the subject, selects the colours and decides on the medium - oils, watercolour, chalks, etc. He considers the purpose of the picture and what it should cause in the viewer. He is inspired by his work.

If we apply that to the art of living, then each person is an artist, a creator, a master of their life, they are painting and forming their life so that eventually a unique picture emerges with a unique subject and individual colours. Some pictures are light, some pictures are dark, some are painted in warm and some in cool colours, some use the whole spectrum of colour while others have a single dominant colour.

What does that mean? If I want to be the composer of my life then I need to decide how I want the picture to look. What do I want to express in it? Which basic colours do I want there? Out of which good thoughts, characteristics, qualities and values shall my life be composed? Is it not thoughts and qualities that are the colours and patterns that form the painting of life? What do I allow myself to be inspired by? And what do I give expression to? Do I have a plan of construction? If so, do I act according to that plan? How do I get colour or quality(ies) into my life?

Sometimes small things happen that one does not forget. Sometime ago I experienced the following event. I received a message that a young man from my brother-in-law’s family in France had died. His mother had suffered other harsh blows recently as well. This prompted me to think a lot about what I could do to help. I decided to write a letter; because we did not know each other well, and as I lived far away this seemed to be most appropriate. The subject occupied me for all of the following day. Questions about comfort and comforting were swirling around in me; questions such as what exactly is comforting and how does one really do it. Even while at work my thoughts were hovering around these questions. Then I found a beautiful card of condolence with a nice saying on it. On the way home I found an extremely beautiful leaf on the pavement which was unusually colourful for the season. It seemed to say that it wanted to be in the letter, and so I took it.

In the evening I took the time, with the help of a French dictionary, to write a letter. But I only wrote a few lines, as is customary for condolence letters.

A few days later I received a call from France to say that the card had arrived and to express many sincere thanks and that it was so beautiful. It had been placed on the mantelpiece, and the colourful leaf was particularly good, as the deceased had loved trees so much (I had not known that, but had apparently picked it up intuitively). A couple of weeks later my brother spoke to me about the letter. He had to write a letter of condolence, and when he heard that I had written such a moving letter, he asked me for help.

Then I wondered - the card I had written was a usual card of the type that can be found in most stationary shops, my few lines of French had not been anything special at all. So why did the recipient give that message such a special place on the mantelpiece, make a call from France and talk about it with the other relatives? Was it perhaps because this letter came from my heart, was it because I had thought intensively about comfort and because I really wanted to send some comfort with this letter? Had the recipient sensed this? Had some comfort been carried with this letter?

The day I wrote that letter has been a special day to me ever since, not because of the reaction of others, but because I had a feeling of enrichment from the process of searching for the meaning of comfort, and I felt closer to this quality.

Does this search for connection to higher and finer things, to good characteristics and qualities, perhaps belong to the art of living?

How do I deal with my life? How do I consciously enrich my life? How do I integrate beauty, consciousness, compassion, care and respect into my life? Am I already enhanced by the fact that a new day is given to me each morning? Or do I take it for granted and not let myself be touched by it? How about my gratitude? Am I grateful for the fact that life is given to me, and that it goes on every day? Do I consciously allow myself the time to have special moments, to see a dewdrop for a few minutes or watch the movement of a butterfly? If it is true that all things are connected, what have these things to do with my life? How do I think about the wonderful harmony of creation, where structures are repeated again and again with the same mathematical precision? These questions can go on.

There are countless possibilities to integrate more qualities into my life, for example more joy, then why not start the day with a little dance of joy as a welcome for the new day? Just try it and see what will happen. Or maybe leave a little coin in a playground for a child to find, a little coin is large for a child so it will be happy, and there will be a bit more happiness in the world. Or I can try to meet every person that I have to deal with as if I had never seen them before, without bias, fresh, with new eyes. And I can be glad about the other person’s uniqueness, because what a kind of world would this be if we were all the same?

Concerning the art of living, it seems important to me to stay open to new things, to not be familiar with life and my surroundings, but to see it as an opportunity for discovery, new observations and understandings. In the end, the art is in how I live life and in how I form my own picture of life.

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