The World and a Body to Enjoy It

Treat Thompson



Unknown by Ravi Zupa

Everyone’s life is guided by something.

Throughout history, it’s been in the faith of religion, but today, people are transitioning to worshipping humanity.

How we live is going from being based on the principles of a belief system to the principles of a society.

The Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa noticed this in the early 1900’s.

I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it – without knowing why. And since the human spirit naturally tends to make judgements based on feeling instead of reason, most of these young people chose Humanity to replace God.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

He wasn’t invested in either. He thought it was unlikely that God existed, but also didn’t think society was worth dedicating a life to.

So he admitted he really didn’t know how to live.

I, however, am the sort of person who is always on the fringe of what he belongs to, seeing not only the multitude he’s a part of but also the wide-open spaces around it.

That’s why I didn’t give up God as completely as they did, and I never accepted Humanity. I reasoned that God, while improbable, might exist, in which case he should be worshipped; whereas Humanity, being a mere biological idea and signifying nothing more than the animal species we belong to, was no more deserving of worship than any other animal species.

The cult of Humanity, with its rites of Freedom and Equality, always struck me as a revival of those ancient cults in which gods were like animals or had animal heads.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

Without a structure to be invested in, he was guided by his own feelings.

He found meaning in what he called the “aesthetic contemplation of life.” Which means experiencing what’s beautiful, enjoyable, and intellectually stimulating, for no other reason than the experience itself.

Rather than doing everything for God or to be valuable in society, everything he did was for its own good.

And so, not knowing how to believe in God and unable to believe in an aggregate of animals, I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things, a distance commonly called Decadence. Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating.

For those few like me who live without knowing how to have life, what’s left but renunciation as our way and contemplation as our destiny?

Not knowing nor able to know what religious life is, since faith isn’t acquired through reason, and unable to have faith in or even react to the abstract notion of man, we’re left with the aesthetic contemplation of life as our reason for having a soul.

Impassive to the solemnity of any and all worlds, indifferent to the divine, and disdainers of what is human, we uselessly surrender ourselves to pointless sensation, cultivated in a refined Epicureanism, as befits our cerebral nerves.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

He realized that what we experience is the only honest part of life.

So we can make experiencing life, our life.

Taking nothing seriously and recognizing our sensations as the only reality we have for certain, we take refuge there, exploring them like large unknown countries.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

On top of that, he noted if we also capture our experiences and express how they make us feel, then we can explore life deeply and enjoy it more.

The expression solidifies the experience.

And if we apply ourselves diligently not only to aesthetic contemplation but also to the expression of its methods and results, it’s because the poetry or prose we write – devoid of any desire to move anyone else’s will or to mould anyone’s understanding – is merely like when a reader reads out loud to fully objectify the subjective pleasure of reading.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

But Fernando notes that, although these experiences are the only true parts of life, finding meaning in them is a chosen perspective. It’s the optimist’s way of seeing life—a view that sees life as a sandbox for playing.

The pessimist sees a prison instead of a sandbox and sees these experiences not for enjoyment but as a way to keep ourselves busy enough to forget we’re in a prison and pass the time until we’re free.

This isn’t the viewpoint of pessimists like Vigny, for whom life was a prison in which he wove straw to keep busy and forget. To be a pessimist is to see everything tragically, an attitude that’s both excessive and uncomfortable.

While it’s true that we ascribe no value to the work we produce and that we produce it to keep busy, we’re not like the prisoner who busily weaves straw to forget about his fate; we’re like the girl who embroiders pillows for no other reason than to keep busy.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

Fernando sees our options of perspective like being in a roadside hotel waiting for our bus (death) to come: Some people are up in their rooms sleeplessly waiting for their departure, and some are in the bar talking and singing.

I see life as a roadside inn where I have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up. I don’t know where it will take me, because I don’t know anything. I could see this inn as a prison, for I’m compelled to wait in it; I could see it as a social centre, for it’s here that I meet others. But I’m neither impatient nor common. I leave who will to stay shut up in their rooms, sprawled out on beds where they sleeplessly wait, and I leave who will to chat in the parlours, from where their songs and voices conveniently drift out here to me.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

Fernando chooses to simply embrace what we’re given: the world and a body to enjoy it.

I enjoy the breeze I’m given and the soul I was given to enjoy it with, and I no longer question or seek. If what I write in the book of travellers can, when read by others at some future date, also entertain them on their journey, then fine. If they don’t read it, or are not entertained, that’s fine too.

I’m sitting at the door, feasting my eyes and ears on the colours and sounds of the landscape, and I softly sing – for myself alone – wispy songs I compose while waiting. Night will fall on us all and the coach will pull up.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982)

He enjoyed life and sang to himself about it; That doesn’t seem lost at all.