Since I left the U.S. 35 years ago, I’ve been living in an isolated jungle/ocean environment. Along with a group of friends, I own a tiny piece of the Peninsula de Osa on the southwest coast of Costa Rica.
There are no roads, no power lines, no phone lines. There are neighbors in the area, but far apart and few. I live with animals and plants.
Growing up in the States, I was indoctrinated in cultural and social values and norms, as are all children. One of these norms was a constant search for “the meaning of life.” In fact, this began before I could even speak – I was baptized in a Catholic church at five months old. Then, in grade school and high school, I learned I was “preparing myself” for life as an adult, a meaning of life which meant work, home, family and faith.
This is the life track I walked, along with most of the U.S. population – all of us marching to the same beat inside the same cultural model. However, my experience in the army and Vietnam knocked me off this track, and a few more years of heavy drug use knocked me even further from mainstream culture. These experiences led to a more intense search for the meaning of life, especially after Vietnam taught me how quick and meaningless death can be — and if death can be meaningless, what about life?
Then came drug treatment and another new meaning of life. In order to function “responsibly,” I needed to quit drinking and stoning, and adopt new values and behaviors. During this phase, school seemed to provide a safe, reasonable meaning of life.
My university experience was supposed to prepare me for a “career,” and this is surely one of the most important meanings of life, since a “career” is normally a lifelong commitment. However, the further I sunk into academia, the more I suffocated and squirmed. In this environment, the meaning of life broke down into vocabularies of motive centered on money, advancement and power.
None of these meanings of life held any attraction for me, and I split to Costa Rica. This started another new meaning of life – one of survival. A degree in sociology was nearly useless as a survival tool in the tropical jungle.
After years of living and grappling with several meanings of life, I learned something from the animals and plants I live with. In the isolation and pressing closeness of the jungle, I become just one more organism moving about, a member of the local eco-community and accepted with favorable regard. My green, furry and feathered neighbors go about their business and allow me to go about mine. We are all here together, living.
We have cats and other domestic animals. I watch the new-born chicks hatch. They come out of the egg and that’s it – here they are in the world, and they have no idea where or why. They don’t care; they want something to eat.
I watch kittens come out of their mother. They’re pink and hairless and blind, helpless. All they know in the world is this warm, furry presence, which is Mom. Later, their eyes open and they see the world for the first time. (For some of these kittens, one of the first things they see is me!)
Soon, the kitties explore their world, little by little, but their world will always be infinitesimal, and they will never be bothered about why they are here – they simply are, and so they live.
I try to learn from the animals and plants, and keep away from the meanings of life and vocabularies of motive. Only humans care about such things – to the point of warring on each other.
We’re more hung up on how and why we’re living, rather than simply living.