The Awe of Being Alive

by | Apr 1, 2022

I have been unwell for a while and mostly stay at home. It has been three years since I have traveled out of Hyderabad. There was the lockdown period in between when everybody was stationed at home, and culture of Zoom calls and work-from-home evolved, but gradually, the world has returned to normal and all the birds are flying again, except for those who must learn to enjoy their tree, the branches, the nest, and the straws of which it was made, remembering the story of each straw.  

I have been a voracious reader and a regular writer. Somehow, by publishing one book every year, I could publish some 24 titles and can brag of writing. Many of these books are ordinary but some are brilliant – especially, Wings of Fire (1999), A Doctor’s Story of Life & Death (2001), Transcendence (2015), and A Modern Interpretation of Lokmanya Tilak’s Gita Rahasya (2017). When I read them now, I wonder if it was I who wrote them, or an unseen force that wrote them through me. My book on Kabir, explaining the idea of God Within is with my publisher and the manuscript of Abundance and O Mind! are works in progress. 

My study is indeed a strange place. There is a wall on my left, fully covered with books that I have bought, or received as gifts, and I could read most of them. There are some mementoes that I have collected after my talks, and a picturesque pencil sketch done by former CSIR scientist Ali Kausar, showing me sitting at the feet of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. And of course, my Apple computer, connected to the Internet and the Bluetooth earphones with which I prefer attending to videos of leading scientists and philosophers of our times and educational matter of high quality and value.

Two Carls have been my heroes – the Swiss medical doctor and psychologist, Carl Jung, and American astronomer and writer, Carl Sagan. Over the years, I have read the 20 volumes of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung that run into some 10,000 pages and also all the books written by Carl Sagan. Recently, I discovered an hour-long interview of Carl Jung, and was thrilled to see the person I idolized talking on my computer screen. When asked by the interviewer, “Do you believe in God?” Jung answered, “What believe? I know God.” Jung died in June 1961, but his answer filled me with awe even in 2022.

This interview of Jung’s created ripples in my psyche, as does a stone when thrown in a placid pond. I came across, or to use a better expression, a lecture appeared before me given by David Bentley Hart on experiencing God as Being, Consciousness and Bliss, what we call in India as Sat-Chit-Ananda. This video was followed by an essay written by American psychologist Kirk Schneider which made me write this blog and I am using the title of his essay. Kirk Schneider is known for his work on Existential-Humanistic Psychology. The gist of his work is to guide his patients towards personal and collective aliveness as against waiting for death passively in their adverse health situations. 

Carl Jung explained a human life as merely a link of a very long chain. We are aware of our parents, grandparents, and very rarely, some children may even see their great-grand parents. Beyond them, there is darkness. In earlier homes, there used to be an old trunk filled with articles of ancestors, but no more. Nucleated families live “lean” and prefer “fully furnished” rented properties over building houses or wasting “space” for storing “old stuff.” No wonder, an increasing number of children are estranged from their parents and one can find “old-age homes” in every big Indian city. In small towns, old people are living alone their social deaths while waiting for the biological end. 

The thirteen-part television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage written and presented by Carl Sagan in 1980 is now available on YouTube for anyone willing to experience the awe of universe in which we live. Carl Sagan passed away in 1996 but I can be with him watching this series any time and so anyone can who is interested. In one short clip on YouTube, when someone asked Carl Sagan if he believed in God, Sagan asked back, “What kind of God are you asking about?” His question took me back to David Bentley Hart and through him, to Sat-Chit-Ananda. Can I feel Sat-Chit-Ananda in me? 

Kirk Schneider’s essay provided me the answer when I read it in the light of Carl Jung’s description of “psyche” as an energy between two poles like charge in an electric battery cell. Schneider lists eight conditions of old age: being alone; experiencing sorrow; loss or absence of hope; fear; fragility; uncertainty; anger; and feeling lost. Then he gives two possible responses – one of death and the other of life. 

I can feel the challenge of being alone; worry about my regrets and sorrows; feel paralysed under despair and hope of any kind; shudder of fear of this being my last day, or week; feel terrorized of fragility; be distressed due to uncertainty; experience the bitterness of rage for all the wrong that was done to me; and the panic of feeling lost. This is one way of living the remainder of my life. 

Or, I can enjoy the creativity of being alone; feeding the birds; tending to plants; or indulging in some hobby I always wanted to take up but could not find time for; feel the sensitivity of experiencing sorrow; the mobilisation spurred by despair; the defiance sparked by fear; the humility generated by fragility; the possibilities opened up by uncertainty; the strength aroused by rage; and curiosities prompted by disarray. 

My long-standing friend and renowned cardiologist, Dr P Krishnam Raju tells me that though diseases are pathways to death, the two are not necessarily related. People die without any disease even in their youth and severely diseased patients live for years praying for their death in vain. If I am alive today, it is indeed a gift. What am I doing with this day, this moment? And it is here that a wide-angle picture helps. When you watch a sparrow visiting you to glean its grain and you find it waiting if you are late by a few minutes, you will be filled with awe. Watching the sun rise is another powerful experience! And the dazzling show of stars every night is there for all those who can “plug themselves off” from their TV.

Neglecting and abusing the body is sinful. My body is the instrument, the medium for my soul, and my willpower comes from the visceral core. A malnourished body, an unkempt body, a tired body, a body kept awake for watching some program on TV late in the night, a body deprived of fresh air and blocked off the fragrance of flowers and plants, the sounds of birds and the sight of floating clouds in the vast blue sky – renders a cordial invite to ailments. Know life as the expansion of consciousness and death as its constriction. Get up, stretch your arms, look up, take a deep breath, exhale and enjoy the wonder of being alive. Carl Jung said in the interview I watched, “Live life as if you are going to be there for 100 years!”  

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34 Comments

  1. Thank you Sir, hope you are doing well now. Most of my days in childhood was spent enjoying the view of the sky, rain, wind..your writing reminded me of those beautiful days.. now a day there are so many things to be done that I dont even look up too busy with things that is on my plate. I need to work on this. Thank you once again sir.

  2. Sir, in this beautiful blog I received a very useful insight about “psyche” as an energy between two poles like charge in an electric battery cell. Every moment we are thinking two thoughts opposing each other. The eight conditions of old age exist throughout life with some change in forms. Young people are dreaded of being alone; they experience sorrow over trivial losses; absence of hope is very common; and feelings of fear; fragility; uncertainty; anger are indeed universal in every age.

    As an engineer I understand life as expansion and death as constriction and they are indeed entwined, inseparable like positive and negative bending moments in a beam. The point is their balance, their interchangeability. Like in breathing – inhaling and exhaling – we must be able to embrace new and discard old. If I continue to aspire goals and maintain habits of my youth even after aging, who would be a bigger fool than me? This fixation with the old, obsolete, and dead indeed eclipse the awe that life is. Thank you for giving a wonderful message.

  3. A brilliant knowledge sharing blog, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your insight into the interesting aspects of life is thought provoking !!

  4. Tiwari Bhaisab thanks for one more thought provoking blog. Salute to your achievements of writing wonderful 24 titles and still going strong with more in progress. I have read few of them and specially Transcendence was really a great book.

    Yes you are right we should be thankful for being alive. But like you every body doesn’t have the skill to utilize the life span given by the almighty. However Life can be beautiful if lived for others. As HDH Pramukhswami Maharaj use to say “ In the Joy of others lies our own. Making life livable by giving the joy to others.

  5. Your blog is turning like a fountain of knowledge. I have learned two words from this one: The Hindi word – जिजीविषा, “जीने की चाह” as mentioned by Deep Joshi ji in his comment and 소확행 sohwakhaeng “little but certain happiness”, from Dr Bhavana. Let me add Joie de vivre, a French phrase often used in English to express a cheerful enjoyment of life, an exultation of spirit. Of course सच्चिदानन्द, existence, consciousness, and bliss is an umbrella term capturing all modes of bliss.

  6. Dear sir, Thank you once again for a very thought provoking blog. The almighty has created everything to make human being happy but we donot realise or we realise it very late. In the pursuit of worldly pleasure, we tend to overlook many small things which can give us happiness without much effort. If we can limit our wants and spend our life in the service of the needy that will be greatest fulfilment. Let us thank God for the life he has given and enjoy every creation of his.

    To do that, we need to come out of false notions of happiness. I am reminded of couplets of Bashir Badr, which tells us how beautiful is his creation.

    अजनबी पेडों के साये में मुहब्बत है बहुत,
    घर से निकले तो ये दुनिया खूबसूरत है बहुत।
    रात तारों से उलझ सकती है,ज़र्रों से नहीं,
    रात को मालूम है जुगनू में हिम्मत है बहुत।

    Sir, thank you once again for an eye opening blog.

  7. your varied experiences along with an insight into present day scenarios made your blog an interesting read.
    24 books and still going strong! As I am sure you have many more unfathomable depths of literary creations to present to the world.
    Your thoughts on the nature of the universe shows your affinity for the works of Carl Sagan and I , for one, am not surprised at the metaphorical views you have about life and nature that surrounds you.
    Do not despair of advancing years as you have tons of wisdom to dispel on willing ears,and I am already looking forward to your next blog!

  8. 24 titles, is no ordinary task sir. Kudos to your commitment and drive to write!
    In the current times, we often run, we try to check things off the list, constantly compare ourselves to peers, which is toxic beyond certain point.
    I feel that we need a kick once in a while to reflect on what’s essential and this pandemic has been one!
    I certainly paused! Took up new hobbies, stuff that I have always wanted to learn but never had the luxury of time. I am being more present. It’s exhilarating when you start living the moment.

  9. An awakening article to all those who are in a continuous rush in an attempt to decode life at a faster pace than required. One of the most important aspects is to be at the moment and live the moment with all earnesty. Of late, I have started reflecting upon the tiny aspects of life in our daily routine and started appreciating more the essence of “being in the present”. As Prof Tiwari Sir said, being alone in life can be viewed with diamterically oppositive perspectives, but the truth is everybody is alone in one way or the other so it is entirely upto you to decide on which way you want to live life. I am reminded of what my father always used to tell me, “it is not important how long you live but more important of how well you live life”.

  10. Dear professor Tiwari, I am awed by your being a consistent and prolific writer. 24 books in as many years, the unbroken fortnightly chain of your inspirational blog is a significant distinction. I am not a medical doctor but sense that you are fitter than most. A desire to live for 100 years would add many years to your fan’s life.

  11. Very soulful blog Sir. In chasing our self-created targets, we turn blind to the fact that there is nothing random, irrational, or without purpose in this universe, so how a human life can be just like that. As Dr Mpoki very rightly points out in his comment: give thanks in all circumstances.

    Prayers are most important and reading scriptures of one’s religion are fundamental to stay connected with our true self – what Jung is called the God within. An individual life is not independent of the species, and one must be alive to the obligation that life imposes upon us. Thank you very much for guiding us.

  12. In this beautifully written blog, you have brought out life as a great gift. I am enjoying reading the new book penned by you on the life of Govind Kaka under whom I have been working for many years now. In the book, one can see how Govind Kaka made the best use of his life and created the SRK Empire living a disciplined life and practising morals. I am quoting lines from the book and this blog to emphasize your great message.

    From Govind Kaka’s autobiography “Diamonds are forever, so are Morals”: In more than 50-years of our company, we had an HR policy of No-addiction and succeeded. Either quit an addiction or leave Company. Today, each one of the 5000 and more SRK family members lives a happy and addiction-free life.” (p. 303)

    In the blog: “Neglecting and abusing the body is sinful. My body is the instrument, the medium for my soul, and my willpower comes from the visceral core. A malnourished body, an unkempt body, a body deprived of fresh air and blocked off the fragrance of flowers and plants, the sounds of birds and the sight of floating clouds in the vast blue sky – renders a cordial invite to ailments.

    Keep guiding us Sir. Thank you very much.

  13. Sad your health is keeping you from traveling around Prof Tiwari, I am glad this on the other hand gives you time to concentrate on your writing. The Apostle writing to the believers in Thessalonica reminded them and us through them to be thankful in all things 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
    Our lives should provide us with opportunities to acknowledge our creator God in every day that He lends to us in this world.
    Our prayers with you for strength and your family for happiness

  14. Sir, your most inspiring blog this one reminds me a poem A Psalm of Life, I learnt at school. It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

    Life is real! Life is earnest!
    And the grave is not its goal.
    Dust thou art, to dust returns,
    Was not spoken of the soul.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
    With a heart for any fate.
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
    Learn to labour and to wait.

    My favourite line from this blog is: “Know life as the expansion of consciousness and death as its constriction. Get up, stretch your arms, look up, take a deep breath, exhale, and enjoy the wonder of being alive. Thank you for being there for us.

  15. Your blog reminds me a beautiful Hindi word जिजीविषा – the will to live. This is a wonderful word with a deep meaning that as much as a man loves his life, if he sincerely keeps his strong will alive, creates attachment towards life, keeps the passion in life, then only his life becomes worth living.

    Everyone gets life, but not everyone has the art of living life. That is the greatest misfortune. We gradually lose our precious lives in the pursuit of earning money, running, and doing worldly things. A crowd of sycophants may gather because of money, but there is hardly anyone to love among them, because we have started the journey in the wrong direction.

    जीवन को प्यार सभी करते हैं, परंतु चाहना अलग बात है। चाहने से कुछ नहीं होता। प्रश्न है कि जिस जीवन को हम चाहते हैं, क्या उस पर हम भरोसा कर सकते हैं? यदि चाहत पक्कीहै, उसमें निष्ठा है तो हमारे जीवन में जीवन के प्रति राग पैदा हो सकता है, हम अपने जीवन को लालित्य बना सकते हैं। जीवन को बंजर भूमि बनने से रोकें और जीवन की बगिया में सुंदरगुलाब का पौधा लगाएं। तभी उन फूलों से जीवन सुगंधित हो सकता है।

    Fill the room of the body with the light of love, the darkness in life will remain far away. Just need to think a little bit, to understand life. Everything will be fine. Thank you for this wonderfully written insightful blog.

  16. Another wonderful blog Prof. Tiwari! Your writings are always filled with knowledge and often has me taking a brief journey to learn more of the people, events or other facts that you refer to you.

    The title “The Awe of Being Alive” struck me. My first reaction was the realization of how wonderful God is to give us life. It’s up to us how to live it. I recall often my father would say, when viewing a sunset or other landscape in the horizon, “isn’t God great, look how beautiful”. He indeed realized the awe of being alive. I don’t believe he received Carl Jung’s advice, but he did live it to the ripe age of 100 years to the day.

    I’m grateful for the memories of how my father lived and for the insightful guidance of your writings to remind me of the importance to focus on one’s body, mind and soul for a good life. God Bless my friend.

  17. Past is history. No point in carrying any regrets or Ill feelings with us as they hurt us more. Rather to accept everything as our karma and work to living everyday as purely as possible. Motto of life is to love and give and work on yourself to find peace / god within. Today is a gift as you rightly say, a present. No one can be sure of tomorrow. So if you want to do something, talk to someone etc., Do it today. Lovely article sir. Please keep writing.

  18. Dear Prof. Tiwari Indeed, you are not only a voracious reader but also a prolific writer. I look forward to your book on Kabir. I am a huge admirer of him – his ‘dohas’ and ‘bhajans’ have always amused me and make me laugh at on-going all round religious hypocrisy. I think when one gets familiar with the idea of ‘God Within’ (theme of your book on Kabir); one starts getting to know God. There is a famous Kabir bhajan to this effect – “moko kahan dhudhe re bande, main tau tere pass main……..”.

    There are different views on how to live a life. Some say ‘live life each day’, whereas Carl Jung says ‘live life as if you are going to be there for 100 years’ (quoted from your blog.). Living life each day will keep one active and full of enjoyment without worrying for tomorrow. If one is going to be there for 100 years, the person will get lethargic and dull because of plentiful time at his/her disposal to fulfil desires and goals.

    After a gap of two years, I have several travels scheduled this year (Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Senegal and the USA). My Malawi travel starts tomorrow. I will return on next Sunday. Warm regards.

  19. Dear Shri Tiwari ji, you are a pure soul and gifted by God to come on this earth to live meaningful life which inspires others to follow. Praying for your sound health and fulfil SAT CHIT ANAND 24/7.

  20. Dear Arun bhai , Read your article. No more words other than – ‘ What a master piece it is !’

    GOD has gifted you these qualities and you nurtured them. Rather GOD gifts every one one or the other thing but people forget or do not nurture them . Only few like you succeed in nurturing them and one can see the results .

    Another thought – GOD has made all of us equal then how come the difference arises . It is only dependent on own attitude and willingness to take the GOD gifted qualities further , which most of the people fail to do and curse the luck rather their own lack of zeal and commitment.

  21. Dr Arun ji, great insight of the two Carls, one on God and another on Astronomy… Fortunate are the people who have world of books around them, and always propelled by the great ideas and keep touch with their admirers!!

  22. Thank you for another inspiring article, Sir.

    There is so much beauty and wonder in the nature around us, but we often overlook it for a variety of reasons. I’m someone who enjoys taking walks in the park while appreciating the flowers and who regularly observes the stars at night, though I haven’t been able to do so recently. Today’s article reminded me of the value of such little things in life and the joy they bring us.

    I was also reminded of an excellent term in the Korean language called ‘소확행’ which means ‘little, but certain happiness’. I have forgotten about something so important due to the chaos called life, so thank you once again for reminding me of it, Sir.

  23. Such a beautiful piece of work. Carved with insights and filled with knowledge and wisdom. I am always amused by how you interlink various things and make up an article that perfectly makes sense. Good wishes for your mental and physical health.

  24. Your yesterday’s blog makes an interesting read.

    Dissecting life, evaluating the mere existence of blinking life as it unfolds before shutting down one final time…is indeed a journey which needs to be nurtured and cared for. No doubt humans are mortal and once life starts taking shape… the heart starts beating…the care and nurturing of mind body and soul needs to be addressed. Mastering this art and excelling in same is what the existence is all about.

    But then it is genetic too, plus there are copious external factors which dictate the physical strength and wisdom of a person. Howsoever hard one tries to care and reward these two important elements it is not always that one succeeds. Though a gardener may slog and tend water and put the fertilizer with equal zest and in equal proportions at two different places… the outcome is never the same. Some bloom with flowers and fruits, some simply exist, some struggle to survive and in some odd case it could be a no show also. That’s life…..one needs to face it.

    The learned person that you are, the globe trotter that you have been and the ocean of knowledge encompassed in the elite company of Dr. Kalam and other erudite minds has given you that power and authority to spread the gospel of living life to the fullest. I the reader of your thoughts gets elucidated and excited….always waiting for the next blog.

    Fully agree: Indeed it’s wonderful to be alive. Celebrating every dawn is celebrating a new birth. We need to wish ourselves Happy Birthday every day and celebrate and enjoy each day as we do on our Birthday.

  25. Dear Sir, Praying for your Good Health. Wonderful blog on life and the existence of the human body. I have also the same feeling that I don’t believe in God because I know him personally. He exists inside me only and guides me every moment for my sole purpose of existence. Every person on this earth has the same situation but at the same time, Eblish is also existing inside us and trying at his level to destroy the wonderful creation of God. Most people are not able to identify the signs of God and follow the instruction of Eblis and harm themselves and nature. Russia- Ukraine war is an example of leading Eblis over God’s instruction. We are not thinking even for 2min and taking wrong decisions in life based on the Eblis instruction sitting inside us like God, Sometimes it feels like humanity is on verge of extinction, however, I know God will be taking everything, Wish you a very Happy Hindu New Year 2179.

  26. Arun, one of the best blogs you had written. I notice that you are and your mind is travelling through the universe, GOD, religion, humanism and life’s philosophy. Yes GOD is everybody and everything in universe if only you care to see and listen. Best wishes.

  27. It is a wonderful read, sir. You have beautifully blended your insights into life’s meaning.

  28. Excellent reminder Prof Tiwari Ji for our “soul holder”-our body. Till we fall ill, we hardly realise the importance of keeping our body well. Some of us forget to keep a proper balance between official work and personal work that leads to unintended abuse to body. Your suggestions of attachment with processes of universe is a fantastic way to be out and keep body healthy. Such reminder are timely both for youngsters and elders.

  29. Beautifully brought out Tiwari… and thanks for the many references, which I hope to study.
    Herein, I bring out the ‘awe that I am alive’ in me:
    As a child, while getting up, I was taught to pray. Just pray. Over the years the prayers have changed for the success, material wealth, health…etc.., etc.
    Now I thank HIM that I am alive and sense the happenings around – small and insignificant to many but to me and many like us… it is the time to savour the beauty of the creations.
    Tomorrow, is the New year for all Telugu, Kannada and Marathi speaking people. May HE bless us all with the ability to sense and thank HIM in the new ‘SUBHAKRUT,’ new year.

  30. Dear Arun, Very interesting blog- what a great insight!

  31. I am no Sagan…but I also know God…because I am God…and so are you, or everybody. Its our inner voice which most of the time we ignore. Sir, why have any regrets in life. Every moment is a blessing.

  32. Wow Wow!

    Thank you Prof Arun!

    How wonderful to read your insights into life’s meaning!

    Fulfilment comes from living every moment to its fullest. Not selfishly, but in the service of others.

  33. Thank you Arun ji. It is very good blog with the message “Enjoy wonder of being alive and live life”.

  34. Shri Arun Tiwari ji, Today after my daily Puja when I checked My FB Page I found your blog. It’s beginning and title made me curious to read it without delay. Believe me it happens rarely that without breakfast I am lost in FB.

    You are in fact gifted writer and destined By Almighty to write and explain most difficult and unexplained topics like Life its purpose and Death and after Death. Carl Jung I have read superficially not as deep as you have stated I had a Good fortune of being your Front door neighbour in Hyderabad where I visited my son Vatsal periodically before COVID took entry in Our lives You have very rightly said it changed the lifestyle as well as behaviour of senior citizens as well as working young generation forced to work from home. Even small school kids are taught on-line which is creating a new Breed of future citizens totally transformed and dependent on Internet. Besides physical and Mental changes behaviour is also altered affecting interpersonal relationships. I was privileged to have access to your study in your apartment which you very well described in your blog it’s very impressive to find huge collection of Book’s on various subjects I thoroughly enjoyed enjoyed reading “A Doctor’s Story of Life and Death,” “Transcendence,” and “Ramcharitmanas not By TulsidasJi but your own interpretation well interpreted with Hindi as well as English comments.

    Its a masterpiece Penwork Gifted to me by your self “Wings of Fire” I had read long back earlier. it’s really an amazing piece of works I can go on and on writing but here I would confess that these days my both children Manisha happily married and well settled in US and Vatsal my son whom you met during his stay in Green Grace Both Manisha Vatsal are forcing me and my better half to weed out two ‘Almirahs and few trunks Full of innumerable Books and Printed material and Collection of Black and white and coloured photo albums. Plenty of cases, full of lectures slides CDs and Video Tapes some really very precious and relevant and I realised are obsolete in today’s world of Zoom meetings It’s very painful but very difficult to realise that Parting is most tragic happening in Life.

    I recall a Quote by a British Professor and Medical Doctor who said “Knowledge is a Luggage if you want to make your Journey (LIFE) Happy Travel Light, just offload your Luggage.” Here I would like to Stop! Thinking you and provoking me to respond to Your Blog Great Regards! Good wishes for your Health and wellness of your Family.

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