Saturday, August 28, 2004

Practice Makes Perfect

According to the editor's note to Montaigne's essay "On Practice," Socrates conceived philosophy as "practicing dying." What a cheery thought. Montaigne begins his essay by taking up this idea and quickly giving it a twist:

But practice is no help in the greatest task we have to perform: dying. We can by habit and practice strengthen ourselves against pain, shame, dire poverty and other occurrences: but as for dying, we can only assay that once; we are all apprentices when it comes to that.
Thus we know that Montaigne does not believe in reincarnation. He does, however, believe that we can look at sleep as practice for death declaring, "How easy we pass from waking to falling asleep! And how little we lose when we become unconscious of the light and of ourselves!" Here we learn that Montaigne doesn't have insomnia, has never had to count sheep or stare at the glowing numbers of his digital clock all night to finally fall asleep just before his alarm goes off and he has to get up and go to work. We also learn that Montaigne wasn't troubled by dreams--never had nightmares of Godzilla chasing him down the street or being pushed off a cliff onto the rocky beach below. We also learn that he didn't have lucid dreams in which he was a special agent chasing down some bad guys, got shot, fell down and thought I'm dying, realized it was a dream, decided he didn't have to die, jumped up, miraculously healed, and with super human speed chased down the baddies and showed them who's boss. And I suppose he never had any real bizzaro dreams about trying to hide a flying and talking humpback whale in his backyard to keep it safe from the scientists. If he'd ever had any dreams like this then maybe he'd think differently about sleep being practice for death. Montaigne does relate a sort of near death experience he had. He was knocked senseless from his horse and was in and out of consciousness for several hours before regaining his senses. He claims it was painless and rather foggy but comfortable. It wasn't until he became fully aware that he began to feel pain. From his experience he therefore surmises that dying isn't all that bad, that we shouldn't fear Death at all, but "what we have to fear is Death's approaches." Montaigne concludes that since Death is so easy after all, what we should be practicing is life and not worry about dying. Dying will happen soon enough, "My business, my art, is to live my life." Amen. Next week's Montaigne essay: "Work Can Wait Till Tomorrow"