An American Mystagogue

Consideration of Vitality



ERI~ Ishibashi-Yui

“Then the second thing we observed, is the web as an analogy of mutual interdependence, we could call it the idea that all existence is relative, that all existence is transactional.”

~ Alan Watts 

It is perhaps not effective enough to realize that inevitably one day we will die, to be able to reap the benefits of living. Being able to absentmindedly assert that one understands that life must end, does not mean that one is being mindful of the cessation of vitality. We cannot comprehend death without giving a long hard stare at what it means to say something is “alive”. What is life? What is vitality?

I once read a definition of life that stuck with me, that a living thing was  “a closed thermodynamic system that exports entropy”.  In other words a syntropic system. Everything breaks down. If you abandon a house and it is not repaired over time, it will degrade and fall apart. If the entropy is exported, via repair and the ‘trashing’ of garbage, the house may stand for a hundred years or more (depending on the materials). The same is true for the human body, in that we are a system that is under the effects of entropy, except that we stave it off. Not forever either, as we are all at least abstractly aware of aging and death.

To survive, we put organic matter into our mouths, chew it up, and consume the vital nutrients that make up the food. Our bodies digest it, break it up into smaller bits and uses it to fuel, construct and repair our bodies. We burn calories, but we cannot burn infinite calories before we break down.

We are used to measuring our vitality in ‘time’. We say we are X amount of years old. That we are Y amount of years young. We say that someone has lived a long time, or lived a short time. But time is fleeting, and while clocks synchronize to each other this does not change the first-person subjective expansion and contraction of time that we all experience every day. We lose time to movies, reading, playing music and so forth. Time drags on when we are bored, in pain or anxious. Perhaps a more accurate way of viewing things would be to think of our lives not in a manner of years, or time, but rather to think of it as a finite vital essence. This is of course meant as an abstract, I am not suggesting anything akin to Franz Mesmer’s “Vital Fluid”. But the use it serves as an abstract is to remind us that all things have a price.


Lets suppose you work for ten dollars an hour (just to make the math easy) and forty hours a week. By the end of the week you’ve got a crisp 400 dollars in your pocket. We often hear people refer to work as trading time for money, or that time is money. But what is it exactly that the clocks are measuring? Your vitality, waning. You are trading a piece of your life, for the monetary gain. I am not putting this in a negative light either. If you didn’t trade the vitality for money, you’d just be trading it for something else. Setting traps for game, growing crops, making shelter, all have their cost in vitality. Money is simply another way of exchanging this vital essence, but we are mistaken to think of it as ‘time’. But at the end of the work week, you can look at that 400 dollars and see forty hours. Five work days, eight hours a piece. You can look at these ‘eight hours’ and divide it further.

If you would, stop for a moment and count out a full minute (preferably using a clock). While you do, note your breathing. Note any bodily functions that arise. Any feelings or sensations. Your heart beat. Consider that your body is using a large portion of the nutrients you eat to give you body heat (this is why mammals generally eat a great more than reptiles). While you are thinking these things take note that your brain requires approximately 20% of your daily calories to even function.   Take note of all of them for a minute. An hour is sixty of those. Eight hours is 480 of those. A forty hour work week is 2,400 of those.

Our vitality is finite. It’s not enough to simply understand that one day ‘we die’. Its not that simple. Every day, we lose more and more of a finite store of vitality, constantly replenished and guarded over, but ultimately squandered away by many due to a sheer lack of appreciation. Every moment is an exchange. Every choice is a transaction.

Nothing is free, and this is precisely why our actions have value.

~ Seth Moris


Humans actually appear to be considered open thermodynamic systems, not closed. My mistake.