Thinking, Being and Plucking

Now we look at three philosophies inspired by death and suffering. Two came from poets—carpe diem and To be or not to be—and one came from a beggar—Life is suffering—who started a religion.

After looking at all three, we’ll think about thinking and end by enjoying.

We begin with carpe diem.

Most people have heard of carpe diem. Robin Williams taught us all about it in Dead Poet’s Society (1989).

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines carpe diem as “the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future.” Google concurs saying, “used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future.”

We moderns translate carpe diem as “seize the day.” It is assertive and refers to taking control or possession of something.

Advertisers use the expression to sell products—t-shirts, posters, beauty products, fragrances, necklaces, wine. They like to remind us that one day each and every one of us will be dead so we better buy their product and book that trip now before it’s too late!

In Carpe Diem Regained (2017), philosopher Roman Krznaric said that “seizing” the day brings to mind people who take what they can get and get things done.

It’s the philosophical equivalent of actor Shia LaBeouf screaming at us to “DO IT! JUST DO IT! DON’T LET YOUR DREAMS BE DREAMS!

People use the phrase as a warning or direct order to take charge of your own happiness and make the most of it, but then the question becomes: “How do you carpe diem?”

Carpe diem first appeared in 20 BC in book 1.11 of the Odes by Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC), aka Horace

260 Hello, My Name Is... ideas | hello my name is, my name is, name tags

Horace’s poem emphasizes the fleeting nature of time. He says we shouldn’t worry about how long we live or waste time talking (presumably about death). Most translations say Horace told us to “Seize the present; put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)” (Wikipedia). 

Years later Jesus (1-33) is quoted as saying something similar, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt. 6:34).

No offence.

It’s no surprise that Horace and Jesus advised us not to worry about the future. Life was short in ancient days. If you include infant mortality (and crucifixion), life expectancy in the Roman Empire was about 22–33 years (source).

Trouble is, carpe diem doesn’t actually mean seize the day.

Horace has been lost in translation and distorted by modern culture. According to Latin scholars, carpe diem is really a horticultural metaphor designed to encourage people to enjoy the sensory experience of nature (source).

Funny how nature isn’t part of carpe diem today.

(Then again, maybe it isn’t.)

Nature On The Eve Of Destruction -- The UN Extinction Report
Carpe this!

Carpe comes from carpō meaning to “pick or pluck” fruit when it’s ready and diem comes from dies which means “day.”

“Pluck the day [as it is ripe]” or “enjoy the moment” is a more accurate translation than “seize,” as in, “take hold of suddenly and forcibly” or “take (an opportunity or initiative) eagerly and decisively.”

It’s a subtle difference but philosophically speaking, it’s huge. Instead of a fist pump to “Seize the day!” and assert one’s will, it’s an open palm receiving what is given by nature (of which we are).

Cue music: “Think About It” by SAULT.

But what if you can’t enjoy the sensory experience of nature? What if you’ve thought yourself into not wanting to live? What then?

2 bee or not 2 bee dark shirt Kids T-Shirt to be or not to be Kids Dark  T-Shirt by corriewebstore - CafePress | Bee humor, Bee quotes, Bee

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet asks himself if he should suffer the misery of life (a “sea of troubles”) or should he kill himself (“take arms against a sea of troubles”) to end “heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks.”

But then Hamlet wonders if there is an afterlife, and if there is, what if that afterlife is worse than life?

afterlife Archives - The Funny Times

Hamlet’s question of life and death is a question of existence and nothingness, but according to Harvard professor Jeffrey R. Wilson (2017), “To be, or not to be” is not what it seems to be (source). Hamlet could be faking because he knows someone’s listening.

Wilson points out how philosophy and drama are different. Philosophy is about knowing whereas drama is about doing.

Years before Hamlet debated life vs. death and Horace had his horticultural insight as master of a country estate, another aristocrat, Siddhartha Gautama (the “Buddha”) (c. 5th-4th century BC), bummed everybody out with his Noble Truths including: “birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering, union with what is displeasing is suffering, separation from what is pleasing is suffering and not getting what one wants is suffering” (source).

That’s a lot of suffering. You can’t win, so why even try?

According to this philosophy you’re born to suffer, but if you accept that life is crap, you won’t be surprised when it is crappy or expect it to be any other way. It’s about resistance.

If the Buddha worked in IT.
“Philosophy Tech Support”, Existential Comics 51: https://existentialcomics.com/comic/51

This idea that we cause ourselves suffering by resisting what is, is something Stoics, Epicureans and Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, also discovered.

Gautama maintained that things which cause pleasure eventually fail because when we like something we think about it and we want it again (and again…) and it’s the craving that causes trouble.

The idea is that suffering is created by our craving for pleasure, but if Guatama had an Electroencephalography (EEG) to show brain activity in psychological states, he would see that liking and wanting are in “two different motivation systems in your brain” (source).

Better decisions: two systems 🧠. “If there is time to reflect, slowing… |  by Lloyd Carroll | UX Collective

Unconscious thinking (System 1) is fast, intuitive, and emotional whereas conscious thinking (System 2) is slower, more deliberative and logical.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (1934- ) explains how the two systems drive the way we think and make choices. Kahneman challenges the idea that “people are generally rational” because errors arise not just from emotions that can cloud judgement, but from our built-in brain machinery.

If you eat fried chicken, for example, you are conscious of the taste and smell in the present moment, but if you want fried chicken, that wanting could be unconscious because you smelled chicken as you walked by. It’s like a button was pushed in your brain (and you didn’t know).

The trick is to slow thinking down. Forget Hamlet’s mental perambulations and remember Horace’s advice to enjoy nature with your senses. Watch what you’re thinking to identify biases and become aware of what’s going on in your brain and all around.

It’s all interconnected.

Now we dance, eat an apple, and enjoy simply.

Much love.

Where Happiness Hides

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“Son of Man” (1964) by René Magritte (1898-1967)

In René Magritte’s painting “Son of Man” we see a man in an overcoat and bowler hat in front of a low wall with sea and cloudy sky behind and a green apple in front of the man’s face.

Why is the apple there? Is the man hiding? What does it mean?

Cue music: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” Eurythmics (1983)

The painting is open to interpretation of course but the title, “Son of Man” refers to Jesus and in Christianity the apple symbolizes the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden everything is unity until Adam and Eve eat the apple and suddenly know separation between themselves, God and the world around them.

It’s a bit like when we were newborn babies. In developmental psychology when a baby is born it has no idea there’s a difference between itself and the world, but then we chew our thumb and our blanket and notice we can feel one, but not the other. Over time we figure out how our thoughts and emotions further separate us one from another thus fortifying the notion that one’s self is separate from everything else.

We discover that instead of one big, undifferentiated “Self” we have self and other which is the birth of selfishness and the start of all the world’s problems (and the secret to knowing where happiness hides).

The knowledge of good and evil equals the knowledge of opposites and of separateness as opposed to an awareness that there is no self and other or separation between ourselves and nature.

Of his painting Magritte said, “Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see, but it is impossible. Humans hide their secrets too well…

René Magritte

“There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present” (source).

According to Magritte, “If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.

The dream world appears so real we don’t even know we’re dreaming which can lead us to wonder: If the dream world feels just as real as the waking one, how can we know we’re not living in a dream?

As the British professor of neuroscience Anil Seth observed in “Your Brain Hallucinates Reality,” the world we perceive through our senses is interpreted by our brain based on available information and its best guess so what we think we see, hear, feel or understand might not be true at all. Our thoughts can distort our version of reality such that we don’t see what’s really happening.

Do you see a hidden baby?

The key is in a subtle awareness beyond immediate concern (see also Enjoy a Funny Feeling). If you look at the problems we face individually and collectively, you might see the answer is in the problem itself. It’s just we don’t see it. There’s something blocking our view, like that green apple.

As the American meditation teacher Shinzen Young said, “Everybody is looking for something, but what people think they want is happiness dependent on conditions, but what they really want is happiness independent of conditions” (Enlightenment and the 10 Ox Herding Pictures).

If you watch the rats in Steve Cutts’ animation called “Happiness,” it is easy to see how the search for happiness dependent on conditions is misguided.

In the book with the loud title, “I AM THAT” (1973),  Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981), a Hindu spiritual teacher who lived in Mumbai, said, “Pleasure lies in the relationship between the enjoyer and the enjoyed. And the essence of it is acceptance. Whatever may be the situation, if it is acceptable, it is pleasant. If it is not acceptable, it is painful…. The personal self by its very nature is constantly pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. The ending of this pattern is the ending of the self. The ending of the self with its desires and fears enables you to return to your real nature, the source of all happiness and peace.”

To find real happiness Maharaj recommended, “Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’ After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality.

In a music video inspired by another of Magritte’s paintings, “Golconda” (1953), the Beatles and Le Ballon Rouge (1956), we can see and feel where happiness is. Happiness is in our real nature beyond thinking “I want this or that.”

Happiness isn’t hiding. It’s there, in good times and bad.

It’ll just take some practice.

A Philosophy of Life (to enjoy)

Philosophy is all around us. It’s how people think. It’s even on billboards.

In the Way to Wisdom (1950), psychiatrist (and philosopher) Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) wrote, “the essence of philosophy is not the possession of truth but the search for truthPhilosophy means to be on the way” (p. 11).

“…the question,” writes Jaspers, “is not whether a philosophy is conscious or not, whether it is good or bad, muddled or clear. Anyone who rejects philosophy is himself unconsciously practicing philosophy” (p. 12).

In other words, even if you don’t think you have a philosophy of life, you probably do. You just don’t know it.

Source: Garfield Weekly

A philosophy of life is the mental framework (i.e. intelligence) for understanding the world and yourself in it. It’s how you decide what’s good and bad, what the meaning of life is (or, if there is one), and what the purpose of life is (or, if there is one).

How you think affects how you feel which affects what you do and how you live. People don’t think much about how (and what) they think about, but it’s quite possible that how people think is the most important thing there is.

As psychologist (and philosopher) William James (1842-1910) put it, “Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens out the widest vistas” (50 Philosophy Classics, p. 6).

Cue music:

There are basically two kinds of people: people (a few anyway) who have a clear philosophy of life that they use to guide their actions in peace and understanding and people (everybody else) who do not

It’s not that people don’t have a moral compass, it’s just they don’t know where it is (or how to use it).  

Look at “Karens,” for example. A “Karen” is a woman who acts entitled and uses privilege to demand her way at the expense of others. If you see a “Karen” in action, you’ll see a woman who probably thinks she’s thinking clearly but who is clearly out of her mind.

If only “Karen” had a philosophy of life that was more congenial, but like Confucius said, “It is easy to hate and difficult to love.” Our default setting seems to be impulse and gut reaction.

People look to psychology and religion for answers but whereas philosophy seeks to explain right ways of behaving, psychology’s objective is not to study what is moral but to provide therapies and intervention, increasingly in pill form (as seen on TV).

Drug companies spend 19 times more money on advertising than on research and development. Source: Big Pharma.

As for religion, philosophers find meaning in religion to help people understand the truth of life. The difference being, whereas religion involves supernatural beliefs, ritual and faith without evidence, philosophy has no rituals and will only believe what is true by way of reasoning.

Source: “12 Times Calvin and Hobbes Taught Us About Philosophy and Religion”

To be wise means toggling between subjectivity, “My experience of being me from my perspective,” and objectivity, “A truth independent of my individual subjectivity and bias.”

Philosophies come in many forms. Every philosophy has its opposite. For example:

You’ve got your materialiststhose who consider material possessions and comfort more important than ideals (or who support the theory that nothing exists except matter).

A materialist.

And there are idealists—those who value ideals (aka principles) more than possessions. Both groups can be further broken down into individualistsindependent, self-reliant—and groupiststhose who see other people as group members rather than as individuals.

Exercise #42: Spot the philosophy of life of people in this video.
People they come together / People they fall apart / No one can stop us now / Cause we are all made of stars

What’s your philosophy?

If you don’t know what your philosophy is, try this: Look at what other philosophers have said throughout the ages to see what rings true. You can take a saying to heart and train your brain towards wisdom and change the world.

Commence brain training:

Eastern philosophy phrases (oldest to newest):

  1. “If you correct your mind, the rest will fall into place….
    Love the world as your own self, then you can truly care for all things.”Lau Tzu (around 601-530 BC)
  2. “The mind is everything. What you think you become…. Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil waysGautama Buddha (around 563-483 BC)
  3. “He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior….Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” Confucius (551-479 BC)
  4. Unruly beings are as unlimited as space, they cannot possibly all be overcome, but if I overcome thoughts of anger alone, this will be equivalent to vanquishing all foes” ― Śāntideva (685-763)

Middle Eastern philosophy (oldest to newest):

  1. “Patience is beautiful.” – Arabic proverb
  2. “A reflective, contented mind is the best possession….With an open mind, seek and listen to all the highest ideals. Consider the most enlightened thoughts. Then choose your path, person by person, each for oneself.” – Zoroaster (around 628-551 BC)
  3. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Jesus (around 1-33) Matt. 6:34
  4. “Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you.  If you think ‘My life will be upside down’ don’t worry. How do you know down is not better than upside?” – Shams Tabrizi aka Rumi (1185–1248)

hey socratesHey Socrates everyone is an idiot

Excerpt from Existential Comic #344

Western philosophy (oldest to newest):

  1. The brave man is he who overcomes not only his enemies but his pleasures.”– Democritus (460-370 BC)
  2. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”– Aristotle (385–322 BC)
  3. “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”– Epictetus (50-135)
  4. “Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but of how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” – Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Conclusion: Study wise phrases. Make them a habit of mind and enjoy them. You'll be a beacon of wisdom in no time and remember: It's the path that matters, not the destination.

Happiness or Wisdom? Enjoy A Clearer Picture

poloroid photography

In this time of pandemic, amidst threats of death and illness, social distancing might just be the ticket to give us time for contemplation. We begin by looking at our self (which may not be singular) and then we look at the question: happiness or wisdom?

trooth

Like a Polaroid picture that develops in front of your eyes, from whiteness into shapes that become more visible, so too do ideas mix and mingle in your mind, to form a clearer picture.

boring meeting 2It was in a Human Resources Leadership seminar that a Power Point slide with two bullet points was shown:

      • People are not thinking creatures.”
      • People are feeling creatures.”

(See also: Enjoyment, Cookies and Purposeful Purposelessness.)

What the would-be leaders didn’t know was that these bullets were misfires from what brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor said, which was, “biologically we are feeling creatures that think” (My Stroke of Insight, 2006). Her point being: we feel first, then we think.

Bolte Taylor’s message: “Based upon my experience with losing my left mind (the result of a stroke and not misplacement), I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry located in our right brain” (TED Talk, 2008).

But back in the leadership seminar, inner peace isn’t on the agenda. Attendees prefer coffee with their accreditation. Their brains’ position between rationality (left brain) and instinctive, sensual responses (right brain) remained skewed leftward.

Right Brain and Drawing Ability
Source: Artclass Challenge

Note: Researchers determined to debunk clear left/right brain functions as endorsed by people like Matthew Fox (the priest, not Lost actor), Oprah Winfrey and author Daniel Pink, for self-help and spiritual purposes, have found that logic, intuition and creativity engage both sides of the brain (Beyond the ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain…).

As William James put it in 1901, “A mind is a system of ideas, each with the excitement it arouses, and with tendencies impulsive and inhibitive, which mutually check or reinforce one another” (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 194).

william james

Said James, “… our moral and practical attitude, at any given time is always a resultant of two sets of forces within us, impulses pushing us one way and obstructions and inhibitions holding us back. “Yes! yes!” say the impulses; “No! no!” say the inhibitions” (ibid. p. 256).

rubics cube head 2It could be because, as psychologist Brian Little says, we have three “selves” that argue (How Many Selves Do We Have?…).

The first “self” is “biogenic” (bio as in biology). It comes from our genes (note: saying, “My genes told me to shoot people,” doesn’t make it OK).

The second “self” is “sociogenic” (socio as in social). It’s how surroundings, family and culture shape us (note: saying, “My culture made me racist,” doesn’t make it OK).

The third “self” is “idiogenic” (idio as in idiosyncrasy). These are the things that make you youthe features that, as Little says, “emanate from our core concerns… the things that matter most… and afford us the opportunity to be stewards of our destiny” (TED talk 2016).

biogenic sociogenic and idiogenic

Needless to say, not all our “selves” play nicely. This explains why you might act like someone you don’t know, as if driven by outside forces.

you're not you when you're hungry

As Little explains, the quality of your life is “contingent upon the sustainable pursuit of core personal projects” (Little, 2008).

The question is: What’s your core personal project? Do you have one? Is it happiness or wisdom? (unless they’re not mutually exclusive).

wrong way

(see also: A Way of Seeing (Part 2))

Writer and teacher Andy Wood put it this way, “Wisdom is a boring, party-killing, nag… Wisdom asks questions about consequences when all I want to do is enjoy myself…,” and yet, “I can’t remember seeing any wise people fired for cutting corners. Or arrested for embezzling money” (LifeVesting, 2010).

Happiness refers to quality of life or well-being. It implies that life is good without specifying what exactly is good about life.

good dog

Some philosophers say wisdom is a supreme part of happiness while others maintain that a wiser view on reality can make one less happy.

Ad Bergsma and Monika Ardelt (2011) found that wise people possess positive qualities such as “a mature and integrated personality, superior judgment skills in difficult life matters, and the ability to cope with the vicissitudes of life.”

wisdom for dummies

They found that the development of wisdom may be joyful by way of self-transcendence. Viktor Frankl, for example, found his higher purpose while suffering in a concentration camp.

Nisbett, Grossman, and other researchers found that happiness fosters wisdom when feelings of well-being facilitate wise-reasoning which helps us to navigate life’s challenges (source).

graph of well-being and wise-reasoning
In this graph we see the association between well-being and wise reasoning by age—the wiser people were, the higher their well-being (source).

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed how wisdom engages a “special kind of happiness that transcends normal pleasures.” He broke it down into two camps, Materialists and Idealists: “The materialist insists on facts… and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration…” (The Transcendentalist, 1842).

ralph waldo emerson quote

Through advanced technology, researchers are finding connections between materialist and idealist, between spirituality, art, the brain and states of consciousness. It may well be that we are more than “meat puppets” controlled by robot-like brains.

Thousands of years ago Epicurus observed how you can have the most happiness by prudently evaluating things to avoid and things to choose.

epicurus quote

Wisdom and happiness go together like “milk and cookies” for the ultimate enjoyment (unless you are lactose intolerant).

(Cue music: Beegie Adair Trio, “Autumn Leaves”).

The trick: Enjoy being wise by wisely enjoying.

To think or not: Zen, Tolstoy, Depression and Enjoyment

morning_dew_on_grass___landscape_by_slysnakesamhardy-d4thcpa

In this world that is sometimes nice, sometimes not, and sometimes blows up in your face, you often meet people who don’t enjoy life.

You can generally tell if someone is not enjoying by their crying, taciturn nature (as in, uncommunicative) or apathetic attitude (as in, nothing  matters), but not always.

Some people who repeatedly say, “I feel depressed” (not clinically, but sad nonetheless) risk labeling themselves and initiating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nonstop melancholy kills happiness when brooding (as in, deep unhappiness of thought) becomes a controller of character.

coffee and depression

Source: PsychCentral

When life isn’t the way we want it to be, disappointment hits us. Reality feels like it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Something is missing. Something more. What it is remains beyond our reach.

As clinical psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer, PhD said, “Whenever you feel that something vital is missing from your life, yet lack the  drive to pursue it, you’re afflicted with this curiously “emotionless” emotion” called “apathy” which is, “essentially the feeling of not feeling” (The Curse of Apathy).

You yourself might not be enjoying at this time (or overall). Maybe that’s why you’re here.

For a lift.

aballoonreminderBut if all joy is fleeting, like the clown says, then so is “despair,” “despondency” and “apathy”– possibly. If all emotions—including the “bad” ones—are fleeting, then one need only let them pass fleetingly.

Some people who are not enjoying argue they can’t help themselves. If you were in their shoe, you wouldn’t enjoy life either.

terrible shoes

“Look around,” say the rightfully sad, depressed and angry. “The world is a mess and getting messier still.”

“75% of Earth’s Land Areas Are Degraded”

urbansprawl

(source: National Geographic).

With the destruction of nature—not to mention daily aggravation, physical and mental decline topped off by tragedy—depression seems only natural and inevitable for any thinking person.

bad newsJPEG

In life there is death, disease and dismemberment—not to mention poverty, loneliness and the heartache of psoriasis.

One approach to unpleasant emotion is to go stoic. Think: “Do what you can and let the rest unfold as it will anyway.

This is reality. You are not super-human. You can’t control the world, only your reaction.”

So say the philosophically stoical who endure pain and hardship without showing feeling or complaining.

Cue music: “Help I’m Alive” by Metric (2009)

Let time and distraction work their magic. Focus on ups, not downs and don’t take feelings serious. You can’t rely on externals. You can only rely on your own responses. 

earlyofshatesbury
1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper: “Indeed.”

The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (not to be confused with rocker Alice Cooper) said like a stoic that it isn’t the things that happen to us that upset us, it is our judgments about them.

Pain is not good or bad, it’s indifferent and the key to it all is in one’s supreme goal (source: Stoicism and Pain Management).

And what is a supreme goal?

(Do you have one?)

If you’re emperor Marcus Aurelius, your supreme goal is to endure fear with courage and renounce desire with moderation.

Good times.

alice cooper
Alice Cooper: “I’m 18 and I like it.”

Marcus A. would tell himself that pain is just a rough sensation, nothing more.

But if that’s the case—if reasoned self-talk removes suffering—what about someone who’s circumstances are not dire, who does the reasoned stoic self-talk without effect and remains depressed in a life not enjoyed even more than ever?

What then?

if-give-you-a-straw-will-you-go-and-suck-14685228

What kills enjoyment in someone who should enjoy? self-pity? bad memories? body deformity? the cruelty of others? depravity? laziness? boredom? addiction?  what?

In War & Peace (the book) we see a supreme goal in action when, on the third day after Christmas, Nicholas Rostov, on leave for the holidays, thinks how the spirit of the house is saying to him:

“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly(Book 4, Chapter 11).

go to your merry place

Enjoyment is a self-creation. Emotion can lead to correction. Whereas zen says mental chatter and desire inflame suffering, Leo Tolstoy said the highest human attributes of “love, poetic feelings, tenderness and philosophical inquiry skepticism” come by way of thinking and feeling.

Whereas in zen and stoic philosophies observing thought and emotion with indifference is recommended—like watching clouds in the sky floating by—Tolstoy says thought and emotion are a means to experiencing the joy of living (see: 12 Life Lessons To Gain From Reading Leo Tolstoy).

On a cold day, should you be lucky enough to be warm in a gentle house, reclining, not hungry, not thirsty, a warm beverage in hand, no pain, no loss, no regrets (except a few), sitting clear-headed and (relatively) odor free, feeling love and friendship, problems fall away.

The heart of a philosophy of enjoyment is to sing with the band Argent, “And if it’s bad, don’t let it get you down, you can take it. And if it hurts, don’t let them see you cry. You can take it,” (“Hold Your Head Up”, 1972).

Unconcerned with age, beauty, ability, upward-mobility and intelligence (or lack thereof), not judged or criticized, but content as yourself in a body, in this world—seeing, hearing, touching, thinking, and feeling—so it is to fully experience life and enjoy it (no matter what).

Breathe in the air (and enjoy)

beautyofnatureOct4

Long you live and high you fly
Smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be” (Pink Floyd, “Breathe”, 1973)

Contrary to popular belief (and advertisers everywhere), people don’t need a product, service or lifestyle to enjoy life.

A moment of peace in a park or beside a drainage ditch with a Great Blue Heron can stop a busy brain from blocking beauty.

Without the blinders of identity and self-interest, a person can go from listening to an interior monologue capable of souring any perspective (and ruin your life), to enjoying the smallest things—a ladybug on a leaf, ducks quacking and water vapour (for no reason).

cloudgiphy.gif

Breathing can be enjoyable. In the midst of a problem, you can enjoy breathing (assuming that it is safe to do so).

If you hold your breath long enough, your body breathes for you. Combine this breathed sensation with a heart beating autonomously and you can appreciate self-driving organic automation. breathinggiphy

But breathing and heart-beating (consciously or not) gets boring. After breathing (even if it is enjoyable), people get distracted and ask like Peggy Lee did, “Is that all there is?

What’s easily enjoyed is easily ignored. We might want to enjoy more, but therein is our problem: What we enjoy triggers our brain’s “reward” centers and makes pleasure habit-forming (see also: “Hedonism, Selfishness and a Womb with a View”).

A pleasure repeated can “set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media” (Breaking Bad Habits).

Enjoyment (and addictive drugs) prompts the brain to release dopamine—a chemical responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas comments, “If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again” (source)

2007-06-22 Are-you-crazy

(Saturday Cartoons)

Therefore, it isn’t prudent to do whatever thou wilt. One will soon find one’s self on auto-pilot, following a predetermined sequence of operations conditioned by habit prompted by pleasure.

One may soon find one’s self on a Hedonic Treadmill chasing a craving for happiness that becomes evermore unattainable.

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source

“The hedonic treadmill, which is also referred to as hedonic adaptation, is a metaphor for your set point of happiness. The idea here is that no matter how good or bad something makes you feel, you will eventually return to your original emotional state” (developgoodhabits).

hedonicadaptation

Cue music: “The Windmills of Your Mind“:

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon…

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream…”

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Aristippus (435-356 BC) the philosopher saw danger in pleasure and advised, “It is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without being worsted” (source).

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“The vice lies not in entering the bordello but in not coming out” (Aristippus)

The philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) agreed, but his idea of pleasure was ataraxy, “a state of serene calmness.”

Epicurus advised us not to be ambitious but to live in harmony with nature and strive for tranquility brought by contentment with simple things and the absence of pain.

epicurusExistential Comics: Was Epicurus Really a Hedonist?

Our happiness formula is backwards. We think, “If I do something great, work overtime, get straight A’s, achieve some goal, then I’ll become more successful, and then I’ll be happier.”

But a few weeks after a goal is achieved, the trip over, the new treasure made familiar, happiness levels return to normal and a new goal is needed to achieve happiness later.

hedonic treadmill

The trick to evading the trap of cravings and treadmills is to not wait until later to be happy. Save time and be happy first! To do that, it’s quite simple: Go without expectations, forget who you are and shift from thinking, “I must do something,” to, “I must do nothing.” The real trick is to enjoy reality as it is, because it is.

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You are free to enjoy, but enjoying the world as it is, as you are, is difficult for people who are weighed down by time and things to be done.

Accepting reality without need, fear, or demand, with a sigh, without resistance, “this is what it is,” you suddenly find yourself relaxing into what there is (see also: “This too shall pass“).

Facing A Pine-scented Breeze

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“Stop every now and then. Just stop and enjoy. Take a deep breath. Relax…” (source).

And if you asked, “In two words or less, what is a philosophy of enjoyment?”

Answer: ‘Live well,’ ‘enjoy life,’ or simply, ‘enjoy.’ 

Enjoy (v.):

  1. If you enjoy something, you find pleasure and satisfaction in doing it or experiencing it (see also: And the Waiter said, “Enjoy”).
  2. If you enjoy yourself, you do something that you like doing or you take pleasure in the situation that you are in.
  3. If you enjoy something such as a right, benefit, or privilege, you have it.”

This might sound simplistic and possibly dangerous, so you ask,

If I or anyone else named I adopted this “Enjoy life” philosophy, wouldn’t that mean living in the “pursuit of happiness” like it says in the United States Declaration of Independence?

The answer is, ‘Yes, but it doesn’t take much to enjoy life’ (see also: happy animals running, jumping and playing).

To which you say,

In the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” doesn’t “pursuit” mean “chasing” happiness and isn’t that just hedonism? (as in, a bad thing).” 

hedonism (n.)

1844 as “self-indulgence,” from Greek hēdone “pleasure” (see hedonist) + -ism.

“… that the pleasure of the moment is the only possible end, that one kind of pleasure is not to be preferred to another, and that a man should in the interest of pleasure govern his pleasures and not be governed by them; hence, that ethical doctrine which regards pleasure or happiness as the highest good. … Egoistic hedonism considers only the pleasure of the individual; altruistic hedonism takes into account that of others. [Century Dictionary]

Hedonism says that pleasure is what motivates us. Only pleasure, our own or another’s, has worth and only displeasure⁠ has the opposite of worth (source).

Pursuing happiness might be encouraged, but to most people, the pleasures pursued by hedonists are indecent, indulgent and possibly sinful (at least, to the religious).

rich and famous

The common myth is that happiness is about having more good times than bad. The more good times, the more happy overall, but it isn’t about the quantity of ups over downs, but how smoothly we ride them.

Everything is changing all the time. From one moment to the next, good things and bad things happen to everyone. Those who are the happiest don’t have more good times than bad, they just don’t cling to the “good” or run from the “bad” like most people.

They appreciate every minute for what it is knowing it’s not going to last forever (see also: “This Too Shall Pass“).

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Surveys show happiness is the number one thing people say they want (money is number two) but the biggest challenge is: “Not knowing what I want to do” (source).

People don’t realize they don’t have to do anything to enjoy living. Try holding your breath and see what happens.

Time slows right down!

After a minute or two, you’ll enjoy life by simply breathing!

(It’s the little things.)

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Enjoy.

A Ponderous Enjoyment

It’s funny to think, as one watches an old movie, how everyone in that old film has stopped living (even the little kids grew old and died).

Well, maybe thinking about how everybody is dead in an old movie (even the little kids who grew old) isn’t that funny, but it is fun to imagine being alive in the 1920’s. In Paris. In the rain. 

If you’re a romantic and don’t mind dampness (and wool).

paris in the rain

For more about “romantics” see Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. The reference to 1920’s Paris’ rain is a nod to American actor, producer, and screenwriter, Owen Wilson (1968- ), and the alteration of human consciousness from egocentric to universal (or something).

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Buster feeling joie de vivre. “Silence is of the gods; only monkeys chatter.” ~ Buster

It’s fun to imagine how the same self-feeling that Owen Wilson feels—that feeling of being Owen, of Owen-ness, of being one’s self, a “me,” a role, a personality, a joie de vivre, a joy of living” feeling, we who are alive feel (sometimes)—is the same self-feeling Buster Keaton (1895-1966) had and you have, only Buster was a different body living in a present we think of as past.

This self-feeling is like seeing (the act of vision with eyes).

We who see know how great seeing is. We enjoy seeing trees with flowers and bees (see also: “A Way of Seeing to Enjoy (Part 1)”.

Seeing is the thing—not what is seen (although, beauty is better).

snowbird hawthorn tree
Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a Snowbird Hawthorn blooming?

What’s being seen is of the past (if you think about it).

Like the song says, “everybody look at your hands” (“Safety Dance”). If you have a hand, you see it and other appendages in the present at this location with your eyes (if you have them). What you see is experienced as seeing. (If there was nothing to see, seeing would be redundant.)

A goat doesn’t have horns because it butts, it butts because it has horns; likewise, we don’t have eyes because we see, we see because we have eyes. The world is literally nothing without you seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking about it. (See also “Good Morning Starshine” “Gliddy gloop gloopy. Nibby nobby nooby. La la la lo lo.”)

Hand-of-the-Desert-Atacama
Imagine seeing yourself seeing. You’d be in the scene seeing yourself seeing. Image: Hand of the desert at night.

When we look into the sky, we see a star’s past at that location. Since nothing can travel faster than light (including what happens to us), “From where we are, the star is still in our sky, because the space we can interact with goes further into the past as its distance from us increases. In other words, we’re always surrounded by the past” (source).

(See also: Enjoy A Perfect World.)

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Owen seeing without trying. “Just to be yourself and not to try to sell anything or make a good impression, that’s something worth striving towards.” ~ Owen

We who are alive continue a line of life-energy passed like a torch from our parents, their parents, their parents’ parents, back to the beginning (assuming there was one)—not to mention, procreation and the torch carried into the future (assuming there is one).

The same self-feeling and awareness of aliveness that we who are alive feel was transmitted to us by those before us like a game of tag where we who are alive are it—it being an “energy” we don’t want so the game is to touch someone who, when touched, tries to touch back (for more, see: Sammy Johns “Chevy Van” (making love in)). 

Like electricity in water, life-energy conducts itself in the form of a human baby (comprised primarily of water). Born into society, a “burning” biology begins in the baby whereby fuel (food) is burned (digested) creating body-energy to look for more fuel to keep the fire burning and possibly propagate the species (for the good of humanity).

(See also Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire“.)

And so we feel our self as a body in a world, separate and alone. To breathe, sense, think, work and continue as a unit ad infinitum or forever—if possible.

Father plus mother equals child born to live, change, deteriorate and die and all of it traced out in DNA: “a double helix formed by base pairs attached to a sugar-phosphate backbone” (What is DNA?).

DNA

The body of a person is like a machine grown out of a mother who was herself grown from a mother. This machine is called Human or Homo sapiens, if you prefer (we answer to both).

Human society shapes the minds of its members and remains after individuals pass away. Like a tree lives on after its leaves fall away in the winter and are replaced, so too does society continue after individual people are gone.

Where it started no one is quite sure but every person throughout history has had a biology and the same “alive” self-feeling of being (or so one would assume).

Only the names and skeletal remains change.

skeletons

In old films we see people experiencing a present moment captured like a memory.

ladyin1897.jpgWatching old films has a way of putting life into perspective (see also: Electric Edwardians).

One can imagine one’s self as a person back then and from this one might conclude:

Playing with cats is more fun.

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Behaviour modification in action.

We all know life is an “on” and “off” system (see also: The Essence of This). It’s just that we prefer on to off. On (alive) is the absence of “off” (not alive) but as you can see, they go together.

Those who experience stillness know the opinions and stories we tell about identity, social roles, ethnicity, philosophy, religion, politics and so on do not exist in our immediate experience.

In the immediate experience there’s not even a “you” to be found because it turns out that “you” are a story too. Being “on” is all you know and the seemingly long brevity of existence is a twinkle in an ocean of eons. It’s just a matter of enjoying it as it goes and how it goes as it’s going! (That’s all.)

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A Way To Self-understanding and Enjoyment

path of least resistance

On the path of life we walk, stagger, jog or roll—as animated organisms: 99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus (who may or may not enjoy the song “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”)—we are called upon to take action or not to take action.

crow on fence post

We must make yes and no decisions the results of which determine how we live, think, feel and behave individually and collectively as a species.

Like a crow on a fence post we see it all from the vantage point of a media centre on top of our neck and shoulders.

If you say yes and take action—with luck, work, will and strategy—goals can be realized. If you say no and take no action, you let life happen without your will intruding. It’s hard to know which is better.

beggar and unarmed man

In our yes and no, action or no action decision, we may feel self-directed, but much is predetermined by systems, society and environment—not to mention: technology, luck, ability and proclivity—your “inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.”

From ‘in here‘—alone as we are with our thoughts inside a skull walled-off by skin—it’s only natural to feel separate and set apart from a world that appears to us as ‘out there.’

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But however real this feeling of being separate from the world is, scientifically speaking, it’s only skin deep and mental. We know we can’t be separated from this world—not without air, water and Twinkies!

Cue Boney M. “Rasputin” (for no apparent reason).

SONY DSCWe know living things are made up of cells and a cell is a “protein-based robot too small to feel or experience anythingbut do we know that even though cells have the properties of life—they eat, grow, react and reproduce—no part of a cell is actually alive?

The cells that comprise us are composed of dead matter animated by chemistry and moved by the laws of the universe. We’re like zombies except with a more varied diet and higher aspirations (hopefully).

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Technically speaking, “Stuff reacts chemically with other stuff forming reactions that start other reactions which start other reactions,” until we draw this conclusion:

One thing is for sure, the idea that life is fundamentally different for non-living things because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than inanimate objects, turns out to be wrong” (source: “What is Life?…”).

Our body changes but awareness of our self remains consistent:

It’s like having an old wooden boat. You may have repaired it hundreds of times over the years, replacing wood chip after wood chip, until one day, you realize that not one piece of material from the original boat is still part of it. So is that still your boat? … 

In this way, what you are is not really a thing as much as a story, or a progression, or one particular theme of person. You’re a bit like a room with a bunch of things in it—some old, some new, some you’re aware of, some you aren’t—but the room is always changing, never exactly the same from week to week” (“What Makes You You?”).

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You are like a room.

You are an ever-shifting mass of thoughts, feelings and perceptions but you feel a sense of continuity. You can look at a picture of yourself as a child and know that was you.

With an understanding of yourself as a story, personal hurt is reduced—how can you, as a “theme of person,” take it personal?—and selfless action is increased because you see yourself not as the egotistical pinnacle but as inseparable and integral (like a beaver).

we think we're special

Source

Unless you’re in the “Experience Machine”—a machine that generates happiness in your brain as you float in sense depravationreality is as it is and it couldn’t be otherwise. What is couldn’t be any more different than what ‘was’ could be altered. Accept what is and was and work toward what will be.

the experience machine
“If pleasure were enough, you’d plug yourself in the machine in a heartbeat”—wouldn’t you? (see: “The Experience Machine” thought experiment).

This feeling of being separate from nature comes from our ability to manipulate and disconnect at will. To understand, try this thought experiment:

Imagine you are walking in a park. As you breathe in trees, feeling movement and a soft breeze, you come to a roundabout with a botanical circle in the centre like the one pictured above and you must decide whether to go around or over.

If you go around, you conform to civic expectation, park design and gardener preference. You flow like water around the obstacle in acceptance of the extra distance. If you go over (or through), you do not conform to civic expectation. You take a logical short-cut that feels natural to save yourself time and energy.

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White arrows show the flow of around and over.

This is not to judge one or the otheraround or overas better, but to show how thoughts are powerful. They direct you and take you. What you think can become reality. If you realize that all things change, you won’t try to hold onto anything. Go back to innocence and live spontaneously with your senses.

If you think “I am weak” or “I am going no where,” so be it! Your wish is granted. If you say, “I am the Greatest!” (like Muhammad Ali did), “I am strong” or “I enjoy life!”—So be it. Again your wish is granted! Assertions we live by are reflected in our life experience.

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Extend yourself in what you see. Detach from a self that is separate. Flow like waternatural, gentle, aware of yourself in the big picture—enjoying a finite story that is selfless in a universe that is endless.

Enjoy it.

Beautiful, Average, or Disappointing—what’ll it be?

stairs to nowhere

How would you rate your life thus far, overall and right now? Would you rate your life thus far, overall, and right now as (select one):

Radio buttonsOption 1 Profoundly Beautiful
Quote: “Life is beautiful. I would not change a thing.”

Option 2 Just Average
Quote: “Life is O.K., but there are a few things I might change, if I could.”

Option 3 Rather disappointing
Quote: “Life sucks—more or less. There are many things I’d change, if I could.”

Of course, the above questionnaire is limited and it’s leading. You’re not given much for choices. Most people would probably select option 2 or 3. Option 1 sounds far-fetched—especially given the nature of vales of tears and potholes that we’re in (Latin vallis lacrimarum potholeus).

life cycle

How can life thus far, overall, and right now be profoundly beautiful when aging, dying and disappointment are guaranteed—especially towards the end. Profoundly beautiful seems only to happen in fleeting moments—here and gone, here and gone, and again, if you’re lucky.

Profoundly beautiful doesn’t lend itself to a permanent state of affairs—at least, not without some training in the art of enjoying (see also: Rainbows, Religious Experience and Nerf Warfare).

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Watch where you point that thing.

This questionnaire may make you say, “Hold on thar, Baba Looey! I’ll do the thin’in’ around here, and dooon’t you for-git it!” like Quick Draw McGraw used to say before hilarity ensuing.

If you paused before option 1, “I wouldn’t change a thing,” your thoughts may have gone to moments that were not beautiful. There may be many non-beautiful moments, but such is the world.

It is what it is. Things happen. Resistance is futile.

Acceptance frees us and expectations are a set up.

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From chaotic to predictable and back again, we go like row boats tossed on waves of ups, and downs. The trick is, therefore, to enjoy the rowing (you may as well)

Cue Pérez Prado “Patricia”.

For lots of people (on behalf of lots of people), life may be profoundly beautiful, but, only on occasion. Most people would probably say things don’t seem profoundly beautiful, thus far, overall and right now because, we’re too busy.

Feeling profound beauty takes a special kind of silence and a special sense of awareness of yourself and the place you’re in. In day to day life most people don’t have time to pay attention to paying attention. Only oddballs, musicians, mystics, actors and comedians have that kind of time to waste.

It can get crowded.

people
People.

Most of the time we’re on auto-pilot. That’s why we don’t notice what’s really going on. What matters most to most people is the life they’re in right now and only rarely is that life profoundly beautiful (or so it feels).

If anything is (or was) profoundly beautiful, we’d hardly notice. We’re critical. We’re oblivious to our breathing and hardly notice birds in the trees or the beauty of life on this blue planet.

big pictureBut no more. With a click of awareness, from this moment forward (and backward), you will be aware of yourself, of yourself breathing and of your Self living and everything else. You will notice yourself noticing with your senses and with your mind attuned to the miracle of life and living like the wisest wise person ever.

That’s you.

It’s a paradox, really.

A paradox is “a proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory” (source).

In the paradox of “less is more,” for example, how can less be more? Out of two opposites “less” and “more” comes the concept that what is less complicated is often more appreciated (see also: Where Are You? The Paradox of Happiness).

A paradox appears to contradict the truth, but it is an implied truth. It describes an action or situation that seems absurd but is true. It challenges the mind to question common thoughts such as, “Just average is on the right side of terrible.”

Choices we make about what to do now or later and our levels of satisfaction as derived from those choices are driven by comparisons. In economic circles, they call the trade off between now and later satisfaction, “time discounting.”

 

economics of now or later

Contrary to post-modern relativism and lack of truths, the paradox of happiness is that it comes when you are gone!

But, if you want even more than just to lose track of time and get absorbed in what you’re doing, the profoundly beautiful feeling of living life thus far, overall and right now comes only with awareness (see also: “Where Are You? The Paradox of Happiness”).

boing

So the trick is to find your self  in feeling aware of yourself feeling aware in the space you’re in, as if you are extended into what is seen.

Easy peasy.

Boing.

Enjoy.