Relationships are fraught with trouble. Relationships are fragile. The terrain is complicated. In any given situation, where one person reacts with rage another is sad; where one is amused, another is confused. You might think you know how someone will react, but you never know. You can’t see what goes on in another’s head. People are unpredictable.
In a conflict, one person’s solution might be to accommodate while another’s is to attack (or withdraw). Few people master the art of human relationship. Philosophers and poets have their explanations.
Jean Paul Sarte, a philosopher, said in a play (No Exit, 1944) that, “hell is other people.” He might mean that our freedom is deprived because we are trapped by our need for respect and adulation from others. He might argue that until a person learns that he or she alone is responsible for his or her own behaviour, he or she will remain in hell and people who say they don’t care what other people think of them are probably lying.
John Milton, a poet, said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” (Paradise Lost, 1667). He might mean that what we enjoy is heaven in this life and what is distressing is hell. We think ourselves into the states we’re in. If one can focus one’s mind on good stuff in spite of the sorrows and difficulties, one could experience heavenly bliss in this life. People who are always sad and dissatisfied (even the rich and healthy) can’t experience true bliss.
Both of these thinkers – philosopher and poet – might agree that happiness and sorrow depend on how we think. A happy mind can make surroundings seem heavenly and an unhappy mind can make surroundings seem hellish. As one thinks, so one feels. The trick, therefore, to living in a heaven or a hell in this life is in the way we manage our thoughts and emotions, but what is a thought?
A thought is like an invisible bubble. A thought is like that song, I’m forever blowing bubbles which goes: “I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air, they fly so high, nearly reach the sky, but then like my dreams they fade and die” (Jaan Kenbrovin, 1918). Fortune eludes the singer, but therein lies its beauty – it’s resonance. We all know the feeling that you can’t always get what you want (and, rightly so).
People speak of being in high spirits and low spirits depending on mood. A mood is coloured by thought. Think angry thoughts, see red; think sad thoughts, get the blues. Think envy, go green. Mandatory happiness is phoney. To enjoy life is to feel all the colours without necessarily acting on them. You’ve got to go with it and get what you need.
In each person there is a secret self, not in any mystical sense, but in the sense of a hidden self inside each of us. One person might understand another, but no one can fully experience the thoughts and feelings of another. You might understand someone’s pain, but you can’t feel it yourself.
On a cold winter’s morning in the midst of a deep-freeze it is a challenge to enjoy. When someone we love dies, that too, is a challenge. To enjoy again despite the pain is to hear a sad song and enjoy a good cry. To feel the bad is to feel future good. Take courage! Bring it on home. Enjoy the ups and the downs in equal measure. You can’t have one without the other.
As a philosopher of enjoyment, you will get the blues and gain the strength to say, “Bring it on!” To enjoy suffering like a philosopher-poet is a challenge for the enjoyer of living.
There are tricks you can use. Notice how the face of ecstasy looks similar to the face of pain. Grin yourself through the pain and smile at the good as much as you can. Get the blues and feel a special kind of confidence that only you yourself can possess.
If you cultivate in your soul the genius of loneliness, you’re not just a human: you’re a sturdy tree, you’re a patient toad, you’re a crafty panther. Imagine how you will feel and and you will.
Will yourself to feel what you will.