Marcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist and bed writer, came from a wealthy family. He had the Leisure of a W.H. Davies poem and enjoyed pondering ponderings, galleries, fine dining, observing and writing without brevity.
In Remembrance of Things Past (1923), people say he wrote about having new eyes (as in a metaphorical ocular transplant), but that’s not quite what he meant.
It’s become a slogan slathered on pillows and bric-à-brac for those who enjoy pithy inspirations.
He was writing about beholding with the eyes of another person so as to appreciate the universe from that person’s perspective – especially the perspective of a painter or composer who help us to fly with them from star to star.
“The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star” (Proust, “The Captive“).
Imagine yourself as another person. Feel what he or she feels. It’s an enjoyable projection. To drink of the fountain of youth is to behold with the eyes of a child.
Neuroscience describes this as the act of mirror neurons: “a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action (The Mind’s Mirror).
This is to see a man drink and say, “This is better than good,” and taste it yourself. It is to see a person’s foot do something and neurons connected to our own foot fire. It’s like that Joe South song, Walk a Mile in My Shoes, that Elvis sang.
The relation between yourself and the world is like a pair of shoes. You have a left shoe (that’s you) and a right shoe (everybody else). You take care of both out of self-interest. You imagine the best life possible by maximizing choices to get what you want.
George Ainslie, psychiatrist and economist, is quoted in Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience (Hall, 2010) as saying, “Self-control is the art of making the future bigger” (p. 173). You imagine a future you’ll enjoy over an immediate gratification you’ll regret.
You construct, as Ainslie says, “your idea of your character, your idea of heaven, your idea of simply the moral life, the kind of person you insist on being in the long run… (it) is a budgetary skill” (p. 173).
There are two aspects to enjoyment: one is to have awareness of reality (beyond the way it appears and the way you want it to be) and the other is to use this awareness of reality to take action to increase happiness and decrease suffering.
Every creature wants to avoid suffering and be happy, but happiness and suffering are interconnected. We know this. The other guy is like you.
With imagination (and those mirror neurons), we see from another person’s mind and make choices knowing that another’s well-being is as our own. Kindness towards another is advanced self-interest.
Train yourself to enjoy like it’s an Olympic event and you’re an enjoyment athlete. Even when you lose, you lose well. Enjoyment hangs like grapes picked like California Stars.
See humour in oddities, as from above. Will enjoyment and let it roll. Just imagine. Practice emotional self-control and let go. Notice surroundings and contemplate. Contrary to what you may have been told, you’re not special and those who think they are: probably aren’t. Humility is a key to enjoy ability.
The trick is to enjoy the expanse, float and feel at home in yourself.