An ideal is a standard of perfection. It lives in the imagination. It’s a conception of something excellent, an ultimate object, an aim or an ultimate “good” that we imagine. An ideal can be anything. It doesn’t have to be universal or other-worldly.
You can have your ideal summer, your ideal sandwich, your ideal bird. You can imagine your ideal wife or ideal husband. A parent can imagine their ideal child and a farmer their ideal cow. It’s a dream image of perfection. We invent ideals to serve our deepest needs and happiness. Our ideal life will be this way or that – ideal house, ideal lover, ideal friend, ideal environment – and then, we measure the success of our expectations against those ideals.
The “surprise” is that most things don’t meet our expectations which makes things appear ugly. The philosopher George Santayana said that there are two modes of consciousness: there’s day-to-day life as a Homo sapiens (Latin for wise man or knowing man), and there’s escape. Escape comes as freedom from anxieties, cares and problems.
Escape is about seeing the whole forest that couldn’t be seen because you were too close, and focusing on trees. It’s when you realize the world is ideal as it is and you can enjoy whatever comes along. Ideal enjoyment goes with the Lucretian goal of “happiness.”
Lucretius, who probably died in 55 BC at age 44, wrote, “Pleasant it is, when over a great sea the winds trouble the waters, to gaze from shore upon another’s tribulation: not because any man’s troubles are a delectable joy, but because to perceive from what ills you are free yourself is pleasant” (Book II, Line I).
Lucretius loved Epicurus.
Epicurus (341-270 BC) was a gentle man who said, “The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity” (Vatican Sayings 8).
Strife and violence in ancient Rome partly explains Lucretius’ commitment to the Epicurean ideal of “intellectual pleasure and tranquillity of mind” (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Aside from there being more of us and new technologies, Homo sapiens haven’t changed since ancient Rome. We’re still stupid. We lack higher levels of understanding. We can’t help it. It’s our brains. It isn’t easy being human. You can be absolutely certain about something and be absolutely wrong. You can plan ahead, but things change: you get sick, lose a job, fail, get old, disasters strike. Heraclitus said a mouthful when he said with his mouth full, “All is flux. Nothing is stationary.”
We’re overly optimistic, mechanistic and absorbed in “stuff.” We fool ourselves with gregarious pleasures we don’t really enjoy. To feel profound enjoyment, takes brain training.
In “The Vulcanization of the Human Brain” scientist J. Cohen (2005) describes the conflict between emotional and cognitive parts of the brain. We have an “old” brain (about the size of a fist) that makes quick, inflexible decisions driven by emotion, desire and physical needs, and we have a “new” brain (the prefrontal cortex and cortical layer).
This “new” part can override anger, pride and impatience, but it takes reasoned practice. You can train this “new” part through contemplation, cogitation, deliberation, meditation and rumination. You can override emotional vexations and frustrations by stepping back, reframing, reassessing and reposing.
“Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy” (Proverbs of Solomon).
In the novel Hardy wrote, “To do things musingly, and by small degrees… not the repose of actual stagnation, but the… repose of incredible slowness. A condition of healthy life…” (p. 10).
Take lucky moments of awareness and mix them with moments of simple pleasures. Moments of pleasure are illustrated in the movie Chocolat (2000).
We would do well to take the kind advice of the young priest in the movie who said, “We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, by what we resist and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”
The narrator is the little girl in the film who is now grown up looking back on her life. In her closing narrations she says, “The parishioners felt a new sensation that day: a lightening of the spirit; a freedom from the old tranquillity.”
This “new sensation” of lightening of spirit and freedom is to enjoy an escape from anxiety, fear and worry. In this, ideal enjoyment can be realized any time you so choose. One need only contemplate, slow down, reason and enjoy.