It is written: “Don’t bring me down. Grroosss. Don’t bring me down. Grroosss.” So says the the Electric Light Orchestra and a philosopher of enjoyment in difficult times.
A rousing song can provoke a fighting spirit to not give up – to get up like Buster Keaton after a tumble and see humour in a fall. Slogans like Keep Calm and Carry On, songs like Trio’s Da Da Da and the glad game (from Eleanor Porter’s novel Pollyanna) can turn a frown around.
But even though the glad game (which is about finding something to be glad about no matter what happens) is nice, saying “It’s going to be all right, you’ll be fine,” can be irritating to someone who’s in a jam. Conceptually, inspirations like this might help a person feel OK (satisfactory, not exceptional) but to feel better than OK, takes more than platitudes. Feeling OK is only half the battle.
To feel better than OK is to enter a state of grace and ecstasy. That’s what we want. To feel burdens lifted and a passage made enjoyable. Ecstasy: to feel overwhelmed by great happiness (Oxford Dictionary); “a state of exalted delight, joy and rapture” (The Free Dictionary).
But today ecstasy is “associated with orgasm, religious mysticism, and the use of certain drugs” (The Free Dictionary). It wasn’t always that way. There was a time before methylenedioxy-ethamphetamine (aka MDMA).
It comes from the Greek ekstasis meaning “‘standing outside oneself'” (Oxford Dictionary). It is to step out of yourself into a reality that you’re not used to. It is to feel like you no longer exist. It’s a trance-like state where you immerse yourself in what you’re doing.
You’re conscious but not self-conscious.
The challenge isn’t to climb Everest, it’s to lose yourself in doing. Laugh at Seinfeld bloopers, drive very slowly, bike ride, write, draw, construct, play, work, walk, talk, sip. Do what you do without thought of reward.
Lose yourself in doing no harm and shift mentalities outward.
Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist replaces the popular notion of the brain hemispheres being left-is-logical and right-is-creative with the idea that they pay attention in different ways. The left is detail-oriented and the right is whole-oriented.
The right hemisphere has “a more immediate relationship with external reality as represented by the senses” (Master and His Emissary).
Before depression and shock treatment, poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy” (The Bell Jar).
Researchers now find that, “People who are exposed to natural scenes aren’t just happier or more comfortable; the very building blocks of their physiological well-being also respond positively” (How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies).
Jack London wrote, “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive…” (The Call of the Wild).
In a letter to his son Einstein wrote, “I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano…That is the way to learn the most…. when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes… Also play ringtoss with Tete…” (Einstein on Learning).
Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, examined the roots of happiness to discover that ecstasy is “a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… characterized by complete absorption in what one does… a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task… (flow) has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions” (Flow).
Around the fourth century BC, Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu,庄子) supposedly said, “Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free: stay centred by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”
He also said, “The sound of water says what I think,” which could mean he was in flow at the time that he spoke.
It’s like how the Dude in the movie The Big Lebowski is comfortable with what he’s got. Like a tumble-weed the Dude takes the path of least resistance. He is authentically content and complacent without doing harm. He lets life carry him along.
He’s learned how to enjoy every moment without apathy. He knows that it’s all strikes and gutters. Sometime you win. Sometimes you lose.
We can’t all be as lazy as the Dude but we can go forth and abide. We can expose ourselves to natural scenes without being obscene and put the Credence on.