Is it serious? Up Enjoyment to Bliss Filled Without Trying

autumn trees

While walking in a park one calm and cool autumn, from out of the enjoyment of a ten minute moment, with trees bathed in fall colours, with birds—black-eyed juncos, chickadees and sparrows—pecking among leaves and squirrels running around like maniacs, from out of the overcast white sky comes a question.

Is it serious?  

“It depends,” you say. “What is “it”? Is a mouse serious? A mouse thinks so. That’s why he runs. Owls think mice are serious. Survival is serious to survivors. Owl and mouse do owl and mouse things to survive just as humans do human things to survive (except with TVs, toilets and machines). The difference is, whereas a mouse and owl won’t understand what “serious” is, a human might.

Think of it as a game. (Cue music: “Get off of my cloud”.)

barn-owl-sunset.jpg

In the first chapter of Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse lays out a theory in two sentences, “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play” (James P. Carse).

Mouse vs. owl is a finite game. A mouse named Jimmy can escape (win) or be eaten (lose). An owl named Janice can eat (win) or starve (lose). The dead are losers. Death is the triumph of past over future, but if life is the prize for winning, finite players aren’t living. 

mouse vs owl

What is won in finite games is a title (p. 19). In death, titles replace life. When you die, attempts to win titles stop. We take finite games serious, but in seriousness and certainty we lose awareness of wonder and the infinite game we’re playing.

Beyond the immediate owl and mouse competition (little picture), there is an infinite game (big picture) where owl and mouse play “live and let die” so others can continue.

In an infinite game players play (and die) to keep the game going. Finite games have boundaries, infinite games don’t. You can’t tell how long an infinite game has been playing (Philosophical Explorations).

clouds

Is the universe serious? Is air travel, brain surgery and regular maintenance serious? Something is serious or it isn’t unless, of course, what is serious actually isn’t.

Are birds in trees serious? Are fish in seas and people in parks, serious? Is a goose standing on one foot stretching his wings among other geese, serious? Is a woman standing on one foot stretching among other women stretching, serious? Is a man selling drugs to another man, serious? Is a cat pouncing on a sparrow, serious?

dog meditatingLife and death feel serious. Ask any cancer survivor, terrorist or soldier. But like the comedian Louis C.K., we too can feel that life is “OK” but we don’t need it. “Make a list of every shitty thing ever. That’s in life… You know how much I like life? I have never killed myself” (Louis C.K. 2017).

People who kill themselves and/or others take it too serious. It isn’t a question of whether it “‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Hamlet asked. We know it ’tis! Suffering is part of the game to be enjoyed without masochism. Allow suffering to be there without trying to forget or escape. It moves to the periphery and you feel bliss filled in the centre because you’re free.

For millions (billions?) of people, a lot of the time (most of the time?), life does not feel blissful as in perfectly happy, but then again, as it is written, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” but if you try sometimes, you’ll find, you get what’s agreed.

you can't always get what you want

It’s like the joke Woody Allen told the gist of which goes, “The food in this place is terrible!” “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” To Woody, life is “full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”

Something “serious” is important, grave, sombre, heavy, weighty, critical, sincere, in earnest and not trifling (Dictionary.com). Is that how “it” is? Is life grave sombre, heavy, and weighty?

squirrel-512

The  Power Thesaurus lists 509 words that are the opposite of “serious,” including: funny, playful, light, unimportant, silly, trivial, lighthearted, ridiculous, happy, laughable, merry, easy,  trippy, unwise and priceless. How would it feel if instead of thinking it is serious, you thought the opposite? It is funny, light and playful!

How would you feel, “to be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, just like a rolling stone?” (“Like a Rolling Stone”). What if you could see finite games for what they are?

wascana-park

The truth is, most of what we think of as important actually isn’t. On and off. On and off. Now you see it. Now you don’t. Here and gone as if what was there never wasn’t. That is the infinite game we play so others can continue.

A test for what you see as true is to look at your day without trying to change it. Let your day rock and roll as it will. Recognize what you can and can’t do. Alter what you think is true. With a rock and roll mindset, you are free to swagger. Nothing can hurt you.

You don’t get what you want? So what. Someone slights you? Big deal. People don’t know what they’re doing, if they did, there wouldn’t be problems. It is and/isn’t serious. Instead of swimming upstream, enjoy flowing (see also The Art of Enjoying).

Live without worry and strain. The less you strain, the more free you are. There is only so much you can do. Beyond that, you’re helpless. Enjoy it. With this realization, comes freedom to enjoy an infinite game. Look on the light side and give a whistle.

“Why so serious?” shouldn’t be a catch phrase just for homicidal maniacs.

Advertisements

Enjoy a Clear Vision

love is blue

Life… (Na Na Nana Na) Life is life… (Na Na Nana Na),” so sang Opus in the summer of 1985. Who could argue? “Life is life.” It’s logical. Irrefutable! Life isn’t death. That would be, as Vinzinni says, “Inconceivable!” It’s scientific. People are living machines who can be technologically enhanced and “blinded by science“.

ghost
Spirit in material form (A Ghost Story, 2017).

If life is life, questions get personal. How you live becomes a matter of spirit as in, “That’s the spirit!” 

To have spirit is to take charge of your freedom. It’s the deep breath you take before returning to automatic. Spirit is how you feel as in, “I’m in good spirits,” “I’m in low spirits,” “I’m in-between spirits.”

With “That’s the spirit!” you see through the game of one-upmanship. You “Whip it good!” like Devo did overcoming adversity.

know thyself
Spirit in liquid form.

From Socrates’ naïve maxim, “Know thyself,” we add the addendum: Be thyself.

Most people define the principal ends and values of life as wealth, health, long life, pleasure, happiness, usefulness, security, peace, etc. These are believed “reasonable.” And if these are your values, getting them becomes the goal of your existence.

But is that it? Is life just a means to comfortable ends?

With over 22.2 billion WordPress blog pages viewed each month (source) and over 450 million English blogs and one billion non-English blogs (source), the chances of finding a philosophy of enjoyment are like winning a Powerball lottery at one in 292,201,338 (source).

But here you are. How’d that happen?

you are here2

It’s your lucky day. It may be sacrilegious to money god people, but a person’s philosophy is more important than money. Craving a big win shows dissatisfaction. Meaning is made, not found. Getting what you want doesn’t guarantee a beautiful life. Contrary to lottery commercial propaganda, being rich is a “spirit” complication.

In the movie John Wick (2014) Keanu Reeves plays a retired killer bent on revenge against evil Russians. Reeves shows the power of a man free of any money craving! (Note: Violence and language warning but remember, it’s just pretend. No real money was burned).

It’s nice to dream of things you’d do with money, but wealth does not make for better people. Psychologist Paul Piff called it the “asshole effect” (see: Age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism). Piff’s studies show how wealth can turn people narcissistic, dishonest and greedy (see Piff’s lecture: Does money make you mean?).

Here we pause for a breather. We listen. We look around. We ignore our brain’s complaining, “This is Stupid!” We let thoughts quieten and consider: The difference between objective truths (provable/scientific) and subjective truths (experiential/religious) is like knowing intellectually that “Fascination” is a song Mantovani recorded and feeling it in your heart.

subjectivity

A secular fundamentalist says, “I know objectively there is no God,” just as a religious zealot says, “I know objectively there is a God!” Both feel smug in their belief but both are wrong. Belief is of the mind and religion isn’t. Religion is an experience. It’s doing not doctrine. Belief isn’t required. How you believe matters more than what you believe (Scott, 2003). In The Case for God Karen Armstrong emphasizes compassion and peace over argument (source).

NachoLibre
A religious man with spirit (and a cape).

A truly religious person has doubts, a “sense of right” and what philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1846) called “passionate inwardness” (whatever that is). Try this: Imagine looking at yourself as from a balloon or security camera. See yourself seeing yourself seeing the world. Notice how it fits together?

Here’s the trick: toggle between subjectively seeing and objectively observing yourself as an object of analysis engaging with others. Imagine watching yourself as a character on TV. Imagine you’re James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. Not only can you see what you see but you can see where you see from!

Tony
Don’t Stop Believing” (Journey).

Audience-you sees acting-you and can see what you’re thinking by what you do. In such contemplation you might feel a gentle contentment, love and enjoyment (see: Enjoy a Simple Plan). Feeling aware can help you find your true self.

Kierkegaard listed the stages we go through on our way to our true self: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. Each represents a competing view on life.

hamster wheelStage one is like childhood. The focus is on fun. It’s the aesthetic stage. Picture someone self-indulging in enjoyable experiences who gets bored and feels empty and lonely. He buys a car and enjoys it for a while but gets bored so the search for pleasure continues. (It’s a circular trap.)

Stage two is like being an adult. This is the ethical stage. The focus is on responsibility, following rules for the good of society and achieving goals.

Ethics scalesEthical people are concerned with actions effecting others because ethical choices evoke a higher set of principles. But the ethical life doesn’t leave room for self-exploration which is a key to stage three – the highest plane of existence (source).

Stage three is when you’re old and wise and you see through the game.

In stage three you enjoy the absurdity of life. You are free to jump in without second thought. This is the religious stage where you find your true self singing with Mr. Loco, “I am I am”.

Philosophy starts (and ends) with how one lives. It begins with you as an individual subjectively living. Writing under the pseudonym Victor Eremita (Latin for “victorious hermit”) in Either/Or (1843) Kierkegaard wrote:

kierkegaard2.jpg“Marry and you will regret it! Don’t marry, you will also regret it! Marry, don’t marry, you’ll regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it. Weep over it, you’ll regret that too. Hang yourself, you’ll regret it. Don’t hang yourself and you’ll regret that too. Whether you hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”

To Kierkegaard, the only intelligent and tactical response to life’s horror is to laugh defiantly at it” (School of Life, 2015).

upstairs downstairs2.jpgMost people, generically speaking, if asked how they should live, might blink and mumble something like, “Oh? I dunno? Be a good person? Take care of family? Work hard? Do something you love? Think happy thoughts? Be a good person? (Oh, did I say that already?)...”

Funny how imagined answers arrive intoned as questions (especially if we think the questioner has the answer).

Most people don’t give much thought to how they should live. They’re too busy living to think about that. It’s like we unknowingly live like Kramer on the TV show Seinfeld.

As you live, you too do what you do because that’s the way you always do it and the way it’s always been done.

Without forethought we get caught up in life. It happens. From first to last, we’re distracted and easily led. We live, but to live is to go forward – one breath after another, one foot in front of the other.

dawn of man2.jpgTo see clearly and holistically is the root of all wisdom. You can look back on your life and realize that sometimes you were walking in a fog without knowing. The clouds were all around but now, they’re gone.

You can see life clearly and like Johnny Nash sing, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind” (I Can See Clearly Now”).

Nash’s song soothes spirits, but for a rocking inspiration leap into a Screeching Weasel version and say, “Arrrrgh! Life!”

Bring it on.

Priming, Framing, Transcending & Enjoying

framing-psychology

There’s a battle going on. It happens in your brain. Do not be alarmed. It only affects every decision you’ve ever made and will ever make. It only affects your health, wealth and opinion and how you think and behave. No biggie.

icebergThe battle goes on beneath the surface of consciousness. That’s why you sometimes say, “Why did I do that? Did I say that? That wasn’t me.” Like everybody, you’re under a misconception. You think you know what influences you and how those influences affect you.

Freud (1915) described the conscious mind as the tip of the iceberg because a lot goes on beneath the surface (source). We can like or dislike something instantly without knowing why.

It goes like this (cue music: Ulf Söderberg “Tide” part 1).

chickenfreudpartyFirst you have a feeling, then you make up something to explain that feeling. The explanation becomes a label. The label is declared true. It influences you. You become a self-fulfilling prophecy primed by what you do.

Think badly and badly you become.

You’re framed by spin.

In You Are Not So Smart (2011) David McRaney wrote, “You move through life forming opinions and cobbling together a story about who you are… taken as a whole it seems real” (p. xi).

you-are-not-so-smartBut it isn’t.

It’s how you look at it. Out of the randomness of life you try to make sense and create meaning for yourself (McRaney, 2011). It’s what humans do. We interpret reality. We look at stars and see constellations. We see patterns in bullet holes on country signs.

With facial suggestions, we are “uniquely wired” to see faces in breakfast (source).

jesus-on-toast
Jesus on toast.

We connect the dots of what goes on by combining expectations (what we think will happen) with mental models (how we think something works) and five senses (source: Myth or Science?).

act-naturally
See: “Act Naturally,” 1963

With confidence you see your history like a movie with characters, plots, themes and settings. You see yourself as a protagonist, but it’s a beautiful confabulation. The truth is: You make yourself up as you go. You’re a work in progress and like Buck Owens and a Buckaroo think, “All I gotta do is act naturally.” 

You are the tale you tell. It’s “The Story of Me!” as told by you. Memories are daydreams: part true, part fantasy, but you believe them completely.

Look at your surroundings. Set your mind “Open!” Realize that what matters most is to enjoy the significance of existence by loving the life you are given and giving the life you are living.

sunset on melting snow.jpgThere’s nothing you must do. There’s no mountain you must climb. Success and failure don’t matter. Just contentment. Contentment is not death! Contentment is bliss! In dictionaries contentment and happiness are interchangeable.

loser-stampIt’s all in how you frame it. What’s your spin on things? How do you see yourself? Is life bliss-filled or disasterous? You decide. You choose. It’s simple really. Nothing to it. Live a pleasant life by living wisely, justly and well (Epicurus). And yet, living a pleasant life can be difficult when you’re with a species hell-bent on making the earth a landfill.

How is it that humans are such brilliant numbskulls (or is it boneheads)?

numbskull-boneheadIn 1982 when Alice Cooper (aka Vinnie Furnier) sang, “We’re all clones. All are one and one are all” (“Clones”) he anticipated a people without individuality singsonging, “No more problems on the way!” 

It’s not a new idea. People have always cloned around. In 1802 Willy Wordsworth put it this way:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; –
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

landfill

Why have humans declared war on nature? Is it because we construct reality and meaning within our minds? Is it because we have a bias towards confirming ourselves? Is it because we have a bias towards the present? What is it? The news is not good.

Is it any wonder so many want a new drug like Huey Lewis did?

Here we come to the crux of the matter. The trick to enjoying in the midst of humanity’s idiocy is in framing, priming and transcending.

larry-davidFraming is a bias towards a given choice depending how it’s presented. It’s how the cover of a book influences your judgement. Framing moves you to react in certain ways based on how your brain makes comparisons between loss/gain, good/bad, half-full/half-empty. In framing you decide what’s important.

Framing is how you find patterns in chaos to survive and create meaning out of meaninglessness. The way you choose to frame things determines how you see.

Amelie-Bridge-End
See: Amelie frames and primes les petits plaisirs (the little pleasures).

Priming happens when subtle triggers influence your behavior without your awareness (Gladwell, 2006). Almost everything you perceive with your senses can blitz you with associations in your mind and cause you to act in certain ways without your awareness.

For example, if asked to name a fruit and you see the word “RED,” you’re more likely to think “apple” than “banana.” The word “RED” is priming the word “apple” into your brain.

magritte
Detail of  René Magritte’s “Son of Man” (1964).

René Magritte painted a self-portrait with his face behind a green apple and said, “Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see” (source). Maybe that’s why we don’t see what’s in front of us. We’re looking for something hidden.

beacon-of-beauty

Priming works best when not over thinking. You know you’re priming when time disappears. The trick is to let human bumbling cruelty prime you for transcendence by framing it differently. Frame it: They don’t know what they’re doing! They’re doing the best they can. Frame yourself freedom and then see beauty in a dump.

kite“Transcend” comes from Latin trans-, meaning “beyond,” and scandare, meaning “to climb” (source). It’s simple: to transcend is to climb beyond your usual physical needs and realities.

Prime yourself aware! Create meaning! Climb beyond ordinary feeling. Transcend transcendence by enjoying.

References:

Glandwell, M. (2006). Blink. Little Brown & Company.
McRaney, D. (2011). You Are Not So Smart. Gotham Books.

Enjoy a Little Dream

tower_of_babel
“Tower of Babel” by Damian Parlicki.

A philosopher has a dream. In the dream she’s lying on her back beside a precarious tower. From her vantage point, it’s like she’s inside the Eiffel Tower looking up. The top looks far, far away.

Without a sound and ever so slowly – like a cargo ship setting out to sea – starting at the top, the tower begins to fall in slow motion straight down upon the dreamer.

With terror and disbelief she thinks, “That’s it. I’m dead.”

bottom-of-the-eiffel-tower-looking-up
Inside the Eiffel Tower looking up.

Within a minute she will be killed. The screaming words of AC/DC come to mind, “I’m back in black. I hit the sack. I’ve been too long. I’m glad to be back” (Back In Black, 1980) or as another poet put it:

This is the end, my only friend, the end.
Of our elaborate plans, the end.
Of everything that stands, the end.
No safety or surprise, the end (The Doors, “This Is the End,” 1967).

snuffed-candle

In death there is no pain, only regret.

It’s like the final scene in the the TV series The Sopranos. The family is in a diner talking and eating onion rings as “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey is playin’ on the jukebox. Just as Steve Perry sings, “Don’t stop!” BINK – it cuts to black silence and remains black silence for longer than is comfortable. Ten seconds elapse before credits roll.

The silent black nothingness surprises us. We want to go back, but can’t. It’s the silent slam of a door.

Some will win. Some will lose. Some were born to sing the blues.
Oh, the movie never ends. It goes on and on, and on, and on…
(Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin‘”, 1981).

AJ says, “Focus on the good times.” “Don’t be sarcastic,” says his father. “Isn’t that what you said one time? Try to remember the times that were good?” “I did?” says Tony with pause. “Yeah? Well, it’s true, I guess.

And so it is that we too focus on good times and let bad times roll off like duck water. It is now the dreamer who is included as one of “those people who died, died” like in the song by Jim Carroll.

And then… the dream ends. She wakes up. She sees her bed, a cat in the window and hears crows singing brightly, “Caa! Caa! Caa!” There is no tower. There never was. Dreamers see worlds behind closed eyes.

water-off-a-ducks-back“Is that what it feels like to die?” she wonders, looking around at what was old made new.

“Is it, BINK – cut to black silence, roll credits? What if death is like being born? How would you know? Do you remember being born? Do you know when you became aware of yourself as you?”

Is it not the case that as far back as you can remember, you’ve been you? Are you not the only you you’ve ever known? It’s always been you. It’s always been now.

And so it has been for anyone ever. All we know is now! Here you are then something happens – a tower falls, a bit of cancer: Cut to black silence. You’re gone then BINK! back from a dream beginning anew.

That could explain why squirrels and birds look so surprised.

time-is-fluid

Time feels permanent while you’re in it, but it isn’t. The year could be 1822, 1922 or 2022 – doesn’t matter – you roll in the time you’re in.

man-in-1822Flash – you’re at work. Splash – you’re eating dinner. Zip it’s tomorrow, all the while, without interruption, you’ve been yourself to you alone.

What if we each become aware of our self as we go along living from the beginning but the you-ness in each of us feels (and is) the same! Why not? Maybe ‘you’ is a relative term?

After all, we’re all ‘you’  to each other and ‘I’ to ourselves. Every night you close your eyes to disappear and every morning you open them to be yourself again and so does everyone all the time.

Everything is in motion. Cue music: “About Time” or “The Knick.”

cat-in-windowA woman says, “I’m Mavis. I live in Moose Jaw. I’m middle-aged, overweight and I work at Tim Hortons.”

Mavis has an idea of herself that others have come to share, but no one but Mavis knows what it’s like to be Mavis from birth to demise.

When Mavis is gone, only the idea of her will remain.

A man says, “I’m Archie from Arizona. I teach high school and play video games.” Archie has been acculturated. He knows who he is and goes around proving it. He judges others using himself as exemplar.

self-awareness

Charles Dickens wrote, “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other” (A Tale of Two Cities).

What is that secret? Can you see it? Peer into the pupil of another. What do you see? Do you see a black hole the same as your own? Maybe they’re not even just the same as in similar but the ‘same’ like the space around a star is the ‘same’ space near or far.

close-up-of-eye2
Eye see you.

A black hole isn’t a “hole” at all. It isn’t even black. It’s an orb in space that looks black because light can’t escape. If you jumped on one you’d descend towards it so slowly that “it would take an infinite amount of time” for you to be atomically disassembled and added to it (Universe Today).

Isn’t it odd how black holes look a lot like pupils in eyeballs, which, by the way, also absorb light rays (Wikipedia)?

black-hole
Artist’s conception of a black hole, Universe Today, 2015.

An old philosopher said, “Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death” (Schopenhauer, 1851). The question is: If your lifespan is 24 hours, how will you live it?

A trick to enjoying a rock and roll philosophy is to recognize the significance of existence and in Hard Times rock it like Ray Charles and in Good Times roll like the Cars.

Enjoy the role of you playing you always and forever (or at least until a tower falls on you).

The Point of Enjoyment

arrows pointing
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

A point, whether of an idea, joke or tapered object, is always arrived at in the immediate. You get the point when you get the point. Even if you don’t get the point right away, when you do get it, you get it at a precise moment.

do you see the point

In the game of darts you get points by getting the point of your dart to stick to a point aimed at, but over and above the mechanics of the game the real point is to enjoy it.

But why? Why do we enjoy what we do?

lawn-darts
Lawn Darts was enjoyed in the 1980s: 6,700 people were treated in hospital and three children died.

Science says that enjoyment is a matter of brain chemistry. A characteristic of people with depression and mental illness is anhedonia: an inability to gain pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences.

stuber
Art by Murfish.

Brain expert Dr. Stuber PhD might say (and did), “GABA neurons located in the VTA are just microns away from dopamine and are negative regulators of dopamine function… A dysfunction in these GABA neurons might potentially underlie different aspects of neuropsychiatric illness, such as depression” (UNC Healthcare).

Psychologists treat happiness as if it’s mysterious. They recommend working on a meaningful career, spending time with friends, savoring the day and so on, but happiness doesn’t come from outside.

Assuming your GABA neurons aren’t buzz-killing dopamine release, there are as many ways to enjoy as there are people but it boils down to one thing: We enjoy what we enjoy (because we enjoy it).

It’s circular – like Donna Summer singing, “Love to love you baby.”

circular-reasoning

X is true because of Y. Y is true because of X. We dance because it’s enjoyable. It’s enjoyable because we dance. We play to have fun and have fun when we play. If we’re forced to play, it isn’t play anymore. It’s emotion first, then realization and confabulation.

sprockets
Now we dance.

If the point of enjoyment is to enjoy, the question is: What is the meaning of true enjoyment? This was asked in Quora (a question-and-answer site) and people responded. (Note: names have been changed to protect the anonymous).

Tommy said enjoyment is, “Celebrating life, not one’s life; just life!”  Dieter said enjoyment is, “Living the moment.

live-the-moment

Sally listed enjoyments: “Looking at the smile of a new born baby. Eating Mango by plucking and stealing it from an orchard. Getting wet in rain without bothering about getting wet.”

captain obvious
Simon says, “Enjoy!”

Simon said, “Everyone has different meaning of enjoyment! They have different source of enjoyment but for me … it’s something which I do for myself!”

And there it is.

Maybe there’s a little Simon in all of us. There’s just something about one’s self that makes it special to one’s self. To you, there’s no you quite like you.

Psychologists say it’s good to love one’s self. Why, if there was no you – no you as a living organism with thoughts and feelings in an environment – there would be…what?

absolutely_nothing

But vain self-importance blocks the flow of enjoyment like crimping a garden hose. When things don’t go the way we want, we’re unhappy so the trick is to loosen up and enjoy what you get (see post: Is it serious?).

garden-hoseWe have a limited idea of who we are. Yes, we are each a bag of skin crowned by a cranium, but do we end in skin? What about air in lungs and energy from the sun in our bellies? Going into atoms we see nothing there – just energy waves. We’re energy waves. Not that this matters when you stub your toe, but a “hard” world is softened with a realization of how interconnected and diaphanous (light and insubstantial) this all is.

Philosopher Alan Watts saw interconnections, saying, “where there are no flowers there are no bees, and where there are no bees there are no flowers. They’re really one organism” (Conversation With Myself).

bee-and-flower

A dandelion seed has fine hairs allowing it to ride on the wind. The wind is, in a manner of speaking, a part of itself. Why do advertisers associate their product with love and happiness? It isn’t the product in itself that we want: it’s the feeling the product is said to impart.

happy3What you love is what you enjoy. Enjoyment is a one step process: Express love for something and you are happy.

Author of The Element (2009), Ken Robinson, said, “To be in your element you have to love it… Being good at something is not a good enough reason to do it…It’s about finding the thing that resonates within you most fully” (see Ken Robinson video).

There’s a little verse from an ancient Hindu text called the Rig Veda that tells of the tree of life and two birds. One bird eats the tree’s fruit (some good some bad) and the other watches. They represent two aspects of ourselves. We are the bird eating – we participate in the action of life (killing and eating), experiencing joy and sorrow – but in contemplation, we are the second bird who watches. The trick is to be aware of the second bird watching the first bird participating.

two-birds

You walk into a forest and suddenly you are struck by the wonder of this place. You feel the mystery of being and life itself. A cedar waxwing flies by. That such a creature should be there! That the universe should be here! That’s something that excites you to wonder.

And enjoy.

Enjoy Happiness from the Periphery

happiness

One day, in searching for “happiness” on Google (as many people do), happiness appeared as a man and woman in hip medieval clothing.

Is that how you picture happiness?

Is happiness a warm puppy like Charles Schultz said in 1962? Is happiness that simple? Is it a moment of satisfaction with whatever your “warm puppy” is?

happiness is a warm puppy

Or is happiness a warm gun as the Beatles sang it in 1968? Said John Lennon, “I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say” (Beatles Bible).

Project Happiness” (where the science of happiness meets the art of living) says that 10% of happiness is due to circumstance, 50% comes from genes, and 40% comes from activities like forgiveness and gratitude. With practice, they say, you can make yourself happy. But what if, instead of making yourself happy, you make someone happy?

What then?

self-deceptionIt’s strange. We feel so alone. Talk to someone and there’s a gulf between. We’re a universe apart. We don’t see how the consciousness looking back at us is the same as our own. The profound is hidden in the ordinary.

To look into another’s eyes and see love and mercy reflected there is a rare happiness. We grow up forming a healthy self-image but gain wisdom by letting it go (Jung).

A self-image is developed through what we say and think about ourselves and what others say of us. If that self-image is overly negative, inaccurate, or inflated, it creates problems.

fake smile2It’s hard to see a self-image (Latin ego “I”). It hides behind opinions believed true, but if you follow the trail of emotions it leaves behind (like anger at a slight, jealousy, a need to win and so on) there you find ego. It’s a condemning voice inside your head that’s critical and blaming.

But, “Smile!” says the research. “It’s good for your brain.” (Who cares if you look insane?)

The thinking is that if you’re not happy, there’s something wrong with you. Maybe that explains why antidepressant use went up 400% in the US between 2005–2008 (Harvard Medical School).

cartoon4Too bad they don’t work – at least, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (Huffington Post, 2011).

Kirsch (2014) said, “Instead of curing depression, popular antidepressants may induce a biological vulnerability making people more likely to become depressed in the future” (Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect).

So, “What are you gonna do?” (language warning)

First, we listen to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass play “Tijuana Taxi.” If your self-image sees you as a dancer, you will dance.

Then we search images for what “happiness” looks like.

images of happiness
“Happiness” image search results.

Happiness appears as beaches, beautiful skies, people with arms open wide at sunrise and jumping at sunset, we see ladies with balloons and a parasol soaking up sunshine and summer fields. The word “freedom” comes to mind.

Freedom: Old English freo meaning, “not in bondage, acting of one’s own will, noble, joyful” (Online Etymology Dictionary). Does freedom look like happiness?

freedom
“Freedom” image search results.

Yes it does. Again we see sunshine, that same woman with a parasol and people with arms open wide as if to fly. (Sinatra was onto something when he sang, “Fly Me To The Moon.”) The word “spirit” (as in: “happy spirits” and “free-spirited”) comes to mind.

spirit-of-love-3262Spirit: Latin “spiritus” meaning, “breathing” (life!).  Like “moo” or “BANG” such words mean their sound. Spirit is like that. It is an imitation of breathing (Online Etymology Dictionary).

An image search of spirit showed a Disney movie. Undeterred, we enter” “spiritual.”

spiritual.jpg
“Spiritual” image search results.

Again we see beautiful skies, sunshine, beaches and arms open wide. (Enya was onto something when she sang “Only Time.”

What-ifWhat if, instead of categorizing things into two opposites (either-or, self-other, good-bad, life-death, happy-sad…) we consider opposites as one process like a game of ping pong.

ping pong with willWithout ping there is no pong. Happiness (ping) goes with sadness (pong). Life (ping) goes with death (pong).

Happiness might not be about getting what you want and having a good time all the time. Happiness could be a love of life in all its aspects – pleasant and unpleasant.

kermit's discovery

A self-image is like putting on eye-glasses. As Clark Kent, the world looks different. How we think colours everything we see. Should you take off your glasses of personality, you might enjoy reality (even if it is fuzzy). Maybe that’s what a higher consciousness experience is: It’s a union with reality. You see everyone and everything as interconnected. You see beauty.

superman

When you focus on breathing, you are aware of it (in-out, in-out, repeat), but when you stop focusing, breathing continues. We are breathed in the same way that grass grows and produces the oxygen we need. It’s all a relationship. It’s all connection.

spiritual cartoon3Life is a doing. It’s happening (see the Supreme’s sing “The Happening,” 1967). We might feel isolated, but that isn’t how it is.

A feeling of happiness doesn’t depend on what you know or do. You can’t make progress in it. You can’t do anything or not do anything to get it.

Happiness comes when you are so adapted to pleasure and pain that you say, “I love it!” No matter what happens. Like the Bad Finger song, “Knock down the old grey wall. Be a part of it all. Nothing to say, nothing to see, nothing to do,” you get it because you got it (see: Bad Finger “No Matter What”).

zen cartoon.jpgLet go your eggo (aka ego) and go out there and let the universe happen as you.

Enjoy.

eggo-homestyle-waffles1.jpg

References

  1. Happiness (14th century) (Wikipedia)
  2. Beatles Bible
  3. Project Happiness
  4. How Smiling Changes Your Brain
  5. 5 Ways to Make Yourself Happier in the Next 5 Minutes (Psychology Today, 2014)
  6. Harvard Medical School
  7. Huffington Post (2011)
  8. Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect (2014)
  9. Online Etymology Dictionary.
  10. Science of Happiness

Come To Your Senses

quizzing glass
Two guys in a bar circa 1774 by Gabriel Bray (1750–1823).

Two guys are sitting in the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub, Nottingham, England. The time is 8:44 PM on a rainy Wednesday, May 4th, 1774. One man, named Humphrey, is wearing a dandy hat and holding a quizzing glass to his eye. Humphrey is rich, clever and bored. Beside Humphrey is Marcus. Marcus has no hat or quizzing glass. They call Marcus a fool but praise and blame don’t worry him. Marcus is not rich, clever or bored. Unlike Humphrey who has everything but contentment, Marcus has nothing but contentment.

quizzer
An 18th century quizzing glass or “quizzer” is a sign of wealth.

“Why are we here, Marcus?” asks Humphrey. “I’ve studied religion, philosophy, science. I’ve tried and I’ve tried but I can’t get no satisfaction! Are we here to enjoy (occasionally) and suffer (primarily) and then die?”

“Yes,” says Marcus. “Isn’t it great?”

No, thinks Humphrey. People are right. You are a fool.

“We are here, my dear Humphrey,” says Marcus smiling (almost exactly like a fool), “to enjoy the last of Brother Lionel’s winter ale.”

tankard of aleThere are men at the next table yelling. Humphrey leans close. “Look at them,” he says. (Marcus complies.) “As long as they are busy and entertained, they will be good but tonight these men will drink and look for a fight. Why? Boredom! And why? Because life has no meaning.”

Marcus looks long at Humphrey. (Someone drops a plate. Smash!) “You my friend,” says Marcus, “are in a muddle.” A muddle? thinks Humphrey. “Yes. A muddle,” says Marcus. “You want to do something but you think there’s nothing to do so you think, ‘What’s the point?’ and conclude: there isn’t one. But what you don’t see is that the point of life (Marcus points) is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”

Humphrey doesn’t move.

HumphreyMarcus holds up a flower. Men at the next table mimic. “What is this?” asks Marcus. A flower, thinks Humphrey. “Is this flower a thing?” Yes. It is a thing (weed actually). “What is a thing?” A thing is an object. “Am I a thing?” No. You are a man. “Why am I not a thing and this flower is?”

Humphrey isn’t sure (maybe Marcus is a thing).

Dandylion“What is the meaning of this thing?” asks Marcus of the flower. It has no meaning. “Would you agree that the purpose of this flower is to flower?” Possibly. “Could the meaning of a bird be that it birds?” Birds bird. Flowers flower. You, you. I get it. “Does not a blue sky mean what it is?” Humphrey isn’t sure. “The trouble is that we word the world. We think ourselves separate. We thing it, or, ‘thing-K’ it.” Marcus emphasizes the hard K sound.

Humphrey rolls his eyes.

ye-olde-trip-to-jerusalem-city-break-nottingham“When we were children, the world was what I’d call spiritual. We didn’t name. We didn’t categorize. We didn’t analyze. We enjoyed. One star was not better than another. We ran around without thinking, ‘Why are we running around?’ It’s like we were in Eden – not the Biblical place – but the feeling of delight, contentment, happiness and bliss.” 

tree3

“We were happy running around naked until we started to notice how we appeared to other selves who might judge. We felt self-conscious. Afraid. Anxious. As we got older we were no longer in the moment. We took ourselves out of time and place and located ourselves behind the eyes. We think of ourselves as within the brain and become like islands, separate and alone. We think there’s a thinker in there and the thinker is separate from the thought and the feeler is separate from the feeling.”

18th century serpent_playerBAM! Two tankards of ale are slammed onto the table by a beautiful barmaid. They pick up their drinks and enjoy as a musician plays chant tunes on a bass wind instrument called a serpent. “To enjoy or not to enjoy, that is the question,” says Marcus. “Enjoyment is a matter of coming to your senses, literally.”

“Interesting. We thing the world, so what do I do? Stop thing-ing?” asks Humphrey.

“No. Don’t do anything. Do nothing! Absolutely nothing – don’t even analyse. There’s nothing you can do that you’re not doing already. That’s the point. The world can’t stop what it’s doing. It is what it’s doing. Same as you.”

barmaid
Hannah Longworth, barmaid of the year 1774.

“The trick,” says Marcus, “is to pay attention like a child who is experiencing the world for the first time. To enter the kingdom of heaven on earth become like a child again. The world is not complicated. There are no problems. If you don’t believe me, try it. Nothing is stopping you from being vividly aware. You’re already having a direct experience, why not make it visionary? Start by not doing anything….: Go!

Humphrey looks at Marcus. Marcus looks at Humphrey. They sit perfectly still for a long time and then, ever so slowly, in unison, they turn their heads in opposite directions. They pan the room with their eyes and take it all in.

MarcusThe feeling within Humphrey switches from boredom to…. a feeling of music 200 years in the future -a feeling of openness to what is. He noticed little things – like the way the ceiling reflected in a puddle on the table, the way the barmaid moved and the men at the next table. Everyone’s face was angelic. He felt no separation between himself and the world.

candle2Humphrey and Marcus finished their ale and parted. Humphrey said he’d never forget being intensely aware. He thanked Marcus for pointing out the obvious and for showing him how to enjoy. A few days later, Humphrey died of an abscessed tooth.

They say he died happy.

 

Horizons, Games, Connections and Enjoyment

horizonPeople enjoy games. They say that “life is a game.” Who they are isn’t clear, but you know: “They say a lot of things.”

On the Internet Einstein is quoted as saying, “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” When he said this isn’t clear. It doesn’t sound like him.

the_problem_with_quotes_found_on_the_internet_saA web site with the tagline, “the best answer to any question,” said: “He (Einstein) wasn’t really big on advertising how he was better than other people,” (see: Quora.com).

The analogy of life as a game, isn’t a stretch. Life has rules (physical and man-made), winners and losers (depending on who you ask) and, like all games, life appears to end.

CheckeredGameofLifeMilton Bradley used to sell a portrait of Abraham Lincoln without a beard. When Lincoln grew a beard, sales dried up.

Such is life.

In 1860 Bradley came up with the first popular board game called the Checkered Game of Life. It had a moral message. According to Wikipedia, the object of the game was to land on “good” spaces, collect points, and reach “Happy Old Age” in the upper corner, opposite “Infancy” where you start.

The game evolved into a track now called The Game of Life. It simulates a person’s travels from school to jobs, to marriage and children. The purpose of the game is to enjoy it.

Such is life.

JoeSouth
Joe South (1940-2012) as he looked in 1970.

In 1969, Joe South observed: “Oh the games people play now. Every night and every day now. Never meaning what they say now. Never saying what they mean. And they wile away the hours, in their ivory towers, till they’re covered up with flowers, in the back of a black limousine.”

The song came from a 1964 book about the “games” human beings play in interacting with one another.

450px-Grantland_Rice_1921_04590r
Grantland Rice on the links in 1921.

In 1908 Grantland Rice, a Southern sport journalist, wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes; To mark against your name; He writes – not that you won or lost – But how you played the Game” (Alumnus Football). From this we get the saying it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

In the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Gartland Rice was played by Lane Smith (a Southerner).

bagger vance
Click image to see film clip of golf in the field.

The legend is based on the Bhagavad Gita which is about a warrior hero named Arjuna (Junah=Matt Damon) who refuses to fight (or play) until the god Bhagavan (Bagger Vance=Will Smith) helps him find his way through awareness of the field.

Bagger says, “You got to look with soft eyesSee the place where the tides and the seasons and the turnin’ of the Earth, all come togetherwhere everything that is becomes oneYou got to seek that place with your soul Junuh… Seek it with your hands. Don’t think about it… Feel it… Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be…”

In the story Junah (Matt Damon) failed when he concentrated on himself and worried about failure. He succeeded when he played to enjoy – with awareness from his senses. He succeeded when he forgot about himself and concentrated on doing the work as well as he could and identifying himself with the field. That is when he entered an infinite game. That is simple enjoyment.

Retired professor, James P. Carse, said in Finite and Infinite Games (1986) that there are two kinds of games: 1) a finite game – played for the purpose of winning; and, 2) an infinite game – played for the purpose of continuing to play (p. 3)

In a finite game there is an ending. There are boundaries. Opponents are known by their differences. Winning or losing is thought of in terms of one to the other and it’s imagined in terms of life or death. To play is a choice of spontaneous desire (Carse, SALT talk, 2005).

landscape2In an infinite game the rules or boundaries are like a horizon. It moves. Where it is depends on where you are. It’s ill-defined. Nature on this planet is our best example of an infinite game. It plays to continue to play. It plays to keep players in the game.

The rules in an infinite game allow players to continue without a limitation – not even death. It is infinite because limits are taken into play. “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries” (p. 10, Finite and Infinite Games).

Go into the field. Enjoy the game. As the song says, “It’s all inside you.”

Another Day. Another Banana.

Bananas-Perth-ZooHow do you describe the taste of a banana? It’s tricky. You can describe the taste up to a point, but it’s impossible to get across the actual flavour of a banana to someone else.

Taste is an individual experience. It’s subjective. You can know what a banana tastes like to yourself and you can have a general idea of what it’s like for another person, but you can’t know for sure what it tastes like to another. You can empathize and you can imagine, but that’s it. The same holds true for everything another person feels. You can understand on an intellectual level, but if someone is in pain, you can’t feel that person’s pain. The same is true for you. Only you know what a banana tastes like to you.

Someone could say, “By god! This is the best banana I ever had!” and you might or might not share this enthusiasm. It’s only a banana. What’s the big deal? You might like bananas too and on a conceptual level, you can understand someone’s enjoyment, but the trick to getting the same level of enjoyment as someone else is to embrace the sensation. Eating a banana could be all you need to enjoy feeling alive. Enjoyment is simple. Maybe you’ve been taking bananas for granted.

Do your worst

Real life as you are living it is probably different from what you might call the ideal life of the true and the beautiful. Life is diverse. It’s a jumble. People do their day-to-day thing, sometimes unsure if what they’re doing is what they should be doing and sometimes sure that what they’re doing is definitely not what they should be doing, but doing it anyway.

checkersDecision decides part of it. Indecision decides the rest. It’s like a game of checkers. You try to predict what another person is going to do, but you never know.

In checkers the game starts and pieces can only move forward. Pieces can either jump, get jumped, shuffle ahead or stay trapped – like you. You can plan seven moves ahead, but it doesn’t mean a thing if what you think is going to happen doesn’t. A good checker player can adapt quickly. He can lose without hostility. In the end, life is a draw.

To philosophize means to wrestle with the whole mad chaos of life as it is presented to you in daily work, in what you have to endure, and in the enjoyments that you get plunged into by chance. Instead of aiming at happiness – which comes and goes mysteriously – the thing to do is to force yourself to enjoy. Use will-power. Be brave. Be kind. Be amused and humble. Take baby steps. Look to the banana!

The trick to it

Baby step one: Exercise anger control.

It’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re mad. Teach yourself a special kind of self-control. Jingle change in your pocket, count to ten, take deep breaths, sky watch, cloud hover, listen to Brigitte Bardot – whatever it takes! Will yourself to be anger-free. Feel sorry for people who lose their temper. Let someone cut you off. Feel sorry for people who think life is a competition. The world is full of jokers. They’re funny that way. You’ll all be dead eventually so why not shrug it off? If you lose your temper, forget about it and try again. Keep your spirits up: No matter what.

Baby step two: Embrace surroundings.

If you see a sunset, look at it as a total sensory experience. It’s the best sunset you’ve seen all day. Take a minute to go into a sunset trance. If you’re with people, annoy them with expressions of sensual awareness. Be an artist of enjoyment. Embrace every form and colour, every curve and substance, every animal, vegetable and mineral that’s before you.

Two baby steps. That’s enough to start you falling forward. Hear the Whippoorwill Dance in your mind. Stare into space. Enjoy this improvised life. There are no curtain calls. Why not enjoy it?