Brain Dropping #27
“Life ain’t no railway line / ain’t gonna get ya to bliss on time / the rails ain’t straight an’ they don’t shine / happiness ain’t just down the line.”
That was my attempt, years ago, to write a blues. Western Civilization’s idea of happiness has to do with a very straight, linear concept of cause and effect; be good – don’t question authority – pay attention at school – don’t rock the boat – work hard – and somewhere near the horizon you’ll achieve success and happiness. Freud discussed the “deferment of gratification” as a sign of the mature adult as opposed to the pewling demanding infant who wants “it” now! The “Eastern” idea of life as a meandering stream, the notion that chance is the driving engine of life, can free us from unreasonably high expectations. Emotionally we pay a high price for those dashed expectations – those life plans that go awry. I think the disaffection for those puritan precepts is the reason for the popularity of Zen and the Buddhist concept of “be here now”, made so popular by Richard Alpert aka Baba Ram Das. It is not a coincidence that the cultural doctrine of the deferment of pleasure and happiness, fits so neatly into the capitalist ethic in dealing with low wage workers. Like the lovable shoeshine boy Horatio Alger, if you play by the rules laid down by the plutocrats, great rewards await you. Think of the duplicity of this myth in regard to the pensioners of Detroit who are being asked to sacrifice a percentage of their pensions. As that great comedic philosopher, George Carlin has emphatically stated: “What the owners of this society want above all is obedient workers who believe in the American Dream and are not capable of critical thinking.” He goes on to say: “Remember, to believe in the American Dream you have to be asleep.”
But if happiness “ain’t just down the line” – where is it? Well, each of us will have to explore that question. My favorite answer is that happiness is not a steady state but rather a series of pulsating moments, of short duration, which we fail to notice in the course of a day. I got that from the great Shakespearean actor Ian Mckellen whose father was a true English eccentric. He believed that happiness was like sneezing in that it happens sporadically and without warning. Say you are having dinner with friends and a warm feeling of camaraderie comes over you; You barely take note of it before plunging back into your noodle soup. That, right there, was a happy moment. Or, sitting quietly in a comfortable zero gravity lawn chair on a cool Summer evening with your life partner next to you, and a Rosy-breasted Grossbeak alights on your feeder, not five feet from you, and you experience a feeling of tranqulity and rightness – there! – right there is happiness.
What Ian Mckellen’s eccentric father would do was to underscore the evanescent moment by shouting, at the top of his lungs, no matter where, on a busy street or a crowded restaurant – “This is it!!!!”