Firstly, apologies for the delay in posting anything. This is mostly because I have not really had much worth saying in recent days – or at least nothing worth saying which was clear enough to warrant trying to put into words. This time, however, I’d like to talk a little bit about something called harmony (by me) and something useful that I think I might have learned about it.
Now, when I say harmony, I am not talking about beatnik Nirvana, but rather that sensation that most people will have had come to them at one point or another, where they simply feel at peace with the world, like you are, for a brief period, exactly where you are meant to be. It’s difficult to describe with great precision, but you would typically find yourself smiling and feeling deeply content with your life and the world when it happens.
Basically, how we relate to each other defines the worth, happiness or other qualities that we get from the experience of each other.
It has often bugged me to know why this particular feeling comes and goes. Living most of my life feeling like that, or close to that, seems to be a rather blissful goal. Yet it so often seems as if the feeling simply comes from out of the blue and is gone soon after you come to reflect on it, leaving me to wonder what I did right that day to feel like that. I have checked my breakfast cereal, the witty repartee I was engaged in at the time, and a range of other variables, with no real progress as to what would make me feel such fleeting contentment during my day. Reading in the recent past a combination of things, most notably Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (thanks jonathan) and a philosophy paper about Ubuntu, and I think that a few pieces of this particular puzzle may finally be starting to fit into place. But let me start this story from the beginning.
In the first instance, the phil paper on Ubuntu (and yes, I hate using that word, for all of the connotations with mindless hippie communitarianism that it conjures up) argued for (whether it is correct or not is irrelevant) a society built on the maximising of relationships, rather than individuals. In more concrete terms, a society in which your relationship to me is more important than any particular quality about either of us (our benefit, comfort, rights, etc – these may well flow from having a good relationship, but individual primacy gives way to the importance of the relationship between those individuals). What was important in this idea is not about whether relationships are more important than the people having them, but rather the idea of there being a third component in human activity. There is you, there is me, and there is our relationship between each other – each different entities with their own qualities. The relationship cannot exist without the parties having it, but when they are present, any of a variety of relationships (love, hate, various other shades of complexity) could take place, defining the quality of our interaction. Basically, how we relate to each other defines the worth, happiness or other qualities that we get from the experience of each other.
Now Zen, filling in the other piece of this puzzle, argues for a notion of Quality – something which transcends the innate qualities of either the observer (me), or the world that I observe. Quality is not present in the subject being viewed, or in me as I view it, but is rather present in the manner in which I view the world. The relationship I have to it. Just as one can look at a piece of art and say it is (or is not) a ‘quality’ piece – this quality isn’t inherent in the work, or in me, but in the combination of various objective qualities in the piece relating to certain parts in me. This would be why some people like Jackson Pollock and some people think he is a nutter. It’s about the combination of you and the artist, not just them and what they have produced.
So, back to our original question about harmony and what brings it about. Well, I know it isn’t caused purely by me, or some quality I exhibit, because I am functionally the same person in the short spaces of time before, during and after such moments, and the feeling of being in touch and content with the world does not persist as long as I do. Furthermore, throughout my life I have been different versions of myself as I have experienced these fleeting moments, making it unlikely that there is a particular ‘me’ that contains it.
Equally, I have felt this way in a variety of different contexts – whether watching something truly beautiful on my travels, or just driving to or from work. It is not exceptional environments and circumstances, nor any place or subject which was particularly cerebral or ‘beautiful’ which consistently evokes such feelings. Furthermore, I have passed certain scenes or been in certain places many times, only once or twice actually feeling anything close to this ‘harmony’ that I am trying to find a cause for.
Given that it isn’t me. And it isn’t the surroundings, perhaps – if we take a leaf from the ideas above – it is something in how I relate to these surroundings. Specifically, a combination of what I am thinking of and feleing towards the particular context. It sounds stupidly simple, but perhaps the relationship I choose to have with the world at a particular time is the root cause of this feeling. And here we may possibly have something interesting going on. If I reflect on moments of contentment, they are always times in which I have realised or felt that I have a certain value to my place and direction at that precise moment. That I can believe my current context to be a necessary step in my life in a direction that makes me happy. There are two quick points to make here:
There is, somehow, something about it that gets me excited, energised.
The first is that I am actually present in the moment. Fully. I am aware of where I am. I am aware of what circumstances and relationships brought me here. And I am aware of where this moment is leading, without losing focus on where I am in favour of planning my next step, thinking about my destination or otherwise moving my thinking from here and now to some future or past point. The moment I begin to plan or drift my thinking to something else in a different place or time, the moment is lost.
The second point is that there is a value to the moment. There is, somehow, something about it that gets me excited, energised. This is the part that I am struggling with. I don’t yet quite know how to express what gives me this attitude, yet it is always and consistently present at the time that I feel this harmony. Part of it seems to be the feeling or awareness that my current point in time is correct, is where I am meant to be. Sort of a realisation that, once I stop thinking and planning for the future and stop to look at the here and now, I am excited to find that I have moved over my life in a positive and meaningful direction (for me).
From this relationship – the meaning that I find in being where I am and who I am – seems to come contentment, excitement and that unusual energy called harmony.
I don’t proclaim to have the problem solved, or even to be close to working out how to produce this value/quality relationship when it isn’t accidentally present. But I can’t help but feel that something in this general direction offers some really useful clues to chasing a state of mind that, compared to ninety percent of everyday life, would be a blissful place to live.