Doug Bruns

1.26.2017

In Happiness, Philosophy on January 26, 2017 at 7:13 pm

Cardiff, Ca

I was walking the beach this morning when I heard a woman talking behind me. Her voice grew increasingly loud and strained.  I turned and saw a runner. She was having a conversation on her phone. A few minutes later another runner passed me. I could hear music leaking from his ear buds. I used to run. I was a runner. I was not a runner on a phone. I was not a runner listening to music. I ran with all the focus and concentration I could muster. Running was the training of the body, concentration the training of the mind. Our minds are difficult things, flitting here and there.  A monkey swinging from branch to branch. Getting it under some fashion of control, bringing focus to our mind, is no small matter. If you are going to run. Run. If you are going to hold a conversation respect the other person and give them your full attention. It appears that everyone is interested in mindfulness these days. You don’t have to be sitting on a cushion to practice it. Concentrate. Focus. Please, we need our wits about us. The world is scrambled enough. Be a force of concentration.

* * *

Carole and I were having lunch at a nice restaurant yesterday. We sat at the bar. Behind us a man called for his waitress. He complained that there was a lemon in his water. He did not ask for a lemon in his water. He wanted it removed from the table immediately. It was a moment when an elder of a prior generation would have turned and said, “Shut up and drink it, you entitled bastard. There are children dying of thirst in Africa.” I listened, feeling as if I was in an alternate universe. “Oh my god,” the waitress said. She was dressed in black, head to toe. “I’m so sorry. And, like, I totally brag about our water too.” Alternate universe indeed.

* * *

“A man is as miserable as he thinks he is.” That is Seneca, the Stoic. He was an adviser to Nero. Eventually Nero went nuts on him, as despots do. Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself. He did, but not before botching the effort multiple times. The ancient philosophy of Stoicism is having a moment. There have been articles on Stoicism recently in the The New York Times (“How to be a Stoic“), the Guardian (“How Would the Stoics Cope Today?“), and The New Yorker (also titled, “How to be a Stoic“). Several new books about it are due. A sign of the times perhaps? Back to Seneca. If  one is as miserable as he or she thinks, does it not conversely follow that one is as happy as he or she thinks they are? If you’ve spent any time here at “…the house…” you know the theme: How best to live? The better turn of thought, however, is not how to live, but how to think. Figure that out and everything else follows. Ancient philosophers were judged not only on the philosophy they proclaimed, but also the life they lived. The life of the mind, measured as a function of existence. It is a refreshing thought in these troubling days, the evidence of disciplined intelligence as manifested in one’s life. Sadly, it seems a curiously unique notion.

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  1. I like what I assume was your pre-correction version: “I was walking the breach this morning.” Observing a breach in sensibilities while on the beach? Yes, an alternate universe.

    I have been looking for a way to share a poem I ran across recently. This seems to be the opportunity.

    The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

    • Thank you for sharing this, Susan. It is quite lovely, isn’t it? And provoking. I read it last night before rolling over and going to sleep. The last two lines, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” rolled through the caverns of my mind as I drifted off. What a wonderful question to ponder! I am glad to see you reading and sharing poetry. I know, as we’ve talked in the past, poetry has been a challenge to both of us. My readings and fallen off–and perhaps your’s are picking up. I hope so. You’ll have to tell me sometime how Mary Oliver came to you.

      Thanks again. Always a pleasure meeting you here at the house.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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