Seeking Beauty

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Excerpt from Jonathan Haidt’s

The Happiness Hypothesis

“Now imagine yourself happily moving around your two-dimensional social world, a flat land where the X axis is closeness and the Y axis is hierarchy. Then one day, you see a person do something extraordinary, or you have an overwhelming experience of natural beauty, and you feel lifted “up.” …“This chapter is about the ancient truth that devoutly religious people grasp, and that secular thinkers often do not: that by our actions and our thoughts, we move up and down on a vertical dimension. ..An implication of this truth is that we are impoverished as human beings when we lose sight of this dimension and let our world collapse into two dimensions. Virtue is not the only cause of movement on the third dimension. The vastness and beauty of nature similarly stirs the soul. “

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 Experiencing beauty is a good feeling, for some, more powerful than sex. So it would make sense that you would want to maximize this feeling. It is non-addictive on the physical level, and there is no limit to how much you can create and enjoy. Once you develop the ability to create art, by the way you perceive, you are something like a man who can shit gold coins. If you had such wondrous bowl movements, you would certainly want to exercise this talent constantly, and the same is true for creating beauty.

Actually, the ability to create and enjoy beauty is better than the ability to make money. The beauty registers with a deep part of you, it expresses who and what you are, and has to do intimately with life. A person with a deep sense of beauty should be happy and have a good sense of who he is. Thus, the making of beauty is very close, in its own way, to meaning and purpose. Think deeply on this.

And while you do, consider “Success.” There are so many books telling you how to be a “Success.” And not all are totally crap, but they miss an essential point. You can be a success today, right now. Of course I can say just follow all the exercises in this book and you will be a success. But I want to get it down to just one exercise.

The “Success Exercise” is realizing what you are, and have right now. You are alive right now, most, if not all of your body, functions as expected. When you breathe deep you can detect odors and when you silence the inner voices, you can see the beauty about you. This is not something you might have in the future when you have a certain degree or car, or some other collection of things, it is right now. And if you don’t think you have it all right now, you never will, no matter what collection of junk you acquire. You may think success is being a billionaire. But there are so very many billionaires who would gladly trade places with you right now, even if it meant having zero possessions. They know that cancer has set their timer to running, or their doctor has told them more than once about the peculiarities of their heart that need work. Others have suffered grave losses, despite their wealth.  And so very many have lived their lives as if they were immortal, and just now realized they aren’t. And they ponder all the right nows that they didn’t pay attention to.

So start now young Jedi [no matter how old you are,] to take a moment and be a total success. Let me tell you how I do this. I go to my chair that overlooks the valley, and I am wearing my hearing aids so that when I play music on my iPhone, it goes straight to my ears. I start a favorite piece, it might be Yanni, or the theme to some movie, and I try to silence the inner dialogue for the length of that music. I rejoice in the sight, sound, and odor of the life about me, and I am grateful for this moment when I can enjoy it all.

Did I say that right? Do you understand what I am saying? It is not what you have, but what you are, and right now this moment, you Are.

 Realize it. Imagine that everything you ever wanted is in the house or garage, and then you walk in front of a mirror and see your wrinkled face and you can’t make it to the bathroom in time on your arthritic legs, then you would KNOW!

If you pursue excellence, you can do it. If you want adventurers, you can find them. For myself, I set out to pursue the goals of knowledge and martial arts. I have traveled far and met many people. I have built houses and boats and sailed many miles of open water. Pretty much I did what I set out to do. But for all that time, for all my adventurers I was grateful for the life of that one moment. And I basked in the beauty of those moments.

Now it’s your turn, grasshopper.

In the movie Blade Runner, the dying android’s says…

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off shoulder of Orion. I watched sea beams glitter in the darkness off the Tanhauser Gate. 

All those moments… will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.”

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You want to have these sights. And having them is not just a matter of taking banal selfies in exotic settings, rather it is in being able to see the beauty in something as mundane as how a table is set, with the various wine glasses partially full, and the lights flicker, while her hands dance about like two white doves mating. It could be a grouping of trees on your daily drive, and it can be the landscaping by some small house. This is all there for you to create with your desire.

Seek beauty and store these memories so that when it is your time to die, you can relish them all as if you were alone in some vast phantasmagorical art museum, whose works of art were your life’s perceptions. And as you wander alone through that vast collection of experiences and treasures, how can you help but be?

Our exercise for Seeking Beauty is to each day take one picture with your iPhone, and imagine that…

Still may Time hold some golden space

    Where I’ll unpack that scented store

Of song and flower and sky and face,

    And count, and touch, and turn them o’er,

 

So that when your heart beats its last, whether on a battlefield or in a hospice, there is a time warp, and you enter that phantasmagorical art museum we mentioned earlier. And here all your iPhotos are rendered perfect, some are as large as a two story wall, others are 8×10, and if you photographed an object, say a jewelry box or a suit of armor, it is there on a pedestal. And if you took a shot of an aquarium, it too is there, the gardens and forest you recorded are behind crystal clear windows that are sixteen feet by twenty-four feet and when you stand in front of that window, you will again smell the scent that went with that moment, and hear the sounds as well. If you were there with a loved one, you will almost hear them, you will feel them for a moment, before you move on to the next exhibit.