The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.
Epictetus (first century A.D.)
I came across this quote and it captures the exact point I have been debating of late in my mind:
How much of my happiness should I structure by my life “external” as opposed to turning within. I mean, even Eckhart Tolle speaks of the enlightened person, being a singular incarnation, still feeling the lack, the imbalance of complete Yin and Yang.
I.E. we need People in our life!
But, Tolle says the lack will be felt “only on the surface.”
Hummmm. Epictetus includes that caveat, “as little as possible.” I think that’s important and I’ve been overlooking it.
Here, is a poem by Billy Collins. Not the one I was looking for, but it will do just fine.
I Ask You
What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?
It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside—
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.
But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.
No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles—
each a different height—
are singing in perfect harmony.
So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt—
frog at the edge of a pond—
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.
To me, Collins seems quite able to draw upon his own internal resources for his happiness. But, he also lives with a partner and a dog.
I have been sitting on my back deck these days, thinking of a river in the wilds,
wishing that I might camp at least one more time for a week in a place where the only other human light comes from a mile or so across the water in the night,
a place where loon and moose and otter are my only companions.
But, I am not up to the solo paddle.
There seems no way to get there anymore.
Then, I look up into the tree tops of my backyard and try to notice exactly what is going on up there. Isn’t the essence of the distant river also here?
The interesting part of writing for me is finding a point in a poem that allows me to slip into another dimension. Usually, that's moving from a literal plane to a completely hypothetical one. It's the hypothetical, I think, that makes us human.
Hummm, the hypothetical? Seems to me I might call it the transcendent.
Literal to hypothetical, concrete to abstract, Relative to Absolute.
It’s all external to internal,
the Ephemeral and Eternal juxtaposed.
Poetry has been saying that for a few thousand years.
Seize the day.
Do it now.
The sense behind that imperative is that we don't have an unlimited number of days.
Television says the same thing all the time—'Everything's going to be OK.' Contemporary novels are saying, 'Things are not OK.'
What poetry is saying is 'Life is beautiful but you're going to die.'
So much of poetry asks us to look at life from the perspective that death enhances life.