I am pleased to offer the first guest post in what I hope will be a variety of offerings by different authors. I hope to present authors' musings on the writing process, as well as musings on the vicissitudes of life itself in the words of various writers. This post is by Nili Alon Amit, whose book on the history of happiness is in press at Cambridge Scholars. Here is the forward to her book.
The simple variables are these: nature is vast, amazing, constant, eternal; we are small, temporary, mortal. In order to live as well as possible, we must find nature within ourselves: we must adhere to some kind of vastness, amazement, constancy and eternity within us, that is inspired by those of nature. We must find inner stability inspired by external transcendence. This is the delicate line that threads through ages and cultures in human definition of well-being or happiness: happiness is stability and transcendence.
A stable castle made of sand
A ray of light in the salty mist.
This poem composed itself as I was jogging along the beautiful shoreline of Marina del Rey, Los Angeles. I find this poem descriptive of the human condition and search for happiness; the world is ever changing, a gushing ocean. All we can do is build our stable castles in the sand - stable for as long as sand castles can stand. The hope we cling to is the ray of light pervading the mist from above and beyond; the ocean can wash and bury us and our castles, but the ray of light will always prevail, constant, alive.
I keep jogging every morning in order to maintain joy in my life. This regular activity helps me find structure in the otherwise chaotic times we all experience during these days of Corona. No matter how much we fortify our sand castles, we can never predict the size of the next wave the ocean will bring. All we can do is find regularity and strength in our lives, and look up to the vastness of the sky in the hope that transcendence will keep us sane, balanced, and well.
The regularity of my morning runs brings regular encounters with people who also find these hours suitable for a beach excursion. One of them is a middle-aged woman, who every morning walks the beach barefoot and smiling. She stops people on the beach with a smile and a message. Every morning the message is different, sometimes religious, sometimes poetic, always aimed at self-help. Sometimes the messages are handed out in writing. A message I particularly remember is: If you make a connection with the immortal God, your own soul becomes eternal.
Philosophy, literature and religion are all about transcendence - finding a vantage point to review and rethink our lives. Good works of literature, in the words of the Peruvian Literature Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, “... open our eyes to unknown aspects of our own condition. They enable us to explore and to understand more fully the common human abyss.” ( Why Literature? - The premature obituary of the book. The New Republic, 2001). Good literature incorporates transcendent and universal aspects, and gives the reader a sense of elevation. It strengthens our reflective capacities, fortifies our castles, and maintains our connection with transcendent rays of light. Good literature improves the human condition, and the constant human condition is a strife for happiness. In the words of Aristotle, Happiness, therefore, being found to be something final and self-sufficient, is the End at which all actions aim. (Nicomachean Ethics 1:7)
Happiness is a stable sand castle that is kept safe from the ocean and is immersed in the light of the sun. Happiness is stability and transcendence.
Happiness – Stability and Transcendence
A Quest for Happiness through Western Religion, Philosophy, Mysticism and Poetry
Nili Alon Amit