In the Summer 2014 issue of The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture, Mark Edmundson, of the University of Virginia, addresses the happiness we forsake when we are too distracted to be absorbed in something we love.
In service of his point, he references William Wordsworth, who had the "ability to do one thing at a time,”; Bertrand Russell, who “believed that paying attention was a form of paying your dues in the interest of being able to possess the best that life offers," and T.S. Eliot, who said, “Teach us to sit still.”
We who love to contemplate our autonomy know of what they speak. The payoff of such focus? The deep absorption and happiness that Edmundson addresses. And the acquisition of a resourceful and substantive life that powerfully informs an independent and forthright voice as well as our day-to-day decisions and actions. Requiring generosity, an open-mind and authenticity, this autonomous voice is an accomplishment beyond comparison.
When we give it its due, this voice vets the forces acting on it—the assumptions, the weaknesses and the deadening protocols inherent in the scattered and intellectually uncurious life.
This autonomous voice also recognizes the meaningless posturing, the one-upmanship, and the superficiality of everyday conversation. It reflects upon the concepts that we use to understand ourselves—giving insight into the subjectivity of happiness. And it creates new reaches of expression based on intellectual honesty and sustained consideration of relevant matter.
The acquisition of a deep and substantive life also calls upon us to celebrate life. To speak with our love. To recognize its expression as an act of intelligence and grace. To hold the relationship, the family, the community together. It reminds us that other people are as real as we are, born like us to their own self-determining natures. We must connect with them in ways reciprocally beneficial; that is, we exchange value and declare it equivalent.
The journey to this sublime happiness, to the creation of the substance of our mind, the distance of our vision and the gravity of our soul is profoundly rewarding. When we’re absorbed by this journey, the heart heavy with distraction and worry is unweighted and the mind’s tumult is eased.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.
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