Sunday morning happiness

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If the satisfaction of an old man drinking a glass of wine counts for nothing, then production and wealth are only hollow myths; they have meaning only if they are capable of being retrieved in individual and living joy. The saving of time and the conquest of leisure have no meaning if we are not moved by the laugh of a child at play.

Simone de Beauvoir

What will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?

Bertrand Russell

bright colours in dark times

Firecracker ceremony, Chinatown, New York. One day after Trump enacts an illegal ban on immigration.

An ancient tradition, the loud noises and bright colours so enjoyed by children are meant to scare off evil spirits. Silly string replaces ribbon these days, but the helplessness that drove our ancestors to superstition befits us still in these uncertain times.

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ways of seeing

“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….

One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

John Berger

Men will make beauty inaccessible to you by trying to leave their mark on the way you see the world, the way you see your own naked body. They might tell you what to think about oil paintings of fruit bowls in order to validate their own two eyes. But to experience beauty is to connect the seemingly disparate, banal objects of your own lived experiences in new and extraordinary ways. As women, we must never neglect the primacy of our own encounters with the world, lest we give up our ability to experience real beauty.

“We Don’t Need the Empire to Give us Anything.”

An excerpt from “My Life,” a conversation between Ignacio Ramonet and Fidel Castro:

Could you tell me what your salary is?

My salary, at the exchange rate of twenty-five pesos per dollar, is thirty dollars a month…

I can say that a formula has been applied: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. And so my needs, my personal needs, are really very few, and I’ve never had an increase in salary…

A person is at peace in his own mind, really happy, strong, with that sort of rule.”

“Gratitude is heaven itself”

“In Pala,” she explained, “we don’t say grace before meals. We say it with meals. Or rather we don’t say grace; we chew it.”

“Chew it?”

“Grace is the first mouthful of each course—chewed and chewed until there’s nothing left of it. And all the time you’re chewing you pay attention to the flavor of the food, to its consistency and temperature, to the pressures on your teeth and the feel of the muscles in your jaw.”

“And meanwhile, I suppose, you give thanks to the Enlightened One, or Shiva, or whoever it may be?”

Shanta shook her head emphatically. “That would distract your attention, and attention is the whole point. Attention to the experience of something given, something you haven’t invented. Not the memory of a form of words addressed to somebody in your imagination.”

Aldous Huxley’s utopian Island makes for an excellent reminder of the ideals to aspire to as I start a new life in the bustling city.  In stark contrast to the ethos of Manhattanites (whose prerogative it is to never “take yes for an answer”), Huxley gifts us unenlightened folk of Greater Rendang with a refresher course in common-sense well-being. In spite of millennia of economic and technological advancement, we’re no better at coping with the brutal and impersonal nature of existence than ancient philosophers of the East, with their prescription of mindfulness, gratitude, and the occasional psychedelic trip.

The features of Palanese society range from the far-fetched and fantastical (Mutual Adoption Clubs provide children with a cohort of fair-minded parental figures who are miraculously impartial to their blood-kin) to categorical common sense (rock-climbing and other physical exertions serve as a constructive outlet for aggression).

Among my favourite social norms is the almost whimsical idea of “chewing grace.” Huxley was clearly a proponent of “mindful eating,” before it was cool.

Whatever you call it, I’ve been working to make a habit of the practice in everyday life. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember to pay attention to the food you eat, even while you’re eating it. But as busy as the work days can get, it is a small miracle how content I feel when I consciously take in the plenitude of comfort in my life, if only for a few short moments.

As cliché as the saying may be, there is an enormous amount of truth in William Blake’s conviction that “gratitude is heaven itself.”