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.”
Those of us with a philosophical curiosity and inclination, who love to contemplate our autonomy and take seriously living the examined life 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. This authorial voice, which requires generosity, an open-mind and authenticity, is an accomplishment beyond comparison.
When we sit still and give this voice it’s due, it vets the forces acting on it — the assumptions, the weaknesses and the deadening protocols inherent in the scattered and intellectually uncurious life. This voice recognizes the meaningless posturing, the one-upmanship and the superficiality of everyday conversation. This authorial voice is not satisfied with the mindless clichés concealing the value of a thoughtful subjective life and glossing over the terrible injustices that pock and pummel the earth. Instead, it focuses and reflects upon the concepts that we use to understand ourselves and gives insight into the subjectivity of happiness.
It takes effort, of course. But when we actually sit still and uncover the conceits, false witness and dehumanizing protocols that burden the uncurious life, we are better equipped to acknowledge and confront the chaos that life is: its mysteries, its challenges, its excitements, its contingencies. We’re enlivened and inspired.
In fact, with a little practice, we love and feel at ease with our explored consciousness. Such mindfulness also helps us to create new reaches of expression based on intellectual honesty and the ability to give sustained…