By Robert Ross




“A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness resides in imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will and is gladly accepted.”
                                                                            — George Santayana,
                                                                                 Persons and Places

Imaginative reflection and judgement satisfying the will . . . a string of pleasures is not happiness . . . satisfies the will . . . the picture of one’s life . . . gladly accepted. Compelling words. Contemplative words. Reflective words.

Do I really want to go down this road? Do I want to write on this subject, on happiness, on satisfying the will? I write to uncover, to discover, to sort out, to find the truth. So what will I find in this self examination? My own anxiety is becoming noticeable.

Mr. Santayana’s statement suggests an inquiry. An injury into our lives, to reflect and conclude, to say yes or no, thumbs up or thumbs down or, perhaps to determine that the jury is still out. We’re asked to compare reality with dreams, reality with desires, reality with wishes. We’re asked to make an inquiry into our hearts, our souls. Although this inquiry is subjective and philosophical in nature, it’s an inquiry nonetheless.

The resistance to writing this particular column is undeniable. It shouldn’t be. After all, I’ve deemed myself Mr. Reflection, the king of the day dreamers, staring off into the sunset, or watching a crackling fire while retreating into my own thoughts. Hey, this writing should be a piece of cake. It’s what I enjoy doing. The problem is, it’s not too difficult to cast your eyes out over the deep blue Pacific ocean while listening to the waves cascading into the shoreline. And, it’s not too difficult to marvel at the beauty of such a sight. But when you’re are asked to cast your eyes inward, to grab a picture of your life as it is, and to compare that picture with your dreams — then reflecting becomes somewhat more unnerving. It’s one thing to write about a sunset, but it’s another to confess to yourself and others, your own state of satisfaction, your own state of happiness. All of this anxiety because I stumbled upon a quote by George Santayana.

George Santayana
For more than forty years San-tayana has been recognized as one of the world’s greatest and most original thinkers — a philosopher, poet and novelist. He was born in Madrid in 1863. He moved to Boston in 1872, and was educated at Harvard, where he became a professor of philosophy (1907-12). Although considered an American philosopher, he retained his Spanish nationality throughout his life. His writing career began as a poet with sonnets and verses, but he later became known as a philosopher and stylist, with such works as The Life of Reason, Realms of Being, Persons and Places and his novel The Last Puritan. He moved to Europe in 1912, staying in Oxford during WW1, then settling in Rome where he wrote until his death in 1952.

Stay on task
At this point, I would prefer to write a biography on George San-tayana, or stare at the ocean, hike a mountain trail, or play the guitar. But the question lingers . . . is it thumbs up or thumbs down? Does the external life, the one we’re living, the one I am living, match the internal dreams? Can I say gladly, that my will is satisfied?

Dreams and more dreams
The dreams in our lives are endless and ever changing. As we grow, they grow, as we change, they change. As we fulfill one, another becomes visible.

But I do have some core dreams that haven’t changed much since I was a child. They act as my compass. They guide me, and will continue to guide me through life. And these dreams always call for a response. I want to be appreciated in life . . . , am I appreciated? I want to be considered a success . . . , am I considered a success? I want to have great adventures in life . . . , do I have great adventures? I want people to ask me, what do I think about this, or what do I think about that, and then listen intently to my response. Do they? I want to be valued. Am I?

Self-serving desires — yes. But they make up who I am. They’re my compass. They guide each day’s goals, and each day’s evaluation. And in the end, they determine if the will, my will, is gladly satisfied.

So, the thumbs, my thumbs, are they up or down? Is the will gladly satisfied?

It’s a difficult question to answer with certainty. Sometimes they’re up, and sometimes they’re not. But I like to think, in general, that they’re “forty-five degrees up.” They’re in the process of being up. They’re struggling to be up. I like to think that my life is a work in progress, always moving forward, always attempting to complete the picture. A life employed in looking for the dreams, and striving to make them a reality. There is a will that is forever yearning, and has yet to be to be satisfied.

In the meantime, I found another quote by Mr. Santayana that might be a fitting end to the theme of this column: “There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval” . While we go about the business of living (and reflecting), let’s all enjoy the interval!

Copyright 1999 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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