Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Search of Happiness with Walden for Company


A note of unruffled peace is borne on the wind from over the rippling waters of the pond of imagination.

A spot of philosophy is something that rarely appeals to our taste buds seasoned by eclectic worldly incidents and fast-paced virtual life. The events of the home and the world that surround us from dawn to the death of night are like the shrill noise made by a loud calling bell that extracts you out of a happy reverie in a reclusive pad. You listen to its sudden, sharp sound and sigh; then you open the door allowing the world with its often frivolous worries to come in.

Ageing under the weight of such worldly worries, I found myself sadly sipping the potion of despondence like many others that surround me. It was this pedestrian life and its normalcy, its mediocrity, and the fact that I was not doing, or rather not living, a life different that my counterparts that led me thinking. Was I happy, I wondered, living a life based on the strictures pronounced by the world and followed by its law-abiding citizens who, even if they wish, can seldom take a break? The idea of twinkling stars dying in the dark bedspread stretched taut abaft me came to my mind. I realized I would never want to be a star whose aspirations were extinguished because she jettisoned her own terms of life for the sake of others she knew. I realized that compromise is a drug more potent that Christie’s Strychnine.
Having finished my studies recently, I decided it was time to take a break for a few months and enjoy myself. I now had time at hand to do as I choose and this freedom, this sense of relishing leisure itself was a source of happiness to me. The thought that I could spend my days reading books I love, cooking, gardening or decorating my home made me beam. Nevertheless, I thought, in order to make these few months an experience to remember I should strive and shed off negativity for good and embrace happiness deliberately.

My idea of finding happiness as I had seldom felt before led me to browse the internet. My fingers tapped on the happy letters into the search box of the all-knowing web-encyclopedia and discovered that there are now manuals and personal stories about finding happiness. You punch in the word and the web provides you a list of codes which if followed will inevitably, or so some of the search results showed, lead you the ambrosia called happiness. As I found myself reading more and more of these manuals and self-stories about being happy, I felt powerless. I knew they would not do for me.

While I was switching off my computer smiling as I recalled some of the outrageous happy-codes I discovered  online in link with happiness and its nurture I sickness and in health, I stumbled on a little image done in yellow an indigo-blue that said “make happiness a habit.” It was something to think about and I dedicated my brain to the task.

Habits, as we know, are acquired sometimes advertently, but most of the time inadvertently. I remember an article I read in Reader’s Digest sometime ago which said that if you perform a task for three consecutive days; it will become part of our habitual activities. My task was to find peace and happiness, and I was more than keen to make happiness a habit. In my quest I turned to the one source I knew would never fail me: Walden, the book by the proponent of Transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau.  I had read Walden before, but my reading was detached. This time I was keen on imbibing the delicious philosophy, on tasting it and savoring it and storing its wellness in my system.
My first task prior to reading Walden was to limit my virtual time. I had observed it before that people present their imperfect life in such fascinating lime-light virtually that it makes you wonder if you are on a right footing. The deluge of unnecessary notifications, needless articles on popular culture and boring news are together a concoction that can unnerve anybody. We are becoming too social, and too much of anything, as we know, is not good. I wished to curb my glutinous appetite for virtual society and see the results. I wanted to check how I would feel being abstracted from the virtual world for a time being. My idea was to carve a Walden for me, a patch of verdant greenery whose velveteen smoothness would cover the imperfections of my life.
For seven days around ten in the morning after my husband went out I would take my yoga mat out into the porch and a glass of juice and sit and read Thoreau’s book. The pretty periwinkles performed their soothing terpsichorean feat under the music of the zephyr. They entertained me in between my readings. The pigeons I feed know me and would make their customary guttural noise whenever they saw me. I was entertained by the rain as well, their pattering noise together with the bedraggled vista accentuated by the myriad other noises of a city life came as a symphony I learned to love. It is beautiful at times to be alone. People fear loneliness because of boredom and other contingencies initiated by self-company; but I have never felt that way, at least nowadays I don’t.

There is a chapter titled Solitude in Walden that I best loved. Here Thoreau seemed to answer my own queries about human company. He says that nature, if given a chance, can be a more soothing companion than any mortal friend. And sitting on my porch day after day under the shadow of my little plant breathing the smell of the earth I couldn’t but agree. My switched-off cell phone beside me didn’t ring and that fact alone made me calm and peaceful. The idea that my present state of peace was not dependent on anybody, that I would not be extracted from the seat of self-induced solitude by a ring of any bell made me happy.

I finished Walden in a week and found myself strangely attracted to positivity. Negative thoughts of failing at things, of competing for unachieved goals seemed trivial. I was refreshed by my read. Often I spend my after-reading hours writing about my diurnal activity, and now as I check those daily entries I discover how they lack remorse or off-putting contemplation. They talk about Thoreau’s little hut and life how it must have been alone in the forest in the company of nature. There were storms and long wintry days under the blanket of snow, but Thoreau didn’t let them usher him back to town. His rendezvous with nature was exhilarating; he enjoyed the diurnal and seasonal variations and let himself imbibe that essential truth that nature plates before us: in it is God, in it is love, and in it is happiness.
 Delve in nature and seek your God was what Walden said to me. Of course, I couldn’t jettison my family life and head for the hills, but that didn’t stop me from sitting on my little porch and savoring the sight of my little garden. I never knew their brilliantine green, I saw it now. I never judged the glorious red of the hibiscus, the delicate texture of a Chinese rose or the fresh smell of a basil leaf when rubbed between the palms. I felt them all now. The squirrel shooing a crow and a pigeon flying with its wings spread above me were sights I enjoyed for the first time in my life with relish. Unbeknownst to me with every passing day I was becoming more and more contented. The habit came naturally and in three days my heart yearned every morning for its customary sojourn in the porch.

It is often said that a book is a friend for life that changes your thought and moulds your character. I believe Walden has done the same for me. It is my un-mechanical manual to happiness that works right for me. Ultimately, it is nature, it aloneness, it is philosophy and a little time away from the touch of the world that made me happier and at peace with myself. That was the culmination of my experiment to find happiness. I inferred that happiness can indeed be made a habit, provided we know where to find it. 

Image from the internet