Friday, August 12, 2011

The Art of Happiness 9


The Dalai Lama proposes five ways of establishing good relationships with others, viz., (i) use reason to educate the individual about the value and practical benefits of practising compassion, (ii) establish empathy by use of the imagination in deliberately going through in one’s mind how X or Y would be feeling by placing oneself in their shoes, and as they say attempt figuratively to walk some miles in their moccasins, (iii) always start from what we have in common with others – our basic humanity, (iv) appreciate the background of everyone we meet if we possibly can become aware of it and (v) always be open-minded and honest in our dealings with others.

The Myth of Romance

Young couple on the beach at Sant'Andrea, August, 2011
I have touched upon this many times before in these posts. Undoubtedly, the early twentieth century pedalled this myth to a greater extent than did the nineteenth century with the advent of the movie or cinema industry which raised the idea of stars, of beauty, of ideal one-to-one relationships to the nth power. It was the ideal to be young and beautiful and to be in love with the perfect partner. There was much money to be made, and indeed there still is, from pedalling this myth. People will pay exorbitant amounts to attempt to achieve this myth in their own lives.

However, Romantic love per se had begun to be expressed first in the poetry of the Troubadours of Provence who wrote brilliant and over-wrought love poems for their beloved ones. In brief, at the risk of a little oversimplification, the Romantic Movement grew up in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in reaction to the over-rationalization of things, and indeed of humanity itself, in that period of reason ascendant known as the Enlightenment. Writers and artists began to place much more premium on the emotions and the feelings rather than reason alone. In England, the Romantic Movement was known primarily through the poets William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and of course through the writings of the poet-philosopher and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The latter had imbibed a lot of his philosophy from the German Romantic writers.

While all of this poetry and all the novels and films springing from their notion of Romantic love may be momentarily moving, they are merely fleeting and momentary amusements. Real love and real relationships are of a different order. In the day to day reality of work and living, marriages fail, people fall out of love just as quickly as they fall into it. Recently a carpenter who was doing some work for me in my own home remarked that both his sons were separated and he lamented the fact that young people seem very un-inclined to work at their relationships. He felt that his sons took the easy way out to some extent. I could tell from this man that he was a relaxed, easy-going sort, a hard and consistent worker, if slow and precise, who liked to smoke his pipe after having drunk his tea. There was a lot of wisdom in what he was saying.

I also liked Cutler’s quotation from Euripides on the subject of marriage: “Marry and it may go well. But when a marriage fails, then those that marry live at home in hell.” (Quoted, The Art of Happiness, p. 78)
A little bit of Mythology

I always feel that a little bit of mythology is good for the soul. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates tells the story of the myth of Aristophanes, concerning the origin of sexual love. According to this myth, the original inhabitants of planet Earth were round creatures with four hands and four feet and with their back and sides forming a circle. These self-sufficient sexless beings were very arrogant and repeatedly attacked the gods. To punish them, Zeus hurled thunderbolts at them and split them apart. Each creature was now two, each half longing to merge with its other half.

Within this mythical conception of sexual love, Eros can be visualized as the drive towards passionate or romantic love which is based on the ancient desire for fusion with the other half. It seems to be a universal unconscious human need. This feeling involves the sensation of merging with the other. Also mysticism and spirituality became also to be seen as involving the sensation of merging with the Divine or with the One, the source and summit and origin of the very universe.

There are also some writers and scholars who maintain that the feeling of being in love re-captures the physical bond of the baby with the mother in the womb.


I’ll finish this post with an extended quotation from Dr Cutler as it places Romantic love in context:

It seems that as a source of happiness, romance leaves a lot to be desired. And perhaps the Dalai lama was not far off the mark in rejecting the notion of romance as a basis for a relationship and in describing romance as merely “ a fantasy...unobtainable,” something not worthy of our efforts. On close examination, perhaps he was objectively describing the nature of romance rather than providing a negative value judgement coloored by his years of training as a monk. Even an objective reference source such as the dictionary, which contains well over a dozen definitions of “romance” and “romantic” is liberally peppered with phrases such as “a fictitious tale,” “an exaggeration,” “a falsehood,” “fanciful or imaginative,” “not practical,” “without a basis in fact,” “characteristic of or preoccupied with idealized love-making or courting,” and so on. It is apparent that somewhere along the road of Western civilization a change has taken place. The ancient concept of Eros, with the underlying sense of becoming one, of fusion with another, has taken on new meaning. Romance has acquired an artificial quality, with flavours of fraudulence and deception, the quality that had led Oscar Wilde to bleakly observe, “When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends up by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. (Ibid., pp.89-90)

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