The Good Life
What does it mean to live well? How can you tell if you’re living that way?
It seems like there are so many conflicting ideas out there about what constitutes “success” and what we individually or collectively should or shouldn’t be striving towards...
I ask myself these types of questions every day. I know that vigilance is required to stay on course. And often vigilance means keeping your eyes open in the darkness, even when you cannot see. And being there for the listening, wholly present with the need. Over time, I’ve found a number of answers under this system of intuitive discipline. But moreso, I’ve learned to trust in the process of investigation, trial and discovery.
I always come back to this passage from the Alan Watts essay, the Value of Psychotic Experience:
Now the thing is that we are living in this situation where everybody knows what they’re against, even if they say ‘I’m against the war in Vietnam. I am against discrimination against colored people, or against any different race than the discolored race,’ and so on. Yeah, so what? But it’s not enough to feel like that; that’s nothing. You must have some completely concrete vision of what you would like, and therefore I’m making a serious proposition that everybody who goes into college should as an entrance examination have the task of writing an essay on his idea of heaven, in which he is asked to be absolutely specific. He is not allowed, for example, to say ‘I would like to have a very beautiful girl to live with.’ What do you mean by a beautiful girl? Exactly how, and in what way? Specifically. You know, down to the last wiggle of the hips, and down to every kind of expression of character and socialbility and her interests and all. Be specific! And about everything like that. ‘I would like a beautiful house to live in.’ Just what exactly do you mean by a beautiful house? Well you’ve suddenly got to study architecture. You see, and finally, this preliminary essay on ‘My Idea of Heaven’ turns into his doctoral dissertation.
The through-line of that idea, for me, is that in the sheer act of trying to rigorously define down to specific details what constitutes for you “the Good Life” causes you essentially to adopt those principles, attributes and behaviors in your life. At first in emulation, and eventually in actuality.
I’ve yet to find a more concrete and perhaps universally applicable methodology — because it doesn’t tell you the end goal. It doesn’t tell you that your ideal life will take such and such a shape. And that if it doesn’t, you’re a failure and a fool. It’s just focused on the observation, the ideation and the doing. And in the end, what else is there?