I live within movement. The cabs, the trains, the airplanes, the airport lounges, even the security checkpoints are my living room, my office, my route to work. The other day, someone was driving me to an event and asked if I would mind if we parked a little farther out and walked over. I almost didn’t understand the question. Asking if I mind traveling, by foot or any other way, is like asking if I mind breathing. It’s just something I do.
A few days ago, I made my train with two minutes to spare. I was sitting in a cab going nowhere and I finally asked the driver to stop so I could walk. I swept into the station, bought my ticket from a kiosk, and stepped right onto the train as it was pulling away. What if I hadn’t made it? Well, there are always other trains.
Right now, I’m tired. I’m sitting in a coffee shop downtown, in between meetings. I’ve been coming to this coffee shop for years, since long before my current career and travel schedule. I ran into the owner. How are things, I asked. He told me, “I pray good morning and I spend all day building relationships. How can things be better? These are things no one can ever take away.”
I’m reading Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy, which talks about the philosopher Seneca, who said, “the wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself.” The book so far talks a lot about how our emotional well-being is influenced less by our circumstances than we generally think. In a way, the book can be a bit depressing, as it suggests that one can be less angry, frustrated, and sad if we simply expect that bad things are likely to come our way. “We cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful.” “Because we are injured most by what we do not expect, and because we must expect everything, we must hold the possibility of disaster in mind at all times.”
But I sort of get the point and it doesn’t have to be depressing. Life has great stuff and life has depressing stuff and sometimes things are hard and sometimes they’re awesome and the trick to not getting stuck in the low spots is to keep going so you can get to another awesome spot. Why spend time being shocked and amazed that life can be hard when clearly this is something we all know?
The book also talks about Epicurus and how money spent doesn’t necessarily translate into happiness. The book concludes “happiness may be difficult to attain. The obstacles are not primarily financial.”
Of course, understanding that money isn’t the key to happiness doesn’t mean that the opposite is true. Going without money doesn’t lead to happiness either. As Seneca, living in his luxury villa noted, “I will despise whatever lies in the domain of Fortune, but if a choice is offered, I will choose the better half.”
As my friend the coffee shop owner said, happiness in life is more about the connections we make with people. I’ve written a lot in this journal about my moments of panic about being alone. I don’t panic so much these days. Everything tilted and when I next looked out, I realized I was measuring myself against societal standards for not being alone that I don’t even believe in.
I’ve written a lot about life as a collection of moments: joy and despair and longing and gratefulness and frustration and hope, but I don’t think that makes me a philosopher. Although philosophy is all about reason and I am exceedingly pragmatic. But the balance between reason and emotion fascinates me.
Life operates on the unpredictable nature of chaotic motion. And in that motion, I find peace.