Sunday, November 14, 2004

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Montaigne's essay, "Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us," is a short piece about the human tendency to worry about the future instead of paying attention to the present. A very Zen sort of essay this one. Montaigne observes, "We are never 'at home': we are always outside ourselves. Fear, desire, hope, impel us towards the future; they rob us of feelings and concern for what now is, in order to spend time over what will be--even when ourselves shall be no more." That last part there, worrying about things that that will happen when we are dead, does not mean concern for our families, but rather concern over the pomp and circumstance of our funerals, who will be there, who won't; how we will be remembered, what our reputation will be; whether or not the business or the army or whatever endeavors we were involved in will continue how we want them to. All these things are ones that really don't matter, we will be dead and will neither know nor care what happens. But still we worry and pass up opportunities in the here and now. In order for a person to stop worrying about the future, Montaigne insists, the first thing that must be done is to learn "to know what he is and what is properly his. And whoever does know himself never considers external things to be his; above all other things he loves and cultivates himself: he rejects excessive concerns as well as useless thoughts and resolutions." Pretty good advice. But as we all know it is easier said than done. Still, it's sort of a comfort to know that it is something that has afflicted humans for a very long time and isn't just a symptom of our modern times. That doesn't let us off the hook though. Next week's Montaigne essay: "That the Taste of Good and Evil Things Depends in Large Part on the Opinion We Have of Them"