I’m sorry, I really am, about the whole thing. But then again, not sorry at all.
I’m far from sure that my own life requires defending, but I came up with this heading for my UK travel piece on my very first full day in Oxford this month. The title is of course borrowed from John Henry Newman’s spiritual autobiography. He was the leader of the mid-19th-century “Oxford Movement,” and wrote it to defend his religious beliefs, when he converted to Catholicism and abandoned his Anglican pulpit, later to become a cardinal.
Not that I know all that much about him, but he popped into my head as an avatar of the intellectual eminence that Oxford is steeped in. That eminence surged through me in a flood as I walked in Port Meadow on my first full day in Oxford, and thought of all the heady geniuses who had trod the very path I was on. Part of the meadow was drying mud instead of the pond it was on my previous acquaintance (see here), but that feeling of focused brainpower flooded over me like hot water over a teabag, releasing the following effusions.
I have absorbed the atmosphere, if not the substance, of Nat’s education. At Concord, I walked in the steps of Thoreau and Emerson (who also gave up his pulpit in pursuit of truth), Hawthorne and Alcott. At Swarthmore, I steeped in Quaker values and the botanic splendor of the campus. At Harvard, I followed the paths of William James and other intellectual heavyweights too numerous to list. And at Oxford, the same – long and distinguished centuries of elevated thought and substantial scholarship.
So here is a collection of my cloud thoughts, lofty and airy:
I propose a personal philosophy of radical ease. It’s an open question whether this philosophy is a justification of the life, or vice versa. Does the life justify the philosophy, or is the philosophy just a rationalization of my own predilections? Not for me to say, just to do and die, according to my own light.
What do I mean by radical ease? First off, I mean just what the words mean, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4/E:
Radical: free and reactive, basic and revolutionary, getting to the root of a word or a quantity or a problem.
Ease: comfort; freedom from pain, worry, or agitation, from constraint or embarrassment, from difficulty, hardship, or effort; naturalness; dexterity, facility; a state of rest, relaxation, or leisure. Works even better as a verb: to lessen discomfort, pain, or stress; alleviate, assuage, give respite to; loosen strain or pressure; reduce difficulty or trouble.
So my philosophy is radically different from most, by encouraging easiness, reducing difficulty and stress, relaxing about one’s ultimate aims as well as the day-to-day approach to existence. I aim to live my life at a sauntering pace, in free-floating composure or equilibrium. My philosophy is as much an expression of need as a statement of principle.