"Flag" (1954-55) by Jasper Johns
Tonight is July 3rd. In honor of our nation's birthday, I would like to share with you an essay that has meant a lot to me over the years. Written by John Perry Barlow, the former lyricist of the Grateful Dead, "The Pursuit of Emptiness" touches on our greatest strength and our greatest weakness as a nation.
Turning the famous and elusive utterance in The Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness" on its head, John Perry Barlow questions this unalienable right penned by Thomas Jefferson. For in Barlow's eyes, it makes little sense to "pursue" happiness in any form. He wisely quotes Chuang-Tzu, who says, "Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness."
And wholeheartedly I agree. In fact, right now I'm working on an article for this blog on the American culture of self-medication. Our impulse to self-medicate--not only with prescription drugs, but with food and exercise--seems closely related to the "pursuit of happiness" mentality.
The American people are after something, whether it's fame, recognition, love, wealth, sex, or satisfaction. What propels us is our insatiable demand for more. For awhile, this drive even kept our economy running.
The irony of happiness is this. Barlow quotes Swami Satchidananda:
If you run after things, nothing will come to you. Let things run after you. The sea never sends an invitation to the rivers. That's why they run to the sea. The sea is content. It doesn't want anything. That's the secret in life.A magical and lovely idea . . . "Let things run after you." Happiness is not something you pursue; happiness is something that pursues you.
The fireworks go off in the neighborhoods surrounding my house and I'm glad to be alive. I'm glad to be pursued by happiness . . . keep it coming . . .
To Read John Perry Barlow's "The Pursuit of Emptiness" click here.