I have had the wonderful experience of living in one of the most romantic places in the world: Oxford. Arguably one of the most valued historical cities, inspiring thousands to change the world through their newly discovered ideas. Some of the most famous that I recognized being John Locke, John Wesley, Oscar Wilde, TS Eliot, Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, including more recent public figures like Richard Dawkins, John C. Lennox, and Bill Clinton.
It was not once that I walked by the Radcliffe Square to City Church, or to the other side of Oxford, passing Magdalen College and the famous Magdalen bridge. Going for an early morning tea to fabulous cafe’s in the centre of the city. I would enjoy my sprints at Park Meadow or my bike rides alongside the Thames River, watching the sunset sing in red colors, enjoying a book on the benches of these famous parks. I sat untouched by the world’s troubles sitting in St. Mary’s church just past the City Centre. There was joy as I was discovering new places in Oxford I had not visited before. We would sit in the oldest libraries, listen to choirs sing in extravagant churches, echoing the sound of completeness (or absoluteness). I thought these experiences and memories to be something vast I could not contain in myself. I would sit there listening to something that I would not be able to describe. I was a mere child experiencing light for the first time; being reborn into a world of dark hostility. My fingers would point at objects and I cried as I could not communicate my true desires, what I craved, not for the sake of pleasure. I would desire these things just as an infant would desire food, for survival.
I read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I considered myself being that young man, struggling with my faith, my sexuality, my upbringing and the lies: the darkness that was disguised in the beauty of the richness of the stars.
The owner of those stars, my friend, God abandoned me. I felt him leave me as I was in my room — alone. I never felt that alone. He must of left me. What I once found to be my only source of intellectual rest and emotional peace was gone. And I quickly became bitter against him. I hated God. It was not a ridiculous hatred, my thoughts burned against him. I wanted to devote my life in disproving his affection for me.
I would pray and there would be no answer. My happiness had to be found elsewhere, apart from him. I could not find it so much in my being. I would focus on outside of my being, pointing to something else that I had not yet the opportunity to find. I did not want people to look at me, but to look beyond me to something greater. I wanted to be a creator of something that is greater than myself. Something that I found in living and admiring the wonderful city of Oxford. This would be my happiness. I realized that it wouldn’t be this simple. My time in this romantic and scenic city would well describe what I was looking for and why I couldn’t find it.
As I first arrived in Oxford, I would not consider it a long visit. I stayed for much longer than I expected. It led to a shaking of character, an emotional earthquake that left me isolated, thinking there was no one who cared about my well-being. Not even the closest of mentors.
I was naked. I could not hide behind my walls any longer. I had to face myself in a new fashion, one that I had not considered before. I had to face my doubts in front of everyone, alone. My land destroyed by the intellectual and emotional haunting of questions that remained. Somewhere deep I thought I did have an answer, later I would appreciate that it was more of a decision not to believe; to hate.
This was my quest for a full on pursuit of having “fun”. Which I have never encountered before in my life. At least not in such intensity. I loved my new way. I desensitized myself to guilt. I lived life as somewhat of a hedonist, finding me running hopelessly with no vision of a finish line, attempting to grab the air with no avail. I know it seems counter-descriptive calling yourself “somewhat of a hedonist”. I use the word somewhat because I was a hedonist in my own capability of achieving these desires. I could not attain something I did not have. So within the realm of my capabilities I achieved pleasure.
Happiness is not meant to last. This is something that temporary 21st century humans of the westernized culture can not cope with. They not only do not understand it but they fail to teach us how to deal with it individually. We think that our way is the correct way. We always believe that our opinions must be the right ones. I thought to myself, what if this would not be the case?
I recently read an essay of CS Lewis in God in the Dock, in it Lewis tackles my problem with happiness: “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” (p. 52)
I want happiness to stay. And so I went through three stages of my young being, which I will call “badness”, “goodness” and “the in between”. But what needs to be remembered is that my desire for happiness to stay, would not leave throughout these stages.
I was drunk, I would think of myself as popular. I was nice and quiet, which people liked. I loved the taste of Guinness. I loved playing pool, driving in the car past the green farms in Wolvercote, reminding me of the fantastical accounts from the Lord of the Rings of The Shire.
It was the club, the beer, the coming home, the travelling, the coffee in the midweek and the time to myself of isolation that I came to love. I worked hard and learnt to enjoy it’s fruit in new ways. We went out for dinner, we celebrated ourselves, our accomplishments — or things that seemed like accomplishments. The people I lived with became not only my friends, but family.
I remember thinking, what if this disappears? Which it most likely would. Shortly, my closest of friends left Oxford to their own homes, some travelling to different continents.
If my happiness would disappear I’d see that there may not be a finish line to my run. I slowly recollected from myself that I was trying to grab on to air. I lived in the moment as never before. Nothing was holding me down, I had dropped out of my University studies in Portsmouth and moved to the ultimate bachelor life in Oxford. Undoubtedly so, we lived messy and lazy lives.
If there was an opportunity to get something I would get it, no matter the object. And yet I would always be reminded of my youthfulness. My incapability to express myself.
I describe this as badness because I would try to use all the knowledge of what was considered as “bad” when I was younger and do it. But still, I was nice. I would remain unselfish which is what made others like me in a unique way. I wasn’t the main character in a story. I would be the funny guy who would pop in in the middle of the film and do something foolish and leave before the ending.
Being high was a time with friends making fun of the day or enjoying isolation with my guitar. Being drunk was an opportunity to enjoy music in a new way. An unembarrassed way. Although, there was an imbalance. I had to learn how to enjoy things in the middle of my circumstances not outside of them, as I have been taught in Christianity.
I was buying any piece of literature I could on how to create happiness. How do I construct it for myself? I was stricken with shame along the way as I engaged myself physically with a friend and later on overheard her being embarrassed and dismissing it.
No one would talk to me about my emotions. There is nothing lonelier than a man who thinks about his thoughts in the midst of an especially unreflective community of twenty-somethings.
My quest for all that is bad was deconstructed by it’s own pursuit. I chased money. I had all that I needed: good food, good clothes, good drinks, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, living in one of the most peaceful locations in Oxford.
Among others, even the famous Walter Hooper was envious of my living spaces at the Trout. “What a romantic place to live at?” he said enthusiastically, as I had the wonderful experience of talking with him briefly at the Socrates in the City event in Oxford, October 2015.
I chased women and could not have what I desired and once I gained what I desired I found it too hot to hold onto any longer. What began as friendship led to my craving of something more. This more was the connection I was looking for. I wanted something lasting but I picked fruit from the tree of instant gratification that I planted in my garden. I was not planning for the future, and when the famine hit my garden, I quickly starved, returning home to get rest and food.
This acquaintance of mine was someone I talked to about our pasts, and insecurities. I was holding to her desperately. I needed this emotional connection, that for a long time I craved. But her disinterest left me burning my hands. Sleep would turn into a painful event. Days-off would be a reminder of my dead-end chase for happiness.
There is no way to overstate the feelings that I had in my heart. Suffering was what made me leave the God I once loved. I threw him off his throne. I overruled the Kingdom he created. And I put other things on the graceful seat of his rule. And now suffering became the thing that wanted me to come back to the God I knew. I wanted to awaken that faith. And as I talked to the statue of Aslan that mildly cold night on Christmas Day, I was reminded of God’s absence in my life.
God was meant to be controlled. “You haven’t thought about this as much as I have, Christian.” I would think to myself. “I was there on the frontline, while you were comfortable in your walls and in your small communities. You go on these trips and think that you have found it? What about these people, my family? They also feel like they have found it. What if you are wrong?”
I dared to stand up to the tyranny of Jesus Christ and put him in the place where he began. In the humble barn in Nazareth. That’s who he was. A cult that was raised behind him was not his intention, but the ambitious intention of the ones who followed him. And I know your immediate response to that.
“But who would give up his life for a lie?”
Many have, and many will.
This is not meant to be a defence of a position, but of a perspective. God’s not dead. I put him in a prison. He is very much alive, I thought. I was just in charge of him.
Let me put the people I want to on my throne. Badness, please rule me. I want you. Why do you leave me alone? I left Oxford hurting. Badness had felt good, but just as eating candies if you do not care for your teeth you will get the toothaches, the cavities. I left myself untamed and badness came back to sting.
Maybe my inner discussions were wrong. I think that my viewing of happiness was from outside my bubble of belief, in the past. Which happened to be the Christian view. I believed that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him. I believed in something that was termed “Christian Hedonism”.
What if my looking at Christianity and it’s guidance on happiness from outside the bubble was not the correct way. I had to look at it from the bubble, but not excluding my newly found “freedom” of badness. And so I tried to include goodness into my badness.
I created a path away from grasping all I could and living in a “higher state of being”. A peaceful state resembling the city I missed so much.
I know what it feels like to have it. I forgot what it feels like to forsake it; to forsake pleasure.
I do not like the one sided views of many pieces of literature nowadays.
You have books and quotes that are read as if they were true. I am not trying to say that this is the right way. I did not describe these three steps of happiness as “the three steps of happiness”, but as “my three stages of happiness”.
And also, please let me include that, this does not have to be correct. By no means do I want to create a discussion of whether or not I am living the right way now. I want to create a discussion on what is beautiful in my failures. I need to find something to appreciate in it. That’s the only way for me to be happy, to appreciate the path. We watch films because of the drama, the overcoming of an obstacle and the heroism despite hopelessness. That’s what we admire. So why should it be different in my life, in our lives?
Goodness came back at me. I looked like a child trying to be good and looking around, finding himself alone and betrayed. I was expecting some sort of praise, but I discovered that I could never be completely satisfied with myself. I will always struggle with laziness or a sense of inadequacy to the tasks that are ahead of me. The burdens of them will never leave me. And bad habits are difficult to break.
The in Between
. . . is something that I find myself in now. I love philosophy. I love being. But I don’t love these things in and of themselves. I hate boring books by intelligent over-thinkers. I hate realizing the fact that I am in existence. What I love about philosophy and being is that they point to something greater — a greater reward. They point to a finish line. And if there is a finish line there has to be a path. We don’t think about the finish line when we finish our race. What we do remember is the obstacles we overcame. We talk about that moment we wanted to give up when going for a sprint but overcoming and going further than we would have expected.
I do not know what the finish line is yet. That’s the in between that I want to be in at the moment.
I want to believe that happiness received from God is the finish line. But for some reason I can’t find myself to think that that is something that we need to chase. It seems like God is the one that gives it to us as he pleases and when he pleases.
The badness left me hurting with cavities and selfish empty relationships. My goodness left me feeling inadequate. Whereas, this in between continually helps me to appreciate my failures. Now I can rest in my imperfection. And that is where I will like to stay until I reach either the peace of becoming a fundamentalist or the courage of becoming something in the middle: a man who has set standards but isn’t scared of looking at those standards from outside of his bubble and enjoying his falls on the way.
And that is what I am aiming for: happiness that is designed by realities that are intrinsic in myself. I appreciate who I am and the path I am on. These things are incomparable and achievable by me and myself alone. Why? Because they are in me; they are my own thoughts.
Therefore these are “my three stages of happiness”.