I was listening, a couple of days ago, to Lou Reed signing “Perfect Day”; personally, I think it’s a great song. “Oh, it’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you”. Just listening to it can make me feel as though I’ve actually been there too; that I spent the day in the park, visited the zoo and took in a movie. It feels good, doesn’t it? And it’s right there in the song: “You made me forget myself / I thought I was someone else / Someone good” I’m sure most of us know that feeling; the feeling that comes from being in a couple, spending that day together, just walking and talking, holding hands, drinking Sangria in the park. Or being with family; parents, children, siblings, spending the day together, talking, sharing experiences and memories, making new ones. Being together with loved ones; sharing the same space, the same time, the same moment. So many things that we’ve not been able to do for such a long time, now. I wonder how many of us, as we come towards the end of this, hopefully final, lockdown, would have realised, a year ago, just how much we would miss not being able to be together with other people. We have seen people, in the course of the past year, put their lives in potential danger just to spend some time together; to be together for some special occasion, the spend time with loved ones, or, sometimes, just to have a party!
Such is the power of togetherness. And yet, in a very real way, we are always together. We breathe the same air, we walk upon the same earth, we are nourished by the same sun, we are held in place by the same gravity. We are all together in this one, shared, moment! In reality, there is only one thing, and we are all part of it; in fact, in reality, there is only one thing, and we are all it! I sometimes wonder if some of the history making events we have seen this past year are connected with a newly developing, more finely tuned, sense of togetherness. Perhaps, as we have mourned, and yearned for, our lost sense of close togetherness, we have become increasingly aware of our global togetherness. An awareness of our shared, fragile, ecology; an awareness of our shared humanity; an awareness of our togetherness. And ‘that ain’t no walk in the park’! That sense of togetherness can lead to fear, and anger, and conflict. Fear for those of us who recognise that we have more power than many of the rest of us, and are afraid of having to give up that power. Anger for those of us who recognise that we have much less power than a few of us have, and want to redress that balance. Conflict when these two positions come together without listening to the ‘other side’; when those two groups come together without remembering that ‘freedom of speech’ is redundant if nobody is listening!
And so, having said that; how the hell can I still call this a ‘perfect day’? Well … I’m reminded of the 17th century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza’s family were Sephardic Jews, who settled in Amsterdam around 1627. However, Spinoza was expelled from the Sephardic Jewish community in Amsterdam when his philosophical ideas challenged his religions orthodoxy. The reason I am reminded of his work is that Spinoza argued that ‘perfection’ was simply another way of expressing ‘reality’. Professor Steven Nadler writes,
“In Spinoza’s world, there are no imperfections. Nothing is flawed, botched, or defective. There is no evil, and nothing falls short of what is “supposed” to be. Everything is perfect. In Spinoza’s value-free Nature, however, all this really means is that everything is what it is. Perfection is just reality. For a thing to be perfect is simply for it to have the reality it does. “By reality and perfection,” he notes, “I understand the same thing.” ‘Perfection’ is, first and foremost, an ontological notion, not an evaluative one.”
It’s this final sentence that resonates with me. ‘Perfection’ is, first and foremost, an ontological notion; by which I mean that it is based on the fundamental assumptions we make about life, rather than an evaluation based on my personal preferences for any given situation. Today is a ‘perfect day’ not because I enjoy going to the park (for example), not because I like going to the zoo and then taking in a movie, but because it is the only day it could be. Today is the only possible product of every other day that has gone before. If you think about it; using the first criteria (the evaluative one) today can always ‘get better’. For me, a walk in the park, feeding animals in the zoo, then later a movie could easily be improved upon – throw in a sports car and a nice Italian dessert and I’m happy (I’m only joking). But, the thing is, measuring perfection this way is like the game of trying to ‘name the highest number’ – whatever number I come up with, all you have to say is ‘plus one’ and you win. I’m reminded of a scene from the Frasier TV show, where Frasier’s brother Niles is struggling to accommodate the concept that sometimes ‘less is more’. He counters with the argument, “But, if ‘less’ is more, think how much more ‘more’ would be!” From an evaluative perspective, things can always get better, and that doesn’t work for perfection. Therefore, ‘perfection’ has to come from an ontological perspective; today is a perfect day because today is the only day today could be! Not perfect “in my opinion”, but perfect like ‘4’ is when you ask the question ‘what is 3+1’, or ‘what is the square root of 16’, or ‘what is 20 divided by 5’.
It’s been a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you. The perfection that allows us to appreciate life, to be open to what is, perfection in the sense of acceptance and equanimity in all things.
May I attain happiness,
May I be free from sorrow.
May I appreciate the source of all happiness.
May I attain equanimity.