I’m 15 years old, a schoolboy, and I’m walking onto a patch of light cast in a school courtyard by a street lamp.
The tarmac is black, the light is yellow and I’m seeing both colours simultaneously from the same surface. I register the matter of one and the energy of the other with no sense of duality. Perhaps that is what cuts me free for this moment in time. Because suddenly I have a taste of something for which there is no name: ‘contentment’, ‘awareness’, ‘union’ or ‘bliss’ could be used clumsily.
Maybe it’s just that I actually feel ‘happy’, and this is the new definition for that word.
I imagine that a bit of dust is caught in the groove of my life, causing the needle to skip back and replay those ten steps I take through the light, again and again, forever – it would be enough for me.
I am aware of other things that make the moment perfect. It is not anticipated or sought after, and it has not been added to by memory.
My shoes have rhythm – I wear black lace ups like Fred Astaire – and my limbs are supple and relaxed. This patch of light is triangulated upon three loci that are especially significant to my coagulating sense of identity: bordered on one side by the churchyard wall, a stone’s throw from the parish church, 50 paces from the school theatre and 30 paces from the English department. I belong here; this is my territory.
Place and time have come together. I am the lord of the night air and the emperor of this pool of light. I spin around on my heels, walk backwards for a few paces, rejoicing.
The dark receives me again and I walk on, down the hill towards the boarding house.
Moments that are impossible to recreate, unasked-for, not divorced from the past or the future but somehow complete in the present, as if some prankster balanced a bucket of grace on the lintel of a doorway and I was the fool that got drenched – I think this is how happiness is for us.
About twenty years later, I’m lying in bed.
I’m constructing the argument I should have made earlier in the day during a conversation. It feels water tight. I’ve started with a couple of ethical givens and I’m going through the logical steps to my conclusion.
But the steps are also taking me to the edge of sleep, and suddenly I’m there, toeing the border line. My internal dialogue stops but it’s as if I step onto the platonic form of all arguments in all times and places and continue. Vividly in my mind I see a ruler stretching over an abyss and a dividing compass pacing along it.
When the compass gets to the end of the ruler, I see something else that lasts for a couple of seconds. It’s like the dot of light that would shrink and disappear in the moments after turning off an old television set. But I see it with my whole being, as if my mind has become a single organ of sight.
In that moment, I KNOW all the answers to everything: all paradoxes and problems that have befuddled humans for millenia. I have the answer to the problem of evil, the resolution of determinism vs. free will, the goal of every koan, the last word on why we are here at all. I feel what it’s like to be omniscient for the tiniest sliver of a moment, and then it flits away into the abyss.
I pull myself back into wakefulness to see if I’ve been able to retain any of the knowledge, but the moment was too short for my memory to turn it into brain-code and store it. Nevertheless I feel a soaring sense of contentment. It’s enough for me to know that the answers DO exist and that they are real.
The afterglow of that revelation lasts to this day.
May this International Day of Happiness for you be booby trapped with unsolicited delight.