Eudaemonia to you too! Happily following our daemons
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Eudaemonia: the state of happily following our daemons.
A friend sent me this word, knowing it would intrigue me. I like words. I like this word. I like the way it sounds. I like the way it feels on my tongue. For several months I have had this word thumb-tacked above my computer. I studied it from time to time. I mused about my own state of eudaemonia. I wondered just what specific daemons I was following.
With our spate of beautiful weather, such a long time in arriving, I finally identified one of my daemons. No matter how diligently and with what determination I begin a task in my house, I frequently find myself standing in my yard, not knowing how I got there, watering hose in hand, or uprooting yet another insidious patch of toadflax, or just aimlessly wandering, admiring my petunias, lilies and hollyhocks, glorious in purples, pinks, reds, yellows, salmons and whites. I stand bemused.
I started in the bedroom by stripping my bed and ended in the garden watering flowers. I examine my fingernails embedded with gumbo. I reflect on my still unmade bed. I smile. I've been following my garden daemon.
On a day when guilt wins out over pleasure, I shake my head at the lilac that is begging me to move her from the front to the back yard, stand my shovel against the door and go back into the house, a return to duty. On another day I will obey my daemon, flee my shop, move the lilac, weed the strawberry patch, harvest mint and lounge in the shade of the Canadian poplar reading a novel.
This morning I found myself wandering outdoors, with a dust rag in my hand. I chortled to myself, "Umm, humm. Eudaemonia strikes again." Curiosity led me to my Oxford English Dictionary to look up a formal definition of eudaemonia. There I affirmed that, indeed, I had contracted a chronic case, no doubt fatal, of "happiness or well-being consisting in the full realization of human potential, in rational activity exhibiting excellence." This is a definition of me in my garden.
In fact, I am an artist, "pursuing life with happiness as the ultimate goal." Guilt, be thou gone.
Through further research I learned that eudaemonia is the basis of an entire philosophy constructed on the theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being.
Having a happy spirit (daemon is defined as spirit) is the result of "right living." I like this.
So it turns out that my personal daemon spirits me outdoors, overriding my industrious intentions. Eventually, beds do get made. Bookshelves get dusted. Projects in my shop get finished.
And I do these things with a happy spirit, having first indulged in "right living." Last night, like the good shoemaker who cut the leather for a pair of shoes in the evening and went to bed, I rolled out material for two couches. I cut fabrics for six cushions, six inside backs, four inside and outside arms, strips for cording and the boxing and zippers for the cushions. I often make my preparations at night, hoping the elves will have my project finished by morning.
When I jumped out of bed, I made coffee and peeked into my shop. No, the elves had not come and finished the couches. My fabric piles lay exactly as I had left them.
But I drank my coffee and bounded out to the yard, watered flowers, deadheaded petunias, pulled a few weeds, harvested chives to chop and dry, picked a gallon of currants for jelly and a bowl of raspberries to eat with cream. I assured the rhubarb, which wanted to be picked today, that I would get to it soon.
The day is young. Already I have stitched the zipper strips, sewed up miles of welt cord, and assembled the cushions. I could do another hour of work in the shop, but I hear my daemon call me. The sun is warm and inviting. We're already on the short end of July. Basil is ripe to be snipped.
Fledgling robins flit from limb to limb.
I will gather a bouquet of baby's breath. There will be plenty of time for long work days in my shop when winter returns.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://www.montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)