My favorite quote from Emerson, and one of my favorite quotes in general, is: “Our moods do not believe in each other.” What’s amazing about this is it undoes the sanctity, the unity, of the self: if my moods are absolute, then I am wholly different depending on said mood.
We all know this experience. We get a little depressed, or a lot depressed, and everything looks like a huge pile of sh-t. When we picture every possible path to the future, each leads to a pile of sh-t, or death, or both. And there is no consoling that will deter us: we know that life is a pile of sh-t. Other times, we feel like everything will turn up roses: we feel smart and powerful and sexy and it’s as if the world were our oyster there to be shucked and sucked.
Of course, there are any number of moods that are less extreme — confusion, anxiety, reasonableness, and so on. But the point is: each feels as though it were right. Even if one mood acknowledges that another mood exists, that other mood becomes, well, just a mood. And this present state becomes the truth, the way things really are.
Now, is there a mood of moods? A mood that knows that life is mooded? What might such a thing look like? And doesn’t it just beg the same epistemological dilemma: Isn’t the mood of moods just another mood with no privileged access to the real way of things?
I want to say that Buddhism tries to establish such a mood of moods but the result is no mood fluctuation at all — to the enlightened Buddhist, all is a steady hum. No manic highs, no manic lows: just a state of perpetual contentment. Which, I have to say, sounds pretty good. Sometimes. Sometimes it just sounds creepy and nihilistic, a kind of avoidance of the flux of life.
I had a roommate in college who decided that a diet of liquid acid, and little else, was a wise thing. After a few weeks, he became pronouncedly manic, convinced that he was the smartest, most gifted human being alive (and that the FBI was following him and bugging the walls). He was sure of it. I mostly wanted to punch him in the face. Why? Well, because he was annoying but also because he refused to recognize that he was in a mood. But of course there is also a genius to mania, a willingness to commit absolutely to a mood. And not just any mood but a manic mood (Buddhists commit to one mood — a subdued, even if enthralled, mood).
I reach for a mechanism that allows me to navigate the flux of moods: irony. With irony, I can articulate the state I’m in while recognizing that whatever I’m saying is full of its own kind of sh-t. Irony doesn’t take any thing that seriously because it knows that everything is flux, everything gives way to change — so to be adamant is to be foolish, to be ironic is to be wise. (I realize irony is often thought of as cold or nihilistic but it can also be warm, understanding, and profoundly resonant.)
When I was younger, I would commit — submit — to a mood more readily. I’d get carried away. And it was beautiful. These daze, I am less prone to get so enmeshed in one mood, this flux replaced by a more or less boring, more or less bourgeois, sense of propriety. Even when I get lit on this or that, my mood is tempered: I know I’m just buzzed and that it, too, will pass. My irony prevails over my adamance.
Sometimes, this feels like wisdom. Sometimes, it feels like weakness. It depends on my mood.