Receiving the following paragraph in an email from a friend, it set me to thinking about the nature of boredom:
“I believe our souls gets bored eventually if the situation stays the same all the time. A healthy soul should have the yearning to want to learn more and more and don’t stop until we die. That is why we are always challenging for new experiences and environments, we have to, otherwise we are dead. Well, at least for me, if I am not excited or inspired any more at one point of my life or another, I feel that I might as well die.”
The comments about souls and boredom got me thinking and I’ve spent a bit of time the past three days digesting those ideas. Here’s what came out the other end of that process:
Stimulation through new experinces, whether it be a travel, meeting new people, learning a language, reading a book, or whatever, is very healthy for the mind and spirit. It keeps our synapses firing and creates new connections. It fuels our creativity and passion and can create new inspiration in our lives, personally and professionally.
At the same time, I think many of us engage in something that is akin to “experiential materialism.”
Just in the same way that people are increasingly trying to find satisfaction through the acquisition of objects (new clothes, cars, iPods, etc.), I think there is a parallel way in which we try to avoid confronting and engaging our inner selves (our true nature) by instead acquiring experiences. Like the child watching television who has been conditioned by jump-cuts and camera pans every three seconds to require ongoing stimulation we, too, become “bored” if there isn’t a regular stream of new sights, sounds, sensations and tastes.
Now, let me take a moment to make clear that I’m not passing judgment here on anyone: I’m as guilty of this as anyone out there, having lived in twelve different places in three countries in the twelve years since I graduated from university.
Here are two passages from the Tao Te Ching (which I spent some time contemplating in my university years – thus my email address, “christao17“, which refers to a chapter of the Tao Te Ching that is about leadership) that relate to this idea of experiential materialism and how the affect us:
Colours blind the eyes.
Notes deafen the ear.
Flavours numb the taste.
Thoughts weakent the mind.
Desires wither the heart.
The Master observes the world
but trusts her inner vision.
She allows things to come and go.
Her heart is open as the sky.
Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.
The more you know,
the less you understand.
The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.
What are the reasons that we open our doors, look out our windows, and seek new flavors, sights, and sounds? What are we escaping from? What are we afraid we might find if we instead turn our mind inwards and reflect on ourselves?
Perhaps each person has different motivations for their experiential materialism: disatisfaction with ourselves, frustration with circumstances, challenges in relationships, unwillingness to confront negative habits. If we confront these things, we would probably experience tremendous personal growth and also achieve some inner calmness. But confrontation requires (or at least on the surface it appears to require) much more energy than just filling ourselves up with distractions.
So the question is, how do we distinguish stimulation that is for the sake of learning and growth, from stimulation that is just a way of avoiding confronting ourselves?
Enough philosophy for a Sunday morning. Discuss.
I’ll conclude with two pictures of fruit (pholamai in Thai) that I’ve taken over the past week. On the left is a truck loaded with bananas. On the right is a truck of rambutan, which look like hairy red golf balls.