Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Transcending mental gluttony

My submission for the July edition of AZIndiaTimes.


Transcending mental gluttony

I read a lot- The good, the bad and the ugly. I have tens of ebooks on my phone, multiple apps like Medium, Pocket and Feedly overflowing with bookmarked articles. I always carry a couple of books in my backpack and I’ve subscribed to so many of these recommendation/ aggregation services that my inbox is flowing with mails every morning. My two Terabyte hard disk is filled with cinema and music from across the world, collections spread across decades, that I haven’t seen even 5% of and I go on hoarding more content as soon as I come across something vaguely interesting. This got so bad that I stopped watching films, convincing myself that I can read about more films in the time it takes me to watch and experience one, and instead collect titbits of information and opinion from the cyberspace to appear erudite. I have abandoned more MOOCs than I can remember for topics ranging from Blockchain to Learning Mandarin, and Introduction to Gene Mapping to Writing Music like Mozart. Expectedly, instead of alleviating that sense of dumbness, this behaviour gives me immense stress and anxiety that there’s always more for me to read, watch, listen, learn. Not just is this stupid, wrong and insane, it’s also a disease.

We do not talk - we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests. -Henry Miller via Charlie Kaufman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRfXcWT_oFs)

I suffer from mental gluttony, a condition where I can’t stop amassing as much mental food as I can because I’m worried I’ll live my life wrongly. This is the ideal of self-help stripped of its spirit, taken to its logical, nihilistic extreme. It is no wonder that until very recently, thanks to this extreme behaviour, I started to look down upon all forms of knowledge and mocked the idea of a free will. The noise in my head is too deafening for me to even acknowledge the presence of my own self. I feel like an addict, so intoxicated to one dimension of experience that consequently I am failing at every other aspect of being. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being culturally informed and seeking aesthetic stimulus. But to keep obsessively searching for it all the time, either in the hope that it will transform my life into being the best version of myself or in fear lest I live an ignorant and a half-life, is in itself a stunted life.

Read nothing from the past one hundred years; eat no fruits from the past one thousand years; drink nothing from the past four thousand years (just wine and water); but talk to no ordinary man over forty. -Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Self-improvement is probably a good ideal. We live in an age and society that celebrates it. Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who understands what the words self or improvement really mean. Unless you have a very good explanation to believe otherwise, what you are chasing in your life are somebody else’s dreams. And that is the reality of all our lives. We live in the Century of the Self, a spacetime where it is imperative for a man to project the best, but also socially acceptable, image of the self and keep working at it lest someone in our social circle is working harder at it. Black Mirror is not dystopia, it is reality and unless we unplug and get our moorings right, we are going to end up being so lost in this abyss.

For my part, I went cold turkey last month. Deleted, unsubscribed, removed notifications. I don’t feel particularly stupid or lost though a pleasant side effect has been that frequently I find myself on a weekday afternoon with nothing to do for a few minutes. I just sit, empty-headed, craving stimulus but also aware of the junk-food nature of most content online. It’s a strange feeling: Freedom, is it, as opposed to compulsively consuming everything the zeitgeist hurls. Even now I can’t stop reading FIFA match reports or film reviews but the volume’s gone down so much.

What distinguishes human beings and animals, or, in other words, the essence of being human is the possibility to move from compulsiveness to consciousness. -Sadhguru

All of us want to live well. The first step in that is staying healthy- physically, mentally, emotionally. No matter how much you exercise, you cannot become healthy as long as you are compulsively consuming unhealthy food. Food that was made without love and grace, without mastery and devotion. The same holds true for everything we read, listen and watch. It's far easier said than done. Thirty days is time enough to see how well this experiment fares and I hope to bring a positive update in next month's column. Until then, good luck if you wish to join this club.

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