[Note: This is the second of a series of posts on Human Nature, Philosophy, Psychological/Spiritual Well-Being. The first post in this series can be found here HERE, while the next (third) one can be found HERE.]
I was recently watching a TED Talk by some guy who was explaining how Humans are pattern-seeking creatures, and how this is intrinsically a function of higher-cognitive capacity and evolutionary imperatives. He was delving into when we spot patterns when none exist (false positives) and when we fail to seek patterns when one does exist (false negatives) – and on the basis of this, explained several cognitive and inherent biases that Human Perception is prone to. While it was an interesting talk, I had a related thought, which I felt was an equally important crux of Human Nature, perhaps of critical importance to Human Psychology and Well-Being. Namely that – humans, apart from obviously being Pattern Seeking Creatures, also happen to be Novelty Seeking Creatures.
Boredom sets in very easily, because of the inherent solipsism of human perception & sensation, added on top of which is sensation-numbness and desensitization to sensory constancy. Meaning – given a baseline pattern of sensory input (routine), no matter how lavish or extravagant that might be, the mind – at a neurological and psychological level – quickly treats it as a “normal” state of affairs – thus debasing the novelty of the situation. This is true with a new pair of shoes, a new car, or frequent international travel. This is also the reason why stock brokers who once made $1 million and aspired for $5 million, after reaching their aspirations of making $5 million, in turn start fervently aspiring for $10 million. A battery of psychological and neurological tests on a diverse range of situations and subjects has only verified this basic fact of human nature.
This of course ties right back in to the core of Buddhist Philosophy (surprise! surprise!) – the domain of human needs is finite, while the domain of human desires is potentially infinite. Following the Buddha’s way would mean choosing to be unperturbed by the lack of much novelty, while consciously training the mind to be at peace with oneself, and one’s status-quo or one’s current state of existence. This is of course very difficult to achieve in practice, and even if achieved, would mean not much by way of a motivational framework. Since the will to improve one’s current state of affairs comes necessarily through at least some dissatisfaction with the same, resulting in a set of aspirations/goals, and the determination to work consciously towards those goals. Besides, if everyone were to truly become a Buddha-like figure, then there would be not be much progress – both of the species, and of the self in practical pursuits. So therefore, a much more practical and achievable approach is to train your mind to consciously accept the inevitable ennui that would set in with any activity, while also seeking pursuits and endeavors that would minimize the frequency and amplitude of such occurrences of boredom.
To countermand this Debasement of Novelty and this propensity for Boredom, the mind needs to be exposed to a multitude of sensory inputs – with sufficient freshness and novelty and diversity in said sensations. This is also the reason why the very-rich (millionaires, billionaires, movie-stars, etc.) often abandon hedonistic pursuits from time to time, to immerse themselves in spiritual or pseudo-spiritual journeys. They have become numbed by the constant presence of extravagance and being catered to their whims – to them, renunciation and penance, with some spiritual insight, has a Novelty factor. This is also why working Middle Class people, when given the chance of a lifetime, will grab it by the throat – and go on expensive cruises, epic world-tours, complete with Limo rides, extravagant champagne, and the works. To them, there is enough renunciation and penance in life as it is, and extravagant material pleasures has a Novelty factor.
A natural side-effect of this novelty debasement and boredom inducing propensity of the mind – is that we also end up taking not only objects and material pleasures for granted, but also end up taking people for granted. And this indeed, as a lot of us either know or discover the hard-way, is catastrophic when it comes to building and sustaining meaningful relationships over a course of time. A proverb in Hindi goes something like this – “घर की मुर्गी दाल बराबर” (English Translation: “The chicken cooked at home always tastes bland”), and accurately sums up this inherent human tendency to forget to show gratitude. Feeling blasé comes naturally to us, and this threatens not only our material benefits, but more importantly emotional and social currency with other people. So if for nothing else, one must consciously strive to fight this ingrained tendency, to nurture, sustain and blossom inter-personal relationships.
Furthermore, every person has certain natural inclinations and a natural habitat/comfort zone. Ask any very extroverted person to stay alone by themselves for a day, with minimal or non-existent social interaction, and they would probably panic and lose half their minds. Ask any introverted person to stay constantly in the company of others for a day – and they too would probably panic and lose half their minds. Ask a person with a hyperactive imagination/intellect with boundless solo-creativity to instead engage other people, and participate in pragmatic activities/events, and that person too would feel naturally uncomfortable. But, while one must accept oneself for who they are at their very core (for peace with oneself), one must also strive to make headway to rebel against their natural inclinations, their comfort-habitats. Otherwise, one would be ill-prepared for life’s diverse challenges (which assuredly will be thrown up in some arbitrary way, regardless of whether one’s an introvert, extrovert, intellectually oriented or socially oriented), and worse – one will become naturally numb to one’s own uniqueness and brilliance due to the mind’s debasement of the Novelty factor.
Therefore, one needs to open up one’s mind and it’s full capacities of sensation and perception to diverse life experiences, and a battery of sensory inputs – including physical, emotional, and definitely spiritual. For some, the default mode is intellectualizing and reveling in abstract theoretical arguments or scientific rationalism (me!!). For others, the default mode is socializing and reveling in the gregarious banter of being a social animal or the cynosure of social attention. Whichever is the tendency or category of default thought and behavioral patterns, the basic point is – each individual manifests thought-processes and behavioral-trends that occur spontaneously, without much conscious effort, perhaps even being a product of unconscious, intrinsic tendencies. And that if one delves too much in one’s ingrained patterns of thought/behavior, one risks becoming imprisoned on multiple levels by one’s own unconscious tendencies, becoming numb to their own capacities and their own novelty, and perhaps becoming a stereotypical one-dimensional skeleton of one’s full complexity as a human. Thus, an intellectually oriented individual must seek to engage in significantly social and less intellectual activities/people/endeavors from time to time. And vice versa.
Everyone therefore, needs some fresh air, a break from their respective spontaneous comfort-zones, their individual “routines”, a new set of life experiences, and engagement at levels which are beyond their organic domains of comfort. Seek novel things to do, activities to participate in, places to visit, events to attend, and people to meet. Whatever your intrinsic patterns are, whatever your “routine” is, hope this post has inspired at least explore your life in a whole other domain! Tathastu!