Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Summer thoughts

Habits spring from our desire to be active. When asked what we’re doing, people often might reply that they’re doing nothing, but really there is no such thing as doing nothing. The truth is that people have a need to always be doing something. This realization helped me to really feel more in control of myself and what I do. I didn’t really have a job this summer, so I spent a lot of time playing games and stuff like that. At first, I didn’t really understand what was driving me to play certain games, but the game would stay on my mind and I would eventually give in to the urge to play it. Sometimes I would waste hours mechanically trying to achieve one little goal within the game without really even being aware of it. I see now that I was often playing it out of habit rather than choice. Remembering that it's just a game and trying to focus on what makes the game fun allows me enjoy the game as a whole a lot more.

If you’re going to do something, make sure that you are fully engaged in it. What I mean is do not let your activity get stuck in a cycle. This is not to say you always have to be trying new things; on the contrary patterns of events form the foundation for many life’s activities. The difference is that patterns always involve stabilization or creativity, while cycles go from one extreme to another. With cycles (such as the one I just described about mechanically try to do one thing within a game for hours) you go through phases where a certain activity dominates your life, and then later you just want nothing to do with that activity, which eventually takes you back to the beginning of the cycle. I highly recommend reading Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building, which gives an excellent explanation patterns present in the world, and listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, along with this analysis, which is about the cycles of isolation we are in danger of going through in life.

Something I wrote earlier this summer, and think it's worth including:

To love someone does NOT mean trying to end the causes of their suffering. Yes, that can be an important part of it, but if that’s all you’re doing you are missing the whole point. Because YOU cannot truly end the suffering of someone else. For a long time, it seemed that a “good” life would be one in which I lead some kind of movement that would achieve some profound effect in the world; that would eliminate the cause of a lot of people’s suffering. But really such a movement is not possible, because the true cause of people’s suffering is in themselves. I know it sounds heartless to say that given the horrible conditions people face in some parts of the world, but it is key to realize the truth in this statement. You may feel bad about the poor quality of life in Africa, but realize that people are still miserable growing up in middle class families in America. Yes, it’s important that we try and help those in Africa, but realize that doing so will not put an end to those people’s suffering. What’s even more important than helping to end those horrible conditions is to try and reach people as they really are, and not just some preconceived image we have of them.


  1. nice post tom. first off, i'll even specify your summer thoughts. people do need to be doing something but not just for the sake of being busy. i've found that one does something in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. hence training for a sport, beating a game, painting a picture, etc. this is believe helps to give purpose to one's life and also is a method by which people define themselves.

    lol, what's with pink floyd? try listening to some current stuff :P

    and on the "to love someone" part, i concur whole-heartedly. i've come to realize over the summer that there are 3 basic requirements for happiness. food, shelter, and health. these are all that are required. now that's not to say that one will be automatically be happy of course. so to go with your post, you could even divide suffering into 2 types. Internal suffering that is fixable (what we post about usually) and physical suffering that is cured through medicine, food, environment, and so on.

    nice post.

  2. oh lord tom, don't even try to tell me that by working as a doctor is Africa you're not significantly relieving suffering.

  3. Yeah, of course a doctor would significantly relieve suffering in Africa, but I was just trying to say that they would relieve just as much (if not more) suffering through their loving attitude towards the patients, which shows the patients that the doctor really cares for them as humans, as they would through their medical treatment.