Scientific inquiry is one form of self-fulfillment. When you let yourself be curious and carried away, it is possible to discover a lot about yourself that you did not know before. When the mind is let to wander on its own without any shackles holding it back, it can stumble upon new realms of thought; unfettered, unshaken and glow in the limitless world of possibilities.
Often, the mind can only really learn through unlearning. Conventional wisdom holds us back in experiencing some of the common features of our natural selves. What would have been possible if individuals are not trained to be good samaritans for the sake of civilization? How would the world be different if the individual is set free from all the grand social lies that confine him to seek only permitted slivers of truth?
What society wants for us is not always good for us. Even the smartest of the individuals fall prey to social programming. But the best of lies have some aspect of truth to them. For instance, endurance, teamwork, and patience are unique traits of human societies. We are programmed by evolution to expect something to happen NOW. We are only interested in pursuing something if it gives quick results. When we instead focus on long term results and hold ourselves back from wandering off to find a banana every once in a while, we can achieve a lot more. Sometimes, keeping our misdirected evolutionary instincts in check is crucial. But it comes with a grave cost. The world doesn’t let the individual explore important truths about his nature by himself. Instead, he’s caught in a race to chase after truths defined by society – a degree, a job, a partner, and excessive wealth. On the other hand, ‘real freedom’ can be obtained only when you are completely alone. But that’s not what we always want.
What, then, is the right way to find a balance between a healthy exploration of our nature and careful exploitation of society’s benefits?
To see change, we need to look inside ourselves. Unless we question every nudge by our subconscious mind, unless we notice that our thoughts occur not as voluntary inquiries of knowledge, but emerge out of their own volition due to factors we can’t ever fully know, we can’t make progress in the right direction. Tiny decisions are being made by us, either consciously or subconsciously, every moment of every day. Not all decisions have significant impacts on our wellbeing or growth. Some of these decisions don’t even have physical consequences. Some occur only to alter our beliefs in a tiny amount based on external stimuli or through the intricate ways in which we produce ideas. Being mindful about the state of mind will be of moments significance in altering the way we take those tiny decisions. Sometimes, it might even shed light on the origin of a thought. Not all thoughts represent data about the real world or your body. Some of them are weird manifestations of your internal biases, fears, unsatisfied needs that will nudge you to work towards alleviating natural cognitive pressures. Fulfilling moments in life don’t follow instinctive actions. They follow mindful decision making. In a world filled with constant external stimuli, every so slightly manipulating us to think in a certain way, to behave in a certain way, to emote in a certain way, it is a huge payoff to be thoughtful and resilient. It requires a certain amount of will to fall into this state, ‘a Heart of Stone’ so to say.
Mindfulness is a state of pure reason and a desire for your intellectual thought. It is hard to say one remains objective if they are influenced by evolutionary biases, instincts, and are a victim thought programming. Mindfulness is listening. It is listening to your mind and body and the actual state of the real world. Mindfulness enables unfettered reasoning. When so much of what we see, hear, read, and taste is just noise, without working to improve, grow and nourish us in any meaningful way, it is hard to lead a meaningful life. Our natural desires and creature pleasures can only be enjoyed tellingly only when they are coupled with the drive to find value in the act. Without mindfulness, there can exist no philosophy towards life. Without mindfulness what exists is only ‘he said, she said’.
We drive our lives through actions. Actions take meaning when we find them valuable. Meaningful actions can occur when we have a healthy view of life. Through self-experimentation, logic, reasoning, and arguments this healthy philosophy of life can be sculpted every day. For all that to go well, one needs to be mindful. It is not a stretch to say that being mindful is what it means to have a scientific mind.
Perhaps the most important side-product of being mindful is the courage to admit mistakes. Explanations should precede decisions and not vice-versa. Most of the time, most of us engage in the right order in this causal scale, that is thinking before we act, only when we are truly motivated about the outcomes. At other times, we act first then come up with theories to justify our own decisions only when we are challenged by other people or the real world (through unexpected outcomes). If we come up with an explanation that fits our decision, it is especially dangerous as it becomes our new ‘rational belief’, when in fact it was motivated by the cognitive pressure to satisfy our lack of reasoning prior to action. It can quickly snowball into a series of misleading attempts, driven by confirmation biases, to support our theory rather than by a rational line of reasoning supported by facts. In the current age of informational abundance, this is a hard trap not to fall into.
Most of us are after peace of mind when what we really mean is ‘peace from mind’. It is hard to always stay involved in a process to seek out gratification because it soon loses meaning. What then is the correct attitude towards life? We all know the answer to this deep down but refuse to accept it because it contradicts our notion of free will. Friedrich Nietzsche often expressed enthusiasm for a concept towards life that he called Amor Fati, meaning “love of one’s fate”. It means love for everything that has happened in one’s life. Our life’s events are tied to a complex web of consequences since our birth. We can’t possibly hope to change our fate at will. Instead, we should choose to be affectionate towards all the good and bad moments. It is a way of acknowledging our innate imperfectness.
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.
Mindfulness and Amor Fati seem to be a good place to start in our search for a true understanding of reality