Monday, November 07, 2011

The Stuff of Inspiration

I have a theory. Like many of my other theories this one is also based on an entirely unoriginal & mundane idea. I have often wondered how different people have managed to inspire themselves to do a lot of things that they have done. Often while reading interviews of great writers, inventors, et al, it is usually a very common question which pops up on an average 15 minutes into the interview - what has inspired your work? Most people give generic answers & list other people's works or ideas. They speak about their influence on the way they think & approach their process. But all this is merely deflection. What is the true source of inspiration which makes use of that influence, what springs us into action to do some of our greatest works?

To take a shot, without any fear of missing the point, I think the biggest personal motivator for people to move on & do their best work might be - dramatic pause - 'Boredom'.

I read Joseph's Brodsky's interview where he analyzes the idea of boredom. Another article on Boredom. Brodsky terms boredom as a 'psychological sahara' - that starts right into our boredom & spurns the horizon. The most important part about boredom that he mentions is about humility.

Boredom is a minion of time. It is a realization of the existence of time behind everything that we do. It allows time to invade into our minds, to hack into our regular thoughts & slow it down to a grind. It makes us believe in our finite existence. Since time has plenty of time to just go & on, we as humans who benchmark our lives to time, follow it helplessly & also hopelessly. There is always this ticking clock inside us, the number of breaths we take in our entire life time, the number of heartbeats, the number of hours of sleep we allow ourselves to get, the number of minutes of workout, the amount of time we spend at work, the amount of time we devote to our leisure. It is more ruthless than money & the advantages of economizing on time far out-weigh those of economical use of money.

This finite life form versus an infinite force, forces us to realize our insignificance in the entire scale of time. If we try to visualize one human being's existence on the so far known scale of time, we would be measured in million nano meter units. But thats not the point. The point of boredom is not it's existence, but the thoughts that it brings to our minds about ourself & about our abilities. What we can & cannot do with that time!

To quote Brodsky, "If it takes will-paralyzing boredom to bring your insignificance home, then hail the boredom. You are insignificant because you are finite. Yet infinity is not terribly lively, not terribly emotional. Your boredom , at least, tells you that much. And the more finite a thing is, the more it is charged with life, emotions, joy, fears, compassion."

I'd like to imagine, though inaccurately, how the typical life of an average prehistoric human would have been 500,000 years ago. Hunting & foraging for food & spending large pockets of time during the day doing, well, absolutely nothing. There would be a spurt in activity for specific times during the day for hunting & collecting, but beyond that, due of lack of any civilized construct to follow, there would be nothing left to do. True idleness in the wilderness. Now the idea of Psychological Sahara becomes a wonderful metaphor to show the limits of activity in an ocean of nothing. What would this prehistoric human, with an outsized brain & the ability to walk upright do in times of complete nothingness? I just have to look at this computer screen right now to imagine what that human must have done. Because that human was bored with a unique circumstance to actually feel the boredom, he might have spawned an entire process of innovation by mere observation & re-invention. I have heard that necessity is the mother of invention, but who is the father? Among many candidates & due of lack of DNA profiling, I assume it is boredom. An entire thought process developed due the insecurity that boredom creates. We have leaped from a stone tool to an iPad. The sophistication of such a thought only seems to have emerged from something very primal to us.

Why is it that such a vital part of our thought process remains so under appreciated? Well it is in fact not under appreciated, it is acknowledged every single time we check our email, check our BBM's, check our apps on a smartphone, watch a film, use drugs, do mind blowing work, basically get busy. It is everywhere. It is the exact opposite state of focused activity.

I'd read somewhere that, 'Adversity introduces a man to himself only if he allows it to'. What better adversity than being bored to death, unable to lift even a toe in any direction. Well the most important thing about boredom is that it doesn't kill - at least physiologically & whatever doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. But the main question is how should we objectively look at boredom when we are actually bored? This is a more daunting task than actually suffering it. This somehow feels like a massive exercise into our own masochistic ego.

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