Buridan’s Ass


I suspect only people with dull brains or huge egos get bored (dull brains need high levels of stimulus, huge egos block the view to the outside world). There is enough of interest, especially in the modern world, for most people to ward off boredom. This is probably the reason that people who live in the modern world have fewer children: there are more ways to spend your time than just having sex. Anyone who doesn’t live alone in a darkened room should be able to find something of interest to do with their time. And even for someone who does live in such sensory deprivation there is always something to think about. After all, monks, hermits, meditators and people jaded by sensory overload actually seek out silence and darkness.

Yet the problem for me and probably many other people is not that there isn’t enough to do but that there is too much. This was pretty much the problem Buridan’s ass had: it couldn’t decide between two equally appealing piles of hay and eventually died of hunger. Having to choose makes settling on just one activity hard and induces, at least in me, a vague sense of distraction and dissatisfaction.

So rather than imagining a smorgasbord of things I could be doing it might be better to simply settle for what I am doing. Instead of viewing life as a race against time to get things done and constantly weighing up the benefits of one activity over another, settling on one thing and forgetting the rest may be best.

The alternative is to live in an enervated state. It is to be faced with a menu of a thousand dishes, any one of which leaves you, once chosen, regretful that you didn’t choose something else. It is to live with the constant nagging fear that you will at some point leave this world with your to-do list still half-undone. Then you will want to complain, ‘I haven’t finished yet. I still had so much to do!’ If possible I would prefer not to die feeling that I had just been rudely interrupted. Nor do I want to live with the constant suspicion that I could be living a better life than the one I’m actually living.

In short, I want to cultivate a spartan, monkish feeling that the life I’m living is enough. Yet I don’t want to go to some dank monastery inhabited by socially inept monks to achieve this. Nor do I want to go on a Buddhist retreat. I want to cultivate an acceptance of my everyday world right here, right now. No sandals, no haircloth, no bells, no breathing exercises.


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