Friday 14 August 2015

How to find motivation in a world where resolution is derailed by pleasure?

An inability to find motivation is extremely common - the usual solutions are distraction (for the masses) or careerism (for the elite).

The deep problem is that most people are exogenous (not endogenous) personalities - their drives, evaluations, motivations, purposes etc. come from outside, from society, from other people; and society is not providing motivations.

Why not? Because society is secular and the public sphere (whether in school or college, or in the mass media, or in conversations between friends) does not describe life as having any purpose or meaning or any special role for us as individuals.

All that people pick-up is that life is about seeking happiness or satisfactions, or doing stimulating or cool things - enjoying oneself.

But these are just short term psycho-physical responses, and they do not motivate, they do not provide a shape or direction - indeed quite the opposite, because a life conceptualized in terms of achieving pleasurable short-term responses will repeatedly derail and sabotage any long term purposes or understandings.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that spiritual reform is not only vital, but urgent; and ought to be each persons first priority today -- because without it, lacking it, there cannot be any progress at all towards anything better -- at most we might steel ourselves to a few hours or days of resolute motivation in a particular direction... until some chance emerges of something pleasurable now - at which point the quest is abandoned.


David said...

I'm only 35 this year but still old enough to have become bored enough by the meaningless futility of the modern western worlds aspirations, its empty careerism or constant adolescent distractions, that it has motivated me to search for many years and years, to have looked for something else, and eventually have found it and become a very happy Christian by way of Buddhism (but lets be honest, this religion does not deliver any way as much as Christianity does - Imagine my excitement when I found a 'better offer' - to be honest I'm surprised so many other Western converts to Buddhism are happy to stop there and settle for an eternity of isolated bliss without the joy of relationships with other sentient beings). This achievement has always been based on an inner intuitive belief that 'Spirituality' in a broader sense is where the ultimate answers to life's questions must lie and that a spiritual path is the only way to find lasting joy and fulfilment in this life and the next. This has always just seemed obviously true to me, although, the best or 'right' Spiritual path to take was not as obvious and required significant investigation and some not so good life experiences to reveal this truth to me.

As you say the only way to transcend the boredom and futility of constant pleasure seeking or distraction is by pursuing spiritual knowledge and developing maturity with some seriousness. My only wonder is other people do not feel compelled to do this in the same way that I have done in my life spontaneously. Even if I have tried for certain parts of my life, for reasons of imagined expediency, to suppress my spiritual impulses and need to be a spiritual seeker, I could not do it. I suppose therefore I must be an endogenous personality type? I have always valued truth and the pursuit of truth and higher values, irrespective of whatever my culture or society tells me, I have always had to find out for myself by investigating independently (Although I have found out the hard way what I could have learned from traditional wisdom if I had set aside my pride). It hasn't been easy but I feel I have grown to know God's purpose of meaning for human life and what I can do best to make good of his great gift.
I am filled with wonder and gratitude daily for this gift.

What I struggle to understand nowadays is why more people aren't doing this sincere 'questing' in the same way. If there were enough people doing his we might expect the combined effect to make a significantly positive impact on the overall culture and societal values and aspirations. I assume this must be partly accounted for by the media and elite groups acting to suppress an 'innate human spiritual drive' that has been so obvious in almost all other historic human civilisations...or have more people lost this impulse and I am a rare curiosity?! Now that I have seen the benefits of being a Christian it is increasing hard to understand why the 'spiritually hungry' are not desperate to have a taste of something more wholesome and nourishing, even just to check it is edible. It feels as though we live in a world where the spiritually starving homeless man of the west is offered a delicious sandwich and turns it down because he mistakes it for some kind of counterfeit or is distracted by a nearby bar and goes to get drunk and lose himself rather than eat and be nourished again, to feel warm and full again. But this is what we see with tedious monotony. People not growing up or learning from experience where true fulfilment in life may be found. I pray they will open their eyes and the great spiritual drought of the West many finally pass into history to usher in a new era of higher spiritual consciousness. This will require patience and may well take a great deal of time. I just hope the transition is not any more painful than it needs to be.

ted said...

@David, Nicely stated. I am a Catholic-convert to Mahayana Buddhism and now exploring Christianity again (albeit not identifying with in any particular denomination...yet some more than others). I'm curious as to what paths you have taken, and where yourself landing with Christianity now. I also feel the Christian path is more full in its offering and aligns better with my particular idiom.

David said...

@Ted - Sorry for the late reply to your comment I have been meaning to write a more lengthy reply but have not been at leisure to do so recently.

A full answer to why or how I became a Christian is perhaps too long and idiosyncratic a story to relate fully here. However, with reference to Buddhism, I did give it a fairly good go as a potential spiritual path a few years ago and did find a lot of things I responded to spiritually, found valuable and insightful about the human condition and how we can develop personally and spiritually. For example, the explicit emphasis on values within the noble eight-fold path such as generosity and cultivating loving-kindness. I also instinctively was attracted to the Buddhas exhortation that we, as spiritual seekers, do not just take his say so, or anyone else for that matter, for what constitutes wisdom; this he argued is only acquired through direct experience. As a scientifically trained person I found it more accessible and a kind of introspective experimental approach to discerning truth. I attended several workshops on meditation and even stayed in a Buddhist monastery over a weekend for the experience, which was mostly v. Good and helped me reconnect with a sense that I belonged to a meaningful universe. I sat by the side of a pleasant Scottish spring listening to the water trickle along and even watched the brightly plumaged peacocks roam regally in the tranquil grounds of the monastery. Very pleasant and a tuning into the flow of life again if nothing more. After dinner discussions with the meditation instructor were interesting and I badgered the poor chap mercilously with probing philosophical or theological arguments. We eventually settled on the often quoted story of the Buddha describing his remedy to worldly suffering as like pulling out a poison arrow instead of wasting too much time wondering who fired it and why, etc. Of course this made for an uncomfortable and difficult impass in our post-prandial musings. He did not know why there was an arrow at all, who fired it nor did the Buddha recommend trying to figure out these seemingly unsurmountable problems. True to the physicians remedy the Buddha only promised a cure for what he knew would work and what he understood the problem to be i.e. how to escape the world, beautiful peacocks and babbling brooks, to boot. How to end personal worldly suffering. My inner voice and intuition told me that this is not the whole story to the myriad possibilities and wonders of existence in which we find ourselves. It seemed like an incomplete explanation. In particular, Buddhism seemed/seems weak at accounting for creativity, imagination and beauty/asthetics; except as perilous sirens which bind the ignorant to the world of form and existence, to Samsara: but, has anyone who has seen a child smile or a breathtaking sunset really believed it is a hollow lie to keep us bound to the wheel? Why is there a wheel anyway? I don't think so.

I also found Buddhist practitioners were mainly (especially western converts or aspirants), albeit often for noble reasons or through very difficult experiences of suffering, were world-weary people and primarily motivated to escape existence not enter into it fully with joy. This seemed to be mainly because they could not find another way to end the existential hell of living in the Western modern world. Granted it was hard for me to find as well and took me over thirty years...

David said...

My conclusion is, and I must admit I had not connected the dots until I began to read this blog, that the Buddha was right about how to live a better, more noble and meaningful life, but wrong about the conclusions. He,in my opinion,"threw the baby out with the bath water" by focusing his spiritual path on escaping the world, but this is hardly surprising giving the intellectual and spiritual legacy which he inherited and he undoubtedly an introspective psychologist of some genius.

To put it another way, I believe that true love is a living relational thing. The peacock and Scottish spring are beautiful because I can see them and interact with them 'lovingly.' not deny the reality of their existence. The ultimate joys of life are creative loving relationships and all their possibilities. Nirvana is basking in the shade of God's love not becoming a sincere friend to him or other souls. A potential reality that only began to crystalize as a possibility once I began exploring Christianity in earnest. Certainly I still do not have all the answers but my intuition is that the jigsaw puzzle is more complete with these elements than the Buddhist picture which is to reject the manifest in preference to the unmanifest rather than recognise that both Plato and Aristotle were right in their own ways. It seems to me God created the world for us to live in it and not to abandon it all,including all the wonders of physicality from having a body, sensual pleasures and the myriad of wonderful moments of existence: a childs smile, holding a spouses hand, looking at a peacocks feathers; although I must admit their cries are rather aweful; its not a perfect world yet after all, but a work in progress.