When on the Appalachian Trail a couple years ago, I could not pinpoint exactly why boredom, despite the monotony of everyday life alone in the woods, never overcame me. In one of the simplest points of my life, filled with absolutely no form of entertainment, I was most content. After the first several weeks, I searched for why this was the case. I wondered why I could be so happy with so little, so content with nothing. I was working toward a goal that was not graspable and there was no competition. Often I was in excruciating situations with nothing driving me to proceed. There were no ties to the trail other than a discovery I never could have imagined would come so boldly: absolute love and peace.
I concluded with more confidence than in anything I have ever believed that amusement was not a way to prevent boredom. It may seem strange because amusement sometimes is defined as a way to pass time in a pleasurable way. I agree with that definition but only on a temporary basis. The goal of passing time may be the fundamental error with amusement. What I am contemplating is long term happiness or peace, something completely conflicting with desire to “pass time”. I thought about the wealthy man versus the middle class. It is commonly known that the wealthy man has a tendency to be less happy and less content despite having more than he could ever need. This shows me that physical wealth does not necessarily have any correlation to contentedness. The wealthy man may be distracted from true happiness from his desire for material wealth. It is a viscous cycle. Attainment of physical wealth results in dissatisfaction but the only way to become satisfied seems to attain more wealth. It makes me sympathetic towards the materialistic Lamborghini owner. I am inclined to think that he is just a man looking for happiness and purpose, a theme that unites almost every human.
My disgust with the idea of amusement is not limited to the wealthy population however. It spans almost everyone I know. In fact, this may be a defining characteristic of American culture. On April 21, after competing in the Collegiate National Championships earlier in the day, I wandered the hotel, sulking in my own embarrassment with my performance earlier in the day while some of my teammates celebrated our eighteenth place finish as a team. That night my team spanned the entire spectrum with me embracing bitter frustration and my teammates celebrating the poor display of our potential, neither of which reaction I am proud of. I sat on a mattress in my room and remained there long enough to hear a line from the documentary 180° South. The narrator of the movie said that the video game industry in the United States uses as much power as the entire city of San Diego. That statement struck me partly because of the sheer volume of so much unnecessary energy spent, but mostly because I have always had a frustration with the concept of video games. I am not some raging soccer mom who thinks video games are the cause of violence. Instead, I simply never saw the satisfaction that resulted from that entertainment.
My parents initially refused to buy me any sort of game console, anticipating what would result of it. Instead, it was a gift from my aunt, uncle and cousins. It was a translucent orange Nintendo 64 outfitted with Mario Kart, Star Fox, and GoldenEye. The games were exciting at first. It was an animated life in which I could do things that I could not do in real life. To foster the feeling of accomplishment, the game created levels. The levels became harder and harder but eventually I beat the game. However, something peculiar that always stands out to me as a primary flaw with the concept of amusement is the lack of feeling of accomplishment that results. There is momentary satisfaction but near instantly the question of “What next?” proposes itself. The problem with a game is that unlike work, nothing was inevitably accomplished, and as a result, nothing to really be proud of.
Amusement parks are also on my list of tasteless pastimes. In my experience, such trips have always been enjoyable. But when I reflect on these visits, the individual rides are a blur if not completely missing from my memory while the silly things I did with my friends are clear and bold. Human relationships are satisfying, no doubt, which is why these things cannot be completely abandoned as useless. However, I believe they can be replaced. No man ever stepped off a roller coaster feeling on top of the world. Just like their route through space, the resulting emotional high rapidly takes a crash down to baseline. I feel this is similar to the adrenaline seeking thrill seeker who eventually gets himself killed. A man who transitions from jumping out of planes to jumping off bridges to jumping off cliffs, in my opinion, is just as misguided as the wealthy man. But what can we do to instead maintain a high?
While unrelated to amusement, the dissatisfaction that results from sport is also a struggle. Is there a way to balance desire and competition with peace? It once seemed evident to me that the only solution, the only way to attain peace, was to be the best. This would probably pull all potential out of me but it would probably also starve me of any happiness. It is a fruitless pursuit. I do catch myself with those feelings sometimes but quickly I remember why sport is not comparative to amusement. However, the athlete in situations can be just as misguided as the wealthy man or the thrill seeker or even a junkie.
It’d be nice if I could produce some one line conclusion about how to attain peace. But the truth is that this whole post has been about ways I have concluded not to attain it. In reality, I cannot yet completely grasp and translate into written words what it was about my experience on the Appalachian Trail that fostered such a sustained form of contentment. I can only provide a description of what I think may have been right, a sort of concoction that allowed me to be free.
What life out there did was take away the distractions. It simplified everything and allowed me to be exactly where I was when I was there. While that trip stands out to me as a long term venture where this occurred, it is certainly not the only time I have felt entirely content. In reality, I have attained that feeling of complete and utter satisfaction almost every day since then. In my training, for example, I allow and mandate myself to be in the moment which sometimes makes for some excruciating realities. In the classroom, I may be looking out the window, but when I look out the window, I really look out that window. It is less about focusing attention in one direction but instead about focusing itself. Instead of distracting myself from life, I embrace it and try to see it for what it really is. Even in spontaneous periods of voluntary or involuntary suffering, I treat my life like an experiment rather than a depressing reality. Abandon the fear of death and the fear of pain and unknown and observe life from an external standpoint of the consciousness and maybe we can all attain a glimpse of peace with this life. Struggle is always apparent. However, to separate oneself from that struggle and observe it as superficial may be what allowed me to recognize such peace. I cannot be completely sure of what allows for peace, but I know the right setting to allow for it and I know a few things that can distract us from it.