The greatest lie, in our maximized world, is that more is more or that better is truly better.
Consider, for a moment, the plain donut. Perhaps it comes from a chain, paired with chain coffee. You could scorn it. I have. You could think of the better donuts you know, the artisan shops you could support or the Instagrammed glories from better internet lives than your own. I have.
Or you could dip the donut in the coffee and enjoy it.
We are constantly sold ideas, often expressed through ambition and not appreciation. Don’t you want the best donut? Won’t you travel for it? Publications sell us envy, greed and more in glorifying the best. And the best is good, no doubt. But does the pursuit of the best – the cult of maximization, as it were – overshadow our actual enjoyment of the object at hand?
I’d say yes.
Think of silence. Think of space. Think of the glories of absence: absence from, rather than things. Often, simple elegance and peace is the greatest luxury. A reprieve from Twitter and texts sounds glorious. Of course, it’s just a click away for any of us but can we? Are we free to?
What if we miss something?
This constant planning for the future and perpetual motion and competition harms us. It isn’t just a moralizing, bland “you should”: it’s a living, breathing, you could. You could chill out. You could meditate. You could try and find the peace that supersedes any symbolic object – be it a job, an apartment, or a prize – that you think represents it. You could find fulfillment from within and extend it throughout.
But that’s tricky.
Spirituality is a tough subject. In the internet age, we prize the visible, the tangible, the clear and the gamefied. That’s fine. Facts are great. But concepts, overarching sweeping old-fashioned ideals are nothing to sneer at. Cynicism doesn’t make you smarter or stronger; all it does is crystalize pessimism into a pre-emptive shield. Push yourself to go further.
People, both individually and at a cultural level, often find themselves needing markers. Look at the historical practice of idol worship: large concepts chopped down into the neat and clear. But we have taken the wrong lesson from that. By destroying idols, we should be saying “we can find a path to a higher power without false signifiers.” Instead we’re saying “this is dumb.”
The broad this – religion, spirituality, hope, love – are all the concepts that cannot be grasped, except faintly. Poetry guesses at love, but can never replicate its wonder. Prose hints at awe – of the sea, of life, of the magnificent forces that humble us – but again, can never replace the beautiful, perfect stormy night. But increasingly we find the very notion of the greater and grander insulting.
It is a vicious arrogance to assume that we, the first generation of the internet-able, are smarter than our predecessors. Especially if we aren’t any happier.
So I encourage you to humble yourself. To look to broader ideas. To meditate, to ask, to sit in silence or walk or quit or cut off internet. Our roots are not online. Our purpose isn’t here. The internet is at best a tool and at worst a distraction.
But what is it a tool for? If we use it for maximizing, it’s the best donuts, the best Tinder dates, the best videos and prose and all the rest. All good. All great. But why, why, why, are these things important? What are the broader, bigger concepts those things represent?
Love, hope, peace, calm and the rest are eternal concepts that will resonate within you. They are not dead ideas. You are not shut out from them. Fight cynicism and approach them, not merely their stand-ins.