A Balanced Diet for the Starving Soul

Of the few things I can say I like about myself, my curiosity is one. I have always loved to learn, and I am excited by new topics and tidbits from history to philosophy, math, and science.

When a new question occurs to me, I hold onto it and excitement fills my chest knowing what comes next, feverish searching through Google web and image results, skimming Wikipedia pages, adding books to my Goodreads TBR. I am excited to learn to grow to become more whole and free and aware. I love to stretch my mind and consider new facts and concepts, but I’m not good at making it happen every day, and I’m not good at recognizing the difference between knowing things and understanding things. I’m not good at keeping my curiosity alive.

I admit, this only occurred to me yesterday when I saw this comic by Austin Kleon—an inspiring author I admire greatly—came scrolling up my Instagram feed.

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A post shared by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on

Ouch.

Yep, that’s me. I check the news first thing when I wake up too. I don’t think about what I want to know, what I need and should know, to grow as a person. I don’t think of all the wonders of the world and wonder at the way they work and how they came to be. I wake up, and I want to know what new drama has unfolded in the petty politics we humans have made for ourselves.

Not that I don’t think learning is important. I consider myself a smart person and I even think of myself as a curious one too, but Austin’s comic reminded me that learning, real learning, has not been a priority in my life. I am learning Spanish. I am learning new math. I have my flashcards on geography, state flags, and the anatomy of the eye all on my phone, but it’s not really learning, and it isn’t healthy.

And not that I don’t think current events, politics, and even pop culture are important. You have to know the world around you to navigate it, and you have to navigate it to live and find your happiness, but sometimes it all feels like a play put on the stage, and I’m following the story. It’s a good one, but I want to know what happens backstage and how the script materialized and how I might write my own one day.

The drive to know, to learn, and to discover can easily be tricked. Humans love novelty. We love to discover things and make things. We like to be smart. Social media, TV, tech companies, and advertisements all exploit your curiosity. They make you feel like you are learning and growing wiser while your soul dies of malnutrition.

My phone beeps pleasantly for breaking news and trending topics. It glows cool blue from the side of my bed, enticing me with promises to tell me all I need to know to make polite conversation and bond in mutual anger, outrage, and anxiety at work. I pick it up and scroll. I learn things. I know things. I am in the now in the know. My mind is happy, but not healthy.

Too much of anything is bad for you. A balanced and varied diet has always proven the healthiest.

All your knowledge should not come in the form of 140 character tweets, or sensational images on the news, or click-bait headlines on Facebook. You should know more than what happened yesterday, and you should look further than your own city, country, and conventional beliefs. Your day should be more than breaking news, and your mind should have more to live on than what bring in rating and advertising money. When you are starving can eat rocks and feel full, but you’re still dying.

Mindfulness is key. Become aware for where your information comes from and what kind of information you are consuming. Ask yourself how much time you devote to learning and if you are really learning anything at all. Your day should be more than breaking news, and your mind should have more to live on than what brings high ratings and cash from advertisers.

A starving person can eat rocks and feel better, but it won’t stop death from coming.

I want to study something. I want depth and context. I want to get frustrated by the work of understanding.  I want to stay curious and to feed my soul something good.

Just like the body feels hunger when it needs food, and thirst when it needs water, the mind feels curiosity when it is parched and starving. And like good eating habits, or remembering to drink the right amount of water every day, it takes mindfulness and willingness to forget, fail, and start again for long-term happiness and health. You have to bring learning into your life from something that happens passively and by accident to something you make time for because it’s critical to your well being.

I want to change my diet and learn to keep my soul alive.

I’m not sure yet what that means for me. I’m not sure yet how to do that with my schedule and limited resources, but maybe I can start by picking one or three things every morning that I want to know. I can ask a few questions about how the universe runs and how humans came to be who we are. I can start the day with burning curiosity over anything I choose from trivial to monumental and make time during the day to find answers, not just to know, but to understand.

“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

― Tove Jansson, Fair Play

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Featured photo is by Lacie Slezak and available freely on Unsplash

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Your Ignorance is an Ocean, and it’s Time You Learned to Swim

 

“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.”

— Isaac Newton

Last week I overheard something at work that normally would have sent me into a ranting rage if it weren’t for my resolution to mind my own business and stop being such a know-it-all all the time.

I was sitting at a table in our lounge and around me there were nothing but older white men. They were discussing the crazy weather we had been having and the reports for that day then one man, a new employee, said something like:

“You know what I don’t understand? How come you can watch three different channels and get three different weather reports, but these scientists claim to know what will happen 50 years from now because of so-called ‘global warming?'”

He thought he was very clever with that one. He let his comment hang in the air as if he alone had settled the long debate over climate change right then and there. After an awkward pause, one man spoke up a little. He replied that, actually, the weather reports weren’t so different from one another—I mean, it isn’t like you see 70 degrees forecast on one channel and 20 degrees on another—and that the models for climate change were, in fact, pretty accurate. The first man didn’t reply though, and no one else spoke up, but I could tell his question had had the intended effect on a few of them.

I chose not to speak up myself because, for one, I didn’t know this man, and two I knew that I would expend a lot of energy and get nowhere anyway. I’ll admit I was angry too. I was angry because these kinds of fake debate points are tiring and because, in my mind, he had committed a sin by seeking confirmation and followers in his willful ignorance!

But more than that it made me sad. This man missed an opportunity he had presented to himself to learn something new. He must have known there is an answer to such a question. He could have taken it his phone, fired up Google, and learned something that day, but he was too arrogant to consider that he didn’t know something. He stated his question as the answer—the end of the inquiry and not the beginning—and learned nothing.

Humans like to know things. We like it when other people think we know things too. We enjoy the respect knowledge commands, and we feel useful when our knowledge is relied upon. So, we go about pretending we know everything. We form opinions and tell ourselves they are the same as facts. Our perspective, our mindset, our upbringing, and our way of life are real and right, and all the rest is wrong. Case closed, discussion over.

The reality is scary. The reality is we don’t know much of anything. We are floating on an open sea with no land and no sign telling us how to survive or which way to swim. We cling to anything that feels solid, anything that feels like a fact because it is better to float on a lie than to risk drowning in the search for truth.

It doesn’t help that social media, advertisements, and ratings are killing our ability to investigate, deliver, and believe in facts. Now we are divided between believing everything and believing nothing and while we fight we are dying and so is the planet.

We are coming to a time when our survival will depend on our bravery in the face of our ignorance. It will be hard, but it starts with just a small step. It starts with you. It starts with seeing that you don’t know much for sure but that you can find the knowledge you need every day if you try.

You have to get comfortable with your ignorance. Tell yourself it’s ok not to be 100% sure. It’s okay not to have all the answers. At work, as a parent, in your relationship and in the face of your future but what isn’t okay is to give up on curiosity and genuine knowledge.

Science and human advancement are collective endeavors. It takes all of us, working together to move them. It takes the scientists who have a passion for truth and develop everyday new ad better ways to find it. It takes politicians who care about the future of all people to create policies that prioritize advancement and discovery over profits. It takes a voting body of people who elect officials who are honest and who demand and consume media that is fact based.

It takes all of us to move further into a better understanding of our reality and what we ought to be doing or going.

But how do we know what is right and wrong? How do we know who to trust? These are questions that bigger and better minds than mine are tackling right now, but I am learning that it does take a leap of faith, a hard thing for a nonreligious person like myself to accept. The best I can tell you is to look for consensus in the scientific community, in the intelligence community, and in responsible news reporting agencies.

This is the best we have, but we are weakening it by ignoring it, dismissing it, and refusing to take it seriously and make it an important part of our culture and daily lives.

Don’t read just one story. Don’t read stories from unknown and unverified media sources. Don’t just read the headlines and don’t share stories without reading. Ask questions and then look for answers. Look for answers in more than one place. Look for videos and articles about how to think logically and check out a few Crash Course videos on the basics of science and philosophy. It’s just a start, but it’s the start of something very big, a way of life where curiosity, logic, and knowledge are a priority.

This week, be curious, and do it with intention. Choose to learn something new or dig a little deeper into a story you saw fly across your timeline. Don’t let your own mind grow stagnant. Don’t just accept your own way of thinking and your own knowledge. Do not let yourself think you already know anything or that you cannot keep learning every day. Do not forget how far human curiosity and refusal to give up or give in has gotten us. We are far from the end of what we can know.

Get out there, and get swimming through your own ignorance. Then teach something, and then help those around you do the same. We only get better, we only do better, when we learn better, and that starts with each of us.

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Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash