Book II Chapter Eight — Bertrand Russell
I spend most of my nights here in what has become known as Socrates’ Cave. I love falling into sleep and awakening here to the sounds of the stream, birds and the occassional barking dog. In my deepest imagination I could not imagine a better place to be. If it does exist beyond imagination, I am making my way there for no home for me has ever been permanent.
I have had more time to myself of late. That has been good. My core is that of a loner, but I am not a hermit. I enjoy the company of others in the sharing of joy and conversation. I just seem to require it less and less these days. It takes a great deal of energy to be in soul contact with another being.
This morning Bertrand Russell is coming here to share a hot tub and a bit of brandy. Our conversations always leave me filled with a greater sense of wonder about the role of philosophy, god and religion to humanity. There he is at the entrance.
“Good morning Bertrand. How wonderful to see you again.”
“And to you a good morning, my dear friend. Here we are, two loners about to engage in what is known in Gaelic as Anam cara. We best be careful else the others will believe we are becoming more social.”
They both share laughter as each knows the other cares nothing of gossip. Especially when the talk of others is about themselves.
“I welcome you into my home. I am glad to see you are able to remove yourself from the library for a leisurely hot soak.”
“The wise use of leisure, Socrates, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will be bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.”
“I am not sure I can agree with you on that first statement Bertrand. Although I worked many long hours, once freed, I have not experienced boredom. In my life I can not recall a single moment of boredom. My imagination was so expansive there was no room for boredom to exist.”
“That is why you are the gatekeeper here my friend. Your imagination inspires and circulates like air among us all.”
“Thank you my friend.” I reply.
“There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty… A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.”
“Once again I must disagree with you my friend but perhaps because I have not experienced boredom, I am not the best antagonist. I strongly question if a failure to be inspired by what is around us leads to boredom that it could be taught to students.”
My friend Socrates always the moralist. Perhaps it is as unwise to spend one’s vital capital as one’s financial capital. Perhaps some element of boredom is a necessary ingredient in life. A wish to escape from boredom is natural; indeed, all races of mankind have displayed it as opportunity occurred… Wars, pogroms, and persecutions have all been part of the flight from boredom; even quarrels with neighbors have been found better than nothing. Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.”
“Perhaps Bertrand I am out of touch with the whims of society, but I do not see boredom as a problem any more than I see leisure activity as a moral issue.”
“We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement…”
“Do you have a picture of the ideal life then my friend?” I ask.
“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life… Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”
“None of that sounds boring to me. And here all this time I thought I was already living the good life. Now I have something more to look forward to.”
Both men laugh and slide deeper into the hot spring water.
“But tell me.” I ask. “If as you say boredom is a natural part of life, will humankind ever find satisfaction with their lives?
“In the conscious desires of the man who seeks power for its own sake there is something dusty: when he has it he wants only more power, and does not find rest in contemplation of what he has. The lover, the poet and the mystic find a fuller satisfaction than the seeker after power can ever know, since they can rest in the object of their love, whereas the seeker after power must be perpetually engaged in some fresh manipulation if he is not to suffer from a sense of emptiness. I think therefore that the satisfactions of the lover, using the word in its broadest sense, exceed the satisfactions of the tyrant, and deserve a higher place among the ends of life.”
“I take that as a yes?”
“Well. Yes and no.” Bertrand answers.
“In that case.” I reply. “I better open the brandy. This is going to be a long leisurely morning with no moments of boredom. I am positive.”
The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Book II Chapter Nine — Maya Angelou will be published on Sunday, November 03, 2019.