“… What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusionary -property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life -don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
The last ten years of my life can broadly be defined by the pursuit of knowledge. My high school did not encourage me to learn, nor inspire me to autonomously pursue the wealth of knowledge available to me in the Internet age. Consequently, I couldn’t help but feeling a little malnourished when I arrived at the gates of what I once considered to be “the real world.” For years now I have had an acute obsession with abstract, intangible concepts as a practice of catching up on what I felt I had missed. Anything from YouTube videos, deep Wikipedia dives, obscure podcasts, difficult reads, and philosophy and psychology forums, have been water to the branching tree that was once nothing more than a seed. To learn and to know is such a precious concept to me – more important than anything else.
If learning is such an important concept and widely recognized as good then why, by the time our brains are fully functioning, is it so often forgotten? Is it our association with education? Do we view knowledge only as a resource proprietary to the confines of a school or university? If so, did you feel on your final day, dressed in cap and gown, that you knew all you needed to know? Did the walls that instilled knowledge not inspire you to continue its pursuit? Pity. Perhaps we can reference the the biblical tale of The Garden? Where life was and always would have been, so long as we made the choice not to know, but we know how that turned out. In choosing to know, we also chose to see. And what did we see? And how hungry were we for more? Why were we shamed? Why did we feel guilt? Why has the acquisition of knowledge over time not freed us from those superstitious chains? And what are we to make of the fear this conjured up within ourselves? What environments promote learning? Why do our parents brag of the near-authoritarian environments created that “encouraged” children to learn just half a century ago? Even now, we are encouraged to create and maintain a space which offers reprieve from our daily lives – a functional area where we learn and try new things, plants and animals that help us be responsible, artwork that consistently inspires. Is there a way to encapsulate the incorporeal elements of this space into an ideology that, in its universality, does not surrender its integrity?
A few days ago at lunch, I showed my friend a video of the flash game Line Rider (in which you draw lines that a cartoon in a sled rides down) which was synchronized to some classical music. The game was really popular in 2006 and I was heavily involved with community surrounding it. The wave of nostalgia hit me like a freight train and I got really excited trying to explain all of the elements that made it special to me. My speech was spry, my expression welcoming and excitable, smiles not withheld. I guess my friend saw what I felt and he told me that while he didn’t understand everything I was talking about, he was glad to see me so joyous in remembering it. That’s the way I get when I’m talking about things I am passionate about, and I get that way a lot because I am passionate about a lot of things. The fire to learn courses deeply through me, and it pains me when I can’t find that in others. Everyone of course does not wear the deepest desires of their hearts on their sleeves, but it shouldn’t take three cigarettes and a sixer to find out the guy across the way at work likes it too.
Knowledge and growth are powerful tools that help us chase the ever-elusive better versions of ourselves. Plant your seed, find your water, and grow. Let your thirst be forever unquenched and at the end of a full life, look down to see not branches or roots, but forests.