April 20, 2012

End of the Work Day

I feel exhausted after work today. It was a good day. A good week. Am helping a wonderful non-profit with a conference they have coming up, and doing data entry and coordinating work for that. I am glad to be contributing.

I remember being tired like this after a day's work of being a professor as well. Preparing for class, grading, working on my own research, keeping up with new articles--that was non-stop work. The people in academia are some of the hardest working people I know.

There is an important difference, though, between how I feel now after a day's work and how I felt when I was in academia. Back then relaxing from work meant taking a break from philosophical thinking. Obviously I don't speak for how it is with all academics. But for me, after 8-10 hours of reading, writing, teaching philosophy, I needed a break from anything philosophical. I think that is why I started learning the piano then; something different, something which engaged a different part of me than what I was using all day.

Interestingly, now after a day's work I feel like relaxing by thinking philosophically. I get to experience philosophy again as something refreshing and simple. As something I come to on my own, without constantly worrying about if someone else already had the idea I am thinking or if enough people will like what I write in order for it to be published.

I am glad that now my job and my philosophy are separate. I find my current job intellectually and emotionally exciting and fulfilling. Because the habits I am learning are different from what I was used to, I feel like all of me is fully engaged when I am at work. I am fully present, and that is a nice experience. And since my job involves tasks like making phone calls, cataloging information and being present for any new tasks that come up, I can't follow any philosophical train of thoughts that pass through my mind. I have to pause when a philosophical thought comes, note it, and save it for later. I was worried when I left academia that perhaps this kind of situation would make me yearn for academia again. But now I don't feel that way at all. Saving the philosophical thought for later is actually a great experience. By noting it, it is like the thought is lodged in my mind, and while I am doing my work, my unconscious is working over the thought and fine tuning it. Actually not consciously thinking and brooding over the idea does wonders for keeping the idea fresh and alive. And when I take a break for lunch or am taking the metro home, the thought is there for me--polished by the unconscious, ready for me to examine with the happy realization that after a good day's work, the idea is there for me to play around with it.

I love my current work partly because when I am at work now I am not yearning for greener pastures. There is the image in society that doing a desk job is a form of alienated labor, as if a person is being jailed for eight hours when instead as a professor they could be having a conversation with a colleague in a cafe at 11 in the morning or trekking somewhere as an explorer. But I have done the academic thing. I am happy I did it. I am also happy that is not my job now. So when I am working now, I don't find myself thinking if I am missing out on some better life. That sense of worrying if a better life is being missed out on--that is a killer thought which drains all of one's energies. It doesn't matter how one defines that better life; just the sense that there is a better life elsewhere than where one is cripples one's spirits, and makes the time go by veeeeeerrrrryyyy sssslllloooowwwllly.

Another difference between me now and me earlier is that now I enjoy philosophy in snippets, in half an hour or hour chunks. Now I don't feel that I reflect best about my life if I spend more hours of the day on it. The amount of time one spends thinking about philosophy does not necessarily correlate to thinking deeply about that topic. Or to thinking with the most satisfaction. Thinking deeply in philosophy correlates to thinking with the greatest efficiency -- of getting to the heart of the issue swiftly and hanging out in the space for a little while, and then letting the unconscious work it over for a day. I have noticed that to cultivate this kind of efficient thinking it is not necessary to sit with philosophy books in front of one, or be pouring through the Philosopher's Index at a library. Cultivating it requires simply being a reflective person, and that can mean simply reflecting for a moment here while brushing, or a moment there when walking, or a moment there when eating.

"Bharath, this is all well and good as inspiration. But how does it relate to actually solving philosophical issues such as the mind-body problem or the free-will problem? You are just waxing poetic. And that's great if it works for you. But surely the manner of reflection you describe--a snippet here and a snippet there--is not the way to go about solving issues as deep and intractable as the mind-body problem or moral nihilism! It sounds like you have now become more like a self-help philosopher. Good for you. But come on! This is not the way one goes about discovering philosophical truths!"

Strong objection. I am glad for the philosophy I did in writing it down. Will ponder on it in the snippet way in the course of the next few days and see what comes to mind.

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