19 March 2016

The Elusive Mind

I recently watched a TED video by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the renown Eat, Pray, Love. It was generally about creative minds, and people who based their works on creativity. Artist, is how the profession commonly termed.
She opened the talk by sharing her story of how often it is that, when she met new people, they seemed to be worry about her life, whether she is doing okay or not. This is in regard to her mega best-selling book, and people ask if she lives with the anxiety of whether she will or will never be able to write another books with similar success.

We often heard stories about great artists whose life turned miserable, or even end their life in tragic manner. I used to think that the cause is great pressure of popularity, which include disturbing fan and sudden change of lifestyle. You know, falling into materialism, only to figure out that it is actually an empty shell. No true happiness inside.
Yet I just figured out from the talk, that the creativity itself is a difficult thing to handle. Of course we can easily understand the pain of failing, and blaming all the cause to ourselves is a definite source of destruction. But then, the great artists, whose work are well known across the globe, also find it difficult to cope with the success as putting the cause of success all to themselves was hard to bear as well. Yes, it is apparently a heavy heavy thing to feel that you have a very brilliant mind. 

Elizabeth continues her talk by explaining a fact from ancient time. The great minds of that time were believed to have outer source who helped producing their work, be it a being or a divine whispering. Like in ancient Rome, Socrates for example, were commonly acknowledged to have a Genius. Yes, it was to have and not to be. Rather than considered as an integrated part of a self, Genius was reckoned as an independent being. Like Dobby the house-elf in Harry Potter. This way, they have some other thing to share the pain of failing or the joy of succeeding, that is often too hard to be faced alone. So that whether it was a failure or a success, it was also partly The Other's work. Such believe are obviously scientifically unexplainable (yet?), so that it was erased at Renaissance time. It was then considered that human are solely responsible for both their failure or success. But, as Elizabeth said, it was often too difficult, and she found some artist colleagues of hers are back in practicing such believe, to put some of the burden to the elusive being. She does it as well. Once in a while, as she said, when she faced difficulties continuing her work, she would stop for sometime and stare at an empty corner of her room, pretending that there stand her Dobby version, and talked to it to help her do the job. After that, she believes that she only has to do the best she can. The rest is Dobby's work. And with it, life becomes easier and creativity becomes more bearable.

As some may have expected, several comments imply that the idea is simply stupid. In a society where logical thinking often become the only parameter of what to believe, I guess it is not a surprise. Yet on the other hand, I'm not sure whether the people who ridicule the idea really comprehend what is felt by Elizabeth and the other geniuses, as they have never really been on the same spotlight anyway.  

Having watched the video, I personally feel both grateful and sad at the same time.
I am a muslim. I was born in a muslim family, and raised with a muslim way of thinking. It is the very pillar of our religion, which is then ingrained in our believe, that everything has been written down. There is a greater power, Allah, who controls the failing or succeeding. And this fact is openly acknowledged in our ultimate guide book, The Koran. Knowing this, we can deal with our work more peacefully, because what we are asked to do is only to be our best, and not to make sure that it will be a masterpiece. We all know very well that success is not really a matter of hard work, that sometimes no matter how much effort we put into something, it still doesn't work the way we expect. When we face failure, we know we don't need to blame ourselves. Evaluating, yes, to the degree of correcting what we can control. But not blaming. Because, maybe the failure is indeed partly caused by our fault, but that is also what's written. Same case goes for success, we don't need to, and should not, put all the credits to ourselves. In fact, it is considered arrogance, if we did. 
Realizing this, I become more conscious on how Allah loves us very tremendously. He guides us from the very beginning to rely on Him only, for our own sake. 

"No evil befalls on the earth nor in your own souls, but it is in a book before We bring it into existence; surely that is easy to Allah. So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant at what He has given you; and Allah does not love any arrogant boaster" (Al-Hadid: 22-23)

I am sad as well, because.. I don't know. Maybe because it becomes more clear to me how useless cognitive capability can be, in search of the truth. And while it often considers as the super power to determine basic values in humanity, to decide what is right and what is not, human mind can become so blinded when they lost their humbleness and sincerity. 
Social norms, particularly in western society which heavily rely on human thinking, are significantly shifting only in matter of decades. What used to be taboo is considered normal today. What was normal then, is now regarded as conservative. It is no difference in the academic world. Scientific finding is ever-evolving, which is hopefully a good thing, as it may mark the move toward betterment. But the changes in both social norms and scientific finding which are the outcome of human thinking show that it is unsettled. It is prone to subjectivity (which explains the shifting values) and mistakes or flaws (which is why it needs to be progressing and advancing). Aren't these dynamic suppose to hint people that they could not rely on their own thinking? 
Imagine a house with crooked or weak base, no doubt that it will fall. A base has to be something that is solid. A foundation has to be something that is eternally true and perfect. 

"This Book (the Koran), there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil)." (Al-Baqarah: 2) 

Wallahu a'lam bish shawab.

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