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Series II - Chapter 11 - ‘Interest’
HE WAS A school principal with several college degrees. He had been very keenly interested in education, and had also worked hard for various kinds of social reform; but now, he said, though still quite young, he had lost the spring of life. He carried on with his duties almost mechanically, going through the daily routine with weary boredom; there was no longer any zest in what he did, and the drive which he had once felt was completely gone. He had been religiously inclined and had striven to bring about certain reforms in his religion, but that too had dried up.
He saw no value in any particular action.
Why? “All action leads to confusion, creating more problems, more mischief. I have tried to act with thought and intelligence, but it invariably leads to some kind of mess; the several activities in which I have engaged have all made me feel depressed, anxious and weary, and they have led nowhere. Now I am afraid to act, and the fear of doing more harm than good has caused me to withdraw from all save the minimum of action.”
What is the cause of this fear? Is it the fear of doing harm? Are you withdrawing from life because of the fear of bringing about more confusion? Are you afraid of the confusion that you might create, or of the confusion within yourself? If you were clear within yourself and from that clarity there were action, would you then be fearful of any outward confusion which your action might create? Are you afraid of the confusion within or without?
“I have not looked at it in this way before, and I must consider what you say.”
Would you mind bringing about more problems if you were clear in yourself? We like to run away from our problems, by whatever means, and thereby we only increase them. To expose our problems may appear confusing, but the capacity to meet the problems depends on the clarity of approach. If you were clear, would your actions be confusing? “I am not clear. I don’t know what I want to do. I could join some ism of the left or of the right but that would not bring about clarity of action. One may shut one’s eyes to the absurdities of a particular ism and work for it, but the fact remains that there is essentially more harm than good in the action of all isms. If I were very clear within myself, I would meet the problems and try to clear them up. But I am not clear. I have lost all incentive for action.”
Why have you lost incentive? Have you lost it in the over expenditure of limited energy? Have you exhausted yourself in doing things that have no fundamental interest for you? Or is it that you have not yet found out what you are genuinely interested in? “You see, after college I was very keen on social reform, and I ardently worked at it for some years; but I began to see the pettiness of it, so I dropped it and took up education. I really worked hard at education for a number of years, not caring for anything else; but that too I finally dropped because I was getting more and more confused. I was ambitious, not for myself, but for the work to succeed; but the people with whom I worked were always quarrelling, they were jealous and personally ambitious.”
Ambition is an odd thing. You say you were not ambitious for yourself, but only for the work to succeed. Is there any difference between personal and so-called impersonal ambition? You would not consider it personal or petty to identify yourself with an ideology and work ambitiously for it; you would call that a worthy ambition, would you not? But is it? Surely, you have only substituted one term for another, ‘impersonal’ for ‘personal; but the drive, the motive is still the same. You want success for the work with which you are identified. For the term ‘I’ you have substituted the term ‘work’, ‘system’, ‘country’, ‘God’, but you are still important. Ambition is still at work, ruthless, jealous, feudal. Is it because the work was not successful that you dropped it? Would you have carried on if it had been?
“I don’t think that was it. The work was fairly successful, as any work is if one gives time, energy and intelligence to it. I gave it up because it led nowhere; it brought about some temporary alleviation, but there was no fundamental and lasting change.”
You had the drive when you were working, and what has happened to it? What has happened to the urge, the flame? Is that the problem? “Yes, that is the problem. I had the flame once, but now it is gone.”
Is it dormant, or is it burnt out through wrong usage so that only ashes are left? Perhaps you have not found your real interest. Do you feel frustrated? Are you married?
“No, I do not think I am frustrated, nor do I feel the need of a family or of the companionship of a particular person. Economically I am content with little. I have always been drawn to religion in the deep sense of the word, but I suppose I wanted to be ‘successful’ in that field too.”
If you are not frustrated, why aren’t you content just to live? “I am not getting any younger, and I don’t want to rot, to vegetate.”
Let us put the problem differently. What are you interested in?
Not what you should be interested in, but actually? “I really don’t know.”
Aren’t you interested in finding out? “But how am I to find out?”
Do you think there is a method, a way to find out what you are interested in? It is really important to discover for yourself in what direction your interest lies. So far you have tried certain things, you have given your energy and intelligence to them, but they have not deeply satisfied you. Either you have burnt yourself out doing things that were not of fundamental interest to you, or your real interest is still dormant, waiting to be awakened. Now which is it?
“Again, I don’t know. Can you help me to find out?”
Don’t you want to know for yourself the truth of the matter? If you have burnt yourself out, the problem demands a certain approach; but if your fire is still dormant, then the awakening of it is important. Now which is it? Without my telling you which it is, don’t you want to discover the truth of it for yourself? The truth of what is is its own action. If you are burnt out, then it is a matter of healing, recuperating; lying creatively fallow. This creative fallowness follows from the movement of cultivating and sowing; it is inaction for complete future action. Or it may be that your real interest has not yet been awakened. Please listen and find out. If the intention to find out is there, you will find out, not by constant inquiry, but by being clear and ardent in your intention. Then you will see that during the waking hours there is an alert watchfulness in which you are picking up every intimation of that latent interest, and that dreams also play a part. In other words, the intention sets going the mechanism of discovery.
“But how am I to know which interest is the real one? I have had several interests, and they have all petered out. How do I know that what I may discover to be my real interest won’t also peter out?”
There is no guarantee, of course; but since you are aware of this petering out, there will be alert watchfulness to discover the real. If I may put it this way you are not seeking your real interest; but being in a passively watchful state, the real interest will show itself. If you try to find out what your real interest is, you will choose one as against another you will weigh, calculate, judge. This process only cultivates opposition; you spend your energies wondering if you have chosen rightly, and so on. But when there is passive awareness, and not a positive effort on your part to find, then into that awareness comes the movement of interest. Experiment with this and you will see.
“If I am not too hasty, I think I am beginning to sense my genuine interest. There is a vital quickening, a new élan.”