To Binge or Not to Binge

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Reading Time: 7 minutes.

I finished a very well written and interesting biography on Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson, titled “Einstein: His Life and Universe”, having started the book a few weeks ago, this long weekend. I used to put off biographies for some reason, not knowing why I should be reading about anyone’s life, when I can explore and experience the dynamics of my own life in depth. But, it turns out, like many other realizations, I was wrong in my thinking. Walter Isaacson’s captivating stories of Einstein’s life, was not only mesmerizing, but also has many things one can learn from his life. The book is beautifully structured, and although, a long read, it is engrossing throughout and kept me intrigued. The style is very lucid and I had heard about Isaacson’s penchant for writing beautiful biographies, but it was the first time I had a chance to indulge and enjoy his work. It was quite intriguing how flamboyant Einstein was in one sense, and completely aloof in another, both in his professional and personal life. It seems, he could be very quiet and lost in his scientific work and be equally vocal and gregarious in his expressions, be it politically driven matters or writing a recommendation for his colleague. He did not seem to mind getting involved with media and political dramas or backlashes, if he believed in the cause. He remained equally a wanderer and wonderer, and lived in few countries, was focused and determined to find a unified field theory till the end, attempting to explain the mysteries of the universe, and remained witty, focused, humble and humorous until he passed away at his Princeton residence in 1955. My timing couldn’t have been better in finishing this book, as I am stationed just 10 miles away from his Princeton residence, and am daily walking some trails around his neighborhood.

Walter Isaacson captures few of his final utterances from various sources, few days before his death, quoted below:

To a group of doctors recommending seeing a surgeon for his health condition: “It is tasteless to prolong life artificially, I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”

To his assistant, when asked: “Is everything alright?” Einstein replied: “Everything is alright, but I am not.”

To his son, Hans Albert, on America: “Everything – even lunacy – is mass produced here. But everything goes out of fashion very quickly.”

To his friend, queen mother of Belgium: “The strange thing about growing old is that the intimate identification with the here and now is slowly lost. One feels transposed into infinity, more or less alone.”

Isaacson ends the book with this observation – He could be serenely self-confident in his lonely course yet also humbly awed by the beauty of nature’s handiwork. And Einstein remarks: “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort.”

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It has been such a long time that I haven’t binged a particular activity, and I don’t think I’ll ever binge, per the technical definition of the word. Last fifteen years, I have particularly managed a schedule in such a way that, I get involved with an activity, deliberately for short durations and keep hopping to the next relevant activity, which could also be conscious inactivity. Its an arranged experiment to not get hooked onto anything particular for a long time and instead allocate my energies in a deliberate manner to keep changing activities every few hours, remain involved with the new activity and just when it is settling, move on to the next relevant activity. The reason for such an experiment is simple, I want to accomplish various things, incrementally, which I am choosing to bring into the daily routine, but allocating sufficient yet not extensive amount of time to it, so that I can get sufficiently involved but immediately move on to the next one with equal involvement.

The idea is to train the mind to not get hooked on to any particular activity, and simultaneously get unidentified with the need to have an immediate outcome of that activity.

It also helps in retaining attention since I’m not stretching the activity beyond a certain point, knowing very well my capacity to loose attention if the activity takes longer. It also helps me in bringing multiple activities within the realm of the same day, and thus I get the benefit of incrementally building up on the plans for my activities, which have a long term essence for me. As an example, in a given day, I could be allocating my energies to be doing the following things, with much involvement, knowing very well that I would be hopping to the next activity soon – yoga, walking, reading, work, writing, eating, siesta, chanting, sending personal messages to friends, watching my breath, chatting on phone with a close friend, reading shortlisted articles on the internet. Now, none of these activities individually, per se, has much meaning, or at least, that’s how it is perceived by most of us, if that is the only activity we do in the whole day. But, when you keep on doing this routine, day in and day out, over a matter of few weeks, you feel quite super, probably because it brings about a sense of deeper fulfillment, and more importantly, the brain adapts to a pattern which is less stressful, linearly meaningful, with an easily achievable mode of functioning. At least, that is my experience and hence I stick to such routines.

A good friend suggested watching “Schitt’s Creek”, a pretty much Canadian production, with the lead actors being Canadian too, three of them from the same family. Its kind of a dry humor situational comedy, based on sarcasm and satire. Its been delicately created and to me, who’s kind of on holidays, babysitting the progenitors, it was a perfect time to binge the show. Netflix has bought the rights for three seasons and each season ironically has thirteen episodes and each episode is roughly twenty minutes. So here I am in the land of opportunities, after a superb daily long walk in the woods, close to Einstein’s home place as mentioned earlier, I would come back, have a nice home made meal and binge – not on food though. It was indeed very different from the experiment I mentioned earlier, and it was quite amusing to see the confusion which it created in the brain the first few hours, as routinely, my mind was demanding for me to move on to the next task. It didn’t get any, except an occasional and terrible choice of Doritos chips, just for old times sake. So, I broke the routine of the mind, allowed the binging to happen and finished the three seasons in a matter of three days, leaving my friend behind in the unannounced race for completion. I enjoyed the binge, but the drag which comes along with such acts, was easily felt and thanks to the daily dose of yoga and walking, I managed to keep up some aliveness. Watching TV has become a far off and distant activity, which I usually don’t do, not because I don’t like it, but because we don’t have a TV anymore. So, occasional binging like this is remarkably entertaining but I don’t think I can do it very often. I like the small doses of intense activity or inactivity, as I find it more productive, with major long term benefits, and in which I can retain my attention much better. Of course, this works for me only because I have managed to arrange my life in a manner where such things are possible. But, it is worth experimenting with for anyone wanting to incrementally make their lives more intense and productive over a long haul, in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, until next time, Ciao!

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