I have no special talent, I am only passionately curiousAlbert Einstein
Is there anything beyond the futility of the external world, governed by fierce competition, ambition and baseless pleasures?
Where does one take refuge from the constant treadmill of busyness that encapsulates our day to day working lives?
One is inclined to ask, is there anything outside of the status games played within our society, trying impress others through fame, fortune or luxury consumer goods. A life of endless striving for misleading pleasures is exhausting. Spending money to buy new things requires one to dedicate more and more of one’s time to work – an endless cycle.
So what can provide us with reprieve from this perpetual restlessness. Religions, philosophers, intellectuals have long praised the benefits of going inwards. Practices such as meditation, prayer, reading and contemplation allow one to connect with themselves more deeply. This distances and shelters us from the noise of the social and political world. It provides us with perspective from the outrage of news headlines and increasingly polarized politics.
Learning for its Own Sake
But what constitutes an inner life, and how can it be cultivated? In Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, Zena Hitz looks at how intellectual pursuits help us foster inner depth and meaning. Hitz wants to democratize learning and education beyond the proverbial ‘Ivory Tower.’ She wants to recover the joys and pleasure of learning for its own sake.
If an individual is intrinsically motivated, they’ll willingly spend hours upon hours learning about a subject. They will study its nuance and intricacies because this is what genuinely interests them irrespective of any external rewards. Grades, high paying jobs and social status may be a byproduct of their efforts, but it is not their sole focus.
Hitz argues that learning is a noble and worthy goal in and of itself . Wonder and contemplation of life’s central questions is part of our human nature. As Hitz writes,
Education begins from the assumption that students are capable of taking responsibility for their own learning and they are naturally motivated, even if they are driven from within to pursue fundamental questions….If we wish to promote the virtue of seriousness is young people, to pass on free inquiry, to lead students in the depths where real understanding take place, we must first cultivate ourselves.Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life
Expanding our Humanity
Education broadens our horizons, and exposes us to different perspectives and ways of being. Great literature informs us of our connection to others regardless of class, race or gender. It demonstrates that at a more fundamental level, we all have the same basic emotions, desires and struggles. Math and science enables us to transcend the trivialities of the day to day to discover fundamental truths about the cosmos.
By reading broadly and widely we become exposed to different ways of life. This provides insight and allows us to engage in self-reflection of both our selves and society as a whole.
Restoring Human Dignity
The value of an inner world and pursuing learning for its own sake is that it offers a source of human dignity. Intellectual life (outside of the academy) demonstrates that our self worth is greater than what is merely instrumental (i.e., social status, political views, cash in a bank account). We can’t simply be reduced by our outward appearance or external achievements.
At its best, education inspires and aspires us towards a higher ideal. It shows us the path towards something greater than our limited self-interest, something beyond ourself.
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This article was orignally posted on my personal blog: A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – In Search of Inner Freedom
10 thoughts on “In Search of an Inner Life”
This is so true Andrew, learning is the basis of our development and makes us definitely better humans. It enlarges not only our perspectives and understanding of the world but also of our life.
The older I become, the more I begin to believe that being brought up and “educated” is nothing more than indoctrination and brainwashing that renders you in a sort of hypnosis that is very difficult to snap out of. It’s extremely difficult to leave with one’s senses still intact.
As far as understanding goes and the application of knowledge to something is extremely difficult I think nowadays. Firstly, do you think that we are having thoughts on issues without having originality. We have a language that limits us, and constructs that are already here. Can we have a truly exclusive thought or idea? Everything we think about is based on the thoughts of others. We have also to consider the costs, and it seems that the super rich are only people who have a chance to experiment, case in point with the space rockets of musk and Branson and bezos. I’m not saying that we need more words or something extra, but we are limited to the basics of the theories that other people suggested. To explain myself a little better, if you are to get the top 10 leading pharmacologists, cancer specialists, nurses and basically the top 10 people in the field and then gave them one year to research and understand what cancer can be treated with, gave them all their normal salary and then say £1m per month, I don’t know what they are going to do but they can surely help multiple people with their findings?
You said about the inner life, I think the point above illustrates what people think about others. You can’t help everyone out but it’s now 2023, we are still seeing the same thing happening as we have seen happening in the days of Jesus Christ. Famine, wars, religious segregation and the list goes on. I don’t think that people are willing to help others in fear of being overtaken by that person.
interesting perspective, thanks for sharing your thoughts
Andrew, an inner life and inner resources allow us to be productive or creative in times when we must wait, travel, or do menial tasks. There is rarely any need to become bored if we have a healthy inner life. I carry paper and pencil with me for whenever I want to record my thoughts.
Some school curriculums and grading structures I encountered when I was teaching turned kids against learning and destroyed curiosity and creativity. I agree with you, Andrew, that we need to teach children to direct their own learning, to be curious and be able to find answers for themselves. And we need to develop and reward creativity.
Wonderful words Andrew. Education is so important. A good education teaches people how to think not what to think. You can do that, I believe, by letting students follow their noses a little. If there is something they are genuinely interested in – let them explore that subject without limit. That’s when education becomes really interesting. Thank you sharing Andrew – great message 🙏
Education comes in many different guises. Those who think it can only happen in the classroom setting are sorely missing out. I crave knowledge, I love to develop new skills, follow new ideas, learn the ‘old’ ways. Some is from classes, others from books, much is from trying, and most is from working with others. I love to see kids following their passion, exploring new concepts, and using their imagination…you never know when the next great invention will be born! What is your inner soul craving to know/learn/explore, and what will it take to feed it? 💞💞💞
I have to admit that the internet can be a curse more than a blessing in disguise, but at the same time I will sing its praises I was able to satisfy my curiosity about any topic, pointless or not, at any time because of this nifty invention which, in turn, fueled the writer in me in ways it never did before.
I love learning for the sake of learning, for we never know when we may need that information. I’ve found that is often the case, so I’ve learned to come to trust the powers of the universe to teach me something before I need it.