“Stop the noise in your mind in order for the wondrous sounds of life to be heard. Then you can begin to live your life authentically and deeply.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
I was raised alongside a remarkable lie— that an increase in Western intelligence is directly correlated with a better life. The Western student is led to believe that knowledge is power and power is happiness. The more information you can fit into your head, the better off you’ll be. This intelligence ideal is an illness that causes more societal problems than academics would ever care to admit, for fear of self-sabotage.
Let us be reminded that intelligence is like any other quality. It is harmful and unnecessary in excess and should not be sought after in exclusion. On an individual level, we should balance study with experience. Zen reminds us that sitting Zazen and being mindful in everyday activities is the only way to really “get it”. No amount of study or conceptualization will speed up the process. There are no shortcuts and no goals. You’ve just gotta do it.
On a larger scale, society becomes deranged when intelligence is valued above all else. The overvalue of intelligence is a starkly terrifying thing. Intelligence is not an objective trait, and yet it is evaluated by modern scientific, technological, and educational institutions as wholly objective. Not everyone is a genius, but not everyone is supposed to be a genius.
What have geniuses done for the world other than invent a society where we spend our days on screens, politicians threaten one another with nuclear obliteration, and the richest people make their money trading speculative things that don’t really exist? When you define what intelligence means, you create a framework alongside which the rest of society must progress. Progress is a lie; society does not need to keep progressing. What has progress brought us? It has led to technological overdevelopment, war, overpopulation, psychiatric nightmares, and a degree of consumerist materialism that would have caused terrible sadness in our distant ancestors. 2015 sounds like a bad sci-fi novel from the 1940’s. Let’s get it together.
Modern society is moving at a pace akin to an overachieving careerist. They work and work and work to keep going faster and faster and acquire more and more. The gears are turning so fast that the engine begins to lose steam. And the machine begins to break down. Have you ever looked at an overworked person? They look remarkably unhealthy and unhappy. Their goals don’t exist and they are too busy to realize.
Instead of buying into the idea that you must keep achieving, that you must continue to move towards an ideal of intelligence or beauty or success, just stop. Stop everything you are doing and just exist for a minute. It is easy to get trapped into thinking about everything that is not the here-and-now, when in reality all you should be thinking about is the here and now.
If more people did this, the world would slow down. The false ideal of “progress” would start to dwindle. People would spend more time in nature, or with their families. They would act more mindfully and realize that life is something to be enjoyed now, not later.