Dalai's Note: My son, Dalai, Jr., offers this response to my recent post...Recently, my father, Doctor Dalai, wrote an article entitled “Atherosclerosis of the Soul” in which he describes “a thickening, a coarsening of whatever it is that makes us, well, us.” As a Freshman at BigBucks University, a medium sized research institution in the Midwest known for its rigorous Pre Med curriculum, I have both witnessed and experienced this phenomenon first hand. I have seen behavior that those removed from the situation would call soulless, robotic, and callous. I have watched myself and my fellow students push ourselves well beyond our breaking points with sleep deprivation, overloaded schedules, and extracurriculars. I have seen and, in many cases dealt with myself, depression, doubt, and even suicidal thoughts brought on by upcoming tests, returned grades, and vast, intangible plans for the future.
At the beginning of the semester, I studied for five or more hours a day, slept maybe four hours a night, and had an A+ GPA. I also hated every second of it. The draining hours spent in the library only reminded me that I had plenty of time to take care of my grades, but not myself. I ate terribly, saw my non-premed friends little, and kept up with the bare minimum of hygiene. Showering became an extra alarm clock to wake me up in the morning instead of a way to smell presentable.
After my first round of tests, I found myself sitting on one of the highest GPA’s on campus, with 3 A’s and a B+. But instead of the satisfaction that I had expected to follow from my success, I felt hollow and numb. I had the grades, but they meant nothing to me since they had come at the sacrifice of “whatever it is that makes us, well, us.” Staring at my 69 (a B+ on a test where the mean was in the low fifties), I realized that I had to take better care of myself. I knew that I needed to make a change, or I would explode. The problem, though, was I had no idea where to start. In high school, I had sports and other extracurriculars to keep me sane, but adding another activity to my already packed schedule would have only made things worse for me. Instead, I examined my daily routine and decided that I would focus on reshaping that to meet my needs. I started by forcing myself to sleep more each night, putting my work down by 3:00 AM and waking up no earlier than 9:00 AM. The benefits were tremendous, physically, but not mentally. I still felt overwhelmed by everything going on, resorting to shutting myself in the library all day to avoid dealing with the stress of anything beyond schoolwork. I let my already flimsy social life crumble as I simply could not handle the drama, effort, and emotional drain of being a good friend. Physically, I was never better, but my atherosclerosis of the soul was nearing terminal stage.
Almost a month of living in this empty, inhuman state left me depressed and unsure of my direction in life. I needed a change, and I needed it fast, so I began where I did with my first change. Looking over my day, I tried to find parts that I could make relaxing and peaceful. Studying was already my drug, laundry was too much of a hassle, and showering simply existed as a means to a socially acceptable end. Plenty of friends (though I’m not sure that’s the right word) offered me numerous drugs as a way of “chillaxing,” but I was far too afraid of losing my precious grades—the only prizes I really had left—to even consider taking their offers. Eventually, I remembered an article I had read years before about traditional straight shaving and its supposed meditative quality. Being in college with a minor allowance, I decided to make the fifteen dollar investment and tried it out.
Put quite simply, the results were incredible. Not only did I have the satisfaction of fighting against a steep learning curve, I had a beautiful—well, beautifully smooth anyway—final product to show for it. Unlike my classwork, I could feel my success in my hands and had immediate feedback for where I was doing well and where I needed to improve. I got to spend twenty or thirty minutes a day simply working with my hands and focusing on nothing but blade angle, pressure, and technique. My skin felt BBS—baby’s butt smooth for those of you outside the culture—all day and stayed hydrated and toned despite the bitter winters we get here.
I want to be clear that I do not think that everyone should partake in this hobby—especially those of you who shave areas more sensitive than your face. No, straight shaving is not the answer for everyone, or frankly, barely anyone. It worked for me, but only because it gave me the ability to wake up to reality. Our quick-fix, throwaway society leaves us doing things as speedily and efficiently as possible. We get more done faster, but often at the expense of our results or physical and mental well being. We slap some goo on our face, drag a disposable multi-bladed contraption across it, and run out the door for our jobs. Yes, we may be razor burnt and cut up, but that doesn’t matter as we get to our work a minute earlier so that we can read our scans, take our depositions, or crunch our data that much faster. It doesn’t matter to us if we miss a detail here or there, as is bound to happen with such a mindset, regardless of who we harm in the process. After all, we did the best we could, and if that isn’t good enough, then it’s not our fault. Therein lies the true horror of atherosclerosis of the soul. There is no responsibility and no ownership of mistakes. Not only are we hardened against everything that goes on around us, but we are totally untouched by our contribution to that torrid state of affairs.
So what can we do?
How do we snap out of it?
I don’t know. I struggle with my soul-plaque as much as the next person, even though I can now recognize it for what it is. But in the end, it’s true: the first step is admitting you have a problem.
An atherosclerotic patient has two choices: treat their disease and improve their lifestyle, or accept the possibility of total blockage and eventual death that can result. It’s easy to take pills and undergo bypasses; it’s hard to run every day and eat healthily. But in the end, it’s the long term effort that will make the difference and beat the disease, not the quick fix. Unfortunately, people have found a third option that’s even more detrimental than the second. Instead of accepting the disease for what it is and dealing with it, they have buried their heads in the sand and are indifferent to and oblivious of its existence.
As a society, maybe it’s time we realized that and decided on a change, but I don’t think that will be anytime soon. The simple truth is, it’s easy to be isolated and numb, and the vast majority of people want what’s easy. Until people wake up and decide that our humanity is worth working for, we have no choice but to wait for the heart attack.