Many of us have a sort of nagging restlessness that we’re frequently in need of escaping. We need to be fully immersed in something, but nothing seems sufficiently appealing. There is a deep trepidation that trying to immerse in the wrong thing will only intensify the restlessness, turning it into desperation.
Others of us are lucky enough to already be immersed. We have a way of getting through the day that fully absorbs our attention and energies to a sufficiently satisfying degree. We feel invested and are comfortable with the expected returns on that investment. We don’t understand people that seem to feel so alienated from everything. Why can’t they just live their life? How difficult is it?
If we look at the different ways people immerse themselves, some patterns begin to emerge. Some are very much into some sort of close-knit community, the members of which all have a thick sense of their common identity. The group is strong, protective, and exclusive — maybe its just family, just friends (as in a fraternity or sorority), or some mixture of the two. When these communities are big enough, functional, and healthy, they offer so many sources of stimulation and various social sensations that being actively in them can be fully immersing and satisfying. Desperation only seeps in when too many of the members are too busy to congregate as a group.
An opposite way of experiencing immersion is through competition. We see this sometimes with people who lose their community and instantly transition from a cooperative and loving posture to a competitive and hateful posture (as in bitter divorcees). Competition is inherently stimulating, as you have to not only beat your opponents but also do so in a way that is viewed as legitimate. The hate that is motivating the competition has to be channeled into virtues like focus, determination, perseverance without showing the vices of nastiness, weakness, and foolishness. Executed correctly, though, hate for a person or group can be as fully immersive as thrivingly fraternal community.
I don’t know why we have this need for immersion, but we can see it everywhere. Those lacking a community to join or oppose turn to other things. Religious faith has unique qualities suitable for a deeply immersive experience. Contemplation of an infinite being, with qualities of perfection exceeding human comprehension, to which we owe gratitude exceeding our capacity, from which we receive endless and unfailing love, can completely overwhelm the mind’s intellect and emotions. And of course there are the immersive effects of drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, food, gaming, and all the other addictions we see people all around us completely absorbed in.
Perhaps becoming more aware of the need for immersion can help us understand our attachments and our anxieties. Less clear is what the best form of immersion is — it certainly can’t be hate and competition. If the answer is community, then most of us are dependent on others to provide it, and the good fortune that there will be chemistry between ourselves and that community — common tastes, sense of humor, interests, values, etc. If the answer is faith (which happens to be my answer) and we aren’t faithful already, then the road to be travelled is perhaps just as difficult. If the answer is addiction, then we have a lot of pain ahead of us, and we have essentially given up on the fullness that life seemed to promise us as children.