Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that “…the actual boundaries of human equilibrium are very narrow, and it is not really necessary to use a rack or hot coals to drive the average human being out of his mind.” He then goes on to describe the interrogation techniques used in the Russian Gulags during the reign of Stalin; foul language, confusion, lies, tickling, unpredictable loud noises, relentless and blinding light, beatings, finger and toe nail squashing, and the forced maintenance of uncomfortable positions. These methods, he said, were at their most effective when coupled with the simplest of tortures; hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, and the denial of human dignity.
Which got me thinking. If, as Solzhenitsyn says, the most basic of tortures are the most unbearable, then surely, the simplest of pleasures are the most fulfilling?
Consider the lengths to which we go to amuse and entertain ourselves. We consume a wide variety of food and drink. We seek constant audiovisual stimulation. We flit between contrasting environments and maintain a quota of relationships that allows us to never get bored. Heck, we’ve created these things called theme parks by concreting over vast swathes of wilderness and building hulking pleasure and thrill machines where there once used to be bodies of water and acres of woodland. And it’s all unnecessary.
Holding a mirror up to the simplest tortures indicates that real satisfaction lies in uncomplicated things; the quenching of thirst, the eating of good food whilst accompanied by good people, and an unobtrusive presence amongst nature.
So it seems that our never-ending, age-old quest for novelty and pleasure is an erroneous one, because it is the small things, the simple things, the subtle things, that have the biggest impact on the human spirit.