In our ‘modern’ society, nothing is more reviled than indifference. To be indifferent means you are without feeling, callous and uncaring, lacking in human sensibilities, probably empty-headed, tired and bored, to say nothing of boring. Imagine having no opinions, no preferences. Death would surely be an improvement.
Such a broad consensus from the sleeping world should immediately alert you to the possibility that reality has once more been turned on its head. Indifference is a place of great potential, especially for our work but also for much ordinary accomplishment. Indifference has power.
First, let’s consider what indifference is not. It is not dislike nor distaste, not lethargy or some other veiled negative or rejecting state. Indifference is to see no difference between one thing and another and not to prefer one thing over another. Indifference is not rejecting, but nor is it accepting. Perhaps we could say it is a special form of equanimity without the experience of pleasure usually associated with that state.
What makes indifference useful? It offers clarity and objectivity. It is free from compulsion and fixation. It has no emotional attachment. This allows for something new and surprising to arise.
From the work perspective, indifference offers the possibility of acting from real will. Most of our actions originate in emotion. Motive and emotion amount to the same thing for most of us.
Emotion is a movement of sensitive energy in the nervous system with physical and biochemical components. Emotion is triggered by an external stimulus—perhaps a sensation, a word spoken, an association of one thing with another, which then proceeds habitually in terms of breath, posture, gesture, pulse as well as the thought-tapes that sustain and colour the emotion. Subsequent behaviour is predictable. This is not the action of will; rather it is precisely mechanical in nature, no matter how pleasant or productive it might be. Indifference is freedom from this loop, which allows for the possible action of will.
Because indifference is without resistance or conflict, it can move quickly and forcefully in unexpected directions. It can also sit in the same spot for a long time, requiring the patience to wait for whispers from unknown places. In these periods between, like the Horse Latitudes, you may be severely tested. Perhaps you will panic into depression or senseless behaviour. The Sufis call this a Kemal state and it can be dangerous.
In my understanding, the Kemal state is both a blessing and a test that begins to manifest when you have seen enough of yourself and the world. It is not an end state, nor is it something to be sought, but rather a point of possible transition to something new.
How can indifference be separated from boredom or lethargy?
True indifference is alert and questioning. The one who is indifferent wishes to proceed but not from dead habits.